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Becoming a no-declaw veterinary practice
Deciding to not offer declaws anymore was only the first step. The next steps involved training our team and updating our materials. Heres how we did it.
This article is part of the Leadership Challenge: Vet life transitions package. Check out more articles about navigating change in your professional life here.
Editor's note: This article explores how one veterinary clinic made a major change in a clinical protocol-no more declaws-but the process can apply to any protocol change you might be making in your clinic, including vaccines, pain management, anesthesia and so on.
“Did we stop offering front declaws?”
The question, posed by one of my customer service representatives, caught me off guard. I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Can you tell me what happened?” I asked.
“Well, I just asked a technician to make a front declaw estimate for a client. Dr. A was there and interjected to say we don't do these anymore,” she said. “Why wasn't I made aware of this policy change?”
Great question, I thought. I wasn't aware of it either! I thanked my customer service representative for bringing the issue to my attention and asked her to give me a little time to figure out what was going on. I promised to follow up with her later.
After a little investigating, in which I gained the perspectives of my doctors and technicians, I learned that there had been a discussion about considering ending this service. Due to some miscommunication, a final decision was never made, leaving everyone on different pages.
Step 1: Doctor meeting
I scheduled a meeting with all three of the practice's doctors for the following day. I told them the purpose of the meeting beforehand and requested that they come prepared to discuss their thoughts and concerns on front declawing.
During the meeting, I learned that Dr. A felt strongly that continuing this procedure would go against her oath of preventing animal suffering. Conversely, Drs. B and C were still willing to perform the procedure, though they weren't against stopping it either. Dr. C noted postop complications as a reason for stopping, citing a recent patient with bleeding issues.
All three doctors were able to fully discuss their views and also weighed the financial pros and cons of becoming a no-declaw practice. On the one hand, it could give our practice the opportunity to advertise the change and receive positive PR. We'd already experienced positive feedback from clients after explaining why we don't perform ear-cropping or tail-docking procedures. On the other hand, it could result in a loss of clients and a loss of income (though requests for declaw procedures were admittedly declining every year).
In the end, all three doctors were able to agree on becoming a no-declaw practice.
Step 2: Team meeting
At our next team meeting, Dr. A presented on the reasons why our hospital would stop performing declaws and included the thoughts of the other two doctors in the explanation.
Next, the entire team brainstormed on what we would need to do to make the change successful. Here are some of the ideas that emerged:
> Teach clients how to clip nails at new kitten visits.
> Offer a client handout on how to decrease scratching on items that aren't meant for cat claws (like, ahem, curtains, couches and human flesh, to name a few).
> Update handouts for clients with new kittens to reflect our policy change.
> Develop talking points for the team on how to discuss the change with clients that avoid sounding judgmental if clients decide to declaw elsewhere.
Watch body language
During Dr. A's presentation, I observed my team's body language and could tell that one person wasn't totally onboard. I met with this individual privately and asked her to share her thoughts on the new policy. She explained that she would support the decision but would continue to declaw her own cats. She felt we should have an option for clients who decide to declaw. I thanked her for her honesty and for her suggestion and said that we were already looking into a nearby veterinary hospital offering declaws to our standards to give as a suggestion.
Tasks were delegated and the meeting adjourned. The very next day, a longtime client came in and asked us to declaw her kitten because her mom, who lived with her, had a medical condition that required the kitten to be declawed. We'd declawed all of her previous kittens.
This conversation caught Dr. A off guard. She wasn't prepared to have a confident discussion with this client about our new policy. Doctor A agreed to perform the procedure with a technician who wasn't opposed to declawing-a decision that did not sit well with her and made her realize that we need to be better prepared to explain to clients why we are a non-declaw hospital. Dr. A used this experience to develop a list of talking points.
Step 3: Team training
At the next team meeting, those who'd been assigned tasks were able to present and discuss their work with the rest of the team. Dr. A passed out copies of the talking points she'd created, and Dr. C gave everyone a copy of the AAFP's scratching handout, explaining that it would be added to the literature given to clients with new kittens. We discussed how we would incorporate nail trims in new kitten visits and how we would help clients who still desired to declaw their cats. For example, instead of “recommending” a hospital, we elected to say, “We've had several clients tell us they've had a positive experience with 'X' hospital. If you would like its contact information, let me know.”
The transition to a no-declaw hospital has been great. With proper education, most clients understand why we no longer offer this service. We maybe had two or three clients this year who elected to have their cats declawed. We've also used this change to drive positive PR for our hospital and in Facebook advertising.
Visit the next page for a peek at some of the talking points from Dr. A ...
Ditching declaws: Common client concerns
While this list isn't comprehensive, it can serve as a starting point for preparing your team should you decide to follow in my practice's footsteps. Here's Dr. A's advice for turning a client's concern into an opportunity for education and training:
Client education tool
Get the AAFP's handout on alternatives to declawing here.
Client says: “I thought that's just what you do with cats.”
You say: "Declawing isn't a necessary procedure, and the majority of cats are not declawed. Just like you can train a puppy to not chew your furniture, you can also train a kitten to not scratch certain items. We can help you get the information you'd need to train your kitten ... "
Client says: “My other cats are declawed so this one has to be too.”
You say: "Most cats living together in a household don't fight with each other. Cats tend to use subtle signs to warn other cats to stay away if they don't feel like interacting. If your cats fight to the point where they're injuring each other, intervention is necessary whether they have their claws or not."
Client says: “I just got new furniture and I don't want it ruined.”
You say: "We definitely understand your concern, and we're happy to help you train your kitten to use appropriate items to scratch and to stay away from the ones that aren't. We can also show you how to keep your cat's nails trimmed and provide you with more ideas if this becomes a problem in the future ... "
Client says: “The kitten is scratching my toddler and I am afraid she'll get hurt.”
You say: "The safety of your child and everyone in your family is very important. Kittens use all of their claws and their teeth to play and defend themselves-not just the front claws-so here are some ways to train your kitten to be gentle, as well as things to teach your daughter, in order to keep your daughter from getting hurt ... "
Client says: “My elderly mom lives with us and is on blood thinners so we can't risk her getting scratched.”
You say: "Even a cat that's declawed could pose a risk to your mom as it will still have its back claws. We would love to teach you how to train your kitten to be gentle and to use a scratching post and give you more tips on how to keep your mom safe ... "
Client says: “My husband is immunosuppressed so we can't risk him getting a disease from a cat scratch.”
You say: "Cats can transmit a disease called cat scratch disease, which can be serious-especially for an immunosuppressed individual. But this disease is fairly rare and some other more common diseases can be transmitted to you and your family members by your cat. We should go over these, as well as discuss ways to discourage your kitten from scratching, in order to make sure we do everything we can to prevent the kitten from being able to make you or your husband ill ... "
Jennifer Maniscola is the practice manager at Indian Veterinary Center in Newtown, Pennsylvania. She likes to spend time at home with her husband, two kids, three birds, two cats and one dog.