The doggedness of the deluded veterinary client


What are your years of veterinary training and decades of experience compared to the profundity of clients' wisdom?

My receptionist gave up in frustration and asked me to take a call with an unreasonable client. I recognized the caller's voice immediately by his trademark wheezing and coughing.

It was Carson O'Jennik, a chain smoker, cat breeder and general equine posterior. "I want to get some health certificates for the kittens," he said. "Mo, Larry and Curley are old enough to be sold now, and I want to give the new owners documentation of their good health. That secretary of yours didn't think it was a good idea."


Was I missing something? Of course health certificates were a good idea. His request seemed reasonable to me. I asked him when he could bring the kittens over for an exam.

"Can't I just stop by and pick up the certificates?" he asked. "You saw the kittens when they were born. Don't you remember? You said they looked great. Besides, I hate to bring them all the way out there because they have bad colds right now. If I just pick up the paperwork it will save them a stressful trip and also protect the animals in your office from picking up their virus."

It's hard to argue with logic, but I chose to anyway. His rebuttal was swift: "Why not give me some blank certificates, then?" he queried. "I'll wait until their colds are better then fill them out. Better yet, you could fill them out and leave the dates blank. I'll put in the date when they're well." I turned him down again. Then, much to my surprise, he made an appointment for later in the week.

On the appointed day I took a deep breath and entered the exam room. Smoke billowed out as I opened the door. Obviously Mr. O'Jennik had once again ignored my request to refrain from smoking in the hospital. The kittens all had swollen, runny eyes and stuffy noses. After a few seconds in the room with Mr. O'Jennik, I did too.

After opening a window, I performed my exam and gave O'Jennik the bad news. There would be no affidavit of health for these three sickly felines. He was appalled but took it like a man—an angry, childish, unreasonable man who left without accepting any medical treatment.

A few days later I saw Mr. and Mrs. Furstkat and their new kitten, Stuffy. I recognized the former Curley O'Jennik immediately. "Do all kittens have such difficulty breathing, Doctor?" they asked. "The breeder said lots of them go through this when they're young and that it's nothing to worry about."

I clarified the situation and treated Stuffy appropriately. The office call ended, as many do, with the children fighting over who would get to carry the cat to the car. Mrs. Furstkat gave them specific instructions: "Hold her tight, kids. We want her to be an indoor cat, and I don't want her to learn what the ground feels like under her feet."

Whether a client is a know-it-all breeder like Mr. O'Jennik or a naive new pet owner like Mrs. Furstkat, I still enjoy treating their animals. In fact, May and June—the "pediatric months"—are my favorite because so many of my patients are cute little puppies and kittens at this time. In the future some will become ill-tempered, obnoxious and difficult to handle, but as babies they're almost all a joy to treat.

Those months also provide me with the opportunity to educate new pet owners. Mr. Legend, for example, didn't need advice from me because he'd read a book about dogs. "She's gonna be big, Doc," he exclaimed on his first visit. "You can tell by the feet. We found her running loose down on Third Street. You can tell that she's a purebred. We looked through a couple of dog books until we found her picture. We think she's an Australian eucalyptus hound. Those are pretty rare, you know."

The pooch looked like a cross between a basset hound and an alligator. I truthfully noted that I'd never seen a dog quite like her and let Mr. Legend down gently on some of his beliefs. Frankly, I'm not a proponent of the big foot theory. If growth were related to foot size, I'd be seven feet tall. Furthermore, the chance of finding an exotic, rare breed running loose on Third Street was pretty slim.

Mr. Legend listened politely but was quick to point out that, in his experience, big feet do indicate large growth potential. He'd bought pets for his kids last Easter and the one with the big feet grew much larger than the other. "You should see them, Doc," he said. "Quacky grew to be much larger than Cluck-Cluck."

Dr. Michael Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.

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