Giving in can be part of giving

Article

This doctor learned communication is a two-way street. And meeting this small dog in the middle made all the difference in the world.

Where was that little monster? When I got my hands on her she was doomed—no question about it. I rounded the clinic for the third time looking for any sign of the furry, white mop that disappeared from the front steps minutes earlier. I couldn't understand it. She was right behind me as I hurriedly opened the front door of the hospital at 6:30 on the chilly November morning. Per usual, she straggled behind me, sniffing her way up the front walk. I turned as I went through the door to see her looking up at me through the early morning haze from the base of the stairs. Seconds later, after dumping my armful of books inside, I returned to find she'd vanished—poof—into thin air.

Continuing my search, I bent down to look under the back porch while I slapped my arms to ward off the cold. When I found her disobedient little soul, she was a goner. Her furry feet wouldn't touch terra firma again without a leash attached to her skinny neck. My anger became tainted with a sense of betrayal. Why had she done this?

Biscuit had joined my household two months earlier. A favorite patient in the three years I had known her, she was quiet, obedient, and very friendly. The delicate cocker spaniel-poodle mix was also the delight of her owners, the Roberts, a sweet elderly couple. Biscuit lit up their lives with her "joie de vivre." One day, Mr. Roberts quietly informed me that due to illness, he and his wife were forced to move into an assisted-living home and Biscuit could not go with them. This would be their last visit.

Saddened, I offered whatever help I could to them. Without hesitation, Mr. Roberts asked if I would take Biscuit. As this was not exactly what I had in mind, I hesitated. My home was and had always been filled with golden retrievers. Although I worked daily with smaller canine varieties, I never pictured myself owning one. Alas, my guilt got the better of me, and home came Biscuit.

The transition hadn't been easy for my household, which operated by big dog rules. No getting on the furniture. No barking. No sleeping in my bed, and dry food only twice a day. This last rule was the biggest source of contention. Biscuit arrived with dietary instructions of milk on toast for breakfast, liverwurst mixed into her lunch-time snack, and canned gourmet dog food blended into her evening morsels.

I stopped reading before the elaborate concoction for bedtime was elucidated. No, this was never going to fly with my busy schedule. High-quality kibble, morning and night, was what it would be. If that was good enough for the retrievers, it was good enough for Biscuit.

Progress was slow. A cold turkey approach had resulted in a full-out hunger strike by Biscuit. Never underestimate the will of a small dog. After a few days, I relented and added some liverwurst back, hoping to wean her from it later. And in the last few weeks, I'd made a concerted effort to get rid of the smelly stuff once and for all. Day by day, I subtracted an imperceptible amount of the greasy fare until two days ago, my mission was accomplished: a liverwurst-free life.

But thinking back to earlier that morning, I recalled an inordinate amount of snuffling and pushing of Biscuit's food bowl, along with a move where she backed away from the unsuitable meal with her nose high in the air then stared up at me with definite defiance. In the end, Biscuit ate a small amount before meeting me at the back door to head off to the clinic. Could this be why she had abandoned our family?

I shivered in the damp dawn, my flimsy gym attire no match for the cold conditions. The inner fury about Biscuit's disappearance had evolved into concern and now rocketed toward panic. I called and searched for 20 minutes to no avail—my sweet fluffy companion was gone. Terror tightened in my chest when I looked out onto the highway in front of the clinic now filling with the morning traffic.

How could I have been so stupid? She'd done everything but write me a note about how displeased she was with her fare, but in my human arrogance, I hadn't listened. After all, Biscuit lived and breathed food. It was her entire purpose. Even her name spoke of her favorite thing in life.

In desperation she'd taken matters into her own paws and set out to find a more satiating life for herself. I wanted to cry.

I learned a valuable lesson from Biscuit that day, one I have since put into practice with my patients. Communication is a two-way street: first, to clearly articulate your needs—and second, to listen. Biscuit had done her part, but I had failed at mine. She couldn't have been more clear.

Although we don't share a verbal language, animals speak volumes if we'd only open up our hearts and minds to them. You'll be surprised what you can understand about your patients' needs and desires if only you try.

Dr. Vivian Jamieson, Dipl. ACVO, and Biscuit, a stubborn, liverwurst-loving cocker spaniel-poodle mix and an important part of her family.

Thanks to the name plate on her collar, an hour later Biscuit was retrieved 20 miles away. A construction worker on his way to a job site picked her up after she'd crossed four lanes of busy traffic. We laughed to think she'd managed to end up with a hearty eater. And I'm happy to announce there's been no further trouble with my beloved chow-hound now that liverwurst is a permanent part of her diet.

Dr. Vivian Jamieson, Dipl. ACVO, is the owner of Veterinary Eye Care in Mount Pleasant, S.C., where she and Biscuit spend their days communicating effectively—and smelling a bit of liverwurst. Send questions or comments to ve@advanstar.com.

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