Editor's letter rubs some team members the wrong way.
I enjoy the interesting perspectives in Firstline's articles, but I can't say the same for your editor's note, "Don't Like My Cat? Fake it" (March 2009). It's a bit difficult to comment to the client how wonderful his or her cat is when it's trying to rip your face off. Phrases such as, "Well, her teeth look good," are meant to break the ice in a stressful situation.
Some cats tolerate being examined more than others and are quite pleasant to be around. Others, such as your cat, obviously don't share that trait. It's insulting to expect veterinarians and technicians to place themselves in situations that are unsafe only to fuel the cat's fractious behavior. It's reckless for you to give out such unsound advice, and I recommend you learn more about feline behavior and psychology.
I wasn't surprised to read in your editor's note that 34 percent of team members prefer working with dogs. As a cat lover and owner and a technician, I feel the problem is lack of training. Everyone is trained to recognize and handle fear in dogs but no one really learns how to deal with cats. They think they're just mean when they're terrified and their defense mode is kicking in. As the one who always gets those "mean" cats, I say they're just misunderstood.
Wow, I was floored by your editor's note. I consider my team one of the most caring teams out there, but I'll be honest, I've heard those types of "catty" comments made by our staff-even myself! I wonder how many clients we've offended, or worse, given the impression that we don't like their cats. It breaks my heart to think that a comment made with good intention would or could be taken as a lack of compassion on our part. I'll be more careful in the future, and you can bet copies of your letter will be handed out and discussed at our next team meeting.
I read your editor's note and was rather hurt. I don't have to fake liking your cat. I do like it, and I take its health seriously. I'll do all that's needed to help any client's cat-whether it's sweet or mean. I tell owners their not-so-happy cats are pretty, if they are, but I'm not going to lie and say they're loving if they're trying to do me or someone else harm. You don't really expect us to say, "Oh, what a wonderful cat you are," as it tries to bite or scratch us, do you?
I recognize that tone of voice conveys far more than just printed words alone. I expected clients to receive these phrases, stated in a friendly tone, much more positively. But if some clients would react as you, it gives me cause for concern. You're able to provide a perspective that we're obviously missing. From your viewpoint, what's acceptable? We brainstormed ideas at our last staff and decided we need to recognize the pet's distress by saying something like, "You poor thing. I bet you're a pussycat at home."
Have you ever been bitten by a cat? It's not pretty and it can even end a career. Instead of throwing a pity party about how much veterinary team members don't like your cat, why not be proactive and ask team members how you can relieve Pippa's stress level? How about sedatives, or allowing Pippa to spend the day in the practice where she can acclimate herself?
Yes, we should watch what we say in front of clients, but it's our responsibility to notify owners when their pets are being fractious. And it's their responsibility to share if their pets are potentially dangerous. Maybe in the future an article could be written about the dangers of fractious animals and what can be done to prevent or minimize this problem.
You have every right to expect a high level of professionalism from those to whom you're entrusting the care of a living being-even a temporarily crabby one-who's near and dear to your heart. I didn't see anywhere in your article that you said, as one reader asserted, that veterinarians and technicians should “place themselves in situations that are unsafe only to fuel the cat's fractious behavior.” What you said was “just show our pets a little love.” This doesn't mean cuddling a pet that can't be handled.
Professionally, we can demonstrate love by showing empathy for both pet owner and pet. For example, in this situation I have often said something such as, “I'm sorry Fluffy's so scared,” or "Well, let's get started so Fluffy can get back home and relax." Or I might even address similar remarks to the cat herself-while keeping a respectful distance until appropriate restraint and protective measures can be taken. And though these comments sound pretty corny, at least they're honest and non-judgmental, which helps puts the client at ease. Exhibiting calmness and refraining from negative emotional reactions can do much to assure our clients that we're not only professionally competent, but truly caring as well.
Behaviorist and trainers will tell you never to say, "It's OK," or "Good," if a pet is misbehaving. Phrases like, "I'm not going to hurt you," or "I know your scared, but we're almost done," are great but don't do anything for the pet or the team member who's in harms way. My recommendation: Separate owner and pet, especially if you know or even suspect the animal to be difficult. Sometimes pets are easier to handle without their 'human' and feeding into their anxiety. Of course there are always exception to the rules. Also, give owners more credit. They usually know their cats aren't friendly at the vets and readily except being separated.
Your article was a little disappointing to me. I understand going to the vet is not fun, especially when you have an animal that hates it. But a situation with any fractious animal-dog, cat, horse-is just as stressful for the veterinary technician and doctor as it is to the owner. It takes a lot to deal with an animal that is stressed out, and serious injury can occur to the staff and the owner. There really is no way, no matter what you say, to make a situation with a fractious animal relaxing to anyone. So instead of getting frustrated with your veterinary staff, try thanking them for not allowing your cat to bite you.
No offense taken or given
While I frequently encounter angry cats on the job and often comment, “My, you don't sound happy today,” I've yet to have an owner express offense or embarrassment. I'm a cat person myself and have seven cats. One-per my request-is muzzled during visits. He nearly bit the boss. Honestly, he's a sweetie at home. But the visits put stress on him, and I don't begrudge anyone for commenting about his obviously angry behavior. In some cases, the comments are kind of amusing. For example, when the doctor says with wide eyes, “It's your cat, YOU hold him.”
Maybe yours was a case where the team simply disliked handling Pippa for safety reasons. I don't relish handling angry feline patients even though I'm a cat person at heart and own a cat like that myself. I'm interested to hear how you'd expect-or prefer-staff to respond to an angry, hissing, fearful ball of fluff.
I don't want medical team members to lie to me, but I do want them to soothe me. I equate my cat's veterinary visits to my 1-year-old daughter's pediatrician visits. My daughter kicks and cries during her exam, and that makes me nervous and apologetic-just like I am at the veterinary clinic. The doctor and nurses say things like, "It's OK, I'm not going to hurt you" and "I know you're scared, but we're almost done." I find these comments more relaxing than playful phrases that, in the moment, seem to make light of either my human or feline child's fear.