One way clients burst my bubble


When some clients brush off our post-surgery care instructions, they end up paying for it-twice.

"Oh my God." That's the typical response I hear when we discharge a dog wearing an Elizabethan collar. You know, an E-collar, a satellite dish, a cone, a pain-in-the-you-know-what. Other pet owners laugh hysterically and say, "What have you done to my dog?" And some are simply flabbergasted.

After their initial shock, laughter, or speechlessness, clients often say, "My dog doesn't need that." Which means they don't want the neighborhood laughing at their dog or they don't want to pay for the darned thing. Or they're convinced we're trying to torture their dog by using the most ginormous collar possible. Forget that your doctor spent two hours stitching Fido back together, because the monstrosity you dressed him in completely overshadows the doctor's good work.

Some clients can't believe they're supposed to leave the collar on 24 hours a day for 10 to 14 days. And others refuse the collar and their dog chews out the stitches. Then they can't believe you're charging them to resuture the incision.

And still others accept the collar, then later feel sorry for their dog and remove it before bedtime. Clearly these clients feel confident their pet won't chew the sutures out while they're fast asleep. And if the dog were to chew out the sutures, they'd hear him do it. When Fido munches away at his stitches, these clients sheepishly admit, "It was only off for a minute."

Excuses, excuses

I hate to pick on our doctor, but his wife did just that. The doctor repaired his dog's cruciate, took him home wearing an E-collar, and firmly instructed his family to leave it on. Of course, they listened to him, but they didn't hear a word he said. The doctor's wife pitied the dog and took off the cone, intending to watch him so he didn't chew his stitches out. But she didn't—and he did.

Fortunately for our doctor, he didn't have to pay for his wife's guilt. But realistically, there's no reason we should resuture patients' incisions for free. Even though some clients believe we're diabolically involved in ensuring a return visit, it costs time and money to redo what the dog's undone.

These frantic clients usually call when they notice their dog's handiwork and must visit immediately—again. By then, the E-collar isn't as frightening as restarting the post-surgery recovery period.

I also love it when clients want to return the collar for a refund. It's beat up, scratched, and covered in dirt, but to them, it's like new. These clients often say, "She only wore it once," or, "He'll never wear it again." If I had a dollar for every time I heard one of those phrases, I'd never need to work again.

So what do you do?

After mulling over these scenarios, I decided to give clients two estimates: one for the initial surgery, including an E-collar, and a second excluding the collar and including the cost to redo the procedure. At first, clients may be mad. How could you even think their dog would remove his stitches? And why do you charge for the resuturing? But how else can we convince clients to leave that satellite on?

The truth is, you can't win. You're sunk if you put the collar on the dog and you're sunk if your boss catches you sending the dog home without it. Or even better, the doctor makes you dress Fido for him while he hides. And without even trying, you've earned the Evil Receptionist of the Year award. Man, my wall is full of those things.

Occasionally, clients will surprise you. One pet owner embraced the dreaded cone. When she returned with her dog for the suture removal, we noticed her family had decorated the dog's satellite dish with stickers. Her kids had found it too plain, so they worked their magic on it. The dog didn't seem to mind as he strutted around the reception area with his tongue hanging out. And for a few moments, the E-collar was a beautiful thing.

Rachael Hume

Rachael Hume is a receptionist at Southway Animal Clinic in Lewiston, Idaho. Please send questions or comments to

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