Redefining the animal lover


Some clients may think theyre acting in their pets best interestbut we know better.

When a client calls our office with a problem that seems urgent, I usually prefer to speak with that client right away. Such was the case last week when Mrs. Foamlips called. All she would say to my receptionist was that there was some sort of an emergency that required my immediate attention. Foolishly, I stopped scrubbing for surgery and picked up the phone.

Illustration by Ryan OstranderHer emergency went something like this: “Hello, Doctor, this is Mrs. Foamlips, Tigger's mother. Can you help me find a new home for Tigger? It looks like I won't be able to keep him, and I'm just sick about it. I tried calling some of the farms around here, but they all seem to be full right now. He's not just an ordinary cat-he's all white! Since I'm such an animal lover, this problem is driving me crazy. What am I going to do?”

At this point I had two questions. First, why did she have to get rid of the cat? And second, why was I wasting time on this phone call when I should have been in surgery? Due to an apparent bout of temporary insanity, I asked the first question.

“Tigger has always been a good cat,” she answered. “He always goes in his pan. But a friend told me that when cats get sick they sometimes miss the litter box. Well, I'm getting new rugs in a few weeks. If Tigger ever got sick I might come home from work one day and find poo-poo on the rug. Rather than taking that risk, I'll have to find another home for him. I love him, but I've only had him for two years so it would probably be better to make the change before I get too attached. Plus, he's lived on wooden floors all of his life. Don't you think it would be cruel to make him get used to rugs?”

Yes, it's true: Mrs. Foamlips sees herself as a great animal lover. (I don't mean to be sesquipedalian, but she thinks she's an ailurophile.) She is willing to go through thick and thin for her pet, but there had better not be any thick or thin on the rug. The truth is that people see themselves the way they would like to be seen by others, and veterinary clients are no exception.

Take, for example, Mrs. Fixum. She often remarks that she should have been a veterinarian. “Don't worry about the medication, Doctor,” she said. “I'm really good at giving pills. We've had so many problems with our animals over the years that I have treated just about everything at one time or another. I always follow instructions carefully too. I know how important it is to give treatments on time and to use the entire prescription until it's gone. By the way, which pills are you going to use this time? I may have plenty of them at home. I save a few from every prescription you've ever given me.”

Another example would be Mr. Kindly, who sees himself as a humanitarian. He plays a game that we refer to in our office as “euthanasia innuendos.”

“I'm sure worried about Sparky,” he said. “I hope you can save him, but I'll tell you right now that we love him too much to see him suffer. If this broken leg means he'll have pain for a few weeks, I'd rather not put him through it. He's been too good a dog. I don't want him to go through a lot of discomfort or expense. Besides, sometimes fractures don't heal right. Isn't that true?”

If our clients' perception of themselves misses the mark occasionally, so does their characterization of their pets. My favorite case in point comes from my early years in practice. I was making an attempt to trim the toenails of Fangs Gotcha. This pooch watched my fingers as though my wedding band had Oscar Mayer written on it. Mrs. Gotcha could see that I was a little nervous.

“Young man,” she said. “Don't be afraid of Fangs. He would never bite.”

Moments later something crushed my thumb. Realizing that there were no sharks in the exam room, I deduced that Fangs had gotten me. I had Mrs. Gotcha hold the dog while I washed my hand and bandaged the thumb. She became quite annoyed with me when I told her that we would have to muzzle the pup before proceeding.

“Now see here young man,” she said. “Stop being so timid. I told you he doesn't bite!”

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