You don't know they don't care


I thought I knew what the ideal veterinary client looked like-the one who's willing to pay for the highest level of care. I was wrong.

I thought I knew what the ideal client looked like—the one who's willing to pay for the highest level of care. I was wrong.

I remember that Saturday morning clearly. An overwhelming stench of stale cigarette smoke hit me as soon as I walked into the exam room, and the three dogs were too busy scratching themselves to even look up. None of the dogs had hair caudal to the thorax. These were three of the worst cases of flea dermatitis I'd seen in a long time.

Martha Armour, DVM

Two women were waiting with the dogs. Marge greeted me with a big smile, showing off chiseled, discolored teeth. Marge's adult daughter, Pam, had a tight-lipped smile to offer. This was going to be a challenging visit, I thought.

Marge and Pam had brought the dogs in for rabies vaccinations, and I saw from our records that there were two more dogs at home. None of the five dogs were current on heartworm tests, and none had been given flea or heartworm preventives in years.

All of the dogs were more than 13 years old and had been coming to the hospital off and on since birth. One of the dogs was the mother, one was the father, and the other three were their puppies. After that litter, the owners had had all the dogs spayed and neutered.

"Surely these women have been offered everything and declined it all," I thought to myself. "Just give them their shots and get out of here!" But I resisted the temptation and gave them as much time as I would have given my favorite clients.

I went over the pets' pertinent medical history and asked the women if they had any specific questions or concerns. I performed a thorough examination on each dog, discussed any abnormal findings, and gave recommendations throughout the appointment.

Marge and Pam's biggest concern was the discomfort their dogs were experiencing from pruritus. I took the time to explain our monthly flea preventives, treated the severe secondary bacterial pyoderma, and encouraged a follow-up exam.

That was three years ago. Today, Marge and Pam are responsible pet owners and wonderful clients. Their dogs have thick, full coats and no pruritus. They're all current on their annual heartworm tests, vaccinations, monthly flea and heartworm preventives, and dentals. The oldest dog, who's 17½ years old, has proteinuria, hypertension, early renal insufficiency, and cardiac arrhythmia. Marge has brought her in faithfully for blood work, radiographs, ECGs, and any other follow-up tests I've recommended. The dogs' prescriptions are filled at our hospital, and we've performed multiple surgical procedures.

In fact, Marge has become one of our top 20 clients at the hospital, and she knows so much about her pets' care that she catches me off guard sometimes. Recently, she brought in one of her dogs for a urinalysis, and she reminded me that I'd asked for quarterly blood pressure checks—due right then.

I learned a lesson from these wonderful ladies that affects my work to this day. I don't judge clients on first impressions, and I treat every client like my "best" client.

Dr. Martha Armour is co-owner of Capitol Illini Veterinary Services Ltd., with locations in Springfield and Chatham, Ill. Send questions or comments to

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