A Waiting Room Rant

This has been a long time coming, and it’s been a while since I really dusted off the Soapbox for its original purpose – a place for me to complain.

Dear Other Patrons in the Veterinary Clinic Waiting Room,

Re: Public Service Announcement

The waiting room of the vet’s office is neither (a) an on-leash or off-leash play area for pets, nor (b) a petting zoo.

Before you consider me a complete ogre for these statements, let us ponder for a moment about the reality that is the veterinary clinic environment.

Consider a veterinary office part family doctor and part walk-in clinic or emergency room; most of the people waiting in that office with their beloved pets are not exactly thrilled to be there.

For instance, many patients are waiting there in advance of a routine procedure or check-up.  But do not be fooled by the comfort implied by the word “routine”.  Even if you are taking a cat in for shots or a dog to get spayed, there always remains a certain amount of worry – and a definite amount of monetary cost – associated with the trip.  Even the most optimistic people do not look forward to a vet visit.

And the routine stuff is the best it gets!  Because if you’re not there for a planned appointment, you are there because you are concerned your dog is sick or, worse, there has been a medical emergency such as injury or sudden illness.  Those people REALLY don’t want to be there.

So you know what this means?

It means if I am in the waiting room, you can bet I have a lower-than-my-already-low tolerance for idiotic behavior and poor social decorum.

Which brings me to you, and your delusions of fun pet-to-pet or pet-to-people greetings while we wait.

Please be advised: I will not let it happen.

You know how I just explained why people are never excited about going to the vet?  Well now consider the pets themselves.

First of all, you have no idea why pets are there.  So if you even think about asking if our dogs can meet and/or play while we wait, you have another thing coming.

Many pets go to the vet because they are sick or injured.  This means they are not feeling well and, just like people, can be a bit more sensitive and intolerant when under the weather.  So there is no way I want to risk any dog-to-dog greetings no matter how friendly you assure me Fido truly is – it is just too unpredictable.

Even in the event of animals there for “routine” procedures, the veterinary clinic is a weird place to be, and the environment alone can result in bizarre and uncharacteristic behavior.  The smells, the noises, the overall “vibe”… our pets know when something is “off”.  And I bet if you looked for behavioral stress signals such as panting, lip-licking, and yawning, you would notice them in abundance.  Instead, I prefer my dog just sit as calmly as possible unbothered, allowing her to cope with the situation in her own way, without adding even more stress or stimulation.

And THAT is why I won’t let her play with your unruly beagle.  It has nothing to do with my dog being “aggressive”, but everything to do with your apparent lack of awareness and my prioritization of my dog’s mental state.

Speaking of things I won’t allow brings me to my next and last point: please prohibit your unruly children from groping my dog.

If you cannot keep your other human family members under control, they probably should not accompany you to medical appointments – even if it’s for the family dog.

First, remember all that stuff I just said about stress and unpredictable behavior?  Well, if your offspring goes in for an unauthorized full body hug with my dog while I’m distracted, I’m sorry (I’m really not), but any adverse reaction there may be from the dog was completely deserved.

And second?  Well even if we weren’t in the vet’s office, I do not allow children who do not ask to pet my dog.  Ever.  Children should ALWAYS ask first.  And if you can’t teach them that, I will help them to learn the hard way with my own negative reinforcement – better it is from me in verbal form than by way of the teeth of the unsuspecting dog.

I thank you very much for your consideration of these issues and I look forward to somewhat more pleasant interactions in the veterinary clinic’s waiting room in the future.  Though, truthfully, I hope neither of us finds ourselves there if at all possible.

Yours very truly,

Jen K

For further information and an illustration, please see this handy chart from Dr. Sophia Yin:

I Love My Vet!

Remember last week when I wrote this post that had some not-so-subtle undertones of frustration and anger?

Well my tune has changed!

And there is a very good reason my favourite vet is my favourite.

Now, I know I mentioned I have a veritable team of veterinary experts for the care of our furry ones, but within that team, I do have a couple MVPs.  One, of course, is Moses’ surgeon.  And the other is more of a ‘regular practitioner’, if I had to put a label on his practice, but I’ll just call him The Best.

We’ve gone to The Best for more of your regular-type veterinary needs: spayed Emma, neutered Moses.  He gave us free post-op check-ups and took care of Moses’ staples at no charge after he bloated in Vancouver.  He’s no-nonsense and good humoured, and doesn’t baby talk to me or my dogs.  And to top it off, I overhead him recommend another client check out Tail Blazers for nutrition advice and good quality foods for their dogs; that alone is commendable!

So why didn’t I start there first when I needed veterinary advice?

Good question.

Alma was a little over-enthusiastic tackling an elk antler, and she’d pushed a tooth out of alignment – a lower incisor.

When she did it, it was immediately clear something was wrong because she was visibly bothered by some sort of ailment, pouting and playing Adele’s Someone Like You on repeat.

After giving her a thorough inspection and eliminating any wounds, broken bones, or digestive issues, I pried open her mouth and could easily see the tooth was pushed forward and no longer nicely in line with its neighbours, and the gums around it were quite red and swollen.  She’d still eat, but had no interest in chewing on or playing with toys.

She was clearly in pain, so I wanted to take her into the vet sooner than later.  And that is the problem with The Best – I’m not the only who thinks he’s great, and the office is always busy.

So I made a call to a vet office close to home who could get us in the next day.  We’re no strangers to them, either, as members of the ‘team’ who let us pop in just to use the scale or get up-to-date on rabies vaccines.

Of course, by the next morning Alma’s bubbly personality had reappeared, but the gums were still a bit red and swollen and I figured it would be best to get it checked out anyway.

One consultation later and I’m walking out with a tentative appointment, quote upwards of $800, and no confidence.

Second opinion time!

I booked us an appointment with The Best and called around to just talk general numbers with some other clinics.

By the time our appointment came around last night, Alma was back to nearly normal: the tooth was still misaligned, but the gums were no longer swollen and she was back to tackling that antler.

The diagnosis?  Her overall dental health is great and yep, she gave herself malocclusion (misaligned tooth), but no medical intervention is necessary and it will heal up just fine if we lay off the antlers for the next while.  We’ll go back in a couple of months for a follow-up just to make sure all is still well.

And there you have it.  I just saved a lot of money and The Best is even better in my books!

Even more importantly, Alma’s going to be just fine and we’re not putting her through any unnecessary procedures.

This is all quite timely considering February is Pet Dental Health Month.

Now that Alma's got a clean bill of health, time to give your pup's pearly whites a check. And when in doubt, always get a second (or third) opinion! Maybe you'll even find some Dental Health Month promotional pricing.

On Veterinarians

Why does a visit to the vet sometimes feel like a trip to the used car lot?

Sure, I admit that, although I fancy myself a relatively well-informed pet owner, I do not, in fact, have a degree in Veterinary Medicine or even Biological Sciences.   Perhaps it is this necessitated deference I therefore must pay to the professionals that in turn heightens my doubt and cynicism.

Or perhaps it’s the way everyone in a vet office baby talks to my pets.  It’s uncomfortable to watch.  (We actually visited one vet who baby talked to both Moses and us.  It was jarring. We did not go back.)

At a certain point, I do feel that the average pet owner’s lack of expertise and love for our companions makes an easy target for price gouging and misinformation.  And the increasing popularity of pet insurance should not be a license to charge even more.

Maybe my mistrust comes from clinic shelves stocked with food like this, peddled to trusting clients, unaware that the main ingredient of this very food is corn and not even aware why that's a bad thing. Seriously. Look it up yourself: hillspet.com (Also source of photo.)

Of course, there are exceptions to my complaints and there are lots of good vets out there.  Vets that don’t want to have them overnight for observation for no real reason. Vets that don’t recommend unnecessary blood tests.  Vets that don’t go to lengths to argue wild canines have grain-heavy diets.  If you find or have one, hang on to them!

For us, however, we could nearly fill a recreational kickball team with our team of vets.  Or at least a travelling band.  We seem to collect them like trading cards, noting opinions and specialities, often trading one in for another.

Yes, it is true; we are veterinarily promiscuous.

But I find everything I wanted in one vet, maybe I wouldn’t need to call in a second opinion.  I want a holistic opinion to compare with the one that’s more “western medicine”.  And I want to have that information when we see a specialist.  I want a thorough explanation of the problem, prognosis, and the options for treatment – no sugar-coating.  I want to be able to understand what’s going on and be able to Google it at home later.  And I want to trust that I’m not being taken advantage of, instead of having to compare the price for services across the city, because the realisation that one place can charge you $200 to neuter your dog and another can be upwards of $600 is ridiculous.

Because even though we have pet insurance, I’m not going to put Moses or Alma through unnecessary treatments and I’m not going to pay an exorbitant mark-up on services just because.

So yesterday when Alma was unusually demure and I found the cause in a lower incisor, I was not looking forward to the forthcoming rigamarole.

A dental cleaning with potential extraction is in order.  Let the shopping around begin.

Why can't you just be straight with us?

I better work on my pokerface, too.  “$485 base price for a dental cleaning?  Extraction on top of that?  And post-op meds?  And an additional pre-surgery check-up?   And pre-anestheric bloodwork for the low, low price of $80? No, no, that all seems perfectly reasonable.  Mere pocket change. I assume you can break a $1,000?”

I wish.