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Fear-Free Veterinary Clinics: Barking Up The Right Tree?
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According to ABC News, a growing number of veterinarians work in “fear-free” clinics.
Gone are the trembling, blood pressure surges, eye dilation and cowering that have traditionally accompanied dragging a household companion to a strange place and exposing him to white lab coats, harsh lights, cold exam tables and other horrors.
“Fear-free” clinics use pastel colors, yoga mats, classical music, ample treats and other means of making the pets feel more comfortable. The changes are more humane, yield more accurate test results and are just good business.
Inertia has been a problem; technology may advance, but most vets just innocently perpetuate the sort of environment that their mentor learned from HIS mentor. True, some vets go above and beyond the call of duty when creating stress - playing Tom Cruise’s “Days of THUNDER” in the waiting room, having stacks of easily rolled up newspapers lying around and telling the landscaper, “Concentrate on the hedges. Who cares if a few limbs scrape against the window?”
Progressive clinics are using sedatives or pheromones rather than muzzles or restraints to make the pets cooperative. (No more kids shouting, “Momma, is that Hannibal Lecter kicking fleas?”) Vets just have to make sure they don’t make the pets TOO mellow. In that case, instead of dreaming about chasing rabbits, they dream about chasing a Grateful Dead tour bus. (“Dude, where’s my tapeworm?”)
True, some clinics go too far in making pets feel at home. Playing MP3s of parents whispering, “I think it’s a bill collector at the door! Turn out the lights” or shouting, “How come the dog always chews up your homework but not your Zig-Zag papers, Junior?” does not add to the dignity of the profession.
My personal experiences have prejudiced me toward supporting “fear-free” clinics. In the mid-80s I left my loyal tomcat Turf overnight with a local vet because of some relatively minor malady. The vet called me with the sad news that Turf was constantly howling in pain. He recommended euthanasia, but I decided to let Turf expire naturally at home.
As soon as Turf jumped out of the car, he spotted a stray cat and sent him packing. With a howling-free demeanor, he resumed ruling his territory. He might have lived to the age of 20 if he hadn’t decided to cross the road without looking both ways at age six. (Alas, domesticated animals are not known for displaying mature, socially responsible behavior. In fact, Swedish researchers developed a translator that shows - no matter what species you study -- the most common utterance among pets is “Toga! Toga! Toga!”)
My father and I figured out Turf’s problem: he wasn’t crying because of pain; he was crying because he was in a cage surrounded by cages full of dogs!!! I guess the vet wasn’t using a yoga mat for an examination table; apparently he was using it for a DIPLOMA!
Now if we could just develop “fear-free” transportation TO the vet clinic. Once when our pet carrier was missing, I naively tried transporting Cami the cat loose in the car. To this day, I regret not having filmed a surely viral video of her bouncing all over the interior of the car in the driveway.
Our pets: they ask so little and give so much in return. And in Cami’s case, they go great with a “Pinball Wizard” soundtrack.
Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at