Upon the advice from our rescue, A Positive Promise, we made an appointment for Kingston to see the vet on Friday. We wanted to get him up to date on the rest of his vaccines, double check some questionable swelling around his suture site, and discuss with them the options for anti-anxiety medications. Although I hadn’t yet been able to visit the new vet, Foster Dad had taken Kingston there for all of his pre- and post-surgical appointments, and had had positive things to say about the experience and the staff with whom they had interacted.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same when I went along on Friday night. The facility is a 24/7 emergency clinic, so maybe you can blame it on the fact that we were being treated by the overnight staff for the first time, or else were perhaps at the end of someone’s long day, but it was one frustration after another. We were rudely talked down to by the technicians (“I’ve never heard of medicating a dog for anxiety! Why can’t you just train him?” and “If he’s just a foster, the rescue group is not going to want to pay for any unnecessary vaccines like kennel cough or lymes.”)and doctor in more than one instance. Never one to be confrontational, most of their comments I could easily brush off, but the final blow came when the doctor came in to examine Kingston. She knew his history of abuse, as well as his lack of familiarity with veterinary offices until his traumatic and painful recent experiences. Instead of coming in slowly or quietly or even just normally, she came loudly into the room, cloaked in a heavy jacket, and hovered overtop of Kingston. Obviously uncomfortable, he still did not aggress toward her, but simply retreated into the corner near Jonathan and me, and emitted a low growl. Once he stopped growling, J reached over to pet him and to give him some reassurance. The doctor immediately started to belittle Jonathan, telling him in no uncertain terms that the dog needed to be punished for growling, or else we were reinforcing the behavior. UGH! I hope I don’t need to explain to our readers why her position was so
wrong archaic, what with all of the new things we know about positive reinforcement and canine behavior. However, just in case, check out this infographic from the ingenious Grisha Stewart.
Certainly we would never want to reward Kingston, or any fearful dog, for being aggressive. However, once he had stopped growling, he had made a great choice in choosing to retreat from whatever was scaring him. Animals have two options when faced with a stressful situation; fight or flight. By choosing to leave the situation, he was making a choice that was blatantly NOT aggressive. Why should he be punished for such a behavior?
Throughout the appointment she continued to speak to us as though we knew nothing about animal behavior, training, or health (hello, I have an Animal Sciences degree thank-you-very-much, as well as a more thorough education in companion animal nutrition than you would have been required to take in veterinary school!)
Thankfully the doctor did eventually pull out some treats (hello, couldn’t this have been one of her first steps?!) and Kingston warmed up to her after a little while, but Jonathan and I were still so rattled. How disconcerting is it when the people we trust to be the ‘experts,’ are really lacking in the knowledge and understanding departments… and even worse, are completely oblivious to the fact that there might be other opinions out there?! I understand that a veterinarian’s job is never easy. Their days are filled with lots of sadness and despair, and I empathize that their occupation is not always a rewarding one. However, it was still so disappointing to feel as though this doctor was taking her frustrations out on us. Have you ever experienced a similar issue? If so, how did you react? What is your advice for us if we are ever again faced with a similar situation?