It’s deafening, the sounds I hear coming from my Luna girl. I can hear her cries and the thrashing of her body against the floor and maybe the walls, hard to tell. She’s a Rhodesian Ridgeback; 115 pounds of pure love and she’s in for a routine nail trimming. As I’m standing impatiently watching the door for her to come flying through, to my surprise the door opens. The horror before me puts me in a state of such fright that I couldn’t speak or even move my body yet my mind is racing. What are they doing? Why is someone lying completely over her body, while three others are grabbing at her flailing legs and another trying to put a muzzle on her? What’s happening here? These are veterinarians and technicians who I put my complete trust in. This must be what they need to do. This must be right; until out of my mouth comes the deepest, most guttural sound I’ve ever heard; screaming NO STOP RIGHT NOW! My mama bear came out loud and clear.
This story is unfortunately all too common. What goes on behind closed doors in some veterinary clinics is not a pleasant topic to talk about, yet it needs attention. It needs attention because there is a huge gap between what a pet needs and how to handle them in a humane way so that there is little to no stress while meeting those needs. The lack of education in veterinary schools and veterinary technician schools is at the crux of this dilemma. This education being twofold; learning to read body language and learning how to handle an animal that is stressed.
It’s so important that the late, great Dr. Sophia Yin, as well as Dr. Karen Overall and Dr. Marty Becker have come up with programs to help teach veterinarians and their staff about low stress handling and learning to read body language.
These veterinary practices don’t mean to be abusive in how they are handling our pets, they just don’t know that there is a different way. They are busy and need to get the job done. It seems archaic and it is. Archaic in the sense that vet schools don’t have a course on how to handle an animal who is stressed or how to read body language, so it is assumed not to be that important. Therefore, the M.O. is to just do what needs to be done, i.e. get the nails trimmed, remove a bandage, take sutures out or get vaccinated because we have clients waiting.
This revolution of learning to read dog body language and low stress handling is critical in all elements of loving and working with our pet horses, dogs, cats, bunnies, etc. If we can see that an animal is stressed and we can make them more comfortable then we won’t need to be taking four technicians off of their duties to wrestle our pet, potentially hurting the animal or have someone bitten because they were misunderstood and manhandled. This bite means that someone is sent to the ER, the dog is labeled aggressive and with two more bites could mean euthanasia. None of which need happen if more veterinary practices got on board in creating a low stress environment and learned about low stress handling and reading body language.
If we don’t take the initiative to be our pets advocate, nothing will change. If we don’t spread the word that there is a more humane way for vets to approach our pets; this taking of our pets to the back (behind closed doors) or asking owners to leave the room to do a procedure because it’s ‘easier if the owners aren’t present’, will continue. Our pets will remain frightened, a red CAUTION mark is put on our pets charts and injuries will continue to occur.
Ask your vet if they’ve heard of Low Stress Handling or Fear Free Vet Visits and if they haven’t, point them to the links below so they can learn more about it. Changes like this will only happen if we speak up for our pets. We are their voice.
Here are some links to help them create a low stress environment, which will create a more calm atmosphere in their entire practice. Who wouldn’t want that?
www.dogdecoder.com a smartphone app about dog body language, in the palm of your hands ready when you need it. Every veterinary practice should have it.
http://drsophiayin.com/lowstress to learn about low stress handling
Together we can get on the Fear Free Low Stress Handling movement, a more humane way of treating our pets. Let’s do it!
Oh, yes there is a great ending to this story. I was able to help Luna become less fearful and trimmed her nails at home on her own bed after one visit. My client was taught how to work with Luna and a week later, I returned and trimmed her nails. We went to her vets office asking if they’d be willing to learn and humbly (tails between their legs for getting caught) agreed. Luna now goes to the vet willingly and the vets office is enjoying a more peaceful environment. Much progress was made and everyone is grateful.