This column will focus on the extent to which we, as veterinarians, actually do harm and encourage problematic behavioral
responses in our patients, using my neighbor's dog as an example.
This little dog, Tyler, is an intact male 12-month-old Cocker Spaniel.
Tyler, who belongs to a young couple renovating an old house on the hill above my house, periodically shows up to visit my
dogs. These visits have decreased since his people put in a fence, but I don't complain because until he learned that my dogs
were sometimes out in the yard and "available" he would wander in the opposite direction — toward active roadways.
This is a pretty dog-friendly neighborhood, but in the past year I've taken home a menagerie of neighborhood dogs including
Tyler. (Some days I think that I am running a canine taxi service.) All of these dogs live with people who have fenced yards,
but what the dogs are seeking is interaction, energetic play with other dogs and exploration of new turf.
Some of these dogs are neutered, but the Bloodhounds (show dogs) and Tyler are not. And, at the rate Tyler is learning to
fear going to the veterinarian's office, he may never be neutered. Neutering decreases roaming in male dogs. Tyler would benefit
from that association, but all he needed to know about avoidance he learned at the veterinarian's office.
I do much of my writing at home. My neighbors are terrific at respecting this, but they also know that if they have an emergency,
it's always at least worth trying me at home before heading off to their veterinarian. When Tyler's owner called, she was
pretty hysterical. She had not wanted to bother me, but she'd been intermittently trying to remove a deer tick from Tyler's
head. She spent three hours looking for advice on the Internet. By the time I saw Tyler, he was missing a patch of hair over
his left eye, was bleeding and was not happy.
Take a deep breath
I suggested that my neighbor sit at the kitchen counter and calm Tyler down while I found my hemostat. Tyler calmed down quickly,
especially since my dog Flash, his buddy, began to lick him. So, I approached Tyler, reaching out a hand to steady his head,
and he began to scream. Flash began to bark and to get between me and Tyler. My neighbor started to explain to the animal
that no one was trying to hurt him as he jumped from her arms and ran around. When she caught him, we put on his lead and
wrapped him in a towel. I again tried to approach him that engendered a more severe repetition of his frantic behavior. It
was clear that removing this tick was not going to take five minutes. Of course, had it been easy, my neighbor would not have
been trying to do it for three hours.
My neighbor then commented that Tyler hated to have his face, feet and ears touched. She no longer takes him to the groomer
and instead chops off chunks herself because he becomes so distressed. She also told me that the last time she visited the
veterinarian's office, it had taken four people to take blood from him, and he had been muzzled, while frothing and screaming
the whole time. This blood sample was for a heartworm test. No wonder they had not wanted to take him to the veterinarian
to be neutered. All they had previously told me was that Tyler became upset at the veterinarian's office. For a 1-year-old
dog, Tyler takes "upset" to a whole new level.