Instinct: a powerful force, even for pet owners

Some client behaviors must be hard-wired over thousands of years
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Jan 01, 2009




Stop the presses! The natural history of mankind in general, and veterinary medicine in particular, may need to be rewritten.

Arnie and I have uncovered dramatic new evidence indicating that the formal practice of veterinary medicine may be as old as the use of spoken language. In fact, it may be even older.

You see, we have observed that our clients seem to share many of the same behavior patterns. Apparently, their actions are controlled by instincts that may have taken thousands of years to develop.

Allow me to illustrate:

Mr. Kology came in to see me last month with Yogurt, his dog. The pooch is a cross between a Chihuahua and a meat grinder. His medical record consists of nothing but a long string of rabies examinations. Cy Kology has a theory about why Yogurt acts the way he does.

Almost all owners of nasty pets have a similar explanation, and it's far too common to chalk it up to coincidence.

Arnie and I have decided that rationalizations such as this must be implanted by instinct. The rest of Mr. Kology's actions provide similar examples.

First, he smacks the exam table and says, "Up Yogurt! Up boy! Let's go!"

Dogs, of course, rarely if ever respond to this, but their owners have the instinctive and undeniable urge to say it anyway.

Next, he explains the problem. "Yogurt has a sore ear. We think someone must have shoved something into it while he was outside."

This statement was ridiculous. Anyone foolish enough to approach Yogurt outside would be featured in the next day's obituary column.

Lastly, Cy Kology expects me to examine the dog while he attempts to distract it with a piece of food he brought along for the occasion.

"Look, Boy!" he says to the dog. "Bone-bone, here is a bone-bone. Okay Doc, you go ahead and examine him while he is distracted by the food."

I decline, since my life insurance won't pay in the event of suicide. Mr. Kology doesn't understand my reluctance. You see, he has been programmed by ancient neural patterns to believe that his technique will work.

Such deeply ingrained behaviors could not develop in just a few hundred years' time. That's why Arnie and I believe that amateur psychologists, examination tables and veterinarians must have co-existed since the days of the earliest cave dwellers.

To those of you who are skeptical of our theory, I pose the following questions:

  • Why do we all have clients like Doug Nostician? No matter what his cat's symptoms are, he is certain that "someone must have poisoned him."
  • Why do so many owners of itchy animals start the office call by declaring: "We know it's not fleas"? We all know that the sound of that phrase is a pathognomonic sign of flea infestation.
  • Why do so many people watch with a relative lack of concern while an illness progresses to that magic point in the middle of the night when it takes on dramatic importance?

Last week, in search of an expert opinion, Arnie and I put together a presentation of our theory and took it to an anthropologist. His review of our work was unkind. "You two belong in a padded room," he said. "Stay in your own field and avoid the temptation to meddle in mine."

The guy seemed a little cranky, but we forgave him. We figured he probably was abused when he was young.

Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.