The perils of denial in veterinary medicine

The perils of denial in veterinary medicine

Telling pet owners what they want to hear would be too easy—instead, we tell it like it is. Even if it leaves clients incredulous.
Feb 01, 2014

When it comes to matters of great importance, two heads are often better than one. So I count myself lucky to be acquainted with Arnie, the greatest thinker ever to enter our profession. Recently, we got together over a matter of such great concern that it consumed the minds of millions of other Americans. An event was taking place that would touch the emotions of anyone who witnessed it, and thanks to the miracles of modern technology, millions would do so right from the kickoff to the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. s

At halftime, Arnie decided to share a pearl of wisdom with me.

"Mike," he said, "I don't like the way these commentators have been critical of everything the Eagles do. They must be Cowboys fans!"

I pointed out that the Eagles were actually quite deserving of the criticism on that particular day, but Arnie had an additional point to make.

"I don't care whether they deserve it or not," he said. "In a way, I'm just like our clients. When it comes to certain subjects, I am simply in denial and refuse to listen."

He was quick to point out a recent example.

"Gerry Atric was in my office last week with his dog, Fossil. The pooch had been acting a little sluggish for a few days. Well, the dog turned out to have some rather serious liver and kidney problems, and in the course of conversation I happened to mention that, at 14 years old, Fossil might be getting near the end of the line. That did it! Atric gave it to me with both barrels. It seems that his neighbor's dog lived to be 17. Obviously, I didn't know what I was talking about. So he went off in search of another opinion."

"I see what you mean, Arnie," I said. "It's like the time I told Mrs. Tonnage that her dog was overweight. She took anything I said after that to be the further ravings of a lunatic who doesn't know a healthy dog when he sees one. Or, the time I told Mr. Tofu that meat is a major portion of a dog's natural diet. He called me a 'nutrition dinosaur' and stormed out of the office."

"That's right. You see, as a profession, we collectively suffer from a terrible case of foot-in-mouth disease. We should be more like politicians and tell people whatever they want to hear. Instead, we persist in making fools of ourselves with the truth."

I knew that Arnie was right. The last time Mrs. Pod called about Arthur's rash, I foolishly mentioned that fleas might be the problem. She chuckled at my ridiculous theory. Since Arthur is an indoor cat, she keeps a clean house, and there is a fence around her yard, she knew that anyone with half a brain would realize that fleas were not even a remote possibility.

Perhaps we, as a profession, could learn to tell people what they want to hear and put an end to this foolish course of truthfulness. But I doubt it. The bad habits are too deeply ingrained. For example, I often take the preposterous stand that a cat should have a rabies vaccination even if he lives indoors. Naturally, many of my clients see right through such a ludicrous statement.

Nonetheless, after my conversation with Arnie, I vowed to control my tendency to utter silly truths. The very next day, I had my opportunity, and I blew it. Mrs. Scruples was in to see me with the twins, Fritz and Gretchen. They were 10 months old now, and Gretchen was getting a bit round in the middle for a Dachshund. You guessed it. I foolishly uttered my suspicion that she might be pregnant. Mrs. Scruples was incensed.

"Use your head, Doctor," she said. "The only dog she has been around is Fritz, and he's her brother. They wouldn't do anything like that!"

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