Unwanted kitten distribution and other absurd veterinary client accusations

Unwanted kitten distribution and other absurd veterinary client accusations

Dropping off kittens in the cover of darkness, dreaming up diabetes in a dog, changing the weather…yup, it's all in a day's work.
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Dec 01, 2013


(ILLUSTRATION BY RYAN OSTRANDER)
Mr. Newcat had been a regular client for many years, and he always seemed like a reasonable guy. But the last time I saw him, he was hopping mad. He stormed into my office and gave it to me with both barrels. His tirade went something like this: "You people have a lot of nerve meddling in my private life. What are you trying to do, drum up more business for yourselves? I know that you tried hard to save old Notso. He was a great cat, and I'll miss him. But he's only been gone for three days, and I woke up this morning to find a kitten on my front porch. Don't give me that innocent look! I know you did it, and I think it was a dirty trick. I'm not ready for another cat, and even if I was, I'd want to pick one out for myself."

I tried to assure him that I had better things to do than to run around distributing unwanted kittens in the middle of the night, but anything I said to him went in one ear and got lost in the vacuum of his brain. "Don't try to hand me any excuses! I know it was you. After all, who else could have done it?"

Obviously, I couldn't answer a question like that. So, to this day, Mr. Newcat thinks that I abandoned a kitten on his doorstep. By the way, that was two years ago, and we haven't seen him since.

Mr. Newcat's preposterous claim reminded me of an even more wild accusation that I confronted my second year in practice. I was trimming the toenails on a little terrier as his owner babbled along. "I'm glad you could fit us in today, Doctor. His nails are so long that I'm afraid his little toes might hurt. He doesn't let me trim them at home. I wonder why he behaves so well for you."

Then, without any warning, she went berserk.

"I saw that! I saw that!" she yelled. "How dare you drug my little dog?"

She grabbed the pooch and ran out into the waiting room where she explained to everyone that we make our patients behave by drugging them with sleeping gas that flows out from the exam room wall.

"I saw it squirting at my little dog," she screamed. "I'm never coming back here again!"

She ran out the door and kept her promise. The implication was so absurd that it I found it funny rather than upsetting or annoying.

I mention these two incidents to illustrate that we, as practitioners, are sometimes accused of things over which we have no control. For instance, when I told Mr. Leevum that his dog, Willie, required hospitalization, he countered by saying, "We won't leave him here over night. He's never been the same since you neutered him six years ago. You must have done something to him."

In a similar incident that occurred a few years ago, we noticed a dog that happened to be boarding with us was drinking a lot of water. I checked a urinalysis, and sure enough, she turned out to be a diabetic. I stabilized the pooch on insulin and explained the situation to the owners later the same day. They were enraged.

"Sweetwater was perfectly healthy when we left her here, and now you tell us that she has diabetes," they said. "What did you do to her?"

I tried to explain that I could neither create nor cure diabetes, and that, if I could, someone would rush the Nobel Prize over to my office.

"Somebody has to be responsible here, Doctor. It certainly isn't our fault that Sweetwater has diabetes! That obviously leaves you. We ought to sue you! This was a beautiful day until we talked to you. In fact, the weather is so nice that we were going to go and enjoy it, but this bad news of yours has totally ruined it for us."

"Oh, thank you for noticing," I said to them.

"Thank you for what? What are you talking about?"

"You said it was a beautiful day outside. Are you responsible for that?" I asked.

"Of course not, Doctor. What's your point?"

"Well somebody has to be responsible," I said. "If you didn't do it, that obviously leaves me."

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