What pet planet are you from?
Nearly 20 years ago, author John Gray suggested that neither gender was indigenous to Earth, each having arrived from a different planet with divergent philosophies, methods of communication and problem-solving strategies. My independent observations suggest a similar dichotomy between groups of pet owners and veterinarians: Some arrived here from planet Herd Health (HH) and some from planet Individual (I).
HH veterinarians approach the local pet population as a large block, and their goal is to service as much of the group as possible. I veterinarians see the pet population as a series of unique animals and their goal is to make each one as healthy as possible. HH veterinarians want to spay 50 dogs daily. I veterinarians want to spay two per day. HH veterinarians want to see a new patient every 10 minutes. I veterinarians want two or three per hour. In the face of data reporting that three out to 30,000 injections produce a sarcoma, HH veterinarians see a minor and acceptable evil while I veterinarians start limiting their injections to reduce the high occurrence rate. HH veterinarians downgrade the importance of routine testing for potentially fatal contagious disease with a low rate of incidence. I veterinarians want every susceptible pet tested and cleared.
HH pet owners see their pet as one of a vast and interchangeable group of similar animals. I pet owners view their companion as special, irreplaceable and unique. HH pet owners get rabies vaccinations because they are legally required. I pet owners gladly agree to hip replacement surgery. HH pet owners get their pets free from a friend with an unwanted litter. I pet owners spend incredible amounts to obtain a designer dog. HH pet owners call their mixed-breed dog a "mutt." I pet owners have their mixed-breed dog genetically tested to establish its full heritage. HH pet owners will do anything to cure an ill pet as long as it doesn't cost more than $50. I pet owners want sedation and pain medication for every nail trim.The fun comes when the HH and I types interact. HH veterinarians might think their I colleagues are disconnected from animal suffering and can't see "the big picture." I veterinarians might think HH veterinarians are missing important procedures and have misplaced priorities. HH veterinarians might think I pet owners are wasting funds that could help treat many other pets. I veterinarians might think HH pet owners are uncaring when they decline recommended treatment or diagnostic plans. I pet owners might think HH veterinarians don't give their pet the attention it deserves. HH pet owners might think I veterinarians are trying to run up the bill for unneeded services.
Identify your planet of origin and then embrace and acknowledge your strengths and shortcomings. Then see if you can figure out which pet owner is across the exam table and adjust your approach accordingly. We may avoid an intergalactic war with a little common sense. I'm sure glad I came from the right planet!
Dr. McLaughlin is a small-animal practitioner in Plano, Texas.