My job comes with no guarantee of safety. I didn't ask for one, and not a one was offered. I have been scratched, bitten, gnawed, peed, and spat upon, and none of it was much of a surprise to me. However, the aspect of my job that I did not expect, and that which continues to lower my opinion of the human race in general, is the owners.
It would be so much easier if pets didn't need owners. When I come home from a hard day of work, with a new twitch in my left eyelid and a stabbing pain in my temples, I imagine a veterinary Eutopia. In this mystical land of Leave-Me-The-Hell-Alone,-People, I can offer all of my veterinary services for free, living off of the generosity of my community. The animals themselves are smart enough to make a bee-line for my clinic when they need help, instead of relying on the iffy expertise of a human owner. Of course, this would also require that animals could talk and tell me what their symptoms have been. This sounds awesome, until you realize how obscene some animals are in their native tongue. If you don't think cats cuss, I'm going to go ahead and assume you've never spent any time with a cat at all.
Anyways, that’s my dream. That’s my happy place, the sweet paradise that I run to when it just gets too ridiculous. And it’s taking less and less to send me there at this point. You might think I’m just running out of patience, but I think there’s a deeper, darker, more wide-spread answer:
So, without further ado, allow me to demonstrate. The following stories are as accurate as I can remember them. Trust me, these folks require NO exaggeration from me, and I’m fairly certain I couldn’t make this crap up anyway.
THAT’S NOT MY CAT
We board animals fairly often, and though there are occasional slip-ups involving missing toys and misplaced leashes, we usually do a nice job of keeping the animals well and whole for their owners to reclaim. However, sometimes the fates are just against you. Sometimes there’s simply no way to get that animal out of the clinic without gaining a new stress scar on your brain, which is what I’m assuming happens every time I try to kill someone with my mind. Darth Vader’s brain was probably an unbelievable mess.
Anyways, the other day a girl came into the office to get her cats out of boarding and take them home. I tend to not sugar-coat things with customers when I’m unduly afraid I’ll lose a finger, so I told her up front that I’d REALLY appreciate it if she came and pried her own psycho cat out of the kennel. Like most owners, she agreed readily, since she assumed her cat would be more willing to go with her than with me. I’d already cajoled the nice one into her pet taxi, but the other was hunched up in the far corner of the kennel, shooting me with its death-laser eyes and fluffing up to about twice its original size.
The girl followed me into the cat room, and said, “Where’s my cat?”
Wondering how it wasn’t obvious, I gestured and cheerily said, “Right here, ma’am!”
She looked at the fuzzy devil glaring back at her, and said,
“That’s not my cat.”
To which I replied, “Mrflguh.”
I’m pretty sure that’s the only way to type how it sounds when your heart skips a beat and it’s audible through your mouth. The cat I had in a carrier, which she did confirm as hers, had been in the kennel with that other cat for an entire weekend. AND EVIL KITTY WAS EVIL. Nice kitty was lucky it was ALIVE.
To make matters worse, it wasn’t just a case of switched kennels. I desperately scanned the other cages, but it wasn’t possible that any of the other occupants were her cat, either. Trying not to let my panic show on my face, I turned to her and said, not believing for an instant that it would work,
“Are you sure that’s not the cat you brought in last Friday?”
“Yeah…Oh, wait,” she said. “That totally IS my cat!”
And then she mumbled some stupid crap about having never seen him all angry and fluffy before, while I took the moment to perform the aforementioned mental homicide and compose my face. She left, cats in tow, but not without taking a little piece of my sanity with her.
Note the new twitch starting to form. She made that.
Which is when I realized I’d given her the wrong carrier. The universe had apparently had enough laughter at my expense, because she did eventually bring it back, but honestly, I didn’t even care. I was happily ensconced in my happy place, and no force on Earth was dragging me back out.
If you’ve spent any time reading this blog, you’ve probably already glommed on to the fact that I am not averse to throwing down some obscenity. I’d like to blame that on bad parenting on my father’s side, but I was doomed once I got to college anyway. Hell, sometimes my professors cuss even MORE than I do.
Still, as dirty of a mouth as I have at home, I do my utmost to keep it out of the workplace. I am a professional, believe it or not, and I take pride in my customer skills. However, no amount of politeness on my part can make up for all the crazy in a client.
One day I was manning the front desk by myself after the doctor had left, when a man came in the door with a severely injured dog. Now, as I’ll explain later, my memory of this incident is slightly fuzzy, except for that first glimpse of the animal. It was limping heavily, which wasn’t surprising once I noticed that one leg was broken completely and actually crumpled against the floor each time the dog stepped on it. At this point, I may have uttered a “Damn!” of extreme sympathy under my breath. I honestly can’t remember for sure, but I do know that that is the ONLY time I might have cussed during that encounter. A woman and a little girl followed the man in the door as I jumped to my feet, already preparing for where to send the poor dog and family since the doctor was gone for the day.
However, it turned out that the dog’s injury had actually already healed, while they’d done nothing to fix the break. The man was under the assumption that he’d had an appointment scheduled for that day to see if there was anything that could be done to fix the leg after the fact, but there was no entry in the schedule for his allotted time. Normally, I would try to fit them in anyway, but there wasn’t much I could do without a veterinarian. So, smiling as calmly and reassuringly as I could, I assured them we could reschedule the appointment for the next day, or I could contact other veterinary offices in the area to try and secure a veterinarian for them at an earlier time. With a grimace, the man said that no, they’d figure something out later, and I smiled apologetically as they left, repeating how happy I’d be to send their information to a different vet if they changed their minds. The woman smiled reassuringly at me as they left, and I honestly continued on with my day feeling that I’d averted an angry-client disaster.
And that was the last I thought of it, until Dr. Jarrett called me into her office days later. I knew I’d done something seriously wrong as soon as she shut the door behind me.
“Do you remember talking to a client named ---------?” she asked.
I strained to remember, wondering why that name sounded so familiar, when I recalled my earlier encounter.
“Yeeeess…,” I said.
“I’d like to hear your side of this. Can you tell me exactly what happened?”
So I recounted it as best I could, wondering what on Earth had gone wrong, and praying I wasn’t about to be fired for something I could barely remember. She nodded, her face blank and calm.
“Alright, then,” she said once I’d finished. “Can you explain to me why I got chewed out today because you repeatedly dropped the F-bomb in front of his child?!?”
I was floored. I do my best to not say anything off-color in front of a client, but I wouldn’t DREAM of saying that. Panicked and nauseous, I defended my innocence with all the eloquence at my disposal, and she let it go, since she hardly even knew the client in the first place. I spent the next few days on pins and needles, watching my every remark, when who did I see stroll back into the office? The man had the audacity to come back, with an actual appointment this time.
Just to freak him out, and to prove that his nasty call hadn’t gotten me sacked, I volunteered to be the assistant during his appointment. I didn’t glare, didn’t say anything, but I looked him straight in the eyes and tried with all my might to strangle him with the power of my brain.
Just. Like. This.
That little girl didn’t actually NEED a dad like that, so I felt okay with my mental machinations. Didn’t work, but he sure wasn’t able to hold my gaze very long. Wuss.
Also, it turned out that Dr. Jarrett had believed my side of the story more than I’d thought.
“Can’t believe he came back,” she murmured as we left the room.
“I can’t either, Dr. Jarrett,” I said back, still not sure of her opinion of the situation and still a little hurt that she’d suggested a doubt as to my good behavior.
“You’re doing a good job in there,” she said. “He’s not very nice, is he?”
And that was all it took for the load of unwarranted guilt I’d been carrying around to dissolve away. Which is good, because otherwise I’d STILL feel bad about the whole thing. That’s just kind of how I operate. I am rather easily crushed, but a simple word of praise can lift me right back up.
However, I obviously didn’t just forget about it once I felt better. I watch my language at work VERY CAREFULLY now, and to compensate, I cuss even more at home. Which is okay, because the cat just cusses right back. And we never, ever run out of conversational fodder.
MY DOG, HITCH
One of the key parts of working in a veterinary capacity is learning how to discern what’s wrong with an animal without being able to clearly communicate with it. More often than not, we can rely on the observations of the owner to give us crucial clues to the source of the problem. This is why, 9 times out of 10, when an owner is frantically entreating me to describe danger signs that they might encounter, I finish off the list by telling them that they’ll know it when they see it. There are some basic warning symptoms, of course, but in general I’ve found that owners can just intuit when their animal is feeling a bit off, by subconsciously compiling a whole list of little hints and following their gut.
However, there are other owners who make me wish the internet did not exist. These are the ones who come in convinced that their dog has cancer because it has been sneezing regularly, or the ones who are just positive that their kitty has caught the epizudic of the kazizzy because they read about it on WebMD that day.
On a side note, if you want to believe something, there will always be someone somewhere out there who will be willing to support you 100%, even if (or perhaps especially if) your belief is ridiculous. Trust me on this
And while I’m thrilled to see people so attentive to their pets’ needs, I am very tired of them treating live and present medical professionals as the second opinion.
Now, this constant access to an unfathomable amount of information turns many nice people into condescending twerps, but it can also amp up the over-protective nerve in others.
Take a frequent client of ours as an example. She, who shall be named Marge for the duration of this post, has a small Dachshund with a ridiculous name that makes him sound a lot like European nobility.
On my first encounter with her, I treated her like I would any other client, graciously welcoming her and ushering her into the exam room. Her dog cowered against her, as is common with animals in an unfamiliar situation, but I managed to pry him off long enough for me to weigh him. Marge, ever helpful, called out encouragement from the corner, simpering over his pathetic scampering as he tried to escape back to her. I tried to keep smiling sympathetically, instead of just pinning him down to try and calm him, but Marge’s continued moaning only made him wriggle more anxiously.
As Dr. Jarrett finally entered the room and saw her client, I could nearly feel her exhale of resignation from across the room. Marge didn’t notice. I’m fairly certain she wouldn’t have noticed if Dr. Jarrett had smacked her on the back of the head.
“You see how anxious he is, Dr. Jarrett?” she whined. “That’s why we came in today. He just can’t STAND to be away from me, but I gotta work, and I’m afraid he’s gonna hurt hisself if we don’t do something.”
“Yes, he does seem to be—,” Dr. Jarrett started.
“He just loves his Momma so much, doesn’t he? That’s right, you’re my baby,” she cooed. I closed my eyes and counted to three. “He’s got a anxiety disorder; I see this all the time at the hospital.”
You have GIVEN him an anxiety disorder, I thought. I might have been biased at that point, but when I looked into that little dog’s eyes, I could almost swear he was begging to be saved from this woman. He was the product of his owner’s neuroses. He couldn’t help being pathetic.
“I just don’t know what to do!” she wailed. “I can’t leave him alone for a minute! We gotta get some drugs or something, so my little baby doesn’t hurt his sweet self.”
She continued to babble about her dog, her diagnosis for him, her own health, and her career as a doctor (?) while we examined him. It was fairly easy to keep her entertained—one really didn’t have to say much to keep the one-sided conversation churning along. The hard part was not turning around to just stare at her in disbelief.
As if you were staring at some sort of weird and slightly creepy specimen at the zoo.
“One of the reasons he’s so anxious is ‘cause he’s so smart,” she preened at one point. “Do you know what he did the other day? He was trying to get his Momma a date!”
I felt Dr. Jarrett twitch beside me.
“Yes, he did! He just went right up to this nice doctor man and was flirting with him and all ‘cause he knew he was a good man. That’s my sweet boy! Dogs is smart enough to do that, you know!”
The “sweet boy” strained to get back to her every time she opened her mouth again. And, I suppose you might call that love. I think it was a case of Stockholm’s Syndrome.
But in the end, Dr. Jarrett did prescribe some anti-anxiety medication for the dog, but I felt weird bottling it up to go home with them. It almost felt like enabling Marge; she could keep smothering him if he was too drugged up to resist. I felt a deep urge to grab him, toss him out the front door, and tell him to run, run to the hills and freedom!
But instead, I came back in to tell Marge she could go up front and get her bill settled. She was busily rummaging through her purse.
“Just hold on a minute,” she said, digging with single-minded determination. “You done good with him. I got something for you.”
I stood there as politely as I could, but my mind was racing. What on Earth would this woman produce? Would it be a dog biscuit for me, the good little vet assistant? An old wad of chewing gum? A business card verifying her status as a doctor? A shank, to punish me for my impolite thoughts?
What she ended up pulling out was a little flashlight, like the kind you could put on a key chain, which she handed me like she was handing me the keys to the city. Frankly, that was a relief. Forcing my smile back in place, I accepted the momentous gift and walked out behind them, trying not to watch as she let the dog lick her lips.
Once she was gone, I turned to the other assistants to tell them about this crazy woman who’d finally left, to find that they were all laughing. They knew all about Marge. They had dealt with Marge for longer than I’d been working there, and yes, Marge was always that crazy.
I’ve dealt with Marge and other questionable clients many times since that encounter, and I have to admit, it does get easier with practice. This is the kind of clientele you come to expect when your prices are lower than the competitors’. And to be fair, Marge is sweeter than most. But I still thank my lucky stars that I am not the one medically treating these people, for the same reason that I am no longer on the path to becoming a psychologist; people don’t generally accept “a swift kick in the ass” as a valid form of medication.
No matter how desperately they need it.