Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Exit Door

My physician says I should eat a little aspirin every day, to keep the heart attacks away. She says I should do a few other things too, and I occasionally do some of these.  But not every day.  A little aspirin a day is easy, and it doesn’t mean I have to give up any of the good things I don’t wish to give up. But I take aspirin so my blood won’t clot so easily, for that is how you avoid some of those heart attacks. And that means I bleed something awful when I get bit or scratched. Like today.

One of the nice things about being a veterinarian is I have all the bandaging materials I might ever need, right there in the treatment room of my clinic. So when I do get ripped up in the course of staggering through an average day, and I need a big bandage for my arm, for instance, I just open the cabinet. As I sit here in my recliner chair, watching some drivel on the evening tube, I have a nice bandage on my arm, from my wrist up to almost the elbow. Keeps the blood off the furniture, and my better half appreciates that. And soon I will have another scar to add to the railroad map that is my forearms.

You might wonder how I managed to survive the tiger ambush, or the Rottweiler chomp. Was that an attack trained German shepherd, or a psycho Doberman that hunted me down? Or just perhaps a pack of rabid chimpanzees?  Nope. Actually, my attacker was one of those beasts we veterinarians lovingly refer to as a “land shark”. Yep, it were one of those nasty evil things.

It was a Chihuahua.

A mix actually. One of those midget beasts of uncertain parentage that are all the rage these days, thanks to the tiny mutants that fill the purses of so many actresses and actors in the pages of the tabloids you read in line at the grocery store. This guy was all of seven or eight pounds, hardly an imposing monster. But you know what they say about “it ain’t the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog”? Well, this little devil had his share of that fight in him.

The medical chart gave a hint to what lay ahead. New client. Puppy has had no vaccines. Age of puppy…unknown. I wandered out to the dog waiting room to fetch him in. He was a mostly grown 7 month old teenager of a dog.

Three generations of humans filled the room. The little doggie was on the floor, leash trailing behind him, with not a hint of a human hand on the other end. The snarling little darling came halfway across the room toward me as I entered, all growlbarkteeth. When the tail goes up and he stares right into your soul, he means business. And not one of those eight people made any attempt to control the dog, or correct his behavior. Great. Here we go again.

Been here before, you see. Don’t know when it happened, but it is now illegal to use the word no when you live with a land shark. You don’t want to hurt their feelings. You don’t want to break their spirit. And when the (you have to forgive me here, because you remember how when you were sixteen, and you saw an adult over, say, 25 years old, you couldn’t tell whether you were looking at a person of 25 or 60? Well, when you are my age, and the girl children dress like hookers and have breast implants and liposuction before they are fourteen, and you can’t tell if they are 13 or 35, it’s kinda hard to age some of them) young woman reaches out to hug the charming little dog into her bounteous bosoms, all those years of experience doctoring pets will tell you that this dog is going to be JUST a BIT spoiled. Because it’s that young woman’s first born. 

We adjourn to the exam room, and the young woman places the dog on the table, and immediately unhooks his leash. And she turns and walks away. And the little dog air launches. My life goes into slow motion at that point. Visions of broken legs, busted teeth, bloody noses as I await the inevitable splat when he reaches the floor. The sound of his landing is chilling, but somehow he survives the equivalent of you or I popping out of a sixth story window. She laughs (?) and then plops him back on the table.

Now, I’ve played this game before. In fact I’ve played this game for decades, so I know that land sharks are generally fear motivated. They often have only lived with a few people, so everyone else is a stranger. They often live with men that follow the old rules that mandate kicking the dog after you’ve kicked the wife and kiddies, so I expect a land shark to hate men. They often have never left home, much less set foot upon mother earth, so anyplace else is an alien place to them. So I try all the tricks to put them at ease. 

First, I try to put their people at ease, for if their people hate or fear mendoctorsmenvetsmen, the dogs will pick this up right away, and they’ll go all psycho on you. So I’m friendly, soft body language, baby talk the dog, high in the voice register, and don’t look the dog in the eye nice guy. Don’t approach the dog right away. Let everybody grow accustomed to the room. Tell a joke or six. Let the little beast smell the back of your hand. Pet em for a month or so before you begin any exam. You know, the usual tricks. Sometimes this works wonders.

But not today. Every single thing I try nets only growls and teeth. Fine. Sometimes the dog lays down the rules for the engagement. Well, I have my rules, too.

I expect to get to the end of the day with six fingers on each hand. This is not negotiable. OK five. Just wanted to see if you are paying attention. Two times five fingers is important, for if I run out of fingers I have to become a politician or something just to make a living. And I’d hate that. But I sure couldn’t do this work anymore, and I like this work.

So I slip my own lead around the little dog’s neck. This gives me a semblance of control of the dog without sacrificing any fingers. It gives me one last chance to pet the dog safely without exposing fingers to unnecessary risk. Sometimes this works. 

But not today. The dog doesn’t like my leash. Soon I am playing him like a bass on light tackle. He pulls this way, I urge him back that way. He bites the leash. It’s not my finger. His young woman runs in tears from the room. The brilliant notion enters my head….Send the little dog home right now. Go home myself and have a drink and watch reruns of MASH. Save fingers and bloodpressure. 

But no, I figure I can get him vaccinated and send him on his way and no one need get hurt, and with the young lady out of the room, there’s that much less drama to sweep up later. So I grab him by the scruff of his neck, and we tie his mouth shut and I do my exam and vaccinate him, and like always, he never even feels the injections. Everything is peachy.

Oh sure, the little dog did bit my tech as she tied his mouth, but he didn’t break the skin. And that blood all over the table is mine, from that 8 inch long incision he made in my forearm with a hind foot claw. But that’s just the dang aspirin.

Just another day in the trenches. And it’s over with no fatalities. Until the boyfriend opens his attitude.
Boyfriend doesn’t like how I handled his dog. 

Ah, you have a very poorly behaving dog. 

I choked his dog. 

Ah, no. I know how to choke a dog. That wasn’t it. That was holding the biting end so no one was seriously injured by your dog. Well, you get paid to get bit. Ah, no. I get paid to try to help you, in spite of the fact that it is your fault that the dog is so poorly trained and socialized that he has become dangerous. 

He never acts that way around us!

Well no, cause you have never made him do anything he didn’t want to do. What you just witnessed here was your dog attacking me because I tried to pet him. That is simply wrong. What you have here is a dog so dangerous that if he ever gets seriously sick, he is gonna die because no one will be able to treat him. He needs training now if it isn’t already too late. 

Oh, and he needs a new veterinarian, for I will not see him again. And that too is your fault. 

I work with poorly behaved dogs every day, but I have two rules that must be followed for me to do this. 

Number one: you don’t laugh when your dog tries to hurt us. That should be self-explanatory.

Number two: you don’t blame me for your dog’s bad behavior.  You apologize for your dog’s bad behavior. That would be polite.

I’m good at this, and I’m here to help your dog. I don’t get paid for YOU to let YOUR dog injure me or my people.

See that door marked EXIT?

Use it.


  1. Enjoyed every bit here. Thanks for sharing your stuff. @bose
    Medical Consent Form Template

  2. "Number one: you don’t laugh when your dog tries to hurt us. That should be self-explanatory."

    That is the one that really gets me. It also frightens me how many people who *will* laugh are out there....because it makes me wonder about the quality of their humanity in other respects.

  3. I fired a client (military) for chuckling and chortling to himself that "his cat was a badass" when it was explained to him that his cat (drop-off appt) had injured one of my technicians so badly that she was currently receiving treatment at the emergency room. Lucky for me, I can technically yell at, chastise, and make stand at attention, lower ranking "clients" for their idiotic actions. And they have to call me "Ma'am". Almost went so far as to make the little asshole do pushups, but I refrained.

    In another instance (civilian ER world this time), I had a man get up in my face very threateningly when I explained to him that his Chihuahua in heart failure would likely die because no one could safely handle the animal without risking serious injury to themselves or pushing an already stressed patient over the edge. I almost told this guy to take his dying satan-spawn elsewhere, but felt badly for the little beast. Pretty sure this guy beat his wife too...she was a sweetheart, poor woman.

  4. The other day I was volunteering with a rescue group at an adoption event and I noticed one of the head lady's hands were covered in new scars, bandages, and generally banged up. When I asked she said "someone dropped off a pack of chihuahua puppies, they bite like crazy." Fortunately for these puppies she is committed to training them before adoption, so hopefully they will have a shot at a life where biting isn't their only means of communication. Somehow people forget that just because a dog is small doesn't mean it cant learn all of the proper socialization that a larger dog can.

  5. I hope that you actually told the asshole boyfriend everything you wrote in that post. We need more vets like you, who are willing to make a client responsible for the bad behavior of their pet, and to try to make them realize that behavior is inappropriate and why, instead of pandering and taking the blame when their satanic six week old puppy tries to eat your hand when you pick it up to weigh it. And of course that is hilarious to them. Been there before. Memories like that make me almost enjoy lab work.

  6. Some people wonder why I say I'm a muzzle nazi. I have a lot fewer scars on my hands/arms.

    1. I'm with you, it's our policy to pretty much muzzle everything.

  7. As a chihuahua owner this always burns my biscuits when an owner is not responsible in properly socializing their pets! Just because they are small and cute isn't a pass on proper training.

  8. This is why I don't do small animal medicine. I just can't handle the shitty dogs and their usually shitty owners. I like the nice dogs and nice cats, I can sympathize with a scared cat, but holy shit I don't want to deal with land sharks or those bullies that whale eye. "You look like you're scared of Fluffy - he's only playing and you're a vet and you like animals!" Fuck you, shitty dog owners.

    I'm poorer for it, but much less stressed.

  9. When something acts like it is going to be a biter or aggressive in any way, I uniformly offer sedation. In most cases, it is less risky that either me getting eaten or the animal getting so stressed that they stroke out. I have seen a bull dog go from hyper excited to almost dead just due to panting and overheating. Not worth it. And I have been known to tell owners that it is not my fault that even *they* cannot medicate their dog's ears because he is so mean. Anyone can medicate my dog's ears. Or pretty much do anything to her because that is how I trained her.

  10. We call them "bosom barracudas."

  11. I'm a dog groomer.... same shit.
    "Now I'm going to have to clip your dog quite short - I have to go under the giant-ass-matts-of-hair you see."
    "But I want Pookie to be long coated"
    "Well you have to brush your dog. Every damn day."
    "Oh, no, I can't do that. He wont let me."
    And then you find out Pookie bites. And they are entire ("Oh, would desexing him make a difference?"). And the dog doesn't even know how to sit. Or they a fully grown fluffy dog over a year old who has never been clipped, being so terrified it pees on the table and shakes violently. And the owner finishes with "I didn't think it would be so much work." AAARRRRGGGHHHHH!!!!! Research your fucking dog before buying it!!!!

  12. Ouch. This is just as much fun when your patients are poorly behaved horses. The most dangerous horses I encounter belong to misguided novices who spoil them rotten, don't teach them to stand still, then accuse me of scaring the horse (which generally outweighs me by 800-1000+ pounds). These types also balk at the technician fee I tack on for those who can't handle their own animals. Sorry, if you allow your animal to attempt to hurt me, there will be a fee associated with that. If you're completely clueless, I will tell you to call the nearby veterinary school the next time you need spring shots, or an emergency. I don't really care that you've never taught your horse to load on a trailer. That's your responsibility, too, and no, I won't dispense any "ace" if I'm not able to actually examine the horse, especially not the injectable form, so you can stab yourself then sue me. Invest some money in training before you endanger the well-being and livelihoods of the equine professionals (veterinarian, farrier, etc.) in your horse's life.

  13. I have yet to have a client laugh because of their vicious pet, so I consider myself lucky. Most of the clients I've met are very good about warning us beforehand of any behavioural issues.

    Also, I like to call these kind of dogs "bosom piranhas".

  14. As a client with another in a series of large dogs: AMEN! It's also not funny when your unleashed little monster attacks me and my socialized, leashed dog, nor is it my fault when my dog gets tired of being bitten and growls and/or barks at your "little angel" and threatening to sue me for that is ludicrous.

    I had a chihuahua mix once back in the '80s, and she went through the same training and socialization as the doberman. Never had a problem with either of them.

  15. I took two chickens to see the vet last week. One had already been and the other was a sister for comparison purposes (different breeds 'carry' themselves differently, I just wanted the vet to see what the sickly one should be like). The vet was really impressed with how well behaved they were! She was able to rummage through feathers, poke around her head, she even weighed her herself... without so much as a cheep. The sister just sat on the table, looking around with interest. I think the vet was wishing all her patients were like that.
    This was an evening call, so we then dropped sister back off at the allotment with the others, in the dark, after having picked her up from there just before going to the vet. I can just imagine her the next morning saying to the others "I had this REALLY wierd dream last night..."

    I had a degu neutered a few years back. I had to take him back afterwards, because he got an infection. I did warn the vet that he wasn't the most sociable of degus, so I held him while he did the exam. It must have slipped his mind, because he suddenly made a grab for the degu, who squeaked in alarm and bit the nearest thing to him: me. I don't know if you've ever been bitten by a degu, but it makes a hamster bite seem like a kiss. I now have a lump on the end of my finger and, three years later, feeling is just starting to come back. Thanks doc! I guess it's better me than him; I would have had a major case of embarassment and arse-kissing had it been him!

  16. Question...was he one of those evil dogs with a harness?

    Sorry..couldn´t keep that in *chuckle*

    So...did he wear a badass black leather, spiked harness or one of those bejeweled, pink-floral fake harness stuff that is sold for those wannabe VIP doggies.

  17. Restraint, restraint, restraint!

    I work at two different clinics. One clinic (thankfully the one I work more frequently) has excellent technicians and assistants who are taught proper reading of body language, and how to restrain even the snappiest of dogs. We DO muzzle, but surprisingly rarely. With them, I don't worry about being bitten. I know my back is covered. And no, they do NOT allow owners to restrain animals with VERY few exceptions (we have a few owners who both know how to restrain, and who have dogs that won't allow anyone else to touch them, but if the owner is holding them, are perfect angels).

    The second clinic is a different story. There, I fear life, limb, and sanity every time I go there. The technicians aren't trained in how to hold properly. Clients have been given the expectation that they can hold their precious piranha's and won't let the technician do at least the minimum of restraint that they actually can do. Even when the technician is given permission to hold the animal, at the first littlest struggle the technician lets go. It was so bad that when I was pregnant, I started to restrain the animals and let the technicians _try_ to draw the blood. When my husband flipped his lid and wanted to know why I was restraining aggressive dogs and cats, I told him I was far less likely to get bit/scratched if I was the one restraining the animal, than if I let the assistants/technicians do it.

    It's sad that people don't properly train or socialize their pets. This isn't however, always their fault. Animals that are rescued/traumatized before current owner sometimes have issues that the new owners try but can't quite get them over. And growing up I had a German Shepherd that was perfect at home, professionally trained, socialized to people (who weren't on his own territory, ie: fine on walks, not so fine if you were near his fence/home)... and who was a monster at the veterinarian. Always took my dad to go in and hold him/muzzle him for the veterinarian because he wouldn't let himself be handled by anyone else while he was there.

    And... I love 'bosom barracuda' - not that they are them, but the term. We use 'land sharks'. I'll have to introduce a new term at work. :)