Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Acceptable Liability, Coot and Loon

I was forced unwillingly to participate in 15 hours of a lecture on Veterinary Law and Ethics. Truth be told I thoroughly enjoy the subject, I am only bitter about the mandate. It was a wealth of information and worth the time and effort, but there were a few points that I remain unwilling to comply with.

At the top of the list was the ‘immense liability that clinic pets, especially cats, creates.”

What the heck is a veterinary clinic without clinic cats?

If asked to compile a list of things that a client should bring when interviewing for a veterinarian, or veterinary clinic, I would place “free roaming pets in the reception area” at the top. After all, if a clinic doesn't have free roaming pets wandering quietly, inconspicuously lurking on the counter, in the bags of food or in the examination rooms? What does it tell you about the clinic?

Here’s what it tells me. That they have forgotten where their heart is.

Now I know that I push the boundaries of my peers often. I know that I too freely state my opinion without regard to the fact that there are multiple ways to own and operate a clinic. I could sit here and try to manage a way to deliver my words so that my footsteps avoid anyone else’s, but my intended message would still be the same. I have never been the best delivery person. I get you there, bruised and battered, but it’s a quicker path to the same place. Eloquence is an art for those who run for office, are British, or harboring ill will.

Cats are a liability because cats don’t follow a script. They possess an opinion, free will, and they know when you are not a fellow cat person. You can't bluff or bullshit them. They put all the cards on the table, never hold, and are content with the idea of the house being at an advantage. Another words, they will dope slap you without warning or provocation. Luck and liability lie with the house. 

You see a veterinarian can be sued if any animal under our roof or on our premises inflicts harm on anyone. Therefore, vets have to think about the areas of our hospital that pose significant risk of liability and decide whether the reward is worth the risk.

Seems pretty simple, doesn't it? Just avoid responsibility (the single greatest act to drive me to furor), and keep the pets in the carriers, cages and other peoples name.

But, here is where I argue the veterinarians oath. We are asked to help pets and we don’t follow the example we expect others to. There are literally millions of pets out there dying, or being killed, because there are not enough homes for them. There isn't a week of the year that a pet doesn't enter our clinics looking for salvation and a kind heart. What example do we set? Are we silly enough to think that our clients don’t notice that our offices look like a dentists? All shiny bright white and smelling like “gargle and spit?”
My office, well, my office smells like the air freshener of the day. We use a ton of disinfectant, air spray fresheners, and plug–ins. And thanks to a company called Scentsy we now have candles candles to add aroma and ambiance. The clinic is impeccably clean (it is after all a hospital), and homey feeling. Perhaps my kind of homey feeling, which is four cats, and a slight pinch of chaos, but it smells, looks, and is clean.

Every feline resident of our clinic has some sad tail of misfortune and impending doom.

Every cat was brought in to be put down unless we saved them. Every single one. Even the apparently young normal healthy looking cats.

Jarrettsville Vet has over the last 9 years that I have owned it housed and adopted out dozen and dozens of last and only chance felines. They are a big part of the reason I own a vet clinic and one of the most important missions of our hospital.

Coot and Loon came to us from a farm of over twenty black and white cats, or what we call “tuxedos.” The man who owned the farm loved his cats, and I am not sure if it was because they were all black and white, or if he just wasn't paying attention, but one day he looked around and realized that the few Tuxedos he was feeding had turned into a small pre-technicolor army.  He came to me asking for help in getting the troops under control. Every Monday he would show up with about a half dozen cat carriers or humane traps filled with white spotted black cats. There was no way to identify them other than to start spaying/neutering, vaccinating, microchipping and ear tipping them. At the end of every Monday we would turn over the daily catch to return to his farm. After about a half dozen of these trips I sat down with him and asked if he could really handle so many of them?

My concern was that these cats were so young and so many in number that we were essentially managing a colony of cats that started out friendly and ended up as feral just due to their vast numbers. They were getting lost in their own crowd and regressing to feral status. He loved his cats but there are only so many cats that one man can care for. Coot and Loon were the last two he captured and the first two to reside with us. They were placed in two homes but never acclimated well enough to be kept. And so they came back to us.

Like every pet they posses their own spirit, their own wants, needs, desires, and abilities. Somehow in our loud revolving dog/cat door dysfunctional family they work out perfectly.

Coot can often be found hogging a whole bench in the waiting area. Asleep and oblivious to the barking, lunging dog in the adjacent seat. Or the angry cat hissing in its paddy wagon only inches away. He can sleep upside down in a packed waiting room. Or he will barge into a closed exam room to jump on the lap of a client waiting for their pet in x-ray. He is bold and presumptuous and unapologetic. Often the clients who are sobbing as they say goodbye to their pets are found cuddling him as a longtime friend separated from you by years and miles that only death bring together. He knows which client to seek, which one needs a lap to lie on, and who needs the quiet understanding that only a pet can provide.

He and his sister Loon are what I call “the bosses of the place.” They are our daily reminders that pets bring more to us than companionship, they bring a sense of purpose to a place that was created to serve others.

Loon, is the quieter, timid one. She is sweet, gentle, and a reflection of admiration if you take a moment to cuddle her in your arms.

I  am asked every so often if they are "available for adoption," and each time I have to pause, reflect, and sigh an answer, "I haven't quite made up my mind?"

They deserve a home of their own. A place to roost and rule, where they don't have to share a place with wayward souls and a bustle of activity. But I have tried to let them go before, and  they are always returned. They even came to my house for a few months. But they weren't happy there and so they returned to the most permanent home they have ever known, Jarrettsville Vet. So I think they prefer it here, and I think we need them as much as they need us. And isn't that what a family and a home are all about?

If you would like to see Coot and Loon in person please pop into the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, and give them a "hello!"

Or if you have a cat story to share please join me on Pawbly is free to use, visit and ask questions. You can pop in there anytime too, and it's always free!

Or find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

And as always, Thank you for being so kind to the cats in need.

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