The Tribe

I belong to the tribe of veterinarians.

There is an internist near me who is naturally gregarious. She walks in to a clinic for a consultation and cries out, “Brother!” or “Sister!” when she spies the veterinarian, and goes over for an enthusiastic handshake or hug, depending on the level of touch that the person is comfortable with.

I like the greeting ritual. I respond with an equally eager, “Sister!” and it becomes a high point of my day. My positive interactions with clients or staff can’t equal this one, because of the recognition that flows between us that we are fellow warriors. We are of the same tribe.pexels-photo-590510.jpeg

Tribe is a good word. To me it implies a group of individuals woven together with a common thread, and there’s a bit of an unpredictable wildness implied in the word as well. There is room within a tribe for unconventional thinking, individuality, innovation, and plain weirdness without compromising the underlying concept of kinship. There is room for the crazy uncle, the funny brother, the kind grandfather, the eccentric cousin. Within a tribe we are relatives and we’re okay with the “different”.

Veterinarians are all of a tribe, whether they know it or not. If you think about it, we have common interests, and at a very fundamental level, common experience and feelings. I like to think back to when we were all 8 years old. I bet every veterinarian had a real soft spot for animals in childhood, a natural affinity or affection for them. That is our common bond. No matter what drove us later to follow through with becoming veterinarians (because we all have different drives), no matter what paths our careers took, or what influences came from our personal lives that might have warped that original affinity, we come from the same foundation “stuff” – an abiding respect or love for (or fascination with) animals.

The love of animals is so much a part of our constitutions that it’s nearly impossible for most of us to imagine not having it. If we look at every other veterinarian as being first and foremost a person who shares that most basic, most elemental trait, it causes a shift in our attitudes toward one another.

It is easier to empathize with one another in times of strife if we consider that we are arguing with a sister. It is easier to understand and forgive mistakes if it is an uncle making them. It is easier to reach out and help someone in need if it is a brother who needs our help. It becomes natural to mentor rather than condemn if it is our little cousin who is struggling. And it is easier to let unimportant things go if it is in the interest of the tribe to do so.

To my non-single clients, especially the young-and-in-love

I’ve been in relationships before that are just like yours. You met, fell in love, and eventually moved in together. Obviously the next step is to get a cat or a dog to add some more love to the home. You will get a bunny and you will name him George and you will love him and pat him and squeeze him. Love, love, love. Continue reading

Ethology of the veterinarian, part III

This is the third and perhaps final installment in this series for novice owners of Homo herriotus pollulus (the common small animal veterinarian). The first article, The Husbandry and Feeding of Veterinarians, and the second, Ethology of the Veterinarian Part II, were eye-opening to many, if the volume of email the author has received is any indication. Here we hope to further enlighten the (as yet) uninitiated.

Greeting rituals. Interactions with animals outside of the workplace take on an atypical form. Veterinarians might perform a verbal acknowledgement of an animal and perhaps pat or stroke it, but will then use this activity to mask a covert inspection of the teeth or palpation of the ribs, or both. Your veterinarian may then incautiously advise the animal’s owner that the animal has “rotten teeth”, or is “obese”. Your veterinarian may learn that this conduct results in social marginalization, but will continue to perform the greeting ritual regardless. It appears to be a hard-wired behavior.

“Hidden” paraphernalia. If you are cleaning up after your veterinarian and come across needles and syringes in its pockets or find them in the lint trap of the dryer, do not panic. It is not a “dope fiend” and is not “chasing the dragon”; it simply ran out of room in its hands to hold everything it needed at some point in its day. If your veterinarian repeats this behavior, you can attempt to train it to empty its pockets before leaving the workplace. This training meets with variable success and requires continual reinforcement.

Pen hoarding. If the problem is pens rather than needles and syringes, the problem is more serious. Controlled studies show that veterinarians cannot be trained to leave pens at the workplace. Don’t even bother. Enjoy your new office supplies.

Scars. Some of those new to H. herriotus relationships may be alarmed by the amount of physical damage evident on their veterinarian, particularly on the medial forearms. You must keep in mind that your veterinarian works every day with animals who suffer its interference with varying degrees of patience. Some love your veterinarian and would never harm it. Others tolerate your veterinarian only as long as it does not step over a certain line, the location of which, in the case of cats, changes from instant to instant. These patients come armed to the fight, and human skin is no match. Expect more battle scars over the years.

Inability to watch nature shows. Your veterinarian may not be able to tolerate the sight and sounds of gory animal death. To you, the footage of a lion eating a gazelle is a fascinating window into the life of a carnivore; to your veterinarian the gazelle is an injured animal that needs fixing. The tension of not being able to relieve the suffering may overwhelm your veterinarian’s nervous system and cause grief. Observe your veterinarian for signs of distress when watching this kind of programming, and consider changing the channel to a more soothing choice like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, or an MMA match.

Rescues need a remedy

dog-187817A study came out last year from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science listing the most common reasons that people give for surrendering their dogs to shelters.

They list behavior (specifically, biting) at number 10. There is an argument to be made that the percentage of animals relinquished for behavior issues is much higher than this. Continue reading

Ethology of the veterinarian, part II

VeterinarianThis is the second in a series of articles wherein we will attempt to articulate some of the common idiosyncrasies described by experienced owners of Homo herriotus pollulus (the common small animal veterinarian). The first article, The Husbandry and Feeding of Veterinarians, was met with relief by some, who finally had explanations for the bizarre behaviors they were witnessing. We hope to expand the topic here, for the edification of those who are forced (or choose) to interact with veterinarians regularly outside of a professional relationship.

Warning: The following paragraphs may be disturbing to those in the early stages of owning a veterinarian Continue reading

They didn’t call, they didn’t write…

7 Ways to Minimize Lab Result Anxiety

Today I watched an interesting episode of The People’s Court. (Yes, I admit I watch it; I’ve even been known to PVR it. Don’t judge.) In this installment an owner was suing a veterinary clinic for failing to advise her that her dog had a serious illness. Usually these cases end up being a clear case of miscommunication, or unrealistic expectations on the part of the pet owner, but this one was a bit different. Continue reading

Traveling with your veterinarian

Traveling with veterinarians is like extracting teeth – it can be either simply awful or awfully simple, depending on how much work you put into planning and what complications arise. Consider the following carefully in preparation for your next trip.

Make sure you have your veterinarian’s travel documents in order. Check with the consulate for the countries you are entering to determine whether any special vaccinations are required. Make sure that you have its passport updated and have copies of its vaccination certificates. Continue reading


Print one out for every member of your staff and have a contest. Bingo dabbers not required! We would take about a year to have a blackout here, I think – the hardest to get would be flowers and foxtails. And probably birds, since I don’t see many pet birds. We might have to go for a single lines or an X or something to start. Have fun!
Vet clinic bingo

The Rise of the X-Poo

Several things came across my Facebook feed and showed up on my favorite vicarious veterinary forum this week with a similar theme.

I must conclude that a lot of veterinarians are somewhat irrational breedists.

Cute mutt

Simply full of squee.

Why do we (vets) insist on being breed purists? We aren’t dog show judges. We aren’t dedicated to preserving the genetic purity of any one breed. When we see some admitted mutt with a cute little face we melt and feel happy and gush over how adorable he is. Yet, when presented with a dog that is a putative cross between known breeds, particularly if the cross is given a name, some veterinarians completely lose their shit. Continue reading