“I want to be the person my dogs think I am.” That quote (I’m afraid I don’t know who said it) makes me smile whenever I am greeted like a long-lost friend after work. At least partly it explains why we treat them the way we do. But I find myself acting “like a typical owner” more and more.
For years, I resisted the urge to have animals of my own; as a vet, and most importantly, a single vet, I couldn’t in conscience have the dog(s) I craved when I would be out at work all day. Married life, as a possible sweetener to the downsides (like toddler tantrums), has allowed me to indulge my need for canine company and this is the catalyst to the realisation I had – I am an owner as well as a vet.
Shocking as it may seem, I have been manipulated by the plaintive big brown eyes when I put down my chosen food. If they didn’t eat it instantly, I would alter it in some way – gravy, mixing canned food with it, and so on. Just like everyone else.
Don’t worry, this isn’t another treatise on the causes and effects of canine obesity. I’m saying pay attention to your thought processes – the feelings and thoughts your subconscious feeds in to your conscious mind. I dread to think of the number of times I have scolded, perhaps even patronised, clients in the years before I realised I was doing it, too.
Looking back, I feel I was rather sanctimonious. It took the stern look of disapproval and rolled eyes of a veterinary nurse as I related this over the steaming entrails of my latest patient to make me realise what had happened.
Another place I am put in a similar position to our clients is when I take my car to the mechanic. I know only bits and pieces about her internal workings, but I couldn’t tell a dump valve from an intake manifold if I had to. I am ignorant and I have to rely on the mechanic and his recommendations. When he’s finished telling me what’s wrong (it was the air conditioning last time) I ask “how much will that cost?” and I am fleetingly transported back to the consulting room.
It is an opportunity in disguise, that.
This empathy can only help me and, if it happens to you too, everyone in the profession. It can be a useful experience to pay attention to your thought processes, feelings and concerns. With our scientific background and veterinary training, much of which becomes second nature, it can somewhat distance us from the people and animals we serve.