The challenges and dangers a vet faces

2012-12-06 00:00

SOMETIMES, when enquiring as to their veterinarian’s name, pet owners are unable to give me an answer and, in some cases do not even know the name of the practice. When entrusting somebody to provide health care for our “best friends”, isn’t it strange that we are unable to identify them?

Due to the nature of my profession, I speak to many vets and vets’ staff. One of the most challenging and dangerous places to work in is the veterinary environment. When faced by pets with heads the size of footballs and with jaws to match, every precaution must be taken to ensure the safety of all concerned. Even small-breed dogs can inflict serious injuries in split seconds.

Years ago, a vet told me of two terrier-breed dogs, which had become so vicious that euthanasia was the only option left. Injections had to be administered through the wire mesh of the cages.

I have even seen a vet asking the owner to pull the pet’s head around the corner of a door frame with a tight leash in order to administer vaccines.

Due to abnormal circumstances or emergencies, these animal healthcare providers must sometimes work long hours in trying conditions. A lapse in concentration may lead to disastrous consequences.

The vet’s practice also sees the emotional side of human-animal relationships. I have seen vets struggling to hold back the tears as grief-stricken families bid final farewells before their beloved pet is put to sleep. Let’s also not forget the vet’s receptionists and nurses who are also a part of this emotionally charged environment.

The behaviour specialist’s world can also be stressful. I have video footage of growling, lunging dogs trying to get at me as owners arrive for a consultation. In one case, upon its arrival, a 50-kilogram pet jumped out of the vehicle’s back seat, forcing itself between the driver and steering wheel in an attempt to get at me. All this before the engine was even switched off. Unlike vets, the big difference is, however, that I do not have to make physical contact with the patients’ dogs and can take precautions to ensure my safety during consultations.

Vets do not have that luxury. When pet owners arrive at the vet’s surgery, it is necessary to complete the visit as quickly as possible. In my case, the dog is calmed down using psychological techniques, but achieving this may take hours. After bringing pets to me that were previously described as vicious and crazy, owners have told me that this was changed to normal behaviour and upon entering the vet’s premises they would be asked why a different dog was brought for the appointment. Staff are amazed when informed that it is the same problematic pet, which had visited previously. It must be appreciated, however, that these behaviour modifications take place over a number of days.

The veterinary environment would be far less stressful if our dogs were educated appropriately. Many owners still have their pets, or were able to enjoy them for a few more years, thanks to these highly trained and dedicated professionals.

• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be contacted via his website at Advice is only dispensed in face-to-face meetings with owners and their pets.

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