August 2, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen : the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent….I take pride in offering good customer service. Which when it collapses, I have been known to say in a hushed voice “Wow. We don’t just drop the ball, we drop kick it into the closest wall.” What follows is a true story. Really.
The family was super nice, a throwback to Andy of Mayberry and Dona Reed. They presented as a mother and father with their sweet 4 year old daughter and brand new puppy. The Mom wore lipstick and a flowered dress. The daughter said cute things and blew kisses. The puppy was a miniature Dachshund and needed vaccinations. Simple enough, a service I provide daily and could do standing on my head. Or is that expression “in my sleep”? In the end, it wouldn’t matter a bit how experienced I was. I was doomed to fail from the moment they said “hello”.
The puppy was adorable and his examination went well. He was calm for his vaccination, which I appreciated because a shrieking puppy often sets off the children and then the mother joins in hysterically and suddenly everyone is snapping at each other and there aren’t enough princess stickers to calm everyone down. I have spent years developing a vaccination technique where I am rarely bitten by either the dog or the mother. These things are more important than you might think. I waved goodbye as I reminded them that the puppy was due back in a month for its next puppy shots and turned my attention to the next patient.
Within two hours they were back. The puppy was quiet, his tail dragging, running a fever, tiny body bumpy with hives. We re-name everything in medicine (not me personally, I just had to memorize it like a foreign language), so properly the allergic skin reaction was called urticaria. I expressed surprise (I was, it’s not that common to see a vaccine reaction) and concern (I was, though there was no indication of shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or vomiting, an indication of a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis which can lead to death). I treated the reaction with an antihistamine injection and advised them that we would modify the vaccine type for the next visit. In addition, they could start children’s Benadryl at home the day before to minimize any reactions. They toddled off and the puppy recovered beautifully overnight.
On his second visit the puppy underwent vaccinations without further surprises and we were all grateful. We also performed surgery that day, taking care of a small umbilical hernia that pouched open from his belly button area. The surgery went smoothly and his recovery was uneventful. The family picked him up that same afternoon and took him home, nestled safely in their arms. They were back the next day. He had chewed out his stitches. I re-anesthetized him and put them back in, adding an Elizabethan collar (the cone of shame) and placing him on antibiotics. I talked the Mom down off a ledge every day for the next week as the puppy fell over his cone, refused to eat with it on, threw up his medicine and in general did not cooperate with the program. We got through it.
In a parallel universe, back at work, we had a Clinic Cat. He went by the unimaginative name of “Barney”. This had nothing to do with purple dinosaurs or an Andy of Mayberry character, but originated as he did : he started life as a barn cat and eventually adopted us and moved inside. A big orange tomcat, we fixed him up, literally and figuratively. Barney knew the exact length of a dog’s leash and would calmly sit down and wash his face exactly 4 inches beyond its reach. Clients were always on their best behavior because other animal lovers were watching them and who could stand that pressure? Sometimes we had to spray water at Barney to get him to move before the dog stroked out. He was an unusually gentle cat and greeted many people and their pets. If you didn’t own a dog he could have a very calming effect.
Certainly the child with the miniature dachshund was entranced by Barney. The cat had withstood the affections of several Clinic Children many times over and we considered him the perfect clinic mascot. Until said child and her miniature dachshund puppy chased him under a bench, cornering Barney. Barney lashed out, inflicting a long scratch directly over the child’s eyebrow. All heck broke loose. The daughter’s trust in pets was broken. The child was hurt. She was a beautiful child and this could leave a scar on her face. It might become infected. These were all valid concerns and I sent the family to their pediatrician on my dime. Barney’s career ended and he went to a real home with a proper backyard and no dogs to torment. I vowed to never keep another Clinic Cat. And when the family moved away the following year I breathed a sigh of relief that nothing could go wrong again!
Christine B. McFadden, DVM