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Posted on 03-03-2012

You would think that a veterinarian who deals with pets and their owners every single day of his working life would have some insight into human behavior.  The truth be known, I really do understand dogs and cats better than I understand my own species. In fact, I probably understand fish behavior far better than I can understand human behavior. People are a complete mystery to me sometimes; especially when it comes to the way they interact with their local veterinarian.

I have practiced in large cities and in small towns and, between the two; I must say I prefer the large city experience.  Whether it is the crowding of the big cities, the anonymity of the herd or the general lack of privacy, but in the city there is a distinct professional boundary between the veterinarian and his clients. There is an expectation that the veterinarian will take nights off, days off and even the odd holiday. There is an understanding that the veterinarian will not always be available at the drop of quarter into a pay phone. The small town practice experience is so diametrically opposite that one wonders if the smaller towns attract a wholly foreign population than migrates to the cities.

When a veterinarian practices in a small town, there is almost a feeling of ownership by the town.  Private life and public presence become one and the same. There appears to be an expectation of constant availability, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Privacy and free time pretty much disappear. The veterinarian often finds themselves under public scrutiny at all times; the need to maintain absolute proper dress and decorum is essential for fear of becoming the subject of coffee house gossip.  I find boundaries of all types are constantly broken down; office hours often extend into private family time as clients insist on late night visits or Sunday afternoon appointments. It  is somewhat ironic that the same client who scoffs at big city ways often expects big city round-the-clock service with no recognition that the same veterinarian who sees his sick dog at midnight will have to work full time 12 hours tomorrow (and the next day, and the day after that too). It is a little disappointing that moving to the quiet small town usually translates to a complete loss of "quiet" for the small town veterinarian.

I offer up two examples of the kind of goofy behavior I have run across over the years. Twenty years ago I had a small practice in Whitehorse YT.  One sunny summer Sunday afternoon I was doing general janitorial duties around my practice when a middle aged lady in "Daisy Duke" shorts and flip-flops came hammering at my front door demanding service. It seems her dog had a mild cough and was keeping her up at night.  She had her dog on the end of a leash beside her.  I could see the dog was really not all that sick, wagging his tail and peeing on everything he could reach from the end of his leash. I told the lady I would be glad to see the dog tomorrow, but Sunday is my day off and unless the dog was dangerously ill I was not going to drop what I was doing.  The woman tore me a new one about how lazy I was; she worked every single day of the week and she thought everyone should…and she would be damned if she would be seeing me tomorrow.  Now, let's put personal feelings aside and just look at the situation: I was the one wearing coveralls and work-boots, carting trash out to the dumpster, cleaning kennels and mopping floors while she was out walking her dog in shorts and flip-flops.  The question becomes: did I really believe this person NEVER took a day off?  The blatant lying to my face was enough to turn me off right there.  The woman was not upset and panicking about her sick dog; she was trying to get some veterinary service when it was easy, practical and convenient for her without any consideration that she was intruding upon the very limited private time of relatively hard working professional (I would never claim to be the world's hardest working soul, but I do knock off over 60 hours each week in the office)

The other good example I have I ran across just lately.  I was in the office on a statutory holiday checking a case, clearing some paper-work and generally trying to get caught up before going back to full time the following day.  The owner of a local dog kennel calls me up about mid-day asking for the vaccination record of a particular canine border.  I ask her to wait a moment while I pull the file and check, at which point she asks me where my receptionist might be that day (in a tone that suggested that she would prefer to deal with the receptionist anyway). I replied that seeing as how it was a statutory holiday; I suspect my receptionist was enjoying herself at home. The kennel owner then asks me, with a tone of outrage, whether I was actually closed that day. To this I could only give one reply: "Mam, I am pretty sure I legally have to be closed for "statutory" holidays…. That's why they are called statutory". The kennel owner then gave me a run down on how she never gets any statutory holidays.  Now, ignoring the truth that everyone takes some personal down time once in a while (unless they really want to die young), this particular lady's business depends on statutory holidays to stay solvent. If people did not take holidays, they would rarely need to board their dogs and boarding kennels would go bankrupt. On the other hand, I happened to know that this kennel owner is well known for being a world traveler. How does one work "all the time" and get the reputation for being well travelled? Obviously her claims of constant labor are not quite true.

I guess I am going to have to figure this sort of thing out. I am sure there is some "quid-pro-quo payback" for being constantly available.  Financially it is not particularly rewarding (no hope of retiring before 65 or 70) while physically and emotionally it is draining as I see nearly every moment of personal family time ruined or evaporated by yet another call. One would like to believe that the small towns, while taking "ownership" of their veterinarian, would also  feel somewhat protective of that same person as they come to understand the inter-dependency of their relationship.  Unfortunately, in my experience, the exact opposite is true: there comes a resentment of that small town veterinarian because of a perception of a monopoly.  The attitude seems to be that rather than working hard as a lone practitioner to provide care to the surrounding area, that lone practitioner is somehow denying the local area of the healthy business competition experienced in the big centers.  I guess the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt is really true.



Suzanne said:

As Abraham Lincoln once said “You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” I am new to PR and appreciate your values. I look forward to meeting you with our new puppy but not on a statutory holiday. Unfortunately some folks don't understand one works harder as a business owner than an employee. Cheers!

2014-07-28 11:54:31

Heather said:

Our family wants to thank you and your staff who went above and beyond to save our daughters fur baby "Pedro ".The overtime you put in and even the calls to our daughter just tells us she has found a good vet clinic. She just moved from Comox Valley where we've had the same vet clinic for 12 years. We truly understand the hard work and extra time involved unfortunately my grand kitty decided he needed some attention and despite your busy day you took care of him made sure our daughter was updated but most impressive is when you did his emergency surgery after hours you found something else that caused you to make a decision with a quick call to our daughter which probably saved his life? We look forward to being able to meet you and your staff on one of our trips over to PR. Please remember you got to take some time for yourself and those difficult folks will just have to understand. Here's wishing you a peaceful relaxing weekend

2014-09-06 21:32:18

chanty said:

lol what a breath of fresh air...Welcome to life with the "nouveau riche" who inherited Their house parent or husband who paid 20 thousand and sold them For 350 thousand. They think they made it!! They own their success to themselves ( forgetting that they had A free card)for their life because they work so hard...nooot. They work, Like all of us did, but not everybody get the chance to Have parents and family that bought a house in Vancouver or BC coast for 20 thousand and because of an economic opening like this, when things get sold 100 time more than they worth, end up with a lot of money. They Think they did their life and now that they on the good Side of the fence, they own You, Me, and everything in This town... Nothing like living with spoil brat.. good luck and thank you for the good service you gave me and my little dog...

2015-05-09 09:55:51

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