Dog at the Vet

Being a small animal veterinarian may seem like a fairly cushy proposition compared to working with the big ’uns: Horses can kill you with a kick. Llamas can upend you with a flick. Some birds will bite your finger clean off. And a well-motivated monkey can leave you with disfiguring lacerations.

So, by comparison, working with dogs and cats would seem like a breeze, right?

Normally, I’d have to agree. Indeed, until October of this year, the last decade had proved fairly uneventful in the injury department: A few deep claw marks, one uncomplicated puncture, and a couple of wayward fang-bangs are pretty much what I expect from this profession on an annual basis. (Sure, it’s tough on the knees and back too, but who’s counting?) In any case, I consider myself lucky to do what I do and remain relatively unscathed.

An Uptick in Injuries

But these past two months haven’t been so humdrum. (And I’m not just talking about the ringworm lesions I still bear on three separate anatomical locations.)

Here’s what happened: Not only did Paco the overly protective Dachshund bite my finger, leaving a deep fang mark and a fingernail-disfiguring bruise, Grotto the 140-pound Rottweiler head-butted me with the kind of force only a half-sedated, scared-out-of-his-skull dog his size can muster, flattening my nose in the process.

Both scenarios were bad enough for me. Attempting to keep my composure as best I could, I backed out of the room in silence. (OK, so I think I might’ve muttered something about having to go to the hospital in one of the two instances, but it’s all a bit muddled by my pain-addled memory.)

As much pain as I might’ve felt, however, there’s no doubt my clients were feeling an equivalent degree of mortification. Both owners held their heads in their hands as I tried my best to console them: “Don’t worry,” I explained, "this is all part of my job.”

No One's to Blame

And it’s true! Sure, it sucks to get clawed, bitten, head-butted, toppled, or injured in any sort of way by your patients, but here’s the thing: It’s never their fault!

In an animal hospital setting pets will act out. Not all of them, of course, but a sizable-enough percentage to make any aggressive behavior directed at the veterinarian or staff members an expected part of almost every human-animal interaction that occurs in a vet office. And since most aggressive behavior in vet settings is fear-based, that makes it even easier to forgive. I mean, what pet wouldn’t be scared?

Reasonable behavior notwithstanding, clients are nonetheless both horrified and humiliated by their pet’s “untoward” behavior. To most responsible owners, a pet’s behavior reflects on them too. And aggression directed at the vet? Now, that’s embarrassing! Or so they tell me.

So much so that the owner of the Dachshund sent me flowers and begged me to keep her on as a client (as if I would ever “fire” a client for a pet’s fear-based behavior). For his part, the Rottie’s owner offered to pay my medical bills.

As I explained in both cases, “There’s really nothing to stress about. Pets will be pets. And workers' compensation may not pay for the best plastic surgeons (unless you work it like I did in the case of my broken nose), and they don’t pony up for missed work days (I only tallied up two), but they will pay my medical bills should I get bitten, clawed, maimed or otherwise hurt in the line of duty.

Given these patients’ understandable behaviors and the fact that I knew what I was getting into when I chose this profession, it stands to reason that I’d harbor no ill will against the clients of aggressive or unruly patients. In fact, I’m thinking I might just send Grotto’s owner a note thanking him for how much better I sleep now that my deviated septum’s been fixed as well.

See? Sometimes things work out for the best ­— even when you least expect them to!

So how about you? How would you feel if your pet unexpectedly hurt your vet?