Dr. Patty Khuly and cat

Pets are not like humans in plenty of ways, but nowhere is the difference more glaringly obvious than when it comes to the notion of vanity.

Pets have none to speak of — or so we like to imagine, seeing as they’ve no use for mirrors and don’t seem to care whether we’re movie-star hot or dug-up-from-under-a-rock ugly.

And thank goodness for that! It’s hard enough to pair up pets and people without having to worry about a cat objecting to her new owner’s nose or shaving habits.

Why Some People Can't Look Past a Pet's Looks

Unfortunately, the same lack of superficial circumspection is decidedly not in play with respect to humanity. Not only would we prefer to have our human milieu rife with as much drop-dead gorgeousness as possible, but we also routinely reach beyond the confines of our own specific species’ purview to apply similar standards to our pets.

Why else would it take me five times as long to place a plain tabby kitten over a white one, a downy-soft dog over a scruffy one or a blue-eyed merle over a brown-eyed black?

Sometimes a good bath and a liberal application of whitening shampoo have the same effect for a pet in need of a new home as a new coat of paint does for a house’s curb appeal. Call it lipstick on a pig, but if the visual up-sell will make any difference whatsoever, then you’ll see me first in line to smear some Revlon on my prospective animal adoptee.

As you can imagine, it’s this kind of rampant silliness that leads people like me to start cynically wondering whether humanity isn’t due a whopper of a comedown. If nothing else, I reckon those who would choose pretty over personality when adopting an animal companion are well deserving of the disservice they do themselves.

Two Rather Vain Pet Parents

But it’s not just the first-impression pretties that have me all riled up as of late. The last few weeks have seen me wrangling with one particular owner over her stray cats’ looks — and with another over his dog’s tail.

In the first instance, I offered low-cost spays and neuters for several of the client’s free-roaming, mostly feral outdoor cats. It was generous of me, seeing as I was charging half price by way of a service to my community. Unfortunately, this particular owner and I disagreed over my stray-cat sterilization protocol, and no one ended up in my operating room on the day she’d trapped the first batch of cats.

Here’s why: All of my low-cost feral and free-roaming feline spays and neuters receive vaccines, pain control and an ear tip. This is non-negotiable. If you want me to donate my time, you have to accept my terms.

The last procedure is the only one that sometimes trips people up because it involves cutting a notch into one of the cat's ears. Some people — this client included — believe that it's ugly and “disfiguring” and refuse to have it performed. I, however, consider it a basic tenet of feral and free-roaming cat management, since it identifies sterilized and vaccinated cats with a bare minimum of pain involved. I will therefore never consent to dispense with the procedure.

The second scenario involves a new client who will probably never come back after we disagreed over the removal of his dog’s tail. Convinced his adult shelter adoptee looked too much like a Rottweiler to go through life with an intact tail, he’d made an appointment to have it amputated.

Although my staff had informed him of my extreme reluctance to dock even baby dog tails, he was sure that he could persuade me otherwise. And I was sure that I could persuade him to see things my way. Needless to say, we reached an impasse.

After I explained that a Rottweiler looks great with a tail, and how, in Germany (where the breed hails from), no Rottweiler has a docked tail — not to mention that his pet would suffer from significant, needless pain and a risk of complications — he failed to relent. That’s when he informed me that he would just go elsewhere if I refused, so I “might as well just do it.”

As I explained to each client, everyone has a right to a personal opinion as to what constitutes pretty and what does not — but that doesn’t mean that a veterinarian should be expected to act outside the bounds of what her own personal conscience dictates.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s especially true when petty human vanity is the source of the disagreement.

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