“Fear- free” vet clin­ics aim to elim­i­nate the ru≠ spots

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Sue Man­ning

los an­ge­les » Trips to the ve­teri­nar­ian leave Joy so scared, she gets sick.

The black Labrador- mix shakes and shiv­ers, her heart rate jumps, her blood pres­sure spikes, her tem­per­a­ture rises, her eyes di­late and she cow­ers un­der any­thing she can get be­neath.

Af­ter try­ing vet af­ter vet for 14 years, the dog’s owner, Debby Tri­nen of Sand­point, Idaho, has fi­nally found re­lief for Joy’s stress from a new ap­proach to ve­teri­nary care called “fear- free.”

The fear- free move­ment aims to elim­i­nate things in the vet’s of­fice that bother dogs and cats— like white lab coats, harsh lights and slip­pery, cold exam ta­bles— while adding things they like.

For ex­am­ple, a fear- free clinic “will have a big treat bud­get,” said Dr. Marty Becker, the ini­tia­tive’s main cheer­leader and the vet cho­sen to in­tro­duce it to the coun­try. All the dogs and cats at his North Idaho An­i­mal Hos­pi­tal, where Joy now gets care, have space on their files to note fa­vorite treats, from Easy Cheese to hot dogs.

About 50 prac­tices across the coun­try have gone fear- free, Becker said. Later this year, the ini­tia­tive will start cer­ti­fy­ing ve­teri­nary pro­fes­sion­als. The cer­ti­fi­ca­tion takes about 12 hours of on­line in­struc­tion. The move­ment hopes to reg­is­ter as many as 5,000 peo­ple this year.

Hos­pi­tal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion could start in 2018, fol­lowed by an­i­mal shel­ters and homes, Becker said.

Heather Lewis of An­i­mal Arts in Boul­der, which has been de­sign­ing an­i­mal hospi­tals since 1979, says there are many ways to make ve­teri­nary of­fices more pleas­ant for pets. Among them:

• Paint walls in pas­tels and have staff wear pas­tel scrubs and lab coats. To an an­i­mal’s eyes, a white lab coat is like a bright glow­ing bea­con and can be scary.

• Re­move old flu­o­res­cent lights. Dogs and cats have bet­ter hear­ing than hu­mans, and the buzz from those old fix­tures can bother them.

• Con­sider al­ter­na­tives to lift­ing an­i­mals up on high exam ta­bles with cold, slip­pery metal sur­faces. Some clin­ics, in­clud­ing Becker’s, use yoga mats for an­i­mal ex­ams.

• For back­ground mu­sic, choose clas­si­cal. Becker and Lewis like col­lec­tions called “Through a Dog’s Ear” and “Through aCat’s Ear.”

A fear- free vet­might also use seda­tives or pheromones— chem­i­cals se­creted by an­i­mals that serve as stim­u­lants for­many things, in­clud­ing mat­ing— rather than muz­zles or re­straints to keep an­i­mals calm dur­ing treat­ment, Becker said.

“Twenty- five to 30 per­cent of pets need se­da­tion,” Becker said.

Becker in­tro­duced vet­eri­nar­i­ans to the fear- free ini­tia­tive at the North Amer­i­can Ve­teri­nary Com­mu­nity con­ven­tion last year. He’s pre­sent­ing ver­sion 2.0 at the 2016 con­fer­ence be­gin­ning Satur­day in Florida.

Becker, chief ve­teri­nary correspondent for the Amer­i­can Hu­mane As­so­ci­a­tion, has writ­ten 22 books and is do­ing his 23rd on the fear- free ini­tia­tive.

One fear- free cen­ter is the Big­ger Road Ve­teri­nary Cen­ter in Spring­boro, Ohio.

“We de­signed this clinic to look like you were go­ing for walks in the park,” said Dr. John Tal­madge. “Sup­port beams look like maple trees. I don’t know if we’re fool­ing any pets, but the exam rooms look like cot­tages and it looks like blue sky on the ceil­ing. It has a very invit­ing feel.”

He also ex­panded from 2,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet so he’d have room for bet­ter se­nior care and pain man­age­ment. And for own­ers mak­ing end- of- life de­ci­sions for their pets, the clinic of­fers a pri­vate area.

“There is noth­ing more im­por­tant than mak­ing that last treat­ment dig­ni­fied and calm­ing,” Tal­madge said.

Becker says the fear- free ini­tia­tive is im­por­tant be­cause stress and anx­i­ety cause so many prob­lems for pets, both phys­i­cal and men­tal.

“Once pets know fear and anx­i­ety and stress, you can’t undo it,” he said, adding, “You can see it. You can smell it be­cause dogs are stained with their own saliva from lick­ing them­selves. You can hear it and feel it.”

Stress and fear can lead an­i­mals to hide the symp­toms that prompted the vet visit, and may even al­ter their test re­sults, said Richard A. LeCou­teur, a ve­teri­nar­ian with a spe­cialty in neu­rol­ogy and a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis’ School of Ve­teri­nary-Medicine.

Tal­madge says the fear free ap­proach is prov­ing pop­u­lar. “We have more than dou­bled our busi­ness through that clinic since open­ing ( in April) and are well ahead of where we thought we would be,” Tal­madge said.

Big­ger Road Ve­teri­nary Cen­ter

Ve­teri­nar­ian Dr. John Tal­madge poses with his golden re­triev­ers. Tal­madge’s Big­ger Road Ve­teri­nary Cen­ter, which is lo­cated in Spring­boro, Ohio, is a fear- free prac­tice that, he says, “has a very invit­ing feel.” Photo by Erin Grote,

Big­ger Road Ve­teri­nary Cen­ter’s exam rooms are de­signed to look like for­est cot­tages with street lamps along a path. Pho­tos by Erin Grote, Big­ger Road Ve­teri­nary Cen­ter

Buster is en­rolled in the pup­pyMontes­sori pro­gra­mat the Big­ger Road Ve­teri­nary Cen­ter in Spring­boro, Ohio.

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