I was at a feed store one day to pick up some cracked corn and chicken pellets for the girls. While waiting in line, I overheard one of the employees helping a client.
“This is the penicillin the cat rescuer uses all the time," said the feed-store worker. "I'd go ahead and put a little of this in the kitten’s eye. Just be careful not to poke the eyeball when you put it in.”
“Do you know how much I should use?” asked the mom, with husband and small child in tow.
“That I don’t know,” replied the employee. “But you can go online and see if you can find the information there.”
“This is the penicillin the cat rescuer uses all the time. I'd go ahead and put a little of this in the kitten’s eye. Just be careful not to poke the eyeball when you put it in.”
As a former veterinary technician and practice manager and now proud consultant, that was all of the conversation I could handle.
“Excuse me,” I interrupted, “I couldn’t help but overhear. It sounds as though you have a kitten that isn’t feeling well.”
“Yes,” the woman replied, looking a bit cautious.
“Can I ask why you aren’t taking your kitten to one of the veterinarians in the area?”'
“We haven’t been to a veterinarian in years,” was her response. How that answer had anything to do with the question was beyond me, but I decided not to call her out.
“Can I recommend that you take your kitten to one of the local veterinarians we have here? I happen to know both of them, and you couldn’t ask for more dedicated individuals. They’ll figure out what’s wrong with your kitten’s eye, prescribe the right medicine and get it resolved faster and more safely than trying to do it on your own.”
"Well, I heard the veterinarian is going to charge me $100 just to be seen."
“Well, I heard that the veterinarian is going to charge me $100 just to be seen,” she replied.
“That’s not true,” I corrected, maybe a little too harshly. That kind of gossip about veterinarians and their billing really rubs me the wrong way.
“I work in veterinary medicine and know the local vets. A visit to one of the practices around here won’t cost you more than $45 plus any additional services your pet needs, but both of them will work with you and your budget.”
“Oh,” she said, a little wide-eyed and looking like she wished I’d disappear. “Well, I’ll have to look into that.” She then grabbed her little girl’s hand and moved into an aisle stocked with bug repellent.
But she wasn’t going to look into "that." Her actions, eyes and body language all telegraphed, "Not in a million years, buddy, not in a million years." And that really got my goat. Why wouldn’t she take my recommendation seriously? Did she think I worked on commission?
I watched her continue down the aisle. She probably had $65 worth of crackpot, large-animal medications in her arms (for a kitten!). I wanted to yell out to her, “Hey, lady! You know for the amount of money you're blowing on that junk, you could see a vet and get your kitten the care it needs.” But I didn’t. I kept my mouth shut, for all the good it did either of us.
I paid for the feed and took one of the bags to the car. When I re-entered the store, the customer and the cashier were talking softly to each other. I could only imagine what they were saying: “How about that big mouth telling me to see a vet?”
"You don't need a vet. They'll just rip you off. Trust me, the cat rescuer uses this stuff all the time."
“You don’t need a vet. They’ll just rip you off. Trust me, the cat rescuer uses this stuff all the time.”
Unbelievably, the family and I both decided that our next stop would be the grocery store. For eight agonizing aisles, we passed each other. I felt like ramming her cart, but I tried the nice approach instead.
“Not a lot of people here today,” I offered as way of an olive branch. “Isn’t it nice to have the whole place to ourselves?”
She too attempted to be nice, but clearly her little girl had been uploaded on me in the car ride over. During every pass, she scowled. I imagined her saying, ‘Telling my mom what to do ... how would you like a big kick in the shins, you old meanie!"
I can't think of a single business I go to, including my own doctor's office, that works harder to deliver safe, affordable, effective, kind service and care.
This all left me reflecting on why the whole matter bugs me so much. Firstly, there’s this background noise that exists in America that vets are out to rip you off. I take real offense to that. When I think about how hard veterinary teams work every day (and I see a lot of them)—for accuracy, safety, care and empathy—I can’t think of a single business I go to, including my own doctor’s office, that works harder to deliver safe, affordable, effective, kind service and care. It’s just complete baloney that we’re out to rip people off.
Secondly, it bugs me that more of us aren’t getting up in people's grills and challenging such malarkey. Maybe I’m feeling vulnerable after my feed store encounter and want a bit of support, but why aren’t we more forceful about telling others what we believe to be true?
The answer is, we’re afraid to come off "pushy" and indeed, when you walk away from people feeling like you turned them off, instead of on, like I did at the store, it hurts. But I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think that not saying what you know to be a true is missing a shot at standing out. It’s a missed opportunity that could have made a difference in your life and the life of another.
I don’t want to come to your practice and watch you living out half of who you are or apologizing for the great work we both know you can do.
My first employer shared this advice with me: No good deed goes unpunished. At the time I thought it was one of the most cynical things I'd ever heard, but I’ve come to understand that there is an unfortunate wisdom in it. When one risks a relationship, one risks refusal. When one extends a hand, you take a risk that it will be left hanging out there all by itself.
Risk it. Relationships are worth it. What we do is worth it. I don’t want to come to your practice and watch you living out half of who you are or apologizing for the great work we both know you can do. Make a strong recommendation. Have an opinion. Extend a hand. If your client with the sick kitten doesn’t take it, I will. I will welcome the support.