A Man, a Vet and a Dog 1

I sat through a veterinary meeting a short time ago where the speaker was discussing the emotional bonds created between a dog, the owner of a dog and the dog’s veterinarian. He said the bond between an owner and a dog could do things no other bond could accomplish. For example, an owner would stop smoking if the veterinarian said it was causing harm to the owner’s dog whereas that same person might not stop smoking if his doctor merely said it was harming him or their family. This example would imply that the owner cares more for the dog’s well-being than for his own or his family’s!

He also said that the bond created between the dog and the veterinarian could rival any other relationship in the veterinarian’s life, including those with his own family, friends and fellow employees. (My wife would attest to the fact that I develop pretty close bonds to most of my patients, but I think she feels she has the closest bond to me.) These thoughts of such strong bonds got me to thinking, “Is that what I have experienced in my 15-year career as a dog and cat veterinarian, as a husband and now as a father?”

I can offer lots of evidence of the deep bond that exists between owner and dog: owners who cringe when I stick a needle into their pet or who pull their pet closer to protect it while I’m conducting my exam. The calming touches, petting and soft voices owners use to reassure their pet are similar to the methods I use to calm my children. The joyous reunion of an owner with their pet after spending time in the hospital sick or after boarding is a pleasure to see. And I share the pain of the owner as he says his last goodbye to their beloved pet after treatment has run its course.

The bond between the veterinarian and the dog develops a little differently. Usually, the first few experiences are a feeling-out process instead of love at first sight. As a veterinarian, my first goal is to figure out the dog’s temperament, lifestyle, what’s normal for the dog, and their place in the owner’s life. After a few visits, both the veterinarian and the dog know what to expect, and it becomes more of a check-up, routine care and, hopefully, a play-date. I must admit that I enjoy the tail wags, the pushing up against me and the slobbery licks that come with the company of dogs.

Throughout the life of that dog, I enjoy watching the family love their dog, the dog go through experiences like kids and moving, and even introductions of new dogs. After time passes, I feel more a part of that’s dog’s life and that helps me makes decisions regarding the dog’s care. Personally, I feel like most of my patients are an extension of me even though I get relatively little time with each of them. The bond that develops, though different than the owner and pet, is still one of closeness and concern for the well-being of the animal. This can be difficult when diseases develop and decisions are being made about care and quality for “man’s best friend”. 

Before closing, I’d like to share my own story about a special relationship I shared with a yellow lab named Riley. The story starts when my father, also a veterinarian, called me about a pup no one wanted. I came to get him, and he looked a little rough, and that just made me feel like he needed a good home. Mine! Riley was with me through veterinary school, running and going to the lake, plus making trips to the teaching hospital, being a subject for my learning. Thank goodness for that dog, who made me feel like even though I made mistakes, he wasn’t holding any grudges!

Riley was by my side as I started my career, bought a house and went on adventures. He was there with me for several knee surgeries, Saturdays at the clinic and all days in-between. My first few vehicles were purchased based on how Riley could ride in them and how much of his hair could be seen on the seats and dash!

Fast-forward a few years to when Riley meets my wife and the first two of our three children. Riley was healthy most of his life, despite a few seizures of unknown origin and, later, some progressive arthritis. I had to put my loyal companion to sleep one week shy of his 15th birthday. To say we were bonded doesn’t seem to be enough; he was family.

So I would have to say, in answer to the initial question of whether I have experienced the depth of the bonds that can exist between a dog, the owner and the veterinarian, I can say that I have, indeed, experienced them in a profound way!