AVMA selected highlights

The American Veterinary Medical Association held its 146th annual convention in Seattle from July 11-14. The following are a few briefs on some of the topics covered at the conference.

Connecting with clients

“’Have a nice day’ is over,” says Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM. “The standard has floated up.”

Veterinarians and staff should strive for a high level of customer service, and doing so requires tapping into and empathizing with the emotional needs of your clients, Gavzer said. A genuine, personal relationship with your clients is one of the best ways to connect with them and keep them coming back. That includes building trust and rapport with clients by giving them personalized recommendations and being authentic with them.

“If you fail in being empathetic, you will never reach your full potential,” she said.

Robert Hott, DVM, of Colonial Veterinary Clinic in Plymouth, Mich., described one of the ways in which he has put Gavzer’s advice into practice.

Although his clinic is in one of the most economically depressed areas of the United States, he said business is up 3 percent this year. He attributes the increase to his giving personal time to clients. He lives in a diverse area and has taken the time to learn to say hello in Spanish, Swedish, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese and German, a simple gesture that the clients appreciate, he said.

“I try really hard to spend some time talking to each client,” Hott said.

Another attendee, Ron Caron, practice manager for Ellington Center Animal Clinic in Ellington Center Conn., had heard Gavzer speak before, and liked her emphasis on connecting to clients.

“It’s always good to challenge ourselves to reach the next level of client service,” Caron said. “The standard of service is raised all the time.”

Caron said that practices can tailor their customer service to their specific clientele. For example, one suggestion he heard was to provide free coffee to clients. He said he could not picture people sipping coffee while holding onto their animals in his practice’s waiting room, so that would not work. But when clients come to buy pet food, the staff chats with them while carrying the bags of food out to their car, a service the clients appreciate and now expect.

“You have to find what works in your culture, what works in your clinic,” Caron said.

Controversies in veterinary behavior

Veterinarians should have a good grasp of the controversies and misunderstandings surrounding animal behavior in order to pass on accurate information to clients and to help the animals they treat, said Bonnie Beaver, DVM, MS, DACVB.

Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, identified several areas of controversy relating to pet behavior: controversies in the public’s eye, controversies relating to veterinary behavior, and controversies within the behavior specialty.

Some public misunderstandings include: believing that trainers and behaviorists are the same thing (they aren’t); owners must dominate the dog (not true); and rubbing a dog’s nose in feces or urine will help housetraining (it only creates fear in the animal).

She stressed that veterinarians have an obligation to learn about behavior issues.

“Behavior problems are a terminal disease,” Beaver said, citing a statistic that 10 percent of pet euthanasias are due to behavior issues. “The diagnosis and treatment of behavior problems are part of veterinary medicine by law.”

Even within the behavior specialty there is disagreement on certain issues, such as the existence of dominance aggression or obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Beaver noted that behaviorists are willing and available to consult with veterinarians and for referrals of the owner and pet. Names of certified behaviorists are available on the American College of Veterinary Behaviorsts website, www.dacvb.org.

Dog breed specific legislation

Demonization of specific dog breeds has plagued U.S. dogs since the 19th century, said Jane Berkey, president of the Animal Farm Foundation.

In the late 1800s, the bloodhound became an object of public fear and revulsion due to its association with hunting slaves.

“The depiction of the slave catcher’s dog in stage re-enactments of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” made him an object of dread to ordinary citizens, and an object of attraction to dog owners who wanted dogs for anti-social purposes,” Berkey said.

Later, German shepherds became an object of fear in the 1920s, and Doberman pinschers were demonized in the media in the 1940s due to their association with the Nazis. Rottweilers gained a bad rap after one played a Satanic hound in the 1976 film, “The Omen,” Berkey said.

In contrast, pit-bull type dogs had a great reputation up until the 1970s. The dogs were featured in ads (Buster Brown’s Tige), and TV shows (Petey in “Our Gang”), and an American pit bull terrier was featured on a World War I propaganda poster (symbolizing the United States), Berkey said.

But pit-bull type dogs, which include American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, and American pit bull terriers, gained a negative image in the American media after a crackdown on dog fighting in the 1970s.

The negative image led to myths about the incredible crushing and locking powers of the pit bull’s jaws (“it’s garbage,” Berkey says), and eventually to breed specific legislation that includes bans and restrictions on mixed breed dogs that merely “look like” pit bulls. Today, 300 cities and towns place restrictions or even bans on 36 specific breeds, as well as mixes or perceived mixes of those breeds.

Berkey said that veterinarians should be cautious about trying to categorize mixed breed dogs in front of clients, so as not to influence their attitudes toward the animals. In areas affected by breed specific ordinances, a casual guess regarding the breed heritage of a dog can have serious consequences for the animal as well as the owners, she said.

“Veterinarians must take the lead, and free themselves from stereotypes, in order to better serve their clients, their clients’ animals, and society,” she said.