Vet Talk

You're Fired!

What ghastly deeds could provoke a mild-mannered veterinarian to fire a client?

September 23, 2013 (published)

Copyright VIN
In a perfect world, veterinarians, clients, and animals would stroll hand-in-hand-in-paw/hoof/claw down a golden path until the animal, after many years of loving companionship, was escorted across the rainbow bridge by a troop of blue fairy penguins riding unicorns.

Sometimes perfection takes a left turn.

Occasionally a spring unwinds in the clockwork of the Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR). The gyre widens, and the end is nigh.

This tearing asunder of a perfectly good VCPR stems from the fact that of the V, the C, and the P, two of those relationship participants belong to the species homo sapiens, Latin for “sometimes can’t get along worth a darn.”

Most people are familiar with the concept of “seeking a second opinion,” which is often code for “I don’t like the way my veterinarian communicates,” or occasionally “My veterinarian’s handling upset Fluffykins.” Whatever the reason, it isn’t uncommon for an owner to decide to ask to have their animal’s records transferred elsewhere.

However, a darker secret lurks in the heart of men...and in clinic front offices everywhere.

Sometimes when the moon is full, when the planets mis-align, or just when things go very much awry, the record transfer goes the other way. The animal owner may one day receive an envelope containing a stack of medical records and a letter worded something like this:

Dear Ms. I-Can’t-Believe-You-Said-That-to-My-Technician,
I am sorry that we are unable to provide services for Pookie in the manner that you desire. While Pookie is a lovely heffalump, we here at We Love Your Animals But We're Still a Business Animal Hospital feel that Pookie’s needs and yours would be best met by another hospital.
We have enclosed Pookie’s records along with a list of local veterinary practices.
Wishing the best to both you and Pookie in the future,
Dr. I’m Sorry But Showing Up Drunk an Hour Late to Your Appointment Doesn’t Fit With Our Clinic Philosophy

In veterinary practice-ese, this process is known as firing the client.

How does the VCPR go wonky? What ghastly deeds could provoke a mild-mannered veterinarian to fire a client? After all, vets handle bites, scratches, kicks, and miscellaneous tramplings as a matter of routine.

There may be 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover but as far as I know, there is no official list of reasons to fire a veterinary client. However, there are some universal circumstances that increase the likelihood of a manila envelope in the mail.

1. Abusing the staff – This is a biggie. The front desk personnel, kennel assistants, and technicians make the veterinary machine work. Without them, the whole mechanism jams up. These people work very hard for not nearly enough money, and they are often the first folks the panicky, stressed out pet owner encounters. Unfortunately, that circumstance makes veterinary staff easy targets for all of that frightened, angry, frustrated energy. F-bombs, shouting, slammed doors, or (yes, I’ve heard of this happening) thrown chairs or pieces of equipment do not meet most practice’s standards. No shirt, no shoes, no self-control, no service.

2. Abusing animals or family members – This may seem like a “duh”, but just in case it isn’t clear, if a client yells at, hits, shoves, or is otherwise aggressive to an animal, partner, child, parent, or fairy godmother, veterinarians assume they will be next on the list. Veterinarians often refuse to treat aggressive animals. We may also refuse to provide service for aggressive humans. Aggression brings me to…

3. The animal is dangerous – Possession of a dangerous dog, bull, horse, or wallaby, especially if the owner does not commit to the recommended steps for mitigating this danger such as proper training, behavioral work, and agreeing to necessary restraint or sedation may be grounds for firing. Veterinarians are a picky lot. We like our hands, feet, faces, jugular veins, and staff in the appropriate configurations. Yes, our patients can be unpredictable, and yes, our jobs can be risky, but there is no point in guaranteeing the danger by seeing a patient whose aggression is predictable.

4. The client finds it funny or trivial that the animal is dangerous – You have to have a pretty decent sense of humor to go into veterinary medicine. Well, humor isn’t mandatory, but it helps, and the poop jokes alone are priceless. However, most veterinarians lose their whimsy when someone snickers at safety. Laughing when the dog bites, the horse kicks, or the bee stings quickly dents the VCPR. Similarly, mocking the person going head to head with the fire-breather or land-shark does not facilitate a healthy relationship. Safety recommendations aren’t made to pad the bill or impugn your pet’s honor. They are made to keep everyone – human and animal -- safe.

5. Lack of compliance – Veterinary care is a partnership between the veterinarian, client, and patient. For treatment to succeed, all parties need to work toward the same goal. For medication to work properly, it must be properly given to the animal. If the veterinarian says that a recheck is necessary, the patient does, in fact, need to be rechecked. If cage or stall confinement is recommended, turning the animal out on 40 acres demonstrates a lack of compliance. If the client doesn’t play with the team, the veterinarian cannot treat the patient effectively.

6. Failure to pay –Veterinary medicine is a business. Those pesky vet bills enable the clinic to keep the lights on, the trucks running, the staff paid, the supplies ordered, and, if everyone is lucky, the veterinarians fed. Leaving without paying, reneging on a payment plan, or bouncing checks, all produce a decent chance of subsequent client firing. The grocery store will not continue to offer you service if you walk out with milk and eggs without handing over the green stuff (or the equivalent in gigabytes). Veterinarians are similarly persnickety.

7. Threatening lawsuits or reputation destruction – If someone has threatened a lawsuit, a board complaint or even posted a nastygram online, it would be reasonable to assume this person was unhappy and does not wish to continue patronizing said business. Oddly, more than one veterinarian has experienced the Twilight Zone-esque phenomenon whereby a client calls to say that he/she will be contacting an attorney, and oh, by the way, when can Fluffy come in for vaccinations?

8. Abusing time – Veterinarians don’t like abuse of people or animals, and we also aren’t fond of those who mistreat Father Time. Scheduling an animal-centric day is much like trying to conduct an orchestra composed of toddlers armed with fireworks. Animals are not protocol or efficiency oriented. The only thing standing between the average veterinary day and one of Dante’s deeper circles of hell is the punctuality of the non-human animals. Chronic lateness, last-minute cancelling, failure to show for appointments, calling frantically for an “emergency” and then not showing up as expected with said emergency, or routinely appearing without an appointment are all behaviors that do not require too many strikes for an offender to be called OUT. Stuff happens – cars break, animals break, teenagers break – we get it. But, there is a vast gulf between the unforeseen incident and a complete failure to plan. Hint: if you suspect that your unforeseen incident demerits are racking up, I have it on good authority that they can sometimes be expunged with baked goods or chocolate.

Life happens and homo sapiens is a messy, emotional species. Yet, we are also a compelling species. Lest you be hurt, turned off, or mildly panicked by this article, be assured your veterinarian has no desire to fire you or Fluffy the Heffalump. He or she would far rather walk off into that brilliant sunset with you both – hand in hand in…what do heffalumps have anyway?


Heather Lorimer
March 30, 2017

This is long.  I apologize. I breed and show Siamese and oriental cats.  I am also a Professor of Genetics and spend a very large amount of time energy and money trying to make sure that my cats are happy, healthy, not inbred and  as free of genetic problems as I can.  I am not a veterinarian, and anatomy and physiology is not my strong point, though I may know more than the average person on many cat related fronts I am no veterinarian.  I went to a vet practice for well over a decade.  The practice was modern and clean and had excellent vets.  The staff were nice and efficient.  I had a favorite vet there who I was an early client of when he was hired.  Smart, nice, good-looking guy.  They did wonderful dentals, and helped me and my cats through many things.  As I breed and show I have always more than the average number of cats and only a few live out their entire lives with me.  Kittens go to new homes, show cats are retired, altered and placed, so my files were big.  The revolving cats, little kittens etc occasionally resulted in something dreadful.  If a kitten or cat passed I always wanted a post-mortem and samples sent off to look for the cause as it could be important for my program.  I'd cry (sorry) and then ask for the post.  Over the last few years they started to get funny about posts, ramping up the cost.  I still did it because I needed to know. I always paid my bills.  A large proportion of my income goes to my cats. Then 2 years ago, they refused to do a post.  So I never knew what killed that kitty.  About 6 months later a much beloved very sweet kitten who I was showing became ill.  After treatments and tests that were inconclusive she died.  Once again I asked for a post-mortem.  This time my vet agreed, as he really wanted to know what happeneed.  So he did, told me about the weird things he found and sent sample off for analysis.  The next time I was in was with a cat who had been a patient there for 5 years.  It was time for her spay and I brought her in for her pre-spay check-up and blood work as she was not a youngster.  As usual I waited a long time, but I always brought work with me to do while I waited.  I never had a problem with a wait.  When I was finally put in a room I took my kitty out of her carrier and had her in my lap getting pets when my vet walked in.  He had an angry look on his face, and told me that he had been told to fire me as a client.  Apparantly my little girl who had died months before had been "the last straw".  He had been told to tell me that they were not a research center and perhaps I should go to the low cost clinic that handled shelter cats.  I was shocked and very sad.  The recommendations made no sense.  The shelter clinic certainly are not a research center, and only do vaccines, neuters and spays, and parasite treatments.  I have never had fleas on my cats and do not want to start getting them.  I know I am not an easy client in some ways.  I go through cats. I have kittens.  They move to other states, even other countries.  I run across weird things.  I ask questions.  I make observations.  Sometimes I have very recent freshly published information.  But I always have the view that my veterinarian is my veterinarian.  They are the professionals, so I respect what they say.  I never got a letter as to why I was fired.  My individual vet gave me some other recommendations when I said absolutely not to the shelter clinic.  I contacted the recommended vets, asked if they were willing to do post-mortems and send samples off for analysis if necessary.  Two said no.  One said yes.  I set up an appointment for my kitty who needed the spay. I had hery records faxed over from my old vet.  The vet that I had made the appointment with then called me back said they were sorry, they had spoken to a senior veterinarian at my old practice and would not take me on as a client. I asked why.  They would not give me an answer.  I contact the veterinarian I saw the most at my old practice (he is not a senior veterinarian there) and told him what happened.  He was again angry, and said he'd try to find out what the story was.  I never heard back.  I know I never was abusive to anyone.  I liked them all, and respected them.  I thought they were good. I was compliant with treatments. I paid at the time of service.  I spent thousands of dollars there every year.  What could I have been doing wrong that I can't see? My cats were clean.  I love my cats. I know I am stuck in my own head so I could easily be missing something obvious to everyone else.  I am rather insecure at the veterinarian practice I am at now, for fear that I will do whatever it is wrong. I always go pick up copies of record fromt he old vet now as I am afraid they will call and black-ball me in some way.  I need good care for my cats, they are my hobby, yes, but they are also my companions.  I am always asking the veterinarians at my new vets to tell me if they have any problem with me.  They like me, or at least so they say.

M. Fitzgerald, RVT 
September 23, 2013

Love this article!  Thanks for putting such a fun twist on the truth.

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