There are two types of people in this world of ours: those who go to the Doctor for any and every little thing, and those who don’t. I was raised to believe that some good old fashioned rest and a hot bowl of homemade chicken soup is what you need to cure a cold, not time sitting in (and travelling to and from) a Doctor’s office. This has definitely influenced my approach to my own health and wellness as an adult, because beyond the necessary check-ups, or visits for more urgent issues, I really don’t visit the Doctor very often.
Now, as a fur baby mama to my two loves, #OliveRoll and #EmmyCrawford, I’ve come to notice that my approach to their health and care is pretty much the same as my own. Josh and I are always paying close attention to their moods, behaviours, eating habits and even their bowel movements! But unless we’re alarmed by a sudden change that seems serious, we don’t choose to bring them to the vet more than what’s necessary for their check-ups.
This choice is also a conscious decision to keep them out of situations that bring them stress as much as possible. While our little Olive is way more easy going, it’s only been over the past couple of years that our older cat, Emmy, has felt more comfortable even just getting into her travel crate. Although she is a cat, and we realise resistance to getting into a crate is normal, it felt to us as though her fear stemmed from associating the crate with visits to the vet. Since we inherited her from her former owner, getting into the crate now most often means she’s heading to the cottage with us and, thus, is significantly more chilled out every time we bring it out.
Because we aren’t the type of pet owners who visit the vet more than we need to, we also hadn’t found a vet we truly loved for our animals. Rather, opting to take Olive for check-ups at the Toronto Humane Society (where we adopted her) and a small animal hospital around the corner from our house when we’ve had to deal with emergency issues.
When I was approached about bringing Emmy or Olive in to experience a Fear Free visit at Toronto’s Downtown Animal Hospital, I was immediately intrigued. As the first animal hospital in Canada to be a Fear Free Certified Practice, I loved the idea of taking my girls to a place that prioritizes the emotional health and well-being of its patients (aka the animals).
If the Fear Free certification is new to you (as it was to me) here’s a little background info to know: It was founded by Dr. Marty Becker “America’s Veterinarian” to eliminate fear, anxiety and stress in pets. It’s an intensive certification course that was developed with input from a 160-member advisory group members that includes board-certified veterinary behaviourists, well-known veterinary practice management experts, and other leaders in the field. Basically, a big group of people who really know what they’re doing when it comes to animals.
Although Fear Free training and certification has been available sine 2016, Toronto’s Downtown Animal Hospital is the first animal hospital in Canada that’s certified. Lucky for us, they happen to be located only a few blocks away from our home, in the heart of The Village.
Our visit started days before we were scheduled to go in, when their team sent us an email with helpful tips for how to prepare Olive for her visit. I had decided to take Olive in first so I could get a feel for what to expect and handling two fur babies at once was going to be way too much for this mama. Their pre-appointment protocols offer Fear Free tips and techniques for you, the pet owner, to follow at home and pre-appointment to help reduce your animal’s Fear, Anxiety and Stress (FAS), which I felt was so thoughtful and incredibly helpful. I too, after all, was feeling a bit of stress about taking Olive to a new vet, so if anything, their approach helped ease my FAS too!
When you hear the words “Animal Hospital” it’s easy to picture a cold and sterile environment that would make anyone freak out, nevermind your pet. However, walking into Toronto’s Downtown Animal Clinic was like bringing Olive to an animal spa; ambient classical music is played throughout to help calm nerves, pets are welcome to help themselves to a selection of high-quality and natural treats and even have access to toys to play with while they wait. Did I mention there are separate waiting areas for cats and dogs to help reduce tension between the animals as well?
Our appointment was with Dr. Steede who was so interesting to watch and speak to during Olive’s appointment. When she first entered the room, she avoided direct eye contact with Olive in order to give her a few minutes to get used to her scent and presence in the room. This also gave Dr. Steede an opportunity to assess Olive’s FAS levels and adjust her approach accordingly. She chatted with me the entire time to inform me about her approach every step of the way so I knew what was going on. Dr. Steede determined that Olive seemed comfortable although slightly nervous, as she could tell by the way Olive was shaking slightly. To introduce herself and begin Olive’s check-up, she calmly approached her with treats in hand and let Olive make her way over before feasting on the yummy treats she gave her.
Dr. Steede also pointed out that the Downtown Animal Hospital puts pheromones in the air to help keep animals calm, and they treat all animals as individuals–adjusting their approach as needed based on an animal’s behaviour, needs or FAS. While most of Olive’s appointment was easy breezy, Olive wasn’t into the idea of opening her mouth to let Dr. Steede examine her teeth. Instead of forcing Olive to open her mouth, she asked me to try in case it made Olive feel more comfortable. Even my touch didn’t get her to loosen up, so Dr. Steede examined her dental hygiene as best she could without being invasive or upsetting Olive, and gave me some great tips for maintaining her oral health. I’d say all three of us ended the appointment on a happy note.
Some of these practices may sound obvious–like, how could a vet not take this kind of approach?–but the truth is, a lot of places don’t and the mental and psychological well-being of an animal isn’t even considered. As humans, we can all relate to feeling more comfortable when our emotional state is considered, especially in a vulnerable place like a Doctor’s office.
Our first ever experience at Downtown Animal Hospital was so incredibly positive that I can honestly say they have even converted me into becoming more open to the idea of taking my animals in for check-ups more regularly. I know that Olive will be thrilled to return (especially for more treats!) and I’m actually looking forward to bringing Emmy in to see how they work a grumpy (but beautiful) old cat like her.
For more information on Toronto’s Downtown Animal Hospital click HERE!
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)