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Fear Free - I don't want to be the bad guy....

What the heck is “Fear Free” and why is it important? I started asking myself this about 2 years ago when I would open my vet journals and see this new title popping up, occasionally at first, then more often.

“Fear Free” has some quaint slogans like: “take the pet out of petrified” and “Put the treat into treatment”. Slogans aside, the mission of “Fear Free” is to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety and stress in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them. It is a great frame work to help people who love animals, love them smarter.

Likely everyone reading this is an animal lover. And guess what? Vets and vet teams are animal lovers too. But, just loving animals doesn’t necessarily help us really understand animals.

It is very hard to understand our nonverbal best friends. Their body language, their behaviours, how they see & sense the world. Long term observation can be useful, but it can also sometimes lead us astray. The basic reason is that It is hard to view the world other than through a human frame of reference. For example: Did you know that when dogs yawn they aren’t tired, they are displaying stress and anxiety? When my child yawns, I know it’s bed time, when my dog yawns I know it’s time to change her current situation & give her some reassurance.

So, in an effort to bridge this gap between human and faithful furry friends, a lot of educated people who love animals started talking. People from different backgrounds in animal behaviour, training, psychology and veterinary medicine all exchanged notes, ideas and theories. From this research based collaboration “Fear Free” was created to help teach us, in practical ways, to better understand our pets and make their lives better by eliminating fear, anxiety, and stress.

It would be impossible to try to tell you everything involved in one blog. Some of the elements of “Fear Free” include: avoiding stressors (eg dog meets cat in waiting room); gentle touch techniques; pet specific calming pheromones (smells); examining pets where they are most comfortable (the floor, the carrier bottom); reading body language for early signs of fear anxiety and stress; using supplements and medications as required to prevent anxiety..... oh yah... and tons of positive reinforcement = Treats!

I admit, when a patient would arrive to see me who clearly was upset & didn’t want to be near me, I would often joke “oh, I’m used to being the bad guy”. But honestly, I don’t want to be the bad guy. I want to be the greatest good guy your pet has ever met. And since starting using “Fear Free” techniques everyday at my practice: I am being rewarded with more and more “good guy” moments.

I have patients now who pull their owners into the clinic and don’t want to leave the exam room - even though they know every time they come in they will get a needle. Wow. Cool. Amazing!

When I hear someone tell me that their pet gets excited at the sound of my voice - I can’t help but genuinely smile all over.

And those cats that roll around on the exam table in cat nip bliss, drooling & purring? Simply devine. It makes being a vet and coming to work so much more fun than “being the bad guy”.

The “Fear Free” journey is just beginning for all of us at Pine Ridge Veterinary Clinic. Many of us have become officially certified including myself, Sue, Teresa, and

Christina. In the meantime, “Fear Free” has just launched a pet owner portal - I

hope you will check it out.

Karen McKenzie, DVM

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