The American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians presented a daylong symposium, "Conundrums with Kids, K-9's and Kats at the Klinic," at January's North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla.
I served as facilitator for the panel discussion at the end of the day. Here are some highlights.
Merry Crimi, DVM, former American Animal Hospital Assn. president and current Delta Society board member, identified many issues that veterinarians encounter with children at the veterinary practice.
Dr. Crimi cited these issues: handling childrens' normal curiosities; safety issues in the clinic; handling children's behavioral problems; pet selection for success and handling poor choices for pets; discussing a pet's illness with children; separation of children from their pets for hospitalization; families surrendering a problem pet (due to allergies, behavior, moving, etc.); death of a pet; euthanasia; and pet replacement.
She emphasized that the skills used to handle these conundrums affect the health of every practice, in terms of client and staff retention, stress management, career satisfaction, client compliance and the bottom line.
Karen L. Overall, VMD, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVB, from the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, presented the second session.
She said that behavioral conundrums with children at the clinic tend to fall into three categories: bites, primarily from dogs, that will get the dog euthanized or abandoned; play by the children and pet; and leads and walking dogs.
Dr. Overall said these issues can be humanely and successfully addressed if the clients are approached truthfully and with tact.
Soraya V. Juarbe-D’az, DVM, Dipl. ACVB, of Florida Veterinary Specialists in Tampa, presented the third hour, "Avoiding and Solving Conundrums with Kids, Kittens and Puppies in the Household."
"Behavior problems are the No. 1 reason healthy pets are given up to shelters," Dr. Juarbe-Diaz said, discussing the presentation while planning it in December.
"And if veterinarians don't participate in behavioral counseling, owners may rely on outdated sources that are detrimental to the mental well-being of kittens and puppies. A bad experience with a young pet could lead to relinquishment and reluctance to get another pet.
"Our extensive training plus the advantage of seeing the young patient every three to four weeks for routine immunizations during an important time in their social development make us uniquely suited to provide relevant advice.
"Depending upon their age, children can be given basic safety rules that eliminate guesswork and keep the child safe.
"If children can learn not to touch electrical sockets and stove tops, they can be taught these rules: Fluffy should be left alone when eating or drinking from a bowl, sleeping, resting, gnawing a toy or bone, hiding, barking at something outside the house, growling, hissing or showing teeth.
"In this age of political correctness," Dr. Juarbe-Diaz continued, "the wrong word (if perceived as a label or as criticism) can undermine your best efforts at helping the family. They may take less kindly to criticism of their child-rearing skills than to their pet-raising performance.
"Present your suggestions in a non-confrontational fashion and in a way that shows that you are trying to resolve the problem regardless of fault.
"Pointing out that you are an animal expert versus a parenting expert and acknowledging that parents do know their children best is a good way to melt the defensive wall some clients are likely to put up," Dr. Juarbe-D’az said.
"Present the problem from the pet's point of view: Fluffy feels threatened by Joey's behavior' versus Joey is threatening Fluffy when he [acts a certain way]' also eases the owner away from a defensive position."
Cindy Adams, MSW, Ph.D., from the Ontario Veterinary College in Canada, presented the fourth session, "Communicating with Children During Difficult Times." She suggested being gentle and forthright and to allow children to express their love and concern for their pets. Dr. Adams also organized the session notes into a booklet for attendees.
The afternoon session, "Prevention and Management of Conundrums with Kids in the Klinic: A Case Based Approach," was led by Dr. Crimi and Carolyn Butler, MS, a grief consultant.
They dealt with issues of disruptive children who wind up distracting the caregiver parent and with the issues that arise when several children in one family have parents in separate households.
Butler and Dr. Crimi explained that good skills in dealing with children are good for the practice, citing these considerations:
- Companion animals are more likely to come into homes with children between the ages of 5 and 17.
- Parents often say that they acquired the pet for the children.
- Parents bring pets to clinics due to a child's concern for the pet's health.
- Most parents like it when their children are acknowledged.
- It is good for the profession to educate children about pet care.
- Zoonotic concerns with children and close pet contact.
They ended with several case scenarios and demonstrated role-playing so the group could see the different reactions that they can create with skilled handling of children in the practice.
Coping with Death
The last session, "Helping When Children Experience the Death of a Companion Animal," was presented by Butler. She encouraged doctors to help grieving children understand it is natural to feel sad.
She suggested that children write a story about what their pet meant to them. When the family knows that you feel comfortable with their sadness because you understand the bond that they shared with their pet, they feel bonded to your practice.
Dr. Villalobos is president of the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and is on the editorial review board of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.