Why You Should Get to the Heart of the Human-Animal Bond

Your clients love their pets. Find out how to harness that for a better client relationship in your veterinary practice.

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Originally published in the August 2015 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Loved this article? Subscribe to the magazine today

I was in New York City recently for a senior dog adoption event and for meetings at various magazine offices. I’d brought along my 14-year-old senior Pomeranian/Yorkie/Chihuahua cross, “Porkuhuhua” Quixote, who has a unique face and coat that make him look like a puppy despite his senior status.

Now, New York City has about 8.5 million people, compared to my home town of Bonners Ferry, which has around 2,200. But there’s one thing they have in common: If I have Quixote with me, everyone’s my best buddy – even in New York, a town famous for its less-than-friendly strangers!

It’s well known that pets are a conversation catalyst or social lubricant, a fact often exploited by guys who are tired of the bachelor life. It’s also a lifesaver for people dealing with stigmatizing conditions or illnesses, who find their social isolation is over when they have a pet with them.

Dr. Marty Becker with Quixote

Marty becker

Dr. Marty Becker with Quixote.

The great news is: You don’t have to be looking for love or a lifeline to harness the amazing power of pets to help humanize and connect us. The power of the human-animal bond can ease and enhance the lives of relationships of all kinds of people in all kinds of situations.

You’re probably agreeing with me, even thinking, “Duh, so what does this have to do with veterinary medicine?”

Everything. That bond is the irrefutable, inexhaustible source of energy that fuels the practice engine and keeps us loving what we do.

More than just practicing veterinary medicine, we celebrate, protect and nurture the bond. The key to financial success and emotional wealth in veterinary medicine is to amp up your understanding of, appreciation for and application of this affection-connection.

  • When you linger for a while with a new patient, asking the owner how he or she came up with the pet’s name — a guaranteed icebreaker I’ve written about before — you’re tapping into the power of the bond to build a relationship that will serve your patient well for all the years of his life.
  • When you meet a long-nailed, dirty-toothed dog who needs some tough love at meal time and connect with the owner over how beautiful her coat is or how sweetly she comes when called, you’re tapping into the power of the bond to enhance trust so that when you break it to the owner about the dentistry, nail trim and diet the pet needs, she’s listening.
  • And when you take the time to find something in the pet’s history that reminds you of a pet you’ve shared your life with, and share it with that pet owner, you’ll be using the power of the bond to put that relationship and trust in cement!

3 Tips to Harness the Power of the Bond

Here are three more tips for harnessing the power of the bond for the benefit of your patients and their owners:

  1. Celebrate! Be loud and proud of the affection-connection. Take photos, put them in desktop photo frames, post on social media and your practice web page. Send them practice business cards with all of your contact information but their pet’s photo on it, put a bandanna on the dog and tell him that he’s a handsome little man, brag about the pet and person so loudly it can be overheard.
  2. Empathize. Unless it’s for routine procedures or purchases, most pet owners come anxious or fearful. What’s wrong with my pet? Is my pet going to be okay? How much is this going to cost? I make it a point to give at least one expression of empathy (aim for three) during the examination and consultation. I might say early in the office visit, “Mrs. Jones, I bet you didn’t sleep last night because you were worried,” or, “Tom, don’t worry, we’re going to get Sparky fixed up and back to normal.”
  3. Ask for advice. I learn about new pet charities and causes all the time from my clients because I ask them for their suggestions. Tell them your practice will be collecting pet food to donate during the holiday season, and see if they have a favorite shelter, rescue group or pet food bank they support. People will be touched that you wanted their input and glad they’re spending their money at a veterinary practice that gives back to the community!

I sometimes think that our ability to diagnose a heart condition with our stethoscopes matters a lot less to our clients than our ability to honor the heart-connection they feel with their pets. Open your own heart to that reality, and you’ll be amazed at the medical, emotional and financial benefits you’ll experience!

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