Commentary: You're more than just a doctor

Commentary: You're more than just a doctor

Sometimes clients need a shoulder to cry on. That's when you can go beyond your role as a medical expert and offer much-needed emotional support.
Jul 01, 2011

In the practice where I work in Sandpoint, Idaho, I met a Lab-shepherd mix named Barney. He was my first appointment of the day and his owner seemed delighted when I made his tail thump against the chair. Barney was in for vaccinations and to have a recurring ear problem checked. But as I listened, I soon realized that Barney's biggest problem wasn't his ears.

My first clue was a sense of frustration in Barney's owner's voice. Before I started the exam I turned to her and said, "I sense you're having some other problems with Barney you haven't told me about."

That's when the dam broke and the story came pouring out. This woman had recently gone back to work, and Barney was tearing the house apart in her absence. Her husband called it the "unwanted extreme home makeover." And he wasn't joking. He'd told his wife that if Barney didn't straighten up, they were going to have to get rid of him.

I refrained from offering any marital counseling. She seemed to have a handle on that part of it. "I've had Barney longer than I've had my husband," she said. However, it was easy to see she was scared.

What I did next is something the Internet can never ever do. I put one hand on Barney's head and the other on her arm. "This is a common problem," I said. "I've helped dozens of other families who've had pets with separation anxiety, and we'll get this fixed. You won't have to get rid of Barney—or your husband."

I put Barney on the path of medication and behavior modification, both parts of a powerful, state-of-the-art and state-of-the-heart treatment plan in modern veterinary medicine. We certainly saved Barney, and we might have even saved a marriage. But even more than that, we kept veterinary medicine relevant for this woman and, no doubt, for every person she talks to. We had the power to do this. We did it through passion and compassion—and we kicked the Internet's butt in the process.

Dr. Marty Becker is a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member, writer, speaker, and resident veterinarian for Good Morning America.