There's no denying the pleasure a baby animal brings. No matter what the mood in a veterinary practice on a given day, there's an immediate shift in energy when a new, furry bundle of joy comes in—from the receptionist to the veterinarian, everyone loves to greet the proud pet parents of a new puppy or kitten. But what about the client who brings in an older, newly adopted pet? Do they get the same warm welcome?
They should, says Dr. Shawn Finch, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and associate veterinarian at Gentle Doctor Animal Hospitals in Omaha, Neb. "It has never occurred to me to like adult pets less than puppies or kittens," she says.
While most veterinarians will admit to liking adult dogs and cats as much as their younger counterparts, it couldn't hurt to make sure you're showing the same enthusiasm and attention to their human caretakers. Follow this expert advice to ensure you're building the strongest bond you can with all of your clients—no matter what age their pets are.
Build a bond on common ground
At Dr. Finch's practice, her team makes a point to do just as good a job building a bond with a client who comes in with an older adopted pet as they would with a client bringing in a new puppy or kitten. And it's not difficult to do.
"Many of our staff members have adopted adult and older pets," she says. "We come into the relationship with those clients with that in common—it sets us up for a strong bond."
Julie Mullins, staff training coordinator at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C., shares a similar sentiment. She's a proud parent of an adopted shelter dog herself and feels it can be easier to bond with clients who've also rescued a pet. "We have that passion of giving love to those pets that still have a lot of love to give in common," she says.
A few ways both Mullins and Dr. Finch establish a bond with these clients is to congratulate them on their new family member and ask specific questions about the pet. Simple ones, such as "What about the pet caught your eye?" or "How did you know this was the pet for you?" show genuine interest and are an easy way to engage clients in a heartfelt discussion about their newest addition. And don't hesitate to share your personal stories about your adopted pets if you have any, Mullins says.
Make the first visit count
With new puppies and kittens, you know you're probably going to be seeing them at least four or five times in the first six months for booster vaccines, fecal exams and eventually a spay or neuter surgery, if the owner elects to have it done. With an older adopted pet, you don't always have the luxury of multiple visits to build a bond.
"One downside to a first visit with older, newly adopted pets is that they're often spayed or neutered and already have all of their vaccines," says Dr. Finch. "And even if they don't, they only need one or two visits to become up-to-date on vaccines."
So how do you make the most of that first visit, knowing you may not see them again soon? Give them as much time and attention during the visit and physical exam as you would with a new puppy or kitten exam, says Mullins. "We often see an older pet and assume the clients already know about nutrition or training," she says. That's a disservice to the client and the pet.
It's important to not only discuss which tests and vaccines the client can anticipate at the pet's yearly wellness exam—as well as what preventive care measures, such as parasite control, they should take to ensure a long, healthy life for the pet—but also to talk about everyday issues such as obedience training and dietary recommendations. Initiate that conversation and lead clients to discuss those critical elements of pet ownership they might not be aware of or don't know enough to ask about, says Mullins.
Build a bond with rescues, too
Now that you've got the tools to build a solid bond with clients and their newly adopted adult pets, why not keep those feel-good vibes going? It's easy to do by just reaching out to local shelters and rescue groups to ensure you get to see even more adult pets that have been adopted in loving homes.
Dr. Dennis Cloud, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and owner of Rock Road Animal Hospital in St. Louis, Mo., says his clinic works closely with about 10 rescue groups in the St. Louis area and has found it to be an extremely rewarding experience.
"When a pet is adopted from one of these groups, often the client is referred to our practice, and we offer these new clients a complimentary first visit for their newly adopted pet," he says. "Our staff feels really good about doing something good for these groups."
Mullins also advocates building rapport with local animal rescue groups. Her clinic supports a group known in her area for fostering older pets and adopting them to loving homes, in addition to participating in events to raise awareness for these and other shelter animals.
Another approach her practice takes is to keep in touch with breed-specific rescue groups when an existing client loses a pet. "If a client lost their bichon frise and we hear that another owner recently surrendered one to a rescue organization, we try to help our client and that pet connect," Mullins says.
Be a resource for future pet owners who want to adopt
While it's true that shelter animals used to get a bad rap, adopting one has become much more popular and commonplace these days—and you can take advantage of that. "Why not promote your practice as a resource for pre-adoption counseling?" Mullins says.
One of the many misconceptions about shelter or rescue animals is that they're often abused, ill-mannered or socially maladjusted. And while that may be the case for some, it's not fair to lump all adoptable dogs or cats into this category.
Many times, the reason these animals don't find a lasting home is that they were never properly trained or socialized in the first place—or were just the wrong type of animal for the pet owner's lifestyle. By offering your clients the resources and support to make the best possible decision before adopting a pet, you know you've done your part to avoid a potentially disastrous pet-owner mismatch that could lead to surrender.
"Like they say in the commercial, 'Shelter dogs aren't necessarily broken,'" says Mullins. "But some of these animals definitely need training to be good family members—and all of them need love. We can help with that."