I have been a veterinary nurse for nearly 35 years, 18 of those years specializing in animal behavior.
I spent the first 17 years of my career working in general practice.
Being a veterinary nurse is hard physical work on a good day. I remember hearing the alarm go off at 6:00 AM and knowing that once my feet hit the floor that I likely wouldn’t sit down again until that night. On a bad day, I came home with various bruises from restraining dogs that used their back legs to push against my body in the attempt to escape. I have a lovely scar down one entire finger from a cat that I scruffed (i.e. held by the back of the neck) while I dipped it into a bucket of flea dip.
As I look at the numerous battle injuries on my body, I consider the damage and scars that I caused to those animal’s minds and psyches. It was no surprise that it wasn’t uncommon for patients to come to the hospital already terrified because of past negative experiences (either from our hospital or another). It was depressing– after all, it was these same animals that drew me to this amazing profession and now they feared me.
The way I handled animals then was all I knew; it was what I’d been taught. BUT, once you know better, it is your responsibility to do better.
Flash forward 18 years – and meet Fear Free.
Fear Free is an educational initiative that is moving across the country, changing veterinary medicine and the relationship we have with our pets in ways no one could have predicted.
There have been many pioneers — giants — in my specialty areas of veterinary medicine, animal behavior and animal training. To list a few, RK Anderson, the grandfather of veterinary animal behavior and inventor of the gentle leader head collar. Jean Donaldson who wrote the book Culture Clash – a book that changed the relationship I have with dogs forever. Ian Dunbar completely turned my way of teaching puppy classes upside down and inside out in the best way possible. Karen Pryor brought us a way to talk to our pets with clicker training, and the late, great Sophia Yin brought us techniques to handle animals in a low-stress manner. These pioneers and more brought us to the point we are today.
Enter, Dr. Marty Becker. Marty is frequently referred to as “American’s Veterinarian” and is considered the founder of the Fear Free initiative. Marty is genuine and real, passionate and persuading, but one of Marty’s greatest talents is the ability to bring the right people together for the right reasons.
He was able to bring over 200 top professionals together and gave us all the same goal – find ways to decrease fear, anxiety and stress in pets that visit the veterinary hospital. These professionals were able to create an educational model that is now being accessed by 10,000 veterinary professionals across the US as they begin to implement the Fear Free culture into their hospitals.
In a nutshell, Fear Free means that the animal’s emotional health is taken into consideration as much as their physical health. Online and in person education teaches animal professionals how to recognize fear anxiety and stress (FAS) in pets, methods for preventing it and techniques for alleviating it if it occurs.
There is no longer a need for veterinary nurses to forcibly restrain animals or for pet parents to dread taking their fearful pet to the veterinary hospital.
Take it from this veteran veterinary nurse – when you know better you do better and this is better for animal professionals, pets and the people who love them.
The Fear Free initiative doesn’t stop just when a pet visits a veterinary hospital.
Read how Stepping Stone Animal Training is incorporating Fear Free techniques in Pooch Palace Resort and Training Center with the goal of becoming the first stay, play, groom and train facility that implements Fear Free techniques in the Midwest.
To join the Fear Free initiative, visit www.fearfreepets.com.