Dr. Carolyn Apker, owner of the Animal Wellness Center of Maple Grove
What does “Fear Free” mean?
It means: Every staff member of the Animal Wellness Center is devoted to the physical AND psychological welfare of every patient.
We want to put every pet under our care at ease so that they are not experiencing fear or anxiety. It is a well documented fact that calm and comfortable patients (dog, cat and human) recover more quickly and completely than their nervous counterparts. Your pet deserves the best every step of the way.
What can you expect from the AWC team as a result of our commitment?
We will handle all patients gently and in a way that reassures them we are on their side.
We will be constantly attentive to your pet’s mental and psychological state and will respond to their fear or anxiety with gentle reassurance and patience until they are calm. If we need to schedule the events of an appointment over several short, happy visits we are happy to do so. If your pet needs a small dose of medication prior to their visit… we know what works.
We will meet their need for mental and physical comfort and be ready to adjust our handling and treatments accordingly.
You can absolutely expect every member of our staff to treat your beloved pet as their own. Being afraid is not okay. Physical force and coercion are not okay. And yes, we know this commitment will require extra time for the doctor, staff and the pet owner. That is okay, because they are worth it!
When will these changes take place?
We have been implementing them for almost two years. AWC is one the nation’s first hospitals to make this paradigm shift and to be actively working on Hospital Certification in Low Stress Handling. Dr. Apker has been sitting on the Advisory Board for the Fear Free Practice Movement for over two years. She has been actively working with a team of Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists, is a committee chair for the American Veterinary Animal Behavior Society and AWC is very proud to already be Gold Level Certified as a Feline Friendly Practice.
My pet has always been afraid at the veterinary hospital; can you really help her at her age?
Absolutely! We have the knowledge and the skill to meet every patient at their level of need. Sometimes this is a series of happy visits to the hospital to get praise, petting and their favorite treats. Then, home they go! The purpose is to replace their apprehension of the hospital with the expectation that really great things happen for them when they come to visit.
If that sounds too good to be true, think about waiting for your next procedure at your medical clinic. You may feel a little nervous, time drags by and you see other patients come out in various stages of distress. Your pulse and blood pressure creep up. You feel some butterflies and your head jerks up every time the medical assistant calls the next patient back. In between are long silences and old magazines. Then they call your name and lead you into the back room for who knows what procedure. Augh!
How would that experience change for you if the music was calming, the other patients appeared happy, some lovely staff member would appear randomly with ten dollar bills for you (okay, in your pet’s case, they would be dispensing your absolute over-the-top, all- time favorite treat or toy)? How would that impact your feelings toward your health care provider?
Some pets have more severe anxieties and by the time they are at the hospital they have reached a panic stage. We can help alleviate their level of arousal with a small, very safe, quick acting, anxiety reducing medication. The medication is best given at home with a yummy treat and the pet is left alone for the next 1-2 hours in a dimly lighted, quiet environment to relax before you pick up your keys. This approach is win-win for your furry family member, you and the hospital staff. Why? Because a truly terrified individual cannot learn a different emotional response to their situation. Fear and survival instincts crowd out the brain’s ability to process information. The gentle medication gives them the opportunity to learn that they are still safe and coming to see the veterinarian can be a happy event.
What about when I need to leave my pet at the hospital for intensive care or to see a specialist while I go back to work?
This is a really loving question. You love your pet so dearly that you are concerned about his emotional welfare when he is left in our care. Asking it makes you a wonderful pet owner because it shows you have a deep bond with your pet. We are all pet owners too who adore our furry babies and never want them to experience negative emotions.
Your pet will be continually assessed for signs of stress or distress. We make adjustments in our patient care/handling on an ongoing basis to find the cause for their discomfort and change what is needed so that we are providing humane care for their mental and physical well being at all times. Sometimes they feel isolated and want more companionship or the reverse could be true. Sometimes using soft lighting and music is comforting. Some love to watch the action of staff and pets moving through the treatment room, for others that’s too much visual stimulation and they are happier in a quiet spot snuggling with just one staff person.
Our goal, our duty is to meet each pet at their point of need and to truly make their visits to the veterinarian less stressful and fear free!