I’m sure you’ll respond to this title with an emphatic, “YES — duh.” But for me, it’s a good starting point for sourcing your opinions and stories.

We’ve all seen vets and techs that have a little more of “the gift” than others. They just glide their hand over the animal’s back and somehow, a formerly hissing, spitting beast is subdued to low grumblings. Others simply seem to have no fear — which is a crucial element in mastering any creature. (For the record, I’m neither of these — I happen to be comfortable with a healthy dose of fear and have to rely more on my training than on instinct).

Regardless, it’s true that vets and techs who approach pets confidently and slowly almost always have the upper hand. A secure grip that still allows the animal to move in such a way that she still thinks she could get away if she wanted to and … voilá … a relatively safe situation is now in play.

However this hold often has a way of looking like a death grip (which inevitably gives owners the willies). Now, it may or may not be uncomfortable — I’m not vouching for anyone on that score — but it almost always looks like an unnecessarily aggressive hold. It’s not really hurting anyone — except maybe the owner’s maternal sensibilities.

There’s a balance we all have to strike between safety, pet comfort and seemliness in the eyes of our clients. And it’s a tough line to straddle, especially when you’re trying to get a blood sample from the kind of cat described above. And this is where backroom tactics come into play — the kitty is scruffed (held by the thick, loose skin at the back of the neck), burrito-wrapped in a towel and carted off out of sight.

Just because this occurs doesn’t mean something nefarious is in the works, simply that the balance isn’t achievable if we have to consider an owner’s stress level along with the animal's. For the record, my calculation also has to take into account that there’s usually no other place to go (we have a very small practice for three vets), and our clients are notoriously interested in their pets’ health — in ways that make it tough to separate them unless there’s a really compelling reason. (Even then, my clients ask to follow along, hiding just behind lead walls as X-rays are snapped and standing in surgery while a wart gets lopped off.)

So it follows that owners tend to see everything at my workplace — including how tightly we have to hold Fluffy or how we rustle Fido into his muzzle. It’s a position that’s either ripe for generating trust in your abilities, or for inspiring outraged revulsion (when securing a 'safe hold' looks like a scene out of The Crocodile Hunter).

No hold is ever completely safe, not while you’re treading in waters fraught with animal behavior and human fallibility. But it’s as close as you’re ever going to get — muzzle or not. OSHA would have us secure every pet with muzzles, straps, bags and chemicals for the safest hold possible, but that’s not practical — not for owners, pets … or for we doctors. Most pets need a relaxed hand that knows just when to tighten the grip. Still, it never looks that harmless to an owner. I assume most owners would rather not see their pet held down at all.

And sometimes that’s possible. Indeed most cases have us examining pets with no obvious hold at all. When I know an animal's character well enough  to be comfortable with its reaction, I won’t even use a technician. I’ll do exams on the floor and sometimes give vaccines and draw blood with no assistance. But that’s a big no-no in most practices. Why? Because that’s how accidents happen. Every pet is perfectly fine … until he’s not. The next thing you know you’re in the hospital with an IV Timentin drip wondering how you’ll pay your bills this month since you won’t be using that hand for a while.

Sure, I break the rules but at least it’s only my neck I’m risking (and my employer’s worker’s comp premiums — but let’s not get technical).

Despite my personal digression, I think I’ve made my point: holding is an art and a science. It’s inherently dangerous because even the most predictable pet can be unpredictable. Vets and techs have a challenging balance to maintain. And your understanding and cooperation on this issue is paramount to helping us do our job well.

Dr. Patty Khuly