This is not a post about dentistry, though that’ll nestle snugly here under today’s topic: client compliance. It’s the ultimate pet peeve for every vet I’ve ever met and a reason many of you often cite for steering clear of vet medicine as a career (then I’d have to deal with all those irresponsible owners!).

It’s true that the daily litany of owner-directed recommendations can be extensive, what with all the brushing, cleaning, medicating, clipping, trimming, plucking, pilling, walking, feeding and bathing I can’t be expected to do for them. The sheer quantity of verbal energy expended can be literally breathtaking. And I have evidence that most of it is wasted.

All I have to show for the bulk of my oral exhortations is a neat list on an endless series of medical records. Proof arrives in the form of a pet—usually one year later (by the grace of the county licensing body)—several degrees less controlled in their diseases than I’d previously observed.

“The body is willing but the spirit is weak,” I think, owing to the fact that last year’s recommendations were met with promises to alter behaviors and submit to a more rigorous regimen of home care. So much for that.

But vets are sometimes overly eager to see their wishes carried out, as is often the case with most any professional’s recommendation. It’s our ego on the line to some extent, is it not? If clients fail to heed our warnings, does that not reflect poorly on our power to change the course of human events?

Yet it’s important for vets to remember that often a perceived lack of compliance has little to do with willingness or spirit. It has more to do with the mundane reality of modern human life. It has more to do with our culture, our values and the enormous breadth of our commitments (those that would interfere with the time we have to address our pets’ basic needs).

Perhaps it seems to you I give too much credit for those that would neglect their pets. But I’m not speaking of the owner who forgets to feed their backyard dog or leaves him tied up in the basement during a hurricane. I’m not even referring to those who fail to submit their limping dog for examination. I’m addressing those who refuse dentals on moral grounds but who’d otherwise claim their pet was of supreme importance in the household. I’m talking about the client who insists their pet is in no pain, though she arches her back in a dog’s version of a wince each time I palpate her lumbar spine.

There’s one thing I dislike in vet medicine, as in everything else, and that’s outright hypocrisy. I’m guilty, too, I have no doubt. But when someone points it out I believe I try to understand my own flaws. That’s what I have to contend with daily: gently accusing my clients of their failings and trying to get them on track again.

It’s interesting that after all this medical education, what might have served me better is at least one course in human psychology. Amen.