Have you ever wondered who invented the fecal rod? This common implement, though benign in its intentions, is employed by vets the world around in the act of pseudo-sadistic stool collection.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about (we should all be so lucky), the fecal rod is that double-ended instrument of torture designed to efficiently and comfortably (not!) extract manageable quantities of stool for fecal analysis. It looks like a long plastic stick, often brightly colored (as if that might help make it more inviting) with an ellipsoid loop on each end.

Poor puppies!…not to mention kittens. Although they come in sizes designed to fit most every backside, the fecal rod was never intended to be a comfortable means of diagnosing stool-observed ailments. For that reason I always save it for the end. I mean…the end of the examination. This way I can make a dramatic exit with a flourish of my wand and make like a fairy princess disappearing behind closed curtains.

You think I’m kidding? This is but one of the many techniques I employ to help make the unbearable bearable. I can only do so much for my patient. But the human? The human brain is a tricky, twisted thing that requires a constant massage of its sensory inputs to survive the daily onslaught of potentially unsavory perceptions. I can work wonders here (while my patient can only be distracted by treats or quickly scratched on the ears to alleviate the sudden alien discomfort).

Other tricks up my sleeve? First and foremost: Distract! Sensitive clients should be distracted with conversation…any conversation…while the pet’s backside is turned away, of course. It’s never couth to give the client a bird’s eye view of the process. For the truly averse, it forever sticks in the folds of gray matter where it can’t easily be dislodged. When their life flashes through their vision at the very end, Fluffy’s fecal rod moment will still be there among the birthday parties and weddings. I couldn’t live with myself if I knew this would be the result of a simple stool check.

Next trick, especially if children are present: “The Harry Potter.” Because you’ll never be able to distract children sufficiently to obfuscate you movements and because they’ll always be right there to see exactly where that rod is going (“Mommy, what is that thing?), the trick is to make it funny. Then afterwards you can explain the importance of looking at fecal matter under the microscope (offering a sneak peek if you don’t think they’ll murder your equipment).

The “Harry Potter” involves waving the fecal rod like a wand and promising to magically see the insides of the pet with its formidable powers. This usually works, despite the obligatory “eeeeewwws,” “blechs” and other colorfully onomatopoeic expressions.

Other tactics include the “Military Operation” (when I yell, “Incoming!” everybody ducks on cue and the sample is obtained) and the “Airplane” (for very small children).

Grownups are more difficult. I mean, “The Fairy Princess” is not going to fly with just any adult. The toughest, by far, are the men. Turn, distract and evade all you like but most men seem to really stress over the whole stool thing; they’ve probably been needlessly traumatized by insensitive fecal rod handlers in years past.

Some are just ruined, it would seem. But I prefer to see them as a challenge. If you can work fast, pretend nothing happened and get them to laugh as they walk out the door (in spite of the cruel moment they’ve spent the entire examination steeling themselves against) I believe you’ve won.

Short of that, hand them a fecal collection container so they don’t have to suffer the next time. I urge all clients to collect their own pets’ fresh stool before a visit but few comply (and I have no idea why—perhaps you can enlighten me).

You might find these situations silly and superfluous to good medicine, but some of us look forward to the very human challenges in our veterinary profession. After all, being a vet is more than just about being an animal doctor. Anyone who thinks otherwise just hasn’t experienced the flick of my magic wand.