I confess: I get my genders mixed up sometimes. No, it’s not a vision issue…nor does it stem from sheer laziness. I know it’s right on his record and right between his legs—but somehow I still called him a her.

So you know (as if you didn’t already), parents don’t appreciate this. They usually correct you immediately—sometimes indignantly. And I don’t blame them. This is one transgression no vet should commit.

Why? Because gender is often critical to how people bond with their pets. Because they can’t even imagine what their pet would be like as a boy…or how she could even look so masculine that anyone would doubt her femininity. But, most of all, because it makes the vet look like she hasn’t taken the trouble to bond with their beloved. 

I don’t know about other vets but for me it’s more often attributable to something akin to instinct than anything else. Sometimes I just jump to conclusions on a pet’s gender based on a variety of cultural cues or visual hunches. Her pink collar, his jutting jawline, the spikes on his harness, the bow in her hair…whatever.

And how about the name thing? Madison, Morgan, Blue, Pixie, Cotton… I get soooo confused sometimes. 

Worst of all, if I’ve made the mistake once with a pet, I’ll often make it again. And that’s because the circuits in my simple brain have already wired themselves to accept this initial perception of reality.

I once did relief work at a hospital whose owner I have a lot of respect for. In fact, I tried to get a job there a few years back when I needed more hours to pay my mounting bills, but vets are so happy there they never seem to leave (go figure). He understood very well the importance of getting gender just right. Every male had blue paper for his records and every female, pink. It seemed smart to me at the time. Now, ten years later, it seems almost crucial.

I hate blurting out “he” when I should have said “she.” It makes me feel like a careless clinician. I know it shouldn’t bother me so much, but if I can get that wrong, what must the owner think of my skills?