Has your veterinarian ever graced you with his or her phone number? Was it by way of offering her best clients a chance to call her in the event of a serious emergency? Or does he give it away indiscriminately?...just in case.

I practice in the middle of a triangle of emergency hospitals. None is further than a mile or two away. Furthermore, my preferred place happens to be right across the street from us. It even has specialists available. Consequently, there is no need for me to ever see my own emergencies.

But you know how it is… No veterinarian wants to send her best clients to the emergency room (to the tune of triple the bill) if she’s potentially available to talk them through it, meet the client after hours, or converse with the emergency clinician to smooth the way for excellent care elsewhere.

After a surgery, a toxin ingestion or during treatment for x, y or z diseases, I prefer to have my clients call me if I know I’ll be available. In these cases I’ll give out my phone number, albeit reluctantly.

So you know, my clients almost never ask for my digits. I’m the one reluctantly offering it up on the back of my business card for some special cases (about once a week, on average). When I do so, I try to convey that this is a privilege not to be abused by informing the client explicitly of my usual inability to return phone calls on this number. I always tell them that if I don’t return their call it’s because I can’t…and to please take that as a sign to proceed directly to the 24-hour facility in the event of an emergency.

But not every client is 100% compliant in these cases. In fact, it’s not rare for me to get a call on the weekend from a client who received my number for a specific event so that I can answer a routine question that should’ve waited for normal hospital hours.

Or I’ll be on a trip to New York and reach the far end of my flight with five, progressively angrier messages from a client whose pet ingested a baker’s bar of chocolate overnight.

Sheesh!—do these people not understand the meaning of the words “emergency”? “vacation”? or “leave me alone if I didn’t return your call the first time”?

Last night’s case was especially annoying, what with my being asleep in bed when the call came in at midnight. Considering that the call came in from Los Angeles from a client I hadn’t seen in years, it was doubly troublesome.

After all, I didn’t know her new cat. I was out of state. It wasn’t an emergency. I couldn’t legally offer medical advice, anyway. She wanted a prescription I could not write. And yet she continued to ask for help in ways it should have been obvious that I could not legitimately provide.

As this call went on and on (and I couldn’t manage to end the phone call nicely) I contemplated hanging up and turning the phone off. Finally, after explaining my position for the tenth time I mentioned the hour and told her I absolutely had to go.

“Oh, is it because you’re not being paid? You’re just like everyone else out here. You don’t really care about animals.”

Yeah…and some people just don’t think about anyone but themselves…

Every time something like this happens I resolve to never ever give out my phone number again. Yes, people can be mean, obnoxious and unthinking, but most of my clients are not like that. In the end, I always tell myself that I’d rather be available for the ones who don't abuse the veterinarian’s phone number...and risk the idiot calls.

But after this one, I’m beginning to think it’s really not so good for my sanity to allow anyone this kind of access to my time off.

What would you do?