Seriously, everyone was best kept far away from me yesterday after my Saturday morning disaster client. I even found myself apologizing to a waitress after snapping at her when my lunch order arrived all wrong.

“It was a bad, bad pet owner’s fault,” I was forced to disclaim when everyone at the table looked at me as if I’d suddenly grown horns. 

But enough about the sorry aftermath, here’s the story: 

Woman and her adult daughter arrive with a stumbling, overweight Lab with ears you can smell from behind closed doors. (So you know, nothing smells like truly rotten, infected ears––well, except maybe a two day-old carcass.)

Supposedly there for an annual visit, she gets into it with the receptionist over the expense of our customary package. (At around $99 for a physical, CBC, brief chemistry, heartworm test and stool check, it’s the most comprehensive annual I’ve ever heard of for the price.)

“OK, then, if you just want the rabies the doctor will be right out. No problem.”

On my way to the front desk, I take one look at the dog in the waiting room and realize the last thing I want to do is vaccinate this woman’s obviously ill animal. But luckily (or not), the woman had suddenly changed tack and was now berating the receptionist over the true reason for the her visit––and it didn’t include a rabies.

“Sorry for the misunderstanding,” I said in my most exaggeratedly mollifying tones  as I walked her back to the exam room. “Let’s see how we can help Miss Dixie.”

But sadly, there was no help for Dixie that day. There was no topic I could advance that her owner would not find objectionable. There was nothing for me to add that she claimed she didn’t already know. All this despite the following:

1. Dixie was full of fleas––many, many fleas. Even after demonstrating the plethora of fleas and flea feces on her dog’s red and raw, hot-spot pocked posterior, she hastily refuted my findings. 

2. Dixie was severely arthritic––so much so that she slipped with every step, her back legs shook when she stood, and the loss of muscle mass was extreme over her shoulders and hind limbs. Though this was what the owner claimed her visit was all about, she waved off any talk of “drugging her” or X-rays before I’d even gotten started.

3. Dixie was overweight. Her ample mass drooped over her stick limbs in generous handfuls of jiggly fat. This, too, was denied as, “...not the reason I came.” And...

4. Dixie’s ears stank enough to make anyone gag at close range. The green pus drooled from these end-stage orifices. It was my instinctive reach for the culturette upon witnessing these horrific sights and smells that finally sealed the deal. 

That’s when the owner ratcheted up her combative stance against any recommendation I was likely to make with a shrill, “What are you doing!? I didn’t tell you to do that!

(And I hadn’t even gotten to her mouth, back-to-front as my progress had been. What horrors might I have found there?)

Now, ordinarily I can take any kind of criticism and stress from a client. They almost always soften as I make my explanations and ask for more input. Sometimes it’s clear they just want you to be done with the job and let them go back home. In that case, it’s a quick session and it’s over with ASAP. But this woman was another animal altogether. 

I’m occasionally asked to deal with owners of chronically ill animals who refuse to understand the issues or accept assistance. Most times it’s about money, but sometimes these people simply have strange ways of expressing themselves or hold alternative views as to how animals should be treated. Yet rarely am I faced with such an extreme case of aggressive reluctance. 


Me: “Maybe I’m not explaining myself correctly. Your dog is very sick. She’s suffering and in pain. And I’m concerned that you have no idea how ill and uncomfortable she is.”

Her (snippily): “Of course I know, that’s why I’m here!”

Me: “Then you’re going to have to accept my help civilly...or go elsewhere.”

As I closed the door behind me I heard her daughter say, “Thanks, Mom. Now you’ve done it.” 

Indeed. She’d done all of this to her “beloved” dog. She was as responsible for Dixie’s maladies as if she’d infected the ears herself and invented the genetic mutations that caused her allergies or gave rise to her osteoarthritis. The excess weight and the fleas? Icing on the cake. 

After apologizing for my outburst to one of my lawyer friends over lunch, I asked him the obvious question we always ask on Dolittler: What gives people the right to abuse their pets out of neglect? If I can be sued for neglecting a patient, why can’t we prosecute people for this kind of obvious cruelty to their pets? 

Minutes later, a grossly obese, 150-pound Chesapeake Bay retriever waddled past our table as everyone turned to croon. 

Well...I guess I have my answer: One person’s cruelty is another person’s “cute.”