Here’s a question: What’s the protocol for handling clients’ off-color jokes, taming their florid outbursts and rejecting any untoward advances?

I have no clear answer for all these cases. That’s where you come in.

No matter what business you’re in, you’re bound to be exposed to undeserved assaults on your dignity and/or your domestic status. Some people are, simply put, “inappropriate.” So much so that sometimes all you can do as the target of the language or behavior is backpedal in the opposite direction and employ a technician, assistant, receptionist, kennel worker or colleague to intervene on your behalf.

As in, “Perhaps you’d prefer to see one of the male veterinarians next time since I can’t imagine the doctor you’ve just acted so repulsively with will ever condescend to stand in the same room with you ever again.”

That was one half of a discomfiting exchange after a [very drunk or otherwise impaired] client assailed my dignity with an indecent proposal better suited to a fetish party than a veterinary exam room. (But then, when one is as inebriated as this client was I can understand why everything might have seemed a bit of a blur.)

Luckily, that was the first and last time I ever received an explicit, triple X-rated proposal. Since then, however, plenty of rude, crude, suggestive and otherwise inappropriate remarks have come my way. While they’ve never ceased to surprise me, I do confess to finding it increasingly easy to handle these cases.

Call me wimpy, but these remarks are simply dealt with by leaving the room and sending in a male colleague to complete the appointment. (“Dr. Khuly had to take care of an emergency.”) In the past, when no colleague was present to help me out, the client was rescheduled for another time (with another vet)...or the client received his records in the mail a few days later.

Avoiding the problem is the easiest way for everyone to save face, I’ve determined. After all, no one likes to be called out on their extreme rudeness. Refusing to sit and listen to it (by exiting) then pretending it didn’t happen is the best way to avoid a scene...and retain the client, to boot.

But what do you do when it’s not so clear cut? Here’s where I have trouble. When clients call you “Sweetie” (pronounced with a certain drawl and maybe a surreptitious wink), call you or stop by frequently for [almost] no reason, stare down the front of your scrub top, or otherwise make you feel uncomfortable...how do you handle it?

After all, they’re not usually trying to be rude (OK, the scrub top thing is over the top), they’re just confused as to your availability or interest in them, perhaps. Is it worth firing a client over something as innocent as that?

It’s a tough call and it depends on many factors, most of all the “offending” party’s ability to pick up on basic social cues. But unfortunately, not all humans are created equal in this regard. Which means that uncomfortable words will have to transpire. And it’s too bad. Because almost nothing kills a happy veterinarian-client-patient relationship like a line-crossing expression of excess endearment.