A dog bit me last Saturday. It had been a pretty long time since my last tooth (years?), so I guess I was due one. Luckily, this one was more of a deep scrape than a puncture. Not too bad, really. But since it still smarts three days later (and I’m no wimp to pain), I’ve got to assume it wasn’t a throwaway fang-bang.

No, he was working to hurt me … for which I would not blame him. Actually, he was being a little curmudgeon, so maybe I would. After all, I was just cleaning his ears. And they weren’t even infected or painful or anything. What a wimp! But I’ll readily concede that he was acting the part of a perfectly normal dog.

I’ve known this muttly dude for well over half a decade — maybe a full ten years. And while this terrier-ish twelve-year-old has always been a placid sort, it’s clear he’s getting a little crotchety in his older years (aren’t we all?). Which is why I’ll be wearing an attractive, The Little Mermaid-themed Band-Aid for the next few days on the underside of my left ring finger.

All of which got me to thinking … maybe I should have muzzled him. River (that's his name) is a good dog, really. (Yes, he is.) There's no need to stress him out with the muzzle, right? Wrong on that count. I clearly made the incorrect choice, and bled copiously for my mistake. It happens. Occupational hazards and all that.

Which got me to thinking some more … perhaps OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would have had a thing or two to say about how I handled myself last Saturday morning. And I wouldn’t blame them.

After all, it’s OSHA’s job to ensure that work environments are as safe as possible for those who participate in daily tasks that inevitably involve some kind of risk or another.

From their website:

“Every day in this country, more than 14 workers lose their lives in preventable workplace tragedies — close to 100 deaths every week.”

While I’ve never heard of a veterinary hospital worker's death due to pet bite, I’ve no doubt it can happen. More likely is the loss of productivity when we’ve got to take off a couple of days to sit in the hospital with a Timentin drip, or reschedule surgeries until our hand fully recovers. That’s how it goes.

Which is why it shocks me that OSHA doesn’t get more involved in telling me how it is I’ve got to treat my patients. You’d think an organization that requires me to pick up pet blood spills with a special biohazard kit, label each and every single cleaning product with a color-coded sticker, and demands I wear closed-toed shoes at work would also require that  I muzzle all of my patients. But it doesn’t.

And thank God for that. Because not every patient does well with a muzzle. Cats, especially, tend to stress with the face mask. While dogs tend to take the muzzle pretty much in stride, some cope much better with alternative forms of restraint. Towels, head locks, gauze muzzles vs. cage muzzles … the options are endless. And how am I supposed to evaluate my patients’ eyes, skin folds, mouths, etc. with a muzzle over their faces?

The only way to make my job really safe would be to sedate each and every patient. And that’s not happening.

Yeah, I’d hate for OSHA to start telling me how I should manage my patients’ behavioral peccadilloes. Luckily, even OSHA appreciates that safety in veterinary settings is more about sound decision making than muzzling and sedating, and that the art of the judgment call will occasionally fall prey to a little bit of Saturday morning sluggishness.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Art of the day: "A Mad Dog's Tooth" by blurredfoto