It Happened Overnight, I Swear! (And Other White Lies My Clients Tell)
I'm a pro. I can smell the obfuscation a mile away. After all, I’ve amassed a surfeit of skills in the practice of pet owner observation. Which is why spotting the standard white lie has gotten easier and easier with each passing year.
Now, I’m not talking about the mean-spirited or ill-intentioned, blatant kind of falsehood. Rather, this is more a gentle kind of lie directed at the veterinarian. Only confusion, denial, simple ignorance, or poor powers of observation may be said to condemn these attempts at subterfuge.
All the better to pick them out of a lineup. Which is easily done in these cases, since the vast majority of these lily-white fibs tend to refer to one of a bunch of basic pet-related issues.
Here are five of them, all sourced from my recent experiences:
1. The insta-lump
"You mean, you just noticed it today, right? Because that mass that looks like it’s been growing for six months is unlikely to have morphed overnight into that hard lump. Cells just don’t divide that fast."
Yes, this one is most popular. And while it might be true that a lesion appeared "suddenly," such observations are taken with a grain of salt. Human observations of pet lump-dom are too often untimely.
2. The overnight wound
This corollary of #1 usually applies to cat bite abscesses or other deeply festering puncture wounds. While these may become evident from one minute to the next (yes, it happens), the wound’s usually been there for quite some time (12 or more hours, at least).
Sure, these owners are not even white-lying, mostly. But when they decry your findings on the basis of their pet’s perfect normalcy, up to the minute they noticed the pool of pus, I cry foul.
3. "I only feed this much" (hold two fingers an inch apart for visual reference)
"You lie!" I want to say, just like that Senator did to Prez Obama not too long ago. But I’m far more diplomatic. Instead, I start probing at the corners of that gesture — as in, "Are all those 'meat' treats and 'cookies' included in that teensy little inch?"
4. He doesn’t bite
This one reminds me of the original Pink Panther and Peter Seller’s pitch-perfect deadpan: "No, my dog does not bite."
Yeah ... right.
5. He never did that before
Now that’s the biggest white lie of all. Because while I can believe that he never did exactly that before, I've gotta assume common sense might’ve informed the owner of the impending possibility. For example: That riding with half his body out of the car window thing he does every day? That might at some point lead to an unexpected but very predictable traumatic experience.
Not that I would ever confront an owner with their denial of the obvious. But I think about it all the time. I mean, why lie? What purpose does it serve?
Which got me to thinking ... maybe the white lie is all about convincing yourself of a condition’s insignificance? As with the lump, this kind of makes sense. After all, no one wants to imagine the worst, so I can see why one might subconsciously downplay its severity.
Then there’s the distinct possibility that guilt is playing an outsized role. And that’s a completely understandable reason too. I’ve been there, trust me.
But here’s where I wish I had a perfectly diplomatic way to reach every one of my clients with this message: In the long run, your guilt, minimization and denial serve your pet not-at-all. In fact, these obfuscations are often at odds with what needs to happen before your pet can get the care he needs: action.
Dr. Patty Khuly