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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

How the Veterinary Profession is Portrayed by NBC's Animal Practice

Being a veterinarian, I’m always curious and concerned about the general public’s perception of our profession based on our portrayal in the media. After all, we have gone through great personal and financial sacrifices for a career that enables us to improve the relationship between people and their pets.

American audiences are fatigued by the oppressive news showcasing economic decline and political mudslinging. Networks recognize the power of harnessing the human-animal bond for the camera due to the wildly successful runs many pet and wildlife themed television shows enjoy. Animal-centric stories pull at human heartstrings, despite race, class, and socioeconomic differences.

Staying on trend is NBC, which created Animal Practice, seemingly to make light of many of the scenarios commonly faced by veterinarians and our support staff of veterinary technicians, office managers, and receptionists.

animal practice, tv doctor, tv veterinarian, animal tv show

When I heard of the show’s impending premiere, I was intrigued by the prospect of settling into my couch to watch the program as part of my evening wind down. Just how would the show portray those of us who spend our days and nights working in the veterinary medical profession?

NBC’s press release states:

"Animal Practice" centers on Dr. George Coleman (Justin Kirk, "Weeds," "Angels in America"), a top veterinarian with an impressive list of famous animal patients at the Crane Animal Hospital — a bustling New York City veterinary practice where it often seems as if the patients are running the place. Despite his unorthodox style, George has an undeniable gift with animals of all kinds — except the human kind.

The idea of veterinary medical employees preferring animals to people is actually quite common. I’ve heard many veterinarians and technicians state this perspective, yet undertaking our interactions with clients with a less than affable outlook would be professional suicide.

Our clients can sometimes drive us crazy, yet we must always strive to maintain positive relationships with those who are ultimately calling the shots about their pets’ care. If we don’t empathize with and effectively communicate with our clients, the needed trust and consent to provide appropriate diagnostics and treatments for our patients cannot be achieved.

A scenario involving lack of trust and consent between care provider and pet owner occurs in the Animal Practice pilot. Dr. Coleman gets into a verbal altercation with his client, Mr. Waxman, over the costs associated with the surgery needed by Waxman’s dog, Honey. Evidently, Honey consumed a foreign body (environmental object), which lodged in her digestive tract.

After Waxman hears that Honey’s surgery will cost $2,000, he defaults to the unfortunate perspective that he could "buy like six dogs that don’t piss me off for two grand," and "how much to kill the thing [Honey] then?"

At this point, my favorite moment occurs. Coleman states, "When you brought this dog into your home you signed an unwritten contract to feed it, care for it, and, yes, to provide medical care as needed." This is a really important and positive message that should be taken wholeheartedly by the show’s audience. Good job, NBC!

Unfortunately, Coleman’s actions go south from here. After Waxman states his intention to put Honey to sleep and conveys his lack of respect for the extensive education and training undertaken by veterinarians, by derisively referring to veterinarians as "doctors" (using finger-mimed air quotes), Dr. Coleman has endured enough. He removes Honey from Waxman so that her surgery can be performed and her life subsequently saved.

Although I understand Dr. Coleman’s passion for pets and interest in helping Honey, I don’t advocate that veterinary professionals forcibly remove pets from owners unless there are clear signs or very strong suspicions that abuse or neglect has occurred. If a pet owner is unable to pay for a life saving procedure or treatment and is leaning toward euthanasia as their preferred alternative, then ownership of the animal can be relinquished to the hospital/veterinarian.

Honey ultimately undergoes surgery to remove her foreign body — a drink coaster Waxman pocketed at a strip club, which is then used to coerce him into paying for Honey’s procedure. Honey is saved, her medical fees get paid, and she returns to the loving arms of Waxman’s daughter. Seemingly, the professional relationship between Coleman and Waxman has been sufficiently smoothed.

Personally, I enjoy working with the majority of my clients. I often find myself in their company for upwards of two hours per house call. If I didn’t like people, I would not have created my veterinary practice specifically to cater to my clients’ and patients’ needs on their terms (at home, according to their schedule, etc.).

I look forward to watching future episodes of Animal Practice and hope the show strives to showcase the many positive aspects of veterinary medicine’s promotion of the human-animal bond.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Crystal, the Capuchin Monkey, in her role as Dr. Rizzo

Credits for images due to NBC Universal

Comments  6

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  • Animal Practice
    10/16/2012 11:19am

    I once commented to a veterinary internist that it must be wonderful to work so closely with critters. He chuckled and replied that his practice was mostly working with humans, the animals were just the recipients of his care.

    After giving that thought, it made perfect sense. The critter doesn't have any say in what happens. It's a matter of the human trusting the doctor and following through with treatment.

  • 10/23/2012 03:31pm

    Working as a veterinarian is actually very comparable to being a pediatrician. We have to listen to the report from our clients (parents) then make our own assessment based on the client's history and the physical examination we perform on our patient (child/infant).
    If you can't garner the trust of the client, then you'll never achieve consent to appropriately diagnose and treat your patient.
    During veterinary school and many times in clinical practice, I have participated in training sessions to improve the means by which I communicate with clients. These sessions have been helpful in learning how to defuse tense situations, best listen to and understand my clients needs, and make sure that I am speaking/writing in a way that permits client comprehension.
    Thank you for your comments,
    Dr. PM

  • "Doctor"
    10/16/2012 12:27pm

    I'm always surprised at people who consider vets as less than human doctors. Really it’s the opposite. Vets have to learn the systems and medical problems of many species. Doctors…only one. I was told by my pre-vet friends in college that if you couldn’t cut vet school, med school was the back up!

  • 10/23/2012 03:34pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    Yes, we veterinarians have to learn a multitude of species as part of our basic in-classroom and in clinic training.
    Plus, there are fewer veterinary schools in the United States (and internationally) as compared to medical schools, therefore the number of applicants vying for the available positions is higher.
    Funny re: the quote about your pre-vet friends falling back on med school. HA!
    Dr. PM

  • Not watching
    10/17/2012 06:31pm

    I wanted to watch the show, but after watching the pilot and subsequent commercials I won't, and I have lodged my protest with NBC. There was way too much joking around about the cats and dogs having sex. With thousands of animals being killed each day because there are no homes, I thought these jokes were not only crude (which I am not a fan of but I can live with) but irresponsible. I hope there isn't a vet out there who is even remotely OK with intact animals mating (outside of the controlled breed specific mating)

  • 10/23/2012 03:40pm

    Thank you for sharing your perspective.
    I agree that there were a variety of potty humor style jokes featured on the show that certainly crossed into the poor taste boundary.
    I have to come to NBC's defense on one aspect: during commercial breaks there was a promotion for PetCo starring the show's human/animal actors talking about pet adoption/welfare.
    Thank you for your comments. I hope to see you back again on my petMD The Daily Vet page.
    Dr. PM

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