Fear Free Failure? Not A Chance. Here’s Why

By Kathryn Primm, DVM

You heard about the Fear Free initiative, and now you have become certified. You have an amazing number of tools at your disposal, and you have headed to work fired up with a passion to make this change! And then….The days go by and you see cases where your newly heightened sense of fear, anxiety, and stress tells you that pets are suffering. These are the ones you might not have noticed before. They refuse treats. Maybe they do not respond to adequately to pre-visit pharmaceuticals. Maybe their owners are skeptical or resistant. And you feel as if you are not “walking the walk.” Does that make you a FEAR FREE FAILURE?

Everyone is a Fear Free failure some times. Even Marty Becker, the father of Fear Free, has patients whose fear isn’t completely addressed. He tells of a Labrador Retriever he was treating who went from tail wagging to “freak out” in an instant when someone in the neighboring room slammed a cage door. He has been scratched by a sedated cat who was purring and seemed fine, and then suddenly FAS escalated and the cat lashed out without warning.

Does the treat ladder work? Sure, it works for a lot of patients. Medications can be the safety net for those who won’t eat treats. Not every protocol works for every pet, and Fear Free gives you an algorithm to work through so most pets are helped dramatically. But with some patients you can climb the “treat ladder” and fall off the other side. Some patients either do not respond adequately to pre-visit pharmaceuticals or do not respond at all to the medications you have chosen. There will be owners who cannot give the medications or think them unnecessary. You may have skeptical coworkers. Maybe you feel like time constraints do not allow you to fully sedate or reschedule appointments.

Does it make you a Fear Free Failure?

You have to remember that Rome was not built in a day. The war against patient fear cannot be cured in a day, either. Some patients arrived at their current level of FAS after years of bad experiences. You have already improved simply by becoming certified. If you recognize a pet’s fear and correctly read the signs, you are stepping further in the right direction. If you alert the pet owner to the signs the pet is showing, you are leaping in the right direction. If today’s visit was even a little better than the last visit and you were able to stop the advance of FAS before the animal feared for his life, you are making a difference.

All progress must be measured in baby steps sometimes. You will have days and cases where the difference is clear and you can celebrate. You will have days when you feel as if you can’t make a difference. Hold on to your mission. Seek others in the Fear Free Certified community to find support and encouragement. Think of the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.”