Fear Free Grabs Student’s Goals, Imagination

Kim Campbell Thornton

When University of Missouri veterinary student Abbie Knudsen heard a talk about Fear Free at school, she knew immediately that it was the way she wanted her career to go. During her years of working in veterinary clinics, she had often witnessed animals who were fearful or anxious during restraint or treatment. Scruffing of cats and excessive restraint for simple procedures such as nail trims made her cringe, but none of her colleagues ever talked about a different or better way of handling animals.

“When I started learning more about low-stress handling and the Fear Free approach to handling, it just made sense to me,” she says. “It was that thing that I had been looking for all this time—a way that accommodates and empathizes with the animals’ perspective.”

She took the opportunity to become Fear Free Certified at Level 1—free to students—and now hopes to find externships or internships that will allow her to train under veterinarians who prioritize Fear Free techniques that acknowledge and accommodate the behavioral needs of animals in a veterinary clinic setting. Equally exciting to her is the advent of Fear Free programs for animal shelters. That’s an avenue she wants to explore as well, with the goal of seeing how those practices will integrate into and change shelter environments.

Knudsen is passionate about Fear Free because she recognizes the challenges veterinarians face in dealing with routine behavior issues in pets. According to studies she’s read, many graduating veterinarians feel unprepared or underprepared to deal with behavior problems of pets in homes or in shelters.

“I would like to see the universities be a little bit more progressive in the behavioral training that students are getting so that veterinarians feel better prepared to really be an expert on dealing with some of these behavioral issues,” she says. “I’m interested in making sure that we have that training, but I’d also really like to see Fear Free play a role in that training to make sure we’re covering low-stress handling and not just having a textbook course on behavior.”

Currently, she says, University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine doesn’t require students to earn Fear Free certification or to take a lab or lecture in behavior. One of her mentors in the shelter medicine department is Fear Free Certified, but she would like to see veterinary colleges in general embrace low-stress handling and certification programs such as Fear Free.

“I think that academia and universities should be the leaders and the first people to adopt strategies that can really affect animal welfare in medicine,” Knudsen says. “It’s important for universities to recognize that there’s a need for this training and that students want it.”

She believes in Fear Free’s ability to make a difference and looks forward to the day when everyone uses Fear Free techniques simply because they’re the standard for handling animals. Her goal is to become a part of the evolution of veterinary medicine.

Because evolve it will.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

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