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Ready Yet?

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Ready Yet?

Every morning this week I anxiously checked my blackberry patch, looking to see whether the berries were ready to pick.  I taste-tested a berry just yesterday, but it was still too tart.  Before testing this morning, however, a neighbor told me that the blackberries are ripe and ready.   I guess both the neighbors and the birds have been checking, too!  It is good to have support in such matters.  Berry season comes and goes very quickly.

Readiness for other matters in life is a bit more predictable.  June 1st is an important annual readiness date because this date marks the beginning of Hurricane Season.  On June 1st, I check my family’s Disaster Readiness Kit.  Florida is a disaster-prone state.  Not only do we Floridian’s need to be ready for hurricanes, but we must also be ready for brush fires, floods, tornadoes, and every other natural plague.  A few years ago there was even an earthquake in the Gulf of Mexico.  Can’t a Florida family get a break?

So, am I ready yet for a disaster?  Do I have enough supplies to support my two-legged and four-legged family members for at least 72 hours without power or water?  Do I need to update my family evacuation plans?   Now is the time to check.

Every June 1st, these are five items I check in my Pet‘s Disaster Kit:

  1.  Vaccine Records   Do I have proof of current vaccines for each pet?
  2. License Tag   Do I have a current license for each pet and is that tag attached to the collar?
  3. Microchip   Does each pet have a microchip inserted? Have I scanned for it lately?
  4. Registration   Is the registration information for each microchip updated in the registration database? (A microchip only works if it is properly registered so someone can find an owner of a lost pet.)
  5. Photo   Do I have a current photo of each of my pets? 

I keep proof of these important items in a water-proof file box that includes my other important family papers.  This box goes with me if I evacuate.  I also keep these items on a free application called Paw Card in my SmartPhone. Yes, there is an app for that!    The Paw Card application lets me instantly send an e-mail of my pet identification and health information anywhere it might be needed.   If you don’t have a SmartPhone, check with your veterinarian.  The veterinarian’s website might have a Pet Portal you can use to store your important pet ID and health information.  Pet Portal access is free to clients of most veterinary practices.

Every June 1st I also update my Family Evacuation Plans.  The plans must include my pets.  Notice I said PLANS.  You need more than one evacuation plan for when the one you had planned is not possible when disaster strikes.

                1   You need one plan for sheltering in place and supporting your family completely for 72 hours  without electricity or water.  (Visit for help with making a family plan and a business plan.)

                2.  You need another  plan for sheltering out of the evacuation area, preferably just a bit inland  so you won’t have to drive too far while the rest of the citizens of the coast are also jamming the roads.  This could be with a friend, a family member, a fellow church/club member, or a pet-friendly hotel.  (Visit   for a list of pet-friendly hotels, but remember  these spaces fill quickly.  Also check with your church or other community organizations to see whether they promote match-ups between members who need a safe place to evacuate and those with space to share. )

                3.  Finally, you need to plan for which Red-Cross Evacuation Shelter you would go to as a last  resort.  Does that shelter allow pets?  If not, where can you safely board your pets?  (Visit to find the locations of the Red Cross Public Evacuation Shelters in Pasco County.)  Don’t expect a public shelter to be your first plan, though. Public shelters should be your last resort.  And most public shelters still do not allow you to bring your pets.  Check with your veterinarian about recommendations for pet boarding  facilities located outside of evacuation zones. 

 Be safe.  Check your Family Disaster Kit and update your Family Evacuation Plans on or before June 1st every year.   If you need help getting ready for a disaster with your pets, always check with your veterinarian for advice. 

Are you ready yet?

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey     727-863-2435

The Other End of the Leash

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I frequently visit classrooms to talk about careers in veterinary medicine.  When I ask how many students desire to be future veterinarians, most of their hands wave high.   When I ask how many of them have pets at home, almost every hand is raised.  And when I ask them why they want to become a veterinarian, they uniformly exclaim, “Because we love animals.”  That is the teachable moment.

The career of veterinary medicine attracts people who love animals.  Of course, that should be a prerequisite to study.  It would be a tragic career move for someone who greatly minded being regularly covered with fur, feathers, and feces.   After some work days, I look as if I just taped an episode of Dirty Jobs.    But there is certainly more to this career than just liking animals.

Admission to a college of veterinary medicine is highly competitive.  There are less than 30 programs in all of the U.S.  Those accepted to professional veterinary training are great students, who got excellent grades in undergraduate science and math courses, and are driven to succeed.  Almost every veterinary student holds a bachelors or masters degree in some area of science prior to admission. Because receiving an acceptance letter to veterinary school is like finding the pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow, most pre-vet students postpone families, turn down higher paying jobs, and accept huge educational debt just to pursue a life-long dream of earning a DVM (or VMD) degree.   

Once one begins practicing veterinary medicine, however, there is an instant and sometimes rude awakening.  At the other end of every leash is a human. 

I think of myself and my fellow veterinarians as highly competitive science geeks who must work well with others.    Some of the others have four legs and some of them have two legs.  You have to love people as much as you love animals to be successful as a veterinarian. 

There are four sets of skills one must have to successfully practice as a veterinarian.  Excellent animal handling skills are important when dealing with ill, biting, snarling animals that  don’t feel like having an X-ray taken today.  Excellent technical skills are important for making accurate diagnoses, performing surgery, and safely prescribing medications.  Excellent business management skills are important because veterinary practices are primarily small businesses that have expenses, employees, budgets, marketing, and other administrative duties to attend to or the doors of the practice will close.   Excellent communication skills are equally important so the veterinarian can explain disease processes, give estimates for services, counsel grieving owners, and advise owners about a course of action that fits within the family budget.   One must be proficient in all four sets of skills to make it as a veterinarian.   You can’t just love animals and be a successful veterinarian.

This week my son had surgery.  I think how different was his experience from what happens when I perform surgery on someone’s furry family member.  He was sent to a specific facility chosen by my insurance company, not necessarily convenient for us.  My son met some of the surgical facility staff, but never met the doctor who actually performed his surgery.   I only spoke with the surgeon once when my son was in recovery.  My questions were answered by a staff member, not the doctor.  No one provided an estimate of the costs of the procedure; they just expected me to sign a form that I would pay should the insurance company refuse to pay.  Would a pet owner accept this treatment from me?  I doubt it.

Pet owners have expectations at the other end of the leash.  They expect to have a personal relationship with the veterinarian caring for their pets.    Pet owners expect the veterinarian to personally examine their pets, personally perform the necessary procedures, call them after procedures, be available to take their phone calls with concerns or questions, and to be friendly and compassionate at all times.  Pet-owners also expect the veterinarian to run a business that provides quality care efficiently, conveniently, yet inexpensively.   It is a tough audience.

When I live up to those expectations,   I frequently hear comments such as, “I get more information from you than I do my own doctor.” When I don’t live up to those expectations, pet owners vote with their feet and transfer their records elsewhere for care.  Veterinary medicine is a very client-centered profession.    Those who want to enter the profession need to be aware of who holds the leash. 

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey     727-863-2435

Just Looking…

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By Terry Spencer, DVM

When I am shopping and a clerk asks whether I need any help, I almost always reply, “No, thank you.  I’m just looking…”    My response implies that “looking” is not going to lead to anything important, such as a purchase that day, so don’t waste your time helping me.  However, that isn’t necessarily true.  “Just looking” is an important part of the process of shopping.  If I didn’t begin shopping by” just looking,” then I would never find what I need. 

“Just looking” is also an important part of the process of completing a physical examination of an animal.  Determining whether a pet is healthy or ill all begins with looking.  As a veterinarian, I look with my senses, and also with tools of my trade to extend my senses.  I watch the animal walk.  I listen to the sounds of its heart and lungs using my stethoscope.  I smell the odor given off by its breath or its skin.  I feel for lumps in its belly.  I collect body fluids to analyze in the lab, which helps me “look” inside the animal.  I take X-rays or perform an ultrasound exam to “look” at body parts under the skin.  Frankly, I’m “just looking” all day when I do my job.  And in this context, I expect looking to pay off for the pet.  I expect to find what is working correctly and to detect any problems early when I can still help the pet owner keep the animal healthy.    Prevention of disease and early detection of disease are vital to helping pets (and people) live long, healthy lives.

When I can’t look, I can’t help.   It is important for pet owners to appreciate that.  

It is increasingly common these days for pet owners to take their pets to “low-cost” vaccine clinics.  These clinics are everywhere, every weekend.  You can find them in the parking lots of the local grocery store, drug store, pet store, groomer, and sometimes even at auto parts stores.  Vaccine clinics for pets can serve an important role for pets that otherwise would never get any vaccinations.  However, the “looking” part of the veterinary visit is lacking at these clinics.  The reason the vaccines are “low-cost” is because you get what you pay for—vaccines without a complete physical exam.  You can save a few dollars by not paying a veterinarian to “look” at your pet.  Is that really the best value for your dollar?

Vaccines against infectious diseases are very important for puppies and kittens.  But, vaccines aren’t necessary every year for every adult animal.  In fact, most vaccines if boosted properly in the early years give protection for at least three years, and some give protection for the life of the pet.  There is no standard vaccine package that is appropriate for every pet.  And over-vaccination of your pet can be just as harmful for pets as is under-vaccination.  That is why most veterinary practices don’t offer “low-cost vaccine clinics” in their parking lots on the weekends.  It isn’t annual vaccines that keep your pet healthy.  It is the veterinarian who completely examines your pet from head-to-toe, monitors its weight and temperature, and helps the pet owner set a customized vaccine protocol based on the pet’s risks of disease exposure determined after taking a history from the pet owner. 

At some annual visits, I don’t recommend vaccines at all. I know, that sounds like heresy.   Instead, I might recommend treating an ear infection, cleaning off dental tarter, removing a lump, or giving medication for back pain you might not have known was there.   Remember, your veterinarian is your other family doctor.  But you need to let me just look….

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey     727-863-2435