Our doors unlock at 7:30, but the staff is here by 7. Lights get turned on as the prep tasks take staff to different areas of the clinic: surgery, the dog and cat rooms, the waiting area. Supplies and paperwork are checked and double-checked, because once those doors open, you might not get another chance. Various coffee and coffee-adjacent beverages fill the air with a caffeine-scented perfume.
We’ve just launched an express check-in service for surgery, so when I arrive, discussions are underway about how we can make things better, more efficient. One thing we’re very interested in at SNKC is the concept of kaizen, or continual improvement. Assuming things are “good enough” leads to complacency. We can always refine the way we do things to make them better, and we’re always on the lookout for places where we can improve. We think our clients and their pets deserve nothing less.
When the doors open, the parade of pets begins. Blue paw prints on the floor lead to the podium, so when things get rockin’ at the front desk, there’s still a clear path to the check-in area. One of the first families to walk in is a man and his young daughter, maybe six years old, and their cute black-and-white beagle mix. Liz walks up to them to get their name. The young girl pipes up.
“This is Bubba,” she says, and then goes on to give a much longer full name, just to make sure we know exactly who we’re talking about here.
She watches Liz interact with Bubba and slip the lead around his neck. As Liz and Bubba start to walk away, the girl says, “Please take good care of him.” This is a common refrain, especially from children, but not only from children, and it’s not always said in words. The owner’s eyes, their furrowed brow, their body language; these things indicate concern for their pet, and we absolutely get it. They’re part of the family, and they’re about to have surgery. It’s a surgery that has a lot of great benefits, but that doesn’t make the fear any less real.
Liz smiles and reassures the girl that we’ll take great care of Bubba. I’m standing about five feet away, and the earnestness in both the girl’s voice and Liz’s response make me tear up a little bit.
Back in the surgery area, prep is underway. As the pets are brought back, they’re weighed, and males are checked to make sure they have both testicles (pictures not available) so that we know if they’re cryptorchid, which requires a slightly more invasive surgery. Once we have an accurate weight, we can draw up the appropriate amount of anesthetic for their size.
A big pup named Kylo is back in one of the dog runs, but he’s scared and shaking a little bit. Nobody wants that. Amanda takes a moment to sit in the run and calm him down. Any time another person comes in through the door, Kylo moves to the back of the run again, but always moves back over to Amanda. After a little while Kylo settles in and is much more comfortable.
It’s easy to see how much people care for their pets when you look in the cat carrier, or at the blankie they bring for their dog. Little sweaters or toys or even just a little decoration on a cat carrier tells you what an integral part of their life this pet is. Today a little cat in for surgery had a squeaky rubber newspaper in her carrier.
When the vets arrive, they double check the pets in for surgery, listening to their breathing and heart rate to make sure there are no abnormalities that could cause complications during surgery or recovery. It can be a little difficult for a few different reasons, but mostly because scared pets can be aggressive when they feel threatened, regardless of their regular demeanor. So we go slow.
But today there’s a different difficulty. It’s a much more pleasant one, in fact: there’s a little snuggle bug of a cat in for surgery who won’t stop purring, making it hard for Dr. Hemmer to listen to the heartbeat. It’s a good problem to have.
Check-in winds down. As usual, it was busy and fun. We got to meet our new friends for the day, put a face to the families counting on us to treat their pets like we would our own, and prep for the hours ahead. The Wellness Care Clinic hasn’t even opened yet, and we’ve already had lots of great moments with pets and clients.
My office is right next to the front desk. Sometimes when something really fantastic happens, someone at the front desk will come and let me know, which I love.
After taking pictures for this article, I came back to my office, and within moments Zayra came from the front desk to tell me a story:
While checking out, a man decided to “Paw It Forward” by donating five dollars on top of the cost of his services. This is one of the ways that we get money to subsidize surgery for struggling pet owners.
His young daughter, seeing him do this, said she wanted to donate too. She dug around in her pockets for a moment and produced twenty cents. And she handed it over to Zayra.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Were they here with Bubba?” Zayra said they were. I told her the story of what that little girl said to Liz, and now two of us are a little teary-eyed. Few things in this organization are as emotionally affecting as seeing the love between a child and their pet. To see a compassionate and caring generation of pet owners in the making gives us hope in a world that is all too often fraught with turbulence and discord.
I stepped out into the lobby to see if the girl and her father were still in the building, but they’d already walked out the front door.
But Bubba’s still here. And that little girl is expecting us to keep her Bubba happy and comfortable.
And we will.