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Cookie: When Trust is Absent

In a Parable of Trust, I discussed how our dog- Buddy- has come to trust us so much that my husband was able to groom him without having to use a muzzle or render him semi-conscious with sedatives. The thesis was the difference trust makes when present.

This week, I follow up on this theme by telling a story about our other dog – Cookie- and what happens when trust is absent.

Cookie is a twelve-year-old English Springer Spaniel and like most Springers, has hip issues- dysplasia or arthritis. Her dysplasia has gotten to the point that it is difficult for her to climb up and down stairs, to jump onto our bed, and otherwise to “spring” as Springers do.

So, we decided to look into hip replacement surgery. (Yes- vets will do hip replacements in dogs!) As many dog owners know, the pandemic has changed the way vets will see dogs. At the height of the pandemic, the owner would stay in her car in the parking lot and simply call/text to let the office staff know that she has arrived. A vet technician would retrieve the dog and after the examination, the vet would telephone the owner and provide the diagnosis and treatment. Simply put- there was no in-person contact between the dog owner and vet.

As the pandemic has eased, many vets are now allowing the owner to be present in the exam room during the examination. However, this was not the case with the orthopedic surgeon vet to which we brought Cookie. That facility still required that my husband and I stay outside while a vet tech came outside to retrieve Cookie and bring her to the vet for the examination. When the examination was concluded, the vet simply called my mobile phone to discuss his diagnosis and treatment options. As we were in a parking lot by a busy street, the traffic noise made hearing him difficult (along with his accent.)

My husband and I have never met this vet. The surgery- hip replacement- is quite serious. When I told the staff prior to the examination that I wanted to meet the vet in person, they politely told me that “company policy” would not allow it. I commented that I did not feel comfortable having a serious surgery performed on my dog by someone I never met. The staff retorted that it was done all the time; other owners have allowed this vet to perform the surgery without meeting him. The staff then asked me if I wanted to continue with the appointment. Adhering to the “sunk cost bias” (we were already there and so why not!), we allowed the appointment to go forward but I made it clear that I was very unhappy with the facility’s “protocols.”

After the examination, when the vet called, I asked him if he would at least come outside, meet us in the parking lot, and stand six feet away with a mask on. He, politely referred to company policy and said “no.” (What struck both my husband and me was that the vet techs were coming outside to get the dogs and then to return them, thereby meeting the owners, yet the vet would not do the same!)

Although the vet continued to explain his diagnosis, given the traffic noise and the vet’s accent, we found it difficult to fully comprehend what he was saying. The situation simply was not conducive, and I simply could not trust someone who refused to meet me in person. I bluntly told him that there was no way he was going to operate on my dog without first meeting him in person. As a result, he suggested that we try physical therapy for Cookie.

Trust and building a relationship are crucial. They will make the difference between resolving an issue and walking away frustrated and very unhappy if not angry.

As the vet did nothing to gain our trust or build up a relationship with us, (and instead, threw “company policy” in our faces), our “negotiation” with this vet failed. We wasted a morning!

The situation reminded me of the one-shot player vs the repeat player. My husband and I were one-shot players- this was a once-in-a-lifetime event for us- a very serious issue. For the vet- the repeat player- Cookie was just another dog in a long line of appointments that day and week. No big deal. When I mentioned this to the vet, he did not seem empathetic.

As the Chinese recognize- it IS all about guanxi– building relationships and trust. They make a difference!

… Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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