I grew up in a house where advocating for something was very akin to confrontation. There often was not conversation about things as much as there were arguments. Any suggestion that I had come to a decision about what was best for me was met with derision and dismissal, and so I went through much of my life either accepting things that were less than what I wanted or screaming to be heard.

A few things changed that: stepping away from an unhealthy relationship with a parent, needing to step into a guardian role for my sibling and owning a pit bull-type dog. Weird, eh? These 3 things have made me a better advocate for myself and for the things that matter to me. I am in no way artful or perfect in my advocacy, but along the way, I have learned to step up and stand up for what’s important to me. I’ve had uncomfortable, but open, conversations with bosses, I’ve helped my sibling learn how to spot and step away from abuse and I’ve learned how to speak up for my dog.

I marvel over these changes often, in part because they have happened so subtly and slowly over time, and in part because the difference in my life overall is simply astounding. I’m more confident, I’m less likely to simply start yelling and walk away (the MO in my house growing up) and I am more able to affect change. And that became crystal clear yesterday when I brought Hazel back to the vet for her booster shot.

I’ve worked hard to help Hazel overcome a ton of fears- from car rides to sudden loud noises to body handling and to meeting new people (especially men). I have also worked hard to keep those things solid and in good working order and a big part of that was training, but a bigger part was (and is) always being her advocate. Before switching to the vet hospital at Women’s Humane Society, we had so-so experiences at the vet. We switched because I worked there and when I left, I considered switching vets again because it’s a half hour away. I stressed over the decision, wondering where we’d feel most comfortable nearby and kept coming up empty. So, I decided that because we were doing great in the car, going to see Dr. Hafer and her favorite techs was worth it and we’d keep going. And I am so glad we did.

My efforts to advocate for Hazel at the vet include the following things:

-Speaking openly with the doctor about anxiety meds shortly after we moved and reaching a compromise that we were both comfortable with. She went on Solliquin for a short time and it got us over the mountain of stress that came with moving. Being able to voice my concerns, have them heard, not feel dismissed and be able to help my dog was step one in building trust. We’ve since been able to discuss a number of things openly and honestly. And I try to be careful in my approach because I want my vet to be happy, too. Vets are at high risk for compassion fatigue and burnout and I don’t want to add to hers. (But, remember, my history at this leaves wanting, so it’s not always easy. But, I try and so we have a good relationship.)

-Calling or texting ahead of time to get a read on how busy the lobby is. If it’s crowded, we wait outside or sneak in other doors and visit people we know. This is a definite benefit of having worked there, but as I recommended in a recent blog, there are a few ways anyone can avoid or lessen the stress of waiting in a crowded lobby.

-We visit with as many people possible when we are in the building. If someone wants to say hello and Hazel is into it, we say hello. I’ve watched this over the course of a few visits go from a quick sniff and on to other distractions to full-on greetings and solicitations for affection. And this took time, and at times, I thought we’d never get there. But, my dog never ceases to amaze me.

-Encouraging “happy talk” and being loose, friendly and gentle. In fact, this is one of the primary things I am always on the lookout for- and if I don’t see it, we ask for a different tech next time. She has her favorites and I want (need) to keep those happy associations going. One false move could undo the whole thing and I won’t let that happen. Vet+vet tech+happy talk+gentle handling= Happy Hazel. This must always be the case.

-I let her sniff and pee and wander a bit when we get there. The outside area of any veterinarian’s office is likely covered in pee-mail and checking it out is a very normal thing for dogs to want to do. So we do it. And then we do it again on the way out. I don’t mind taking an extra few minutes for her to do this and it adds to the “fun” of the trip and lessens the stress of “Let’s get in and get out and just get this over with.”

I do all this because she’s my dog and I love her more than most everything. I do it because she’s a pit bull-type dog and I feel a responsibility to ensure that people have a positive experience with her. Do I want to change minds about dogs like her? Sure. I also just want them to like my nice, happy, friendly dog.

Hazel and I have walked through some of the steps of The Academy For Dog Trainers Husbandry Project plans. And though we are nowhere close to primetime (like some of my colleagues, who blow me away!), we are taking incremental steps towards having this be an overall pleasant experience- for both of us. Maybe someday we’ll be stationing for vaccines and temperature-taking, but in the meantime, the things we’ve done above have made a world of difference. She’s happy to be poked and prodded as long as it comes with some happy talk during, and some butt scritches and kisses when it’s done. And I never knew it could be this way. I think back to how my other dogs just had things done “to” them, and how my foster dog, Jenga, was manhandled through a painful exam when she had an ear infection (trauma she still struggles with) and feel nothing but sadness. If I knew the weight my advocating for my dog could have, or that I even had the right to do it, I’d have been doing it years ago.

Be your dog’s voice. You can do it effectively and kindly and if you can’t- find a vet hospital where you can. They’re out there. I am eternally grateful to the staff at WHS for their kindness and patience. It’s made a world of difference. Not only for my dog, but for me, as well.