Why I Am Not Fear Free® Certified

I graduated from The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 2005, and immediately went to work at Cuyahoga Falls Veterinary Clinic. Having grown up around the clinic I’d eventually purchase and at which I’ll spend my entire career, I witnessed from an early age how best to care for animals. My father, Dr. Doug Gates, treated his patients with kindness and compassion, having learned that he’d make the most headway with patients by making sure they were as comfortable as could be. He knew that a fearful, anxious animal limited the amount of care he could provide, so minimizing fear and anxiety was the preferable route.

Our clients knew this then and know this now by watching our team work. Some of our patients love to see us, while others are stressed to visit. To the best of our ability and to the greatest extent possible, we work to alleviate this stress. From first visits and early ages, we stress the importance of socialization and providing animals with as many good experiences as possible.

Having engaged in adoption of both dogs and a child, we are acutely aware of the mental stresses and hurdles to overcome with shifts in experiences and having to establish new normals. Both Dr. Jenn and I bring in-depth, first-hand experience to the exam rooms for our patients and clients, particularly in the areas of managing fear, anxiety and stress.

In 2016, a group of veterinary behaviorists and marketers launched an educational movement entitled Fear Free®. Their literature states, “Fear Free provides online and in-person education to veterinary professionals, the pet professional community, and pet owners.” And, “By closely listening to the needs of the profession and those of pet owners, Fear Free has become one of the single most transformative initiatives in the history of companion animal practice, providing unparalleled education on emotional wellbeing, enrichment, and the reduction of fear, anxiety, and stress in pets.”

The science behind Fear Free®, the findings from their studies, and the benefits from their techniques are indisputable. Denying these positives is akin to claiming the earth is flat or that water isn’t wet. No rational veterinarian would attempt to suggest that the Fear Free® philosophy is bad veterinary medicine.

As I have investigated and pursued the Fear Free® training modules and continuing education, though, and having spoken with the celebrity veterinarian promoting their brand on a number of occasions, I’ve concluded there is nothing new about their philosophy. There is nothing proprietary about the knowledge and training the Fear Free® brand is seeking to pass along to their clients for a fee. The studies performed and their research findings have simply confirmed that which we at Cuyahoga Falls Veterinary Clinic, and good veterinarians across the country (indeed the world), have known and employed for a long, long time.  And when new treatments and strategies emerge, Dr. Jenn and I add them to our toolbox just like we do in any other area of veterinary medicine, through peer-to-peer conversations with colleagues and regular continuing education.

We are not interested in paying a third party for a certificate to display telling our clients we treat their pets, our patients, with kindness and compassion, working to reduce and alleviate their fear, anxiety, and stress, when we have been doing so for nearly 40 years. We do not need the sanction of a plaque for our wall, a decal for our window, or a banner for our website to demonstrate or validate our core values.

A movement is afoot to shame non-FearFree® certified clinics into pursuing (read: paying for) certification, suggesting to the public that non-certified clinics might be harming their patients, and I am convinced the Fear Free® brand is merely seeking to monetize for their own benefit the type of care that all good veterinarians provide on a daily basis. Our work speaks for itself, and we are proud of the care we’ve provided for our patients and clients over our many years.

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