I grew up on a farm in Southern Idaho and wanted to be a dairy veterinarian from age six. Fast forward 14 years to my first day of veterinary school at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine when Dean Leo Bustad gave a talk on the human-animal bond, and I suddenly switched to wanting to be a companion animal practitioner…my dairy career having lasted about 30 minutes.
This spark ignited in me the importance of the human-animal bond and has led to a wildfire of purpose, passion and plan to celebrate, protect and nurture the human-animal bond. This precious bond, an affection-connection between pets and people that is nebulous, but easily understood by anyone who’s felt it, has served as my North Star throughout my multifaceted career, which resulted in the founding of Fear Free in 2016.
Fear Free is simply a commitment to look after both the physical and emotional wellbeing of animals. Fear produces a physiological response, so Fear Free is medicine. A research-based organization built on the bedrock of boarded veterinary behaviorists, Fear Free has harnessed a group of almost 250 experts in animal behavior, animal handling, pain management, anesthesia and sedation, and all aspects of medicine.
Fear Free focuses on the entire ecosystem of animals. For example, with pets, Fear Free training is available for veterinarians, veterinary technicians and team members, as well as for trainers, groomers, pet sitters, boarding facilities, shelters and even pet parents. With this model, no matter if the pet is at a temporary home (e.g., vet’s office, shelter, groomer, boarding) or their forever home, we are always looking to reduce fear, anxiety and stress, and increase happy and calm. Additionally, knowing that pets need to express their genetic exuberance, Fear Free is at the forefront of promoting enrichment activities for animals.
Some of the many benefits of reducing fear, anxiety and stress in pets through Fear Free include:
- Less fight-or-flight responses. These responses increase the release of cortisol, a hormone that can have severe negative long-term effects.
- Less fear of handling/procedures. Animals, like humans, move towards pleasure and away from pain. Knowing fear is caused by something painful or disturbing (for example, trimming nails too short is painful; now seeing nail trimmers is disturbing) will make them negatively associate those experiences.
- Less pets being rehomed or surrendered to shelters. Many pets that bite, scratch, have inappropriate elimination or destroy household items because of fear-based aggression or behaviors are removed from the home. These same fearful pets, once in shelters or rescues, are slow to be adopted and are often bounced from home to home.
- More animals receive the care they need. More animals are receiving the medical, behavioral and grooming care they need since this approach makes it easier for the professionals providing the care to handle and treat the animal.
In addition, Fear Free also benefits those practicing it in many ways, including:
- Better medicine. Fear Free results in more accurate vital signs, more accurate diagnostic tests, and more accurate physical exams as pets don’t hide pain and sensitivity because they’re stressed. These pets also heal faster because they don’t suffer from immunosuppression and have less frequent digestive upsets.
- Fewer injuries. When you dramatically reduce fear, anxiety and stress, become proficient in detecting signs of it and monitor the levels of it, incidents of bites, scratches and other injuries plummet.
- More enjoyable career. Cooperative and relaxed pets make for a lower-stress environment for everyone involved, including the pet owners who no longer feel like you’re hurting their pets by trying to help them.
- Increased practice growth and profits. We have four years of white papers showing that practices that become Fear Free certified have increases in all major practice KPIs and make more net income than similar practices that aren’t Fear Free.
Nobody gets into professions working with animals to make life worse for them. Quite the contrary; we love animals and want them to love us back. We want to use our skills to help make them healthier, happier and living a full life. By embracing Fear Free in a veterinary practice, you set yourself and the animals you care for up for low-stress success. +