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It’s seldom easy taking a pet to the veterinarian’s office.

As much as humans often fearing going to the doctor or the dentist, a pet, according to some experts, can feel extreme anxiety too.

Taking the “pet” out of “petrified” has been the mission of the American Animal Hospital Association that initiated the Fear Free certification program three years ago.

A prized designation

Designed to promote a specific protocol for veterinary clinics to follow, it has become a prized designation that can set a clinic apart from others.

Last month, Care Animal Hospital, 9052 Prairie Ridge Blvd., was awarded a Fear Free certification. It was one of 84 vet clinics in the nation to earn that designation.

Kelly Strecker, an associate veterinarian, and Sarah Lochen, a client marketing coordinator at Care, said Care staff began making operational changes long before the clinic was awarded the designation.

“We initially started it three years ago, and we went through all of the steps for certification and were officially certified in May,” Strecker said. “It’s helped tremendously. Absolutely. We see a huge difference.”

Fear Free is all about creating a calming environment that helps reduce animals’ fear, anxiety and stress. Fear Free clinics promote a considerate approach and use gentle control techniques, according to the AAHA.

The approach had been developed by a team of veterinary behavioral specialists and technicians.

Creating such an environment at Care, a facility with a staff of 36 including veterinarians, technicians and personnel, also took a team approach.

The idea was to develop an approach that could be calming to both the animal and to the pet owner.

“It’s a proactive approach rather than a reactive process,” Lochen said. “We’re in it to help pets feel better.”

At a clinic that has multiple veterinarians and technicians helping hundreds of pets, it was important to develop a system to meet individual needs of the clients.

The idea was to “reduce the stress and anxiety with the pet and the owner,” Strecker said.

That meant knowing the patients, their tendencies and how to approach them were just as important as knowing their problems and what approach to use to treat the problem.

“When a new patient comes in, we gather information on how a pet reacts to coming to a vet — every pet gets and emotional record,” Lochen said. “Reading the pet’s body language and spending more time with them are also important.”

A welcoming environment

In addition, the physical environment was addressed by eliminating distracting sounds and images and creating an entrance foyer and waiting area with a comfortable, warm feeling.

When pets come inside the building, they are provided towels or blankets doused in calming pheromones. In addition, there are separate waiting areas for cats and dogs.

And time in the waiting area is kept to a minimum.

“They’re getting into rooms as soon as possible,” Strecker said.

The protocol even involves what the employees wear.

“It affects the colors of the clothing we wear so that we’re not assaulting their senses when we walk into the room,” Strecker said.

“We’ve designed all of the protocols in our hospital to work with the behavior of the animal instead of the people so that we can reduce their anxiety the minute that we interact with them.”

While helping to calm pets and the owners, the Fear Free protocol also improves safety for the veterinary teams.

Strecker said the Fear Free program consists of eight modules that have to be taken in consecutive order.

According to the AAHA, each module ends with an exam that must be successfully completed before moving on to the next. When all eight modules have been completed, the participant will be awarded a Fear Free certificate.

The approach is “opening a lot of eyes of pet owners,” Lochen said.

“To us, this means that our patients like to come and see us, and that’s what ... is really the heart of the program. We want our patients to not be scared when they come to receive the care that they need,” Strecker said.

— Kenosha News photographer Brian Passino contributed to this report.

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