Non-Verbal Communication (very rough draft)

21 Oct

I have honed my communication skills, especially non-verbal ones in my extensive work with animals.  In my current job as an animal assistant at a feline exclusive veterinary hospital, I have to quickly asses cat temperaments so I can collect vitals and help with medical procedures.

Cat Cues:

Squishing to the back of the carrier or kennel

big, dilated eyes

pinned ears

swatting with paws

turning head or body quickly

becoming stiff

scrunching head close to the body (neck disappears)

hunching to counter

grabbing with paws (looking to climb)

eyes darting around

trying to hide head

edging off exam table

hair standing up

shaking

rolling over

kicking with back feet

snapping jaws

The owners set the green cat carrier on the exam table and I announced I would be taking some vitals, in a cheery voice.  With my right hand I unlatched the door, and peered inside the cave.  Behind the worn towel was a crunched ball of orange and white fur.  Despite his large frame, Scrappy was trying to become as small as possible in order to evade the uncomfortable veterinary visit he was about to endure.  Unpreturbed, I reached in and scruffed Scrappy with confidence, tugging him toward the door and asking the owners to provide resistance by holding the kennel in place.  I joked that Scrappy was doing the “kitty splits” as he splayed his legs in all directions in a final attempt to remain in the safety of the box, which I’m sure he fought tooth and nail to not enter at home.

Finally extricated from the box, I suggested the owners take away temptation by putting the carrier on the exam room floor.  Scrappy, hunched to the counter, was still trying to be invisible to my probing hands.  His ears were pinned and his eyes were darting wildly searching for any escape route.  He tried to creep toward the edge of the counter and settled for burrowing his head under the crook of his mom’s arm as I fitted the stethoscope to my ears and took Scrappy’s heart rate–as expected it was accelerated.

Next, I needed to get Scrappy’s weight.  While asking the owners about the brand of food he ate, and his eating habits, I picked him up to get the number of pounds we were dealing with.  I could feel Scrappy’s body stiffen.  He was shaking with fear, and I knew if I did not leave him alone, which I couldn’t just yet, that given the chance, he would scratch or bite to get away from me.  While maintaining the conversation about Scrappy’s water consumption, I tried to scruff the chubby cat, but he defensively scrunched his head, making his neck disappear entirely.  I held him close to my body and well away from my face then kept my hand on him when I put him on the scale.

“15 pounds!” I announced as I carefully placed Scrappy back on the exam table.  He whipped around and I yanked my hands out of potential harm’s way.  Scrappy had a mind to bite me to get away, but after I gave him a moment held himself together.  I gave his ears a pet and he relaxed somewhat.  His owners cooed at him and gave him lovins and he settled down further.  I was pretty certain I could obtain a rectal temperature without him flying off the table in a fury.  As his owners were distracting him I eased up his tail and planted the thermometer.  Nine seconds can be so long!  At first, oblivious to what was going on behind him Scrappy soaked up the attention.  Then, he gave me a sideways glance, stiffened his posture, and I could see his hair begin to stand up.  He turned and swatted at me with his claws just as I removed the instrument.  “100.5, right in the normal range!”  I sang out.  “I’ll have the doctor in as soon as she is available.”

Using both verbal communication with the owners and non-verbal cues from the kitty I was able to obtain a history on the patient, collect quantitative data for the veterinarian, and soothe both people and pet.

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