Archive for March, 2009

Walking Around Omaha…February and March

Monday, March 9th, 2009

March 9, 2009  In which I became a slacker, then became encouraged and pulled my act together…

I hit a lull in February, but kept walking some.  My daughters and friends kept me going.  We were in Portland during the first week of March for a Banfield conference and are now home, and I am walking with renewed energy!

Westwood Church sponsored a great women’s conference by Set Me Free Ministries that-strangely-focused my goal of walking on every street in Omaha.  My friend Stephanie Olson and her sister Joy (I LOVE that name!) started Set Me Free, and this, their first conference, was just really encouraging.  The day before, my friend Tracey Gardner, who was the main character in the Everything drama* that was a part of the conference, said that she and her dogs would walk with me.

And the night before the conference, I walked with my daughters and our dogs around the church and the neighborhood, and prayed for the next day and for the people I knew who were still at church working hard on preparation, which reminded me I am walking with a purpose.  I had started to lose focus and feel like I was just walking.  Omaha, as I mentioned, is big, and I was becoming overwhelmed.

I got to go to the conference with my Mom-in-law Karen and sister-in-law Kristi, two of my favorite people ever.  And many more of my favorite people were there.  Karen and Kristi both agreed to walk with me, so I know this year is do-able.

Then today, Dad called and took the girls to school and me to Starbucks on his way to work, and I was, again, so encouraged!

After coffee with Dad, the dogs and I walked around Hanscom Park, which was one of the areas I had decided to pray for when Luis Palau was in town.  It is near 30th and Center Street.  When we moved to midtown, I realized what a beautiful park it was, and over time I started hearing awful stories about what goes on there.  In fact, while the dogs and I were resting mid-walk, we saw two police cars and one arrest.  And that was mid-morning!  In the park itself, there is a great little lake, a kid pool, tennis courts, two amazing greenhouses, a basketball court, a soccer field, and gorgeous trees everywhere.  There is also a sign that tells the history of Omaha parks.  The set of parks in midtown (including Hanscom Park and Elmwood Park) were designed by some famous park planner from Minneapolis in the mid 1800’s.  I will find out his name for you and what he said about his vision for the park.  (I did not have a pen.  I just had my house key and a ROCK and a bunch of doggy walk bags!)

On the way back home, I saw my cousin Benjy (YAY), and then we passed a beautiful mural of Hanscom Lagoon, painted on the side of a building.  Today makes me think that Omaha could be as incredible as God Himself must picture it…as cool as any of us hope it could be.  So much of it is.  I love our city.

*Did you notice I learned how to link things??  I started in January linking stuff I mention in the newsletter to their websites.  How fun.  Just a warning if you watch the Everything video…It is pretty intense.  I wouldn’t let my daughters watch it.  In fact, they changed it a bit for the Set Me Free conference because I had a really hard time with the gun scene. But it is an incredible drama, and you will never again wonder if God is on your side.

March 23, 2009  In which I go on a much anticipated walk to pray for our military and the dogs come down with three very serious cases of “Bad Dog” which, of course, does not really exist…there are no bad dogs…

Each of forty Omaha churches took one day of Lent (the forty days before Easter) to pray for a specific aspect of Omaha…Westwood’s day is today and we are praying for our military.  How cool (I thought).  I am not great at praying for huge general topics, so for weeks I have been looking forward to walking with the dogs around the VA Hospital near 42nd and Center and praying for friends, family and acquaintances who have served or are serving in our military.  I figured that would be a great way to stay focused and to make a big huge concept personal.

So, the three dogs and I set out.  I have taught them all to sit and wait at crosswalks and to speed walk across when I say “cross.”  Impressive, huh?  (Ha!)  More importantly, it keeps everyone safe and well controlled when we are crossing busy streets.

At EVERY intersection today, between one and three dogs had to be reminded how to sit with a push on the butt.  That is the FIRST command Joy learned, and Ebony and Noodle have known how to sit for ALMOST A DECADE!  And, for the first time, Joy decided that “cross” didn’t mean speed walk straight across the street, it meant Ebony and Noodle will be speed walking across the street, so that will be a great time to bite their ears, cuz they will be looking straight ahead!

I am so tired!  They are too, but they are happily resting and have no idea how frustrated I am!  I guess that is good, and tomorrow is another day!  What a bunch of dorks.  I love them though.  Maybe I will pray without them this time…

I Promise Not to Say Kilocalorie to You.

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Now that we all are walking around Omaha together…or will be when winter finally ends…my next suggested resolution for you is much simpler.  In fact, it should take all of five seconds.

I want you to go look at your dog from above.   Dave and Sara, get a stepping stool! Mom and Dad, sit criss-cross next to Ernie!   The rest of you…stand over your dog.   Now everyone, see what shape he or she is.   Next, run your hands over their sides from their neck to their tummy.

There!   You are done!   Now you may go do something more fun.   Or read on to interpret the results of the two very important medical tests you just performed.

In the first test, you are looking for a waist on your dog.  I realize different breeds are different shapes.  Yes, it is fine that your Pug is football shaped!  He may not, however, be soccer ball shaped.  Most dogs should have a slightly “tucked in” waist right behind their ribcage.  They should not be completely “straight” from their neck to their tail, or worse, have a big tummy that is visible from above.  You can also look at them from the side and their waist should “tuck in” a little there too.

Second test:  You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs, but not see them.  If you are unable to feel their ribs with a gentle pat over their sides, they may have fat pads there, which is an indication they may be overweight.  If you are able to feel and see their ribs well, they may be underweight.

There are two common body condition score methods, 1-9 and 1-5.  I like 1-5 because it is simpler, but either is good.  In the 1-5 system, 1 is very skinny, 2 is too skinny, 3 is ideal, 4 is overweight and 5 is obese.  Our goal is to assess your pet now, match that score to his or her current weight and make an educated guess at an ideal weight.  We will use diet and exercise to get them to their ideal weight and adjust the actual number in pounds as we get closer, until we have a lifelong ideal weight to try to keep them close to.

If you tuned out at “diet and exercise” come back!  This is a much easier concept in pets than it is in us.

With people, there is emotional eating, eating when we are bored, eating for fun.  Try to adjust that concept to emotional feeding, feeding when we are bored, feeding for fun.  Would you agree that most emotional issues with food and our pets are our issues projected onto them?  I LOVE lining my three black dogs up by the snack cabinet and passing treats out.  Do NOT tell my Dad-in-law, but I LOVE feeding Ebony right off my plate at dinner.  I love seeing them jump in happy “I’m going to get lunch meat” circles…all MY issues, huh?  The truth is, if I had to feed them one-half-cup-light-kibble-twice-a-day-until-at-a-healthy-weight, eating the measured diet would not be so difficult for them, but it probably would be difficult for me to carry out.

So, as is often the case, I have a SIMPLE concept for you that is in no way EASY.  However, if you needed to get all strict (with YOURSELF) for awhile, so your pet could be healthy, you could do it, couldn’t you?

You are right that dogs DO get hungry between meals, especially when we feed them less to help them lose weight.  This is an area where fiber may help.  Perhaps switching to a light (higher fiber) or even prescription diet would help.  High fiber treats and snacks are also available.  We can work on a diet plan together.

Exercise is a similar issue.  It is a simple concept that is not easy to implement.  We will talk about cats when I have something intelligent and helpful to say!  However, exercising an otherwise healthy but overweight dog is pretty simple.  If he or she has health issues, such as arthritis or heart troubles, let’s work together to get those stable first, then we will come up with a safe, modified exercise plan.  But if your dog has a clean bill of health, and a green light for exercise, the sticking point is going to be our own inertia, not our dog’s.

So assuming you have a dog who has been blessed “healthy and safe to exercise and have on an adult maintenance diet” by the health care team, here are some rules of thumb.  Talk with me about dog food brands.  There are so many excellent choices, and you are such great owners, that chances are the food you are now feeding is ideal.

The only two feeding patterns I do not like are free-feeding and once a day feeding.  First, free-feeding…Dogs are not self-regulating feeders, so most can not have constant access to food and remain at a lifelong healthy weight.  But some can.

And cats are not self-regulating feeders either, and if I tell you it is not an option for your dog, my cat Max will find out I told you that and tell you what HIS feeding schedule is.  And then you will both laugh at me.  Incidentally, we are not allowed to let the bottom of either side of Max’s food bowl show.  Seriously.  He has woken us up in the middle of the night to remind us.  So if you free feed your dog, I believe you when you say it is what works best for your family!

The opposite extreme is once a day feeding.  Everyone used to do this.  And it is still pretty common.  So don’t feel bad if you do.  However, studies show that MOST dog bites occur just before the daily meal of dogs fed once a day.  I know…your dog is not a biter!  But researchers suspected this pattern indicated a blood sugar issue.  Follow-up studies showed that dogs are very often hypoglycemic if fasted for twenty-four hours, which is essentially the situation of dogs fed once a day.  So their blood sugar gets low and they get CRABBY.  Or sad.  Or sluggish.  Just like us.

My rule of thumb for feedings is three times a day for puppies until the age of four to six months, then twice a day for the remainder of their life.

A rule of thumb for amount of food is one cup per day per ten pounds of puppy divided into appropriate feedings until the age of one.  (A ten pound puppy would be fed 1/3 cup three times a day.)

For adult dogs, the amount is one cup per day per twenty pounds, divided into feedings.  (A twenty pound dog would be fed 1/2 cup twice a day.)  This is a very rough rule of thumb.  If the amount you are feeding is keeping your pet at a healthy weight, then obviously, that is the amount that is right!

The amount will differ from dog to dog, and be skewed by activity level and metabolism changes.  If your puppy is growing, weigh him or her every week or so, and do the two body condition score tests (waist check and rib check) often, and increase feedings to maintain steady growth.  With large and giant breed puppies, you do not want them to gain weight too quickly.  Slow, steady growth will minimize their risks for joint problems later.

As far as exercise goes, walking is my favorite one.  Base the length of walks on your and your pup’s fitness level.  Base the number of walks per day or week on what works best for your schedule.

Running crazy in the yard or dog park is also good, but does not replace walking with you.  Swimming is an excellent exercise and may be ideal if your pet has joint issues or is recovering from an injury or orthopedic surgery.

Running is good for some dogs, mostly based on whether the two of you enjoy it!  But also, they must be in good enough health to be a running buddy, and large and giant breed pups must wait till they are Big Dogs to run, to allow their cute little growth plates to mature first.  If you allow your dog to run alongside your bike, be very careful to watch for him to become tired.  He will be done long before you are!

Agility is great exercise and fun for both of you.  Hunting is great exercise too.  I’ll bet you can think of a hundred more exercises that I have not thought of.  If you have more ideas, post them here, because I hope that 2009 is the year we are all going to get (and stay) healthy together!

So here are your action points:

1)  Do a quick check of your dog’s overall body condition score, considering appearance, the rib check, the waist check, and lastly, the number of pounds he or she currently weighs.

2)  Decide (with the health care team) if he or she needs to gain or lose weight, or is at an ideal weight.   Figure his or her body condition score.

3)  Reassess your food brand, food type (maintenance, light, prescription, etc.), meal frequency, and amount of food.  If you don’t measure food, consider measuring how much you currently give, so you have a “starting point” if weight is ever an issue, even if it is not now.  Again, bring the health care team in on this step.  You pay us for our smarts, so get your money’s worth!

4)  Decide on an exercise plan.  Try to think of activities that are fun enough for the both of you that you will want to continue long term.

That’s it!  You are set!  Good luck, and let me know how it goes!  You are AWESOME owners, and most of your pets are healthy now, so I know you will do GREAT.  Ebony, Noodle, Joy and I will try to keep up with you!

An Open Letter to My Favorite Clients

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Dear Favorite Clients (Yes, this letter is to you!  Keep reading!),

I am not sure whether this fits on the website, or if I need to mail it to you, or put it on Facebook, or hand it to you when I see you at church…Doughnut Night…my next appointment at YOUR office…our next get together…The Place From Which We Know Each Other…But it is important that it gets to you!

I need you to know how very important you are to me, and how deliberately I include you and your pets in my life.  I know I have said it before, but it never hurts to be told one more time how great you are, does it?  You are great, and so are your pets.

My practice is set up so differently than most, that I thought I would tell you a little about how I form my client list, and why you are so crucial to my career.  Most veterinarians and veterinary hospitals see Whoever Walks in the Door.  This is a good model, and every pet owner needs pet care.  However, my client list is a little more personalized than that.  I see four “groups” of clients, and am very intentional about this.  The groups overlap, but most clients fit in at least one category:

  1. Friends
  2. Family
  3. Other Clients I Think are Awesome
  4. New Clients

I am very deliberate about transitioning New Clients into Other Clients I Think are Awesome.  THANK YOU for sending your friends and family to see me!  They have become Other Clients Who I Think are Awesome and contribute to the success of my career as much as you do.

So on a typical day, I will see pets of church friends, a few of my staff’s pets (a HUGE compliment), my family’s pets and your beautiful, awesome pet.  And I LOVE my days.  When new clients come in, we are ALL in great moods because we have been seeing people and pets we care deeply about all day.  We are doing our very best…we can picture our fuzzy friends and their families thriving the other 364 days of the year.  We rejoice when they pull through illnesses.  We hold them as they wake up from surgeries.  It is THE BEST job I can imagine!

Last year, I got home exhausted after a busy day, and a dear friend called because his dog was doing poorly.  We all four wrapped up our dinner, tossed it in the fridge, and got to their home as fast as we could.  There was one Finch friend to comfort each family member, and I was able to sit in their driveway with them and decide together what our next step should be.  This is one of my most heartbreaking memories ever.  And yet, I would not have missed this time for the world.  I needed to be there as much as they needed me there.  It is who I am.  And I love their family and their pets very much.  And unfortunately, many of you have been through a similar experience with me.  If you have not, imagine yourself in the position of this family…and please do not ever hesitate for one minute if you need to call me.

I spent all sorts of time a few weeks ago talking with a friend about her wonderful Goldendoodle.  First of all, she is one of my favorite people ever.  Second of all, her dog is one of my favorite dogs ever.  And third, we worked through and solved a complicated medical case together.  I LOVE complicated medical cases!  ESPECIALLY ones that end happily ever after as this one did.

Now put yourself into that, admittedly, much happier story.  What if I got the opportunity to spend more time with you?  Some of you I don’t know well yet, but would like to.  Some of you are friends I don’t get to talk with as much as I would like.  And ALL of you have pets I adore.  If you called, THAT would be what was on my mind, not all of the things you may be afraid you are interrupting.

Last story.  My nephew called the other day because his friend’s Mom was struggling with the decision to bring her dog to a veterinarian for a quality-of-life consult.  It took me a few minutes to figure out that he did not need me to come see his friend’s dog or give the family advice.  His friend’s Mom just needed someone with whom to talk.  I cried partially because this was such a sad situation, but also because I was very honored that my nephew thought of me when his friend’s Mom needed someone.

So when you have me called at home, or when you have a pet question that you need to ask outside of the very small 10 X 10 exam room that we are in together maybe thirty minutes a year total…please do not apologize.

Know that I am honored you trust me.  Know that you are part of a very small client list that makes me think I could do this for thirty more years.  I need you to know that I LOVE this stuff.  If I didn’t love pets, I would not be a vet!  If I didn’t love YOUR pet, I would have you see another vet!  I LOVE taking care of your pets.

If I worked full time or emergency hours, then maybe, MAYBE I would not want to work “off the clock.”  However, I have purposely set up my career to be pretty limited “regular” hours and pretty extensive “on call” hours.  And as I mentioned, I see the clients I really want to see (you) and the pets I really want to see (yours), and that is what makes my career amazing.  If I need to be with my family, I PROMISE I will tell you that, and still get you the help you need.  So, now it is on me, not you.  You can call anytime, and I will get your pet whatever he or she needs.

If “normal” doesn’t work for you, don’t worry.  I am not a big fan of “normal.” And now I hope you know that I am available outside of my very narrow “office hours” and very small exam room.  Call me with urgent questions.  E-mail me with non-urgent questions.  And THANK YOU.  I love my career because of you.


Shawn Finch, DVM

***UPDATE May 1, 2009 Wow.  What a crazy month.  I should have seen THAT coming, huh?  Everything in this letter is STILL TRUE!  You can STILL call Rhonda.  She is STILL awesome.  She will still be able to track me down if you need me.  And she will transfer records or Optimum Wellness Plans to Papillion Banfield, if you would like her to.  I am very sad to leave her and Megan and Kim and Jeni and Erika and Carrie behind.  When I brag about my incredible staff, those are the women I am bragging about!!  If I could take them with me, I would.

***UPDATE September 14, 2009 As you probably know by now, my “New Rhonda” is Cody.  Not as pretty but just as nice.   I suppose I should probably call him the Office Manager, like everyone else does.  He has been so helpful to me as I transition from one hospital to the other.

***UPDATE September 21, 2011  I am SO not doing this again!  I am starting my new position at Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital tomorrow morning.  So impressed you have followed me all through the town.  I am retiring from Gentle Doctor 25 years from today.  You are invited to the party.  Also, I have no freaking idea who my new Rhonda is, but everyone at Gentle Doctor is super nice.  Also, I am still friends with Rhonda and Cody and everyone else mentioned in this post that I wrote several years ago, so if you are ever my friend or client or coworker, you are stuck with me forever.