No More Fear

June 2022 |

Fear Free founder Dr. Marty Becker on how the model revolutionizes animal handling, improves profits—and puts veterinary practices back in the game in today’s “experience” economy.

Dr. Marty BeckerThe Fear Free model has been transforming the veterinary experience for practice teams, clients and patients. Since certification launched in March 2016, more than 125,000 individuals have registered for Fear Free certification nationwide.

PSIvet Insider talked with founder Marty Becker, DVM, about what Fear Free has to offer.

Q: Why should practices try Fear Free?
A: Practices that have been doing this have seen dramatic increases in net operating profits and job satisfaction, and decreases in job-related injuries.

Q: What was your motivation to start Fear Free?
A: It was in 2009, in a meeting in British Columbia where boarded behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall was talking about FAS [fear, anxiety and stress] and that we were causing repeat, severe psychological damage to pets. Many of us thought of FAS as just collateral damage, something that just goes with the territory. She drew a parallel to human healthcare in the 1950s and ’60s, in which dependents were manhandled, manipulated and abused. Nobody gets into veterinary medicine to make life worse for animals. We had pledged to relieve animal pain and suffering, and here we were causing it. I left that talk nauseous. How could we have let this happen?

Q: How is a Fear Free practice different for a pet?
A: It’s like going to a spa. There’s warmth and soft, non-skid surfaces. There are treats, music playing, pheromones in the air—you can’t get pets to leave. The hospital where we piloted this is next to a community walking trail, and pets try to drag their owners off the path and into the hospital.

Q: What about the clinical side?
A: It’s just better medicine. The physical exam is more normal. These pets don’t hide pain and sensitivity. The blood chemistries are more normal, and you don’t get immunosuppression and digestive upsets.

Q: Isn’t there a risk of more injuries if you’re not using restraints?
A: No, there’s a dramatic decrease in injuries once you reduce FAS: 94 percent of Fear Free members have reported an increase in workplace safety. We use “Gentle Control,” which is a more advanced, relaxed method of positional compliance that protects both pets and people.

Q: How does Fear Free affect business?
A: Pets are eager to come in, so pet owners start coming in more often. Key performance indicators are all up. After three years and three white papers, we have seen a 14 percent increase in number of patients per practice, a 23 percent increase in revenue per practice, and a 37 to 44 percent increase in forward booking for canine and feline patients.

Q: What about costs? How long does it take most practices to pay back the investment in certification?
A: Day one. It’s such a quick return. Probably one dental will pay for it. We offer dynamic group pricing, meaning the more memberships purchased, the cheaper it is per person.

Q: What’s your advice to veterinary practices about how to get started?
A: Don’t delay. Over 100,000 veterinary professionals have already made the first step, with over 160 hospitals achieving Fear Free Practice Certification. Pet owners can’t judge quality of medicine, but they can judge the quality of their pet’s emotional well-being. You will have people who have been in a practice for two or three generations leave, if they find a place that cares for their pet’s emotional well-being.

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