What is “Fear Free?” The History of Fear Free at Zionsville Country Veterinary Clinic

“Fear Free” for Dr. Shari Lyons of Zionsville Country Veterinary Clinic began in 2012 after attending a seminar by world renowned animal behavior specialist, Dr. Sophia Yin. Dr. Yin’s message of Evaluating Your Patient’s Fear/Anxiety paired with Low Stress Handling Techniques rang true with Dr. Shari’s experience and patient care values. She was mesmerized by Dr. Yin’s ability to communicate appropriate behavior expectations with few words. She was hooked!
As the team was growing in their knowledge of compassionate animal handling and treatment techniques, it was rewarding to see that many of the things Dr. Yin advocated were already part of Zionsville Country Veterinary Clinic’s current protocols! The light was dawning on a new era of patient care paradigms—and we were already there!
Further study culminated in Dr. Shari’s and ZCVC associate Dr. Melissa Pearson’s Silver Certification through Dr. Yin’s Low Stress Handling course, a 30 hour intensive study on animal behavior, learning methods, handling, and gentle restraint. Teaming with the staff in Dr. Marty Becker’s Fear Free training expanded the entire team’s awareness of the patient’s emotional health while under our care.
When it became evident that a move was in our future, the challenge was set! Working with a local architect with input from Behavior Specialist Dr. Karen Overall, a Fear Free design was created which allowed for the implementation of most of the Fear Free Task Force’s recommendations. At the time, Dr. Becker shared that our design was the first Fear Free ground-up construction in the country. And, the most exciting news was that he would be sharing the design with Dr. Yin at the next task force meeting!
Sadly, Dr. Sophia Yin passed away before that meeting took place. The entire veterinary community was shocked and grieved the loss of such a uniquely talented individual. And, although she never saw the plans, we hope to honor her legacy with our Fear Free facility. 
We are excited to see what the future holds for our patients as we continue to perfect our ability to Create Calm at each visit. Let us know where we can improve—remember, we’re a TEAM!!


Fear Free Design Components

  • Easy-grip flooring
  • Natural light throughout building
  • Feline Wing: allowing nearly complete separation of cats from dogs
  • Private Rooms, Sun Rooms, and Patio exam rooms
  • Environmental Enrichment in Cat adoption area and exam rooms
  • Kennels modified for privacy and comfort
  • Soothing colors, sounds, and fragrances
  • One-way patient flow to minimize unwanted interactions
  • Check-out in exam room to avoid waiting at the reception desk to check out
  • Fold-away exam tables for increased “personal space” or floor exams
  • Areas for cats to hide or play—their choice
  • Whisper latches and glass fronts for kennels
  • Private ICU/Recovery Room with viewing area
  • Heated recovery kennels


Fear Free Visits

The most important concept regarding Fear Free visits is taking into consideration the pet’s emotional AND physical well-being. Decreasing Fear and Anxiety for a pet’s visit is a TEAM effort. Here’s what we all can do.


What YOU can do:
  • Deliver your pet to the veterinary clinic calm and relaxed.
  • Avoid conveying your own concerns by not talking or keeping your tone conversational, not “soothing. If you’re concerned, then they must need to be too, right?
  • Desensitize your cat to its carrier (see video) and use a carrier cover.
  • Don’t carry the cat carrier by the handle. This jostles your kitty! Hold it in front like a precious package.
  • Use pheromones (soothing fragrances) or nutraceuticals (natural anti-anxiety medications) prior to the car ride.
  • Bring a favorite toy, bed or treat.
  • Limit food the day of the visit to make treats more desirable and distracting.

Once you arrive:

  • Watch for signs of anxiety or fear. There are posters in each exam room to help you identify subtle signs.
  • If your pet shows any signs of fear or attention-seeking behavior, the best thing to do is to remove your attention.
  • Do not pet, talk to, or look at an anxious pet. This actually feeds the fear! If you can sit quietly reading a book or catching up on your Candy Crush game,  your dog or cat will sense this is a place they can relax. Before you know it, they will be exploring the room and maybe even greeting the doctor!
  • Allow your pet to approach the veterinary team at their own pace. The doctor will let you know if they need you to assist with the introductions.

What WE can do:

  • Carefully assess your pet’s level of fear, anxiety or stress.
  • Use lots of delectable treats.
  • Determine and use your pet’s preferred handling method and note it in medical record.
  • Allow time for our patient to relax and choose to greet us/allow treatment.
  • Use pheromones for calming.
  • Eliminate exposure to other patients in waiting area.
  • Cat-only exam rooms and treatment areas for our feline patients.
  • Use sedatives/pain management if needed to avoid further fear or anxiety.
  • Never force a procedure unless medically necessary.
  • Choose treatment options which allow the least pain and handling.  (Ask us about our needles!)
  • Plan for pre-visit anti-anxiety medications for future visits if needed.
  • Encourage “Happy Visits.”