After getting my cat Brandy safely to Japan, nothing made me more anxious than her first vet visit.
In Brandy’s nearly 14 years, she has seen a lot of vets across the United States for a variety of health issues. Some have been wonderful, like her last vet in Honolulu (shout out to King Street Pet Hospital!) and some have been, well … less than wonderful.
Brandy has always been a nervous cat. I tell visitors that if you want to have a successful encounter with her, skin intact and both eyeballs still in your skull, DO NOT under any circumstances touch her paws, touch her belly, or sneak up on her. She has her ways, and my husband and I love her for it.
Her ways, however, do not always make for pleasant vet visits. So you can imagine my nervousness about meeting a new vet, in a new country, who I may or may not be able to properly communicate her “ways” to.
But going to the vet in Japan is non-negotiable. While Brandy is a happy and healthy kitty, she is that way because of a variety of carefully regulated medications, and diligent monitoring of her health. After giving her a few weeks to get settled in Japan, I knew it was time to go to the vet.
I should note that we moved to Japan with two to three months worth of meds from her previous vet, a full printout of her medical file, and very specific recommendations from her Honolulu vet as to what levels need to be checked and what tests need to be run in the coming months.
So, how did I found this vet in Yokohama?
My Honolulu vet recommended him. Both vets share a Hawai’i-Yokohama exchange program, so my Honolulu vet has a working knowledge of my Yokohama vet’s practice. Plus, this vet and some of his staff speak English, which is HUGE. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried translating complex veterinary language into Japanese, but let me tell you, it ain’t easy.
On the day of our appointment, we packed Brandy, all her meds and supplements, a can of her food (to show her new vet what she eats), her vet records, and my husband and me into a cab, and headed to the Fujii Veterinary Medical Center.
I’m not going to lie — every scenario, good and bad, was running through my head as we navigated the winding Yokohama streets to Brandy’s new vet. But nothing could prepare me for what was waiting for us.
From the moment we entered the clinic, all was calm and inviting. The smiling woman behind the counter checked us in, handed us some paperwork, and asked us to take a seat in the spacious waiting area. I was struck by how clean yet cozy the whole place was. Dark wood, comfortable cushioned chairs, a little love seat you might find in your grandmother’s house, a rocking chair next to a water cooler — even a (non-functional) fireplace with a big stuffed dog!
This was like no vet’s office I’d ever been to. It even had a little “drinking station” where a neat stack of clean metal bowls sat, inviting pet parents to give their pets a bowl of filtered water while they waited. I felt taken care of; I felt like a guest. And judging by the people in the waiting area, the good vibes were not solely cosmetic.
The room was populated by about half a dozen pet parents cuddling with their dogs or cats, quietly talking to them, and generally looking quite happy — both the people and the pets. Every few minutes a tech would come out and greet the pet and the parent, then usher them into an exam room. The techs were warm and genuinely seemed to like the animals they met.
Finally it was our turn, and we followed a young vet tech into an exam room. He asked us some standard questions, speaking carefully in English, then asked me to take Brandy out of her carrier. She did NOT want to come out. I tried to stay calm for her, but I started to worry.
But then magic happened. The young vet tech just stroked Brandy and spoke to her in a low, soothing tone. No rush, no manhandling to check her vitals, just soft words and calming scratches. I watched my little kitty’s eyes goes from wide and frightened, to soft, and finally to slow, contented blinks. She put her head in his hands. I almost cried.
Then ever so slowly he checked her over, talking softly to her the whole time, and even kneeling down to whisper something right by her face. Before I knew it, the vet was with us and Brandy was relaxed and waiting.
Just like his tech, our vet, Dr. Fujii himself had a calming presence. He was efficient, sensitive, and straightforward. Brandy let his quick but gentle hands examine her without much protest. Though his English was somewhat broken, he took his time answering all of my questions thoroughly and patiently. Brandy lounged with “her” vet tech; they seemed to be best pals.
When it came time to take a blood sample, another tech came in with a blanket. Uh oh. I tried to explain that she hates having her legs touched, and that Feliway (as I’d seen advertised in the waiting area) has the opposite effect on her. Sensing my nerves, her vet tech smiled and asked me to stand where Brandy could keep her eyes on me. Then magic happened again.
Brandy’s tech held her close, wrapped her front half in the blanket, and while stroking her little paws and speaking soothingly to her in Japanese, the other tech took two blood samples from her hind leg. Brandy just smiled and blinked at me. Before I could comprehend what happened, the blood was drawn and whisked off to the on-site lab.
Brandy had no time to get impatient. They were fast and everyone was totally at ease. Again, I felt tears of relief welling up in my eyes.
When we put Brandy back in her carrier, her best friend-tech said goodbye to her, and complimented her beauty. I almost hugged him.
We received Brandy’s lab results in 20 minutes (!!!) and Dr. Fujii explained every line item to me. We then went through all of Brandy’s medications and he gave me refills on the ones that needed refilling, double-checking all the dosages as we went. He thanked us for coming, asked us to come back in a month, and we were done.
Never in my life have I had a vet visit that was so thoroughly positive. Now that I know that Brandy has an excellent vet, my life in Yokohama feels complete. A weight is lifted.
While I know my experience is specific to Japan, I hope that sharing this story brings some comfort to pet parents getting ready to make an overseas move. It’s hard to leave home, and a vet you trust, but excellent vets exist all over the world. With a little guidance, research, and forethought, finding a good vet is very possible.
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