Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

imageAs a veterinarian I have seen death aplenty. I have been responsible for the ending of thousands of little lives, inflicted the pain of loss on thousands of people in my own “professional” way, and experienced loss of my own – family, friends, pets, patients. There are times that I feel as though I specialize in death and dying.

This isn’t unusual for veterinarians, of course. Our dog and cat patients have short lives compared to ours. Many of my clients, like myself, feel empty without the love that a pet can provide and will have the opportunity to live with many animals over the course of a lifetime. They will also have the opportunity to say goodbye to those pets one by one, experiencing the pain of loss and the psychic and emotional toll that takes over and over again.

As their veterinarian I will hopefully ease some of their pain by providing a peaceful ending for their pet. This doesn’t, however, entirely negate the effect that each euthanasia has on the person performing the procedure. (See that? I can distance myself from the reality of death a bit by becoming clinical and calling it a “procedure”. But it’s still killing.) After every euthanasia I feel a little heavier, like I’ve got lead in my pockets. Over the years the amount of lead grows from ounces to pounds, and it really starts to weigh you down.

In addition to death, we get to deal with being business owners, human resource managers, therapists, mediators, negotiators, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, imperfect human beings existing on planet earth and interacting with all the other imperfect beings around us.

For some reason people in this country are becoming more and more edgy and intolerant of actual signs of humanity. Veterinarians (and human doctors) now simply can’t make mistakes. Most of us are intrinsically perfectionistic anyway (and self-critical) but we’re not perfect, and for me this sets up a big internal conflict. I have made mistakes, some serious and some minor, and each mistake I make adds to the lead in my pockets. The joyous dance of early practice inexorably becomes a funeral march.

Thankfully, I haven’t made a fatal mistake yet. My clients know about the mistakes that impacted their pets; I am very up front about things like that, and I tell my clients when I screw up. Lately, though, I’ve considered rethinking this.

The down side to telling clients about minor screw-ups has suddenly grown, with the advent of Yelp and cyber-bullying hate sites directed at veterinarians. When one mistake, something as small as trimming a dog’s toenails too short, can result in a complaint to the veterinary board, vile postings to your clinic Facebook page, calls to burn down your hospital, and picketing on the street, I really have to think twice before admitting to any imperfections. And the supply of lead in my pockets grows and I battle with the moral issues this raises.

As a veterinarian, doing the moral thing can get you killed. Dr Shirley Koshi, a veterinarian in New York city, was presented with an abandoned cat. The people who brought him in had found him living in a city park and had tried supplying him with food, but he wasn’t doing well. Dr Koshi treated him at her own expense (because that’s what vets often do with the abused innocents that grab at their hearts), got him well, and adopted him.

A couple of months later a woman of dubious mental health claimed that this cat belonged to her, because she “owned” a “colony” of cats in a public park in the city, and this cat was one of them. What followed was an all-out hate-a-thon, as the woman demanded the cat back to release into the park again and Dr Koshi declined to subject him to a short life of starvation and cold. After enduring months of abuse and bullying online and in person, picketing in front of her clinic, the consequent loss of most of her clientele, and looming bankruptcy, Dr Koshi committed suicide. All because she took a stand and wanted to give a poor little cat a better life. I read about her, and the lead accumulates.

Last week we lost Dr Sophia Yin. I don’t know how it’s possible to be so affected by the death of someone I’ve never met. Maybe it’s just that the lead is becoming really heavy, and I’m feeling the little additions. Maybe it’s just that she seemed so… normal. So just like all of us who put on our brave faces and every day go once more unto the breach. I have no idea what was going on in her personal life, what the factors were that went into this decision. But I can start to understand, late in my career as I am, how very tired one can get from all the weight in one’s pockets.

Every month there is another veterinarian who can’t take the pressures of personal and professional life and decides to end it all. Veterinarians lead all professions now in rates of suicide. Sadness.

I don’t know what we can do about this as a community. Maybe just reach out a little, check on each other, make a phone call, pay attention, listen. Behave more like a family. Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Doing the right thing is easy when it doesn’t cost us anything, and benefits we can gain from the suffering of others is tainted, so go out and support your colleagues who are being bullied online, and do it publicly, especially if they are your “competitors”. Become vets united in adversity.

If you are reading this and are not a vet, consider reaching out to your own veterinarian. Just say thanks, if you mean it. Or tell him how much your dog loves him (or his treats). Or bring her cookies just because. Lead is a soft metal and easily scraped away by kindness. You have no idea how a little thing like this can remove some of the weight your vet is carrying around.

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121 thoughts on “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

    • And I value my technicians more than I can say when it’s time for euthanasia. They do such a great job of reassuring the pet owner and comforting the animal while I do what I must with a steady hand.

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    • Retired VT here, and, yes, the memories/lead can and does get very weighty sometimes. Just a kind word, hug or look in an eye from a patient or owner can erase that day’s pain away. Plz let your vet and workers know how much you care and appreciate them. If there is an issue, hopefully, all concerned will continue to be totally open and honest on all levels. Never give up! We do this for the animals! ❤

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  1. there was this day when around midnight my sweet little “zaba” pompek female doggy cried so laud and watched me straight in my eyes yes i feel it now is the time to call the little vet hospital on the small island we living. it was so sad but from now one she will be with out pain and every day her memory make us so happy….
    there we went for 15 years to have her checked and keep her healthy and strong. many time in an emergency case all the vets and helpers where so wonderful. they made the people feel that each dog is so much loved as would be there dog.
    we made her a little grave and planted a moringa tree wrapped her in a piece oft cloth that i hand-painted, gave her all the tools and her covered her with flower leaves. slowly the day started and the sun kiss the hills when we filled up the soil of our little piece of land inb to the petite grave, to let her sleep without pain in peace.
    thank you dear veterinary doc to be with us that night. thank you the sgu vet hospital in grenada for all the help and love they give us to have this sweet doggy for such a long time.

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  2. I’m not sure there is a solution, other than providing you as professionals a way to take that lead out of your pockets and still be a caring individual. Veterinarians certainly do have a high rate of suicide; nurses are at risk for being alcoholics and drug addicts; medical doctors with their own practices are moving to larger practices, government clinics (VA Hospitals) and conglomerate chains with a bottom line. This is an angry old world right now, but……things can get better. One can go through the Starbucks line and pay for the person behind one as well as yourself; one can reach to the top shelf in a grocery store for that little old lady; one can tell a short joke to the grumpy cashier at the grocery store…..there are so many options! Because one person rarely changes the entire world; just the world around them. If each of did this every day, our worlds may start to overlap. Strive for excellence and never give up!

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  3. I have seen the burden first hand as an LVT. Death is literally an every day occurrence that we have to process, whether we have a hand in the death or are trying to save an animal. The deaths weigh heavy, but the joys are precious. It’s what has kept me in the field. Thank you for your words. The more awareness, the better off the profession will be.

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  4. Very moving. I am not a veterinarian, but a long-time pet owner, mostly horses and cats. I have appreciated every time the equine vet came to the barn because my horse was starting to colic – late nite, midnight, you name it. I have been taking my cats to the same veterinarian for over 20 years (8 different cats over the years) and I appreciate everything she does. And I make sure she knows it. I know of no other profession that gets asked to perform service on a no-fee or reduced-fee basis as often as veterinarians. I have visited a nearby emergency veterinary hospital on more than one occasion and the treatment has been excellent. I hear friends complain about the bill and I have to remind them these are highly trained medical professionals. Reading this article made me sad; my niece wants to be a veterinarian. It’s a noble profession.

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    • Lori, as I need some uplifting in my life right now, I realize you do also. You always treated Digger and Tia with tender loving care and during the process of putting them to sleep–never realizing how it affected you. Also the care for Jaci, Winston, & Bella. Love, Mom

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      • Donna…I would so like to send a message to this vet…you seem to know who they are, but I guess they are anonymous to others…?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you…I’ve been noticing that humanity seems to be going downhill at the speed of light; instead of remembering the person on the other end of our computer is a human, people think they have no feelings for some reason.

    I think you hit the nail on the head…but I wish I knew a way to fix it other than telling people to think first before speaking and consider all the possibilities in their head before they say something that will wound or kill.

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    • I agree with you. It’s very depressing. We are loosing our humanity, our concern for right and wrong. It’s all a “what’s in it for me” attitude. Very sad and scary.

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  6. Pingback: VMDiva | Another Veterinary Suicide Shines Light Into Dark Corner

  7. Hi Caroline. You have put down two of my dogs and I can’t thank you enough for your kindness through this very tough time. I don’t know how my husband and I could have done this without you. We appreciate you so much. DiElla.

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  8. Every day you make the best, most humane decisions you can, with the information you are have.

    It may be that our social circles have become too wide. Years ago a veterinarian was known to his or her immediate community. They helped calves into the world, stitched up dogs, gelded horses and gave animals the gift of a painless end of life. If a stranger had dared to come into community and defame the local vet that person would be shown the town line, and none too gently.

    Perhaps some times it is necessary to look to your emotional community, your friends, your family, your neighbors. Ignore the snarls and barks of the reactive, the emotionally unstable, and those possessing poor impulse control. After all, is that not what we ask our dogs to do when they meet poorly regulated fellow canines? Focus on the ones you love, and keep on walking.

    Be brave, you are appreciated.

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  9. Yes, those lead filled pockets are full, and heavy and I just don’t know if I can do it anymore. But if I walk away from this profession I will feel extreme guilt (for leaving my colleagues with more of the burden), and complete failure (for tossing away the dream profession I thought I wanted since I was 4yrs old). It is a hard job. It is not kissing puppies and playing with kittens all day, I didn’t think it would be, but I didn’t think I’d feel like this. Completely drained. My compassion reserves are trying to replenish but they just can’t keep up. The begging for free service / discounts is like fraying of a cord. I am afraid to keep working as a clinical veterinarian but I’m afraid to walk away as well.

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    • Do not be afraid to seek help. Do not be afraid to walk away if you must. I left clinical practice 10 years ago when the lead just became too heavy. I had two young children and feared the toll my potential suicide would take on them. Life hasn’t been perfect in the years since, but I no longer feel the burdens that I carried for so long with the practice. Just not having to perform euthanasia anymore has been a huge weight lifted.

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    • Anonymous Vet: I’m sending you love and light to replenish yourself…you give and give
      And give and must take the time and space to replenish yourself! One day at a a time…don’t be ashamed to seek help…even just an ear to bend. Hugs!

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  10. I too never met Sophia but feel touched and impacted by her loss…but as some have said, the best tribute she could be shown is to carry on and treat others as she would have. I am in the social work field, and also feeling the limits of compassion. Yet there are far more good people we can make a difference for, than not. I have been verbally abused, with little support from higher ups (more concern for the person who abused)…and still we go on for low wages.
    Maybe you can help other vets by creating a monthly (at least) support group. The vets like yourself, those who are compassionate and genuinely care and do their best for their patients…are likely to feel pain and fatigue more than those who don’t. We can’t become those who don’t care, and in fact it is probably contrary to our nature.
    I was shown great compassion when I had two dogs with serious health issues. The love and care will be with me forever, as will the respect for the vet who was involved (she stopped practicing when she had a baby). There are ways to accommodate those in need: find out what financial resources are out there, get a list together of non-profit groups or others who might help, or here in the states, there are companies that provide credit strictly for medical/dental/vet bills. Maybe providing care at cost + ten percent or whatever you feel will work.
    Sometimes, easier said than done, but being honest: that in order to survive and maintain a practice with overhead you can only do so much. It is heartbreaking…but please don’t give up, and please take care of yourself…you are the kind of person the world needs more of.

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  11. This is a truly powerful article. Being so caught up in the health and care of my own animals, I hadn’t thought to look at things from a vet’s point of view, despite being dependent on them through the decades. Thank you for opening my eyes. Know that your work is worthy.

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  12. Powerful message. The veterinary profession does need to unite. I left my recent job because the practice owner (among many other things) allowed hateful and threats of bodily harm toward the doctors be casual conversation among the staff. I’ve work at veterinary clinics since I was 16. I still feel it is a privilege to end a pet’s life humanely when the time is right. I will not euthanize healthy pets nor for human convenience. I do my best to not to make clients burdens and staff burdens my burdens. Life is too precious and too short to sweat the stupidity and ignorance of some people. I know who I am and hold my integrity my morals and my ethics no matter what others say or do. “To thine own self be true”. I try to surround myself with people in my profession and not in my profession with people who lift me up. Left to my own resources I will get swallowed up in the bad stuff of the veterinary profession and life. If you are hurting or know someone who is I encourage you to reach down into your iinner most self and find perhaps that last bit of strength to ask for help. Asking for help is not weakness it is just showing the world that you too are a human being. “Compassion fatigue” is real but so is recovery and rejuvenation for life and the greatest career in the world. -The best doctor in the world is the veterinarian. His patients can’t tell him what’s wrong. He just has to know.- Will Rogers

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  13. I love my dogs dearly, for me they are like children. Ones that never grow up and will always need me to care for them and do for them the things they can’t do for themselves. I have always had dogs, two at a time, mostly rescue dogs of uncertain lineage. I have been very fortunate with the care given by my vet and his partners over the years. The care and advice has always been good, but their humanity and compassion, both for the animal and the owner when it is time to say goodbye has really touched me. I think it is a very difficult calling. Owners often disregard advice given, when things do not go right, and a treatment is not sucessful, human nature often causes owner to lash out at the Vet. So from me, a long time dog owner, a big thank you to the Vets and their assistants and staff.

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  14. My vet is my friend as well. To help her, I pay my bill in full as soon as services are completed. I am courteous to her and her staff and if I have questions I pose them carefully and respectfully.

    We do things away from the clinic as friends as well, just last night I called her on my way home from work to talk to her about some of my work related issues for her POV (we do not work in the same field). This weekend we are taking a long weekend to go do some mini vacation things together.

    I think social media plays a HUGE role in the trouble that Veterinarians are experiencing. Because I work in a field where our motives and our actions are often in question, and because I see how the media and social media misconstrue things, I cannot help but see how it would impact Veterinarians who have clients that jump to conclusions and think they know more than they do. Some days, I cannot imagine why anyone would choose the field I work in or medicine of any sort.

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    • I can sure understand what you’re saying. The point is for all of us to treat others as we would want to be treated. However, we can’t look at this through rose-colored glasses and be ignorant of the reality: Like in any profession, there really are bad people. They were most likely bad people first, and their professional selves second…but I have seen my share of vets who leave everything to be desired. Some of them should be dealt with, though not harassed, but through the systems we have in place. Allowing bad vets to continue to practice to protect the field as a whole is not an answer. Also, I have found most vets expect payment at the time services are rendered. Some of us are struggling to make ends meet. Some would say if we cannot afford care for our pets we should not have them. I bristle at that as so many additional would be homeless, and so many lives would be so much less. Maybe those vets who are able to, when approached for discounts, should demand that proof of income be provided as we do for some social service programs…i.e. bring in paystubs and utility bills, or a recent tax form. If that is a policy applied consistently, it is fair. Intrusive? Yes, but so is expecting someone to cut you a break.

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      • Did you know that it is not uncommon for a newly graduated veterinarian to have $250,000 or more in student debt? Compare that to a average starting salary of about $60,000. Please don’t ask your vet for a discount! Most vets who work for a clinic don’t have the ability to offer a discount. Government agencies can provide services to low income individuals because they are supported by taxpayer funds. Vets are just regular people trying to pay their bills and support their families.

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      • First of all, I have not EVER asked a vet for a discount, but by the same token they should not make assumptions about the financial or life status of their clients. Any one going to college, regardless of the degree knows exactly what kind of debt lies on the other side of it. Don’t foist your issues onto clients, because without clients, you would have no need to get a degree or go into business in the first place. The whole issue is mostly about kindness and compassion…yes, for sure, a lot of ignorant people who don’t understand what the vet is up against…but don’t charge me double for a med I can get through another provider and expect me to accept that when I am trying to make ends meet as well. And don’t have your staff troll files for who is past due for vax or encourage stool exams in the name of doing good when you want to create more income. Especially when the client has opted to do titer testing and minimal vaccines. If vets want respect and understanding, it has to be shown…it is a two-way street.

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      • Robin, I think the best way to change those veterinarians who practice bad or poor medicine is to not patronize them. We have one in our town, and I have no idea how he stays in business.

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      • agreed…but sometimes they engage our trust and faith and do damage before we have a chance to realize and leave.

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      • Robin wrote: but don’t charge me double for a med I can get through another provider and expect me to accept that when I am trying to make ends meet as well. And don’t have your staff troll files for who is past due for vax or encourage stool exams in the name of doing good when you want to create more income
        **************************************************************
        you are always able to say no thank you to procedures you don’t wish to pay for. I am grateful when my vet sends me a postcard with due dates on them. Why would you assume that the staff trolls files to create more income? I think it’s probably more of a courtesy than income producer.

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      • You make a good point; sometimes innocent and conscientious and caring acts can be misinterpreted…So I will consider giving them the benefit of the doubt…however I am regularly patronizing the practice every 6-8 weeks for a nail trim, and the staff has the record and has the opportunity to mention such things…perhaps they have observed that I am doing titer testing even if not fully endorsed by the associations. The dates given/due are also listed on the invoices handed out with each transaction.

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      • Robin,
        It would be malpractice NOT to offer standard of care. It is up to the client to decide what they do or do not want done medically for their pet.
        Prevention saves lives and/ or prevents other health problems for pets and humans. For example, some pet parasites, such as ticks and GI parasites, can cause serious illness and permanent disability in people. And yes, vets have to make money in order to continue offering services. overhead, including costs of education need to be factored in.
        If you believe your family vet is only after money and has no concern for your pet and family health, don’t patronize her/him.

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      • I don’t disagree with anything you have said. I have had to change vets through the years so have become not only a well-informed dogmom, but somewhat knowledgeable about many vet issues, especially being friends with two that were mine and took off in different directions (one to be a mom, another to put her merge with her other expertise in social work). I do not believe our current vet, who a drive a great distance to visit, has only money at heart, and I am sensitive to the issues involved in a vet practice and overhead…I get it, I pay the fees. But in my business I have no control over my income. I can’t pass on my increased expenses and make ends meet. I am an apparent exception by vet standards in that I am keenly aware of my pet’s health and well-being, attentive, devoted. With each invoice at each visit no matter how routine (including $20+ nail trims) the dates of vaccines are listed, and so I am aware. Overcharging for meds, I feel, undermines a good relationship. I also feel guilty asking for a script and getting it filled elsewhere, I don’t like to feel guilty. I would gladly purchase from the vet if it was a reasonable cost. But I also believe at heart these are decent people, and the techs and receptionists are outstanding. In fact, they understand the circumstances.

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  15. This is beautifully stated. All of the above contributed significantly to my decision to change directions and get out of private practice several years ago. It’s not just us as veterinarians who carry this weight, the entire animal health care team feels it. Thanks for putting this out there!

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  16. Respect. Everyone deserves it, not many get it anymore. People are rude and hateful, in person and on social media. Until they are being attacked, it is fine to do it to others. I love my vet. I have been through the difficult decision to “put my best friend down”, and I could not have asked for a better doctor and staff. Without you, our pets would suffer much more than they need to. Without your compassion, we would never make it through these terrible realities. Thank you for carrying the lead – I hope this helps to lighten your load a bit.

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  17. From a vet in NY, much love to you. Maybe sending a letter like this to your entire clientele explaining what is happening in our profession would go a short way to helping to change this. As a vet in rescue/sheltering, I see now why vets don’t want to help rescuers. I completely understand it now. Hold your head high and try to celebrate your victories. XOXO

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  18. As a long time cat owner, I have always felt that Euthanasia is a gift I can give my cats, that I can’t give my human friends and family. We usually come to the veterinary when we are concerned about our animals, thus we are stressed and frantic, even a bit crazy. I will remember this the next time I go to the vet and be extra kind to him and his staff. Take heart.

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  19. I am a registered nurse. I have worked across the spectrum of services, venues and with all the ages across the life span. I have held a 4 month old while she began to stroke after myeloablative chemotherapy and subsequent administration of Cellcept. I have sat with family while their children, and parent pass from their love. I know this slow PTSD well and I understand the strategies of distance and coping. I would like to say that I can imagine Dr Lori Hunt’s internalized conflict, but the truth is I know this demon of the human condition well.

    I know it by the loss of pets who were apart of my family, perhaps more so, even by the loss of my better half’s dog, a precious English Cocker a few years, after losing him. Lori you are so right about the short lives compared to our own, but I know that each new dog that has chosen me after a loss of the first has been the link to all previous, like a canine reincarnation. My vets, and in my long life there have been many, are purveyors of hope, even when all hope has past. They alone have paid witness to my expressions of extraordinary grief when present or even when assisting with the passing of a beloved pet. I have never gotten oven the loss of a single dog; moreover, I have only learned that that loving comfort and compassionate care is my eternal debt for the non-judgmental and unqualified love all my dogs have show me.

    Thousands of generations have past, from the fires of the cave to the warmth of our contemporary hearths, with the partnership of our canine companions. We share a genetic memory unified across tens of thousands of years. There is a kindred spirit in this relationship and surely as humanity exists, there are few more committed relationships, even among our own species. I have said before, and will reiterate, if there are angels on earth, our dogs are those guardians! Thank you Lori for sharing such a meaningful witness to your noble profession.

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    • Michael, thank you so much for your lovely comment. Your thoughts concerning the links between the dogs we have lost with those we have now are especially meaningful and comforting to me. I’m saving this post for a time I might need to read it again.

      I’ve had many wonderful rescue dogs over the years, and they came to me in varying states of health and conditions. I found the great love of my life staggering alongside a desert road when she was still a puppy. She was very nearly dead of dehydration, starvation, and exposure, and I’m still amazed that the coyotes didn’t find her before I did. Lucy wouldn’t have lived another seventeen years if not for a number of caring, experienced, and student loan-strapped veterinarians and their assistants. I am so grateful for all of them!

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  20. Reblogged this on Being a Vet and commented:
    Well said… I have nothing more to add except that Dr. Yin’s suicide affected me as well for the same reason. She seemed to have it all together, and clearly, none of us are safe from reaching that point.

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  21. I have had the great good fortune to have vets whom I also came to consider friends of a sort. Not necessarily the kind you go to dinner with, but the kind with whom you share respect, laugh, cry, trust. I can never say thank you enough to those who have cared for my pets, answered my phone calls, humored my questions. And especially for clearing the anal glands, a truly thankless job.

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  22. Reading this post, and the thoughtful comments that followed, in turn broke my heart and then gave me hope. Hope that the conversations that are beginning and the light that is being shined on the plight of veterinarians and veterinary staff will start a healing process in those who are struggling. It will be a long process, but a crucial one.

    As a retired RVT, I also know firsthand what you are experiencing. After years in small animal practice, I too felt the gradual weight that settled into my chest – a weight that would no longer allow me to fully feel the depth of compassion, satisfaction, pride, and elation that came from the incredible opportunity to work with the creatures I loved (both animal and human) every day. I ended up leaving the profession for another reason, but if I had to go back in time, I wish I had been aware of this slow and insidious process so that I could have prepared for it and reacted differently. I would have had a better understanding of what was happening, and awareness is power. And these conversations are powerful.

    You save lives, both animal and human (even when you’re not aware of it). There are precious few who can do what you do. As a pet parent and former veterinary professional, THANK YOU from the depth of my soul – for everything you are and for all that you do, every day.

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  23. We have had the best of vets. One cried to her vet tech when she had to tell us we were going to lose a second dog to cancer in the space of a year. And the vet who put down our second dog was the one who had cared for him as a puppy. She apologized to him for the difficulty she was having finding a vein since his had collapsed from the fast moving cancer. Our vets never complained about sitting down on the floor to examine an animal and I even saw one perform an exam on the grass outside because that’s where the dog was comfortable.

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  24. Hopefully we all are just trying to do the best that we can! Vets are “just” people, and make mistakes like every person does…Having a Vet who shows/has such great empathy towards the animals and their owners/caretakers, etc., like you SAMMIE, makes it that much easier for those of us who have dealt, or are dealing, with the only negative aspect of involvement with all the beautiful creatures. THANK YOU!

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  25. I would just like to concur with many others here…you have put into words my exact emotions of how it has felt to learn of Dr. Yin’s death–this person I did not know…but yet DID know what a great person she was by the work that she did. And how it feels to daily wonder why this job is so stressful, even though it is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and all I can imagine doing. Thank you for sharing.

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  26. Pingback: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. | alittlepieceofmysoul

    • I read about nurses at Cleveland Clinic having a code Lavender…if a nurse is having a rough day, lost a patient etc, one call from someone is all it takes for several others to show up with healthy snacks, as well as a lavender bracelet so that others can know it has been a rough day…be nice etc.

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  27. The lead in my pockets after eighteen years of being a technician is also very heavy. I left the fields eight years ago after a mental breakdown from taking on so much of the burden. I was not asked to take on this burden but it is how I reacted to working in an emergency hospital with a low client compliance and high euthanasia rate. I came back to the field and worked at a cat hospital with mostly great clients and a high compliance to care rate. I did much better but after five years I had to leave again. I am trying with all my might to gather the strength to get back to my profession. My lead has manifested in a major contempt and judgement upon pet owners because of the amount of callousness I have seen in their care of their pets. I’m broken and too many other great technician go down this path. Call it burn out, call it compassion fatigue, whatever it is is damaging and I haven’t found a solution to it yet. Thank you for your bravery in shedding light on a difficult subject.

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  28. You said “I have been responsible for the ending of thousands of little lives, inflicted the pain of loss on thousands of people in my own “professional” way” I hope you relieve yourself of this sense of burden. The pain of loss is not yours to inflict. The pain is the by-product of an act of compassion, but is not caused by that act. It is caused because each of us who have lost a pet or a family member have connected intimately with another being. Death is not a failure but a part of life. I suspect that you have made death more bearable and less painful both to the animal and its loved ones.

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  30. Dr. Yin’s death really upset me even though again, I didn’t know her, but knew her work. We have to make self care an ethical obligation in this profession. If we can’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of our patients. My spouse often thinks I’m selfish because of the time I spend away at exercise classes or religious services, but I NEED these things to keep myself from that downward spiral. I’ve also been able to accept that death is part of medicine. I can’t save them all and neither can anyone else. When my patients can’t stay with us anymore, I CAN give them a peaceful, pain-free passage. I think I’m one of the lucky ones in that I’ve understood for quite some time what it takes to keep going in this profession.

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  31. I grew up in an animal hospital in NE Pennsylvania, where my father was the only small animal veterinarian in a 15 mile radius, so I understand the issues. I just want you to know you are not alone. Living in Colorado now, we refer to veterinary appointments as “visits to the fan club” as all of the staff love our critters and vice versa.

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  32. I simply love and appreciate every single vet I have every worked with. After being a technician for over two years I see how the really doctors feel. We have a doctor who is very straight-forward and always seems grouchy, but as soon as she sets up for a euthanasia you can see tears building up in her eyes. Even though I no longer aspire to be a vet, reading these articles and the work experience I’ve gained has given me the utmost respect for all veterinarians.

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  33. Choose to drop every one of those lead weights. You and you alone are choosing to carry them. If you have never harmed a creature in anger or spite, you have done nothing but love. All things die. Any euthanasia you have ever performed has eased suffering on some level. Drop them now, the weights, for they are not yours to keep.

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  34. A very thoughtful and insightful post. As a pet owner, I hope to find a vet who cares as much as you obviously do (though I hope not to need a vet’s services any time soon!) As a human being, I find it shocking and appalling that people would run hate campaigns against anyone.

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  35. Thank you for this post, it made me stop and think. I was all wrapped up in my own grief over my dear rotties passing I didn’t stop to think how the vet must feel. Then to understand how many times vets have to do the procedure, it must be overwhelming. Thank you for your service – hugs to you and all the veterinarians out there. You all do GOOD work and we appreciate you.

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  36. I am so sorry to hear that you feel so heavy after all you have done for the families and the animals they loved. As a lifelong vet, I am certain you have saved any number of animals from car accidents, household accidents, treated innumerable diseases and lengthened the lives of more furry beloveds that one could shake a stick at. Of course, the ones you cannot save will haunt you, it is the nature of normal humans to want to relieve suffering when they see it. Vets are so far above normal that I cannot even span the distance with my mind. People willing to study for years to tend the animals of our world even knowing you cannot save them all. Knowing that they patients cannot tell them where it hurts, yet the vet does their best regardless.

    I wanted to be a vet when I was young. I even joined FFA to learn more about animals, secure in the knowledge that my love for an affinity toward them would make me an excellent vet. I interned for a single week with a vet in high school and discovered that I did not have the mental and emotional stamina the job required. I crapped out and left the job to others. Other who loved tying to help, more than they hated crying over the ones they could not save. I can understand the pain you feel and in your honor, I will take another batch of homemade ice cream to the loving vet who tends our animals. Dr. Absher is everything a vet should be and it breaks my heart to think that he, or any vet, suffers in the way you have, so eloquently described. Please know that you all DO make a difference and that we who have held our furry beloveds as they were euthanized at the end of very long lives, when sickness had overtaken them appreciate you more than you can possibly know. It is not death you sent the beloveds to, but a new joining with other they love who have already crossed the veil. I have no doubts whatsoever, that my late hubby and our late Sinatra (Sinat-Kitty) are sitting up there together and laughing over the antics of the three cats and two dogs in our home that my teens and I have rescued in the 16 years since they had to leave us. Heck sometimes I can even hear their laughter!

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  37. We have had five dogs and a cat, all cared for by the same veterinary practice, a group that often adds new members but they all share a quiet demeanor and a way of speaking more to animals than to people. I appreciate that, the vets who get on the floor with my frightened dogs and create a bond with them that amazes. Sometimes I feel that in just a few minutes the vet, even a new one, knows my dog better than me. I never thought about lead in his/her pockets but now I will. Thanks for this fine essay.

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  38. Such a fantastic read.
    I couldn’t have any more respect for veterinarians than I already do. My dog at the moment is in remission for T – stem lymphoma and without he’s amazing vet I don’t think he’d be feeling as good as he does. He’s been in remission for a few months now! He takes chemo tablets but stopped chemo treatment 🙂
    Thank you for helping the animals 🙂

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  39. The whole thing is heart-breaking. Our vet’s office kind of told me a high amount for our Ms. Angelina’s euthanasia, but Dr. Rowe told them to let it go. She was 24. We hadn’t brought her to the vet for a few years because she was so old, nothing was really wrong with her that caused her pain, and the car ride might have killed her with a heart attack. I love my vet clinic. they rock.

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  40. Until the death of Dr. Yin, I had no idea how badly some Veterinarians have been treated. I find it hard to believe that some people can be so vile and hateful. I so appreciate the Vet Clinic where we take our pets – no, they’re not perfect, and I don’t expect them to be. I’m not perfect either; I make mistakes. I will make it a point to express my appreciation more often. So thank you for all you do and for bringing this out in the open.

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  41. Thank you for expressing what I often feel as well. The only difference is that I have always thought of each euthanasia as another link in my Jacob Marley chains. Like those of the character in “A Christmas Carol” I have forged the chains I carry by my actions. Even though I know they are justified and serve to relieve the patient’s pain, each and every euthanasia adds to the length and weight of the chain. By concentrating upon the privilege I have always felt upon being admitted to this profession, I am able to carry on. There is no escaping the burden of this part of the oath we have taken. Bearing that burden is the price we pay for getting to do what many wish they could. We are able to work among the creatures we love each day and that alone is special. Some days we are responsible for saving an animal with our skills and efforts. Truly one of the great joys of life. Each must decide what burden they can bear when we are overtaken by the sadness of the loss of a patient but if we remember to cling to the knowledge that we are needed and we are appreciated, not by all, but by some, then that should be enough.

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