Veterinarians want to help you and your pet, but death threats are bad for anyone's health.
Dealing with animals is the simple part; it's the clients who take out their worry and terror on myself and my coworkers that makes our job so difficult.
I've worked as a veterinarian for 18 years, and I hope you'll never need to bring your pet to see me. Because I work as an oncologist, all of my patients have cancer. It's a trying time for families, and it's often worse on them than it is for their pets. We're having unpleasant conversations about surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and palliative care with your dog, who has no idea he or she has cancer. Your cat has no idea we're talking about how much longer they have to live. Your guinea pig has no idea I'm suggesting they have their limb amputated (the guinea pig went on to live a full happy life with three legs).
I used to say that I chose veterinary medicine over human medicine because I enjoyed science but disliked dealing with people. What I had clearly overlooked was the fact that most veterinarians cannot avoid dealing with people. Sometimes I wonder how I ended up in oncology, where "talking to clients" is the majority of my job, when I consider disciplines like pathology, anaesthesia, and radiology, where "talking to clients" is unusual.
After I've euthanized their cat or counseled them on end-of-life care, clients frequently say, "I don't know how you do your job." Those aspects of my employment, to me, are about alleviating pain, advocating for animals, and assisting people. That's a fantastic achievement. Clients that take out their tension and terror on me and my coworkers are the most difficult to deal with. Despite recent media attention on the veterinary profession's high rates of mental illness and suicide, I often wonder if clients are aware.
Clients recently threatened colleagues at an emergency clinic with death when the staff refused to release a gravely injured animal. A client reportedly told a buddy that rather than paying for euthanasia, they would murder their dog with a sledgehammer.
We are aware of the situation. You're concerned about your pet's well-being. We're in the same boat. I arrived at 3.30 a.m. to assist an intern with a customer whose dog had cancer that had gone to its brain. When the dog had a seizure and died, I was accused of killing it. A client once yelled at me over issues his dog experienced as a result of an operation I had nothing to do with. Outside the door, my nurses were listening so they might interfere if they believed he was about to become aggressive. When we discuss the costs of veterinarian care, we've all heard that we're "just in it for the money."
We are aware of the situation. You're concerned about your pet's well-being. We're in the same boat. "Sometimes I wake up at 3 a.m. thinking about your dog," a vet friend of mine recently shared as a meme. There is no additional cost for this." For me, it's usually 4 a.m. We want to help your pet and you, but it can be challenging at times. Many veterinary clinics have a sign on their door or a message on their phones that says something like, "Please respect our personnel." Behaviour that is abusive will not be allowed." I'm curious if these indicators have any effect. You're probably not in the right frame of mind to take those messages seriously if you're outraged enough to make death threats.
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Despite the fact that we focus on the problematic clients, I am confident that the majority of them and their pets appreciate the care we provide. I recall a dog who spent a week in intensive care after receiving an unintentional chemotherapeutic overdose. I ran into his owner in a hair shop months later, and she thanked me again for taking care of her dog. She had already paid for my haircut when I went to pay for it. When I call to give my condolences, clients remark, Thank you so much for taking the time to call, and "Thank you for everything you did for us, when I wish I could have done more. Clients who send us images of their pets on travels so that we can view them in their natural habitat. After her dog died, a client gave me this cactus because she wanted me to have something permanent. Because his wife had recently died, and he discovered the gift she had forgotten to send me among her belongings, he located me in a different country, in a different job, years after I cared for his dog.
We will always do our best for your pet, and we understand that humans are people, but if you're a "difficult client," please know that we won't forget about you. We, too, are human beings.