I was debating going to SXSW this week, but as it didn’t come to fruition I needed to rely on my husband’s reporting back to let me know all the stuff going on and if it was really worth the four figure ticket price.
“They have animal stuff here,” he said. “You can get your picture taken with Grumpy Cat.”
Really? I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. “There were lines out the door last year. She’s here again.”
“The cat is at a tech conference?” I asked again, trying to get my brain around it.
“Yep,” he said. “They swear she is fine with it, though.” Oh, OK then. Have you ever been to a show like this? I’m a primate and I barely escape without an anxiety attack.
Now look, I try to remind myself not to be the hand wavy finger shaking vet, and those of you who know me, know I tend to give a lot of passes to people when it comes to doing things with your pets. Dress up your dog here and there, OK. Have a pet who likes to show off and skateboard or whatnot and clearly enjoys the bonding time? Go for it. And I would even try, within reason, to understand an occasional appearance here and there for a specific purpose. Within reason.
She’s Fine With It
At what point does ‘occasional’ become too much? I guess it’s an individual thing. My definition of within reason is different than other people’s, sure, but I suppose that is why the internet is such an interesting place to hold discourse. I’ve found a line I would not cross.
Let’s take a look at Grumpy Cat’s Wikipedia, “According to the Bundesens, Tardar Sauce is a normal cat “99% of the time”. Photo sessions are only once a week, and handling by strangers is limited. At SXSW (2013) Tardar Sauce made limited two-hour appearances each day as Grumpy Cat.“
Aaaaand she’s back again.
People tell me all the time their pet is happy when their ears are plastered against their head and they are 2 seconds from snapping. Just because you say it, just because you believe it, doesn’t make it so. The absence of actively trying to escape doesn’t mean you’re fine with it; I once saw a rabbit sitting on a red carpet surrounded by cameras and dogs sitting stock still while it waited to get eaten. I wasn’t thrilled that time, either.
If you’re going to exploit your cat’s genetic defect for millions of dollars, I’m not going to stop you, but at least be honest enough to say yes, this is what I’m doing. Because you can swear this is to the cat’s benefit all you want, but truth of the matter is I can’t think of a single feline I’ve met in my lifetime who would enjoy getting passed around to strangers while on a boat ride. Come on. This does not require an advanced degree to know. It simply involves having met any cat.
I know I’m not the only one who is a little skeeved out by this, and it’s not just people in the animal profession going “ummm…”. It’s too bad that every time someone tries to say, “Hey, you know…?” they’ll get drowned out by people calling them crazy animal activists or whatever similar marginalizing thing they can come up with, but I’m OK with that. When tech guys are telling PETA, hey, I think you got this one wrong, you know something very Carroll-esque is going on. We’re all mad here.
Not Neglect, But Not Exactly Altruistic Either
Let me be clear: I do not think the owners are abusive, or neglectful, or horrible people. I do not think the cat is being pushed to death’s door and needs to be removed by animal control. Compared to all the real and horrible animal abuse going on out there, this cat has it made. But let’s not kid ourselves and say this is the life she would have chosen or even that this is not stressing her out.
Thanks to reddit, we’ve seen all sorts of strange-looking animals launched into internet stardom, from shepherds with 2 noses to cats with no faces. Strange sells. Sure, altruism abounds and people’s hearts are in the right places generally speaking, but let’s not pretend this is anything other than what it really is:
Our generation’s circus sideshow.
So go enjoy the show, I told my husband, but I don’t need a picture of you with Tardar Sauce. One less person she has to ‘meet’.
On March first, I hit ‘send’ and the first draft of my manuscript went flying through the ether to New York to land in the capable hands of my editor. It was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. If any of you watched the Oscars and heard De Niro deliver this little nugget:
The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.
That pretty much sums up my experience of churning out a manuscript. It lifted my spirits to know I was in such good company in my certainty of inadequacy. I’m still not sure of the publication date yet; it depends on a lot of things, such as Grand Central’s current catalogue and how many rounds of editing the book has to go through before it’s whipped into shape like a perfect meringue. I’ll be sure to keep you posted because I did guarantee AT LEAST 25 copies sold and my mom can’t buy them all.
In the meantime, I set myself to a side task which turned out to be rather entertaining. As part of my contract I get to submit about 15 black and white photos for the book, covering my life with Taffy, Emmett, and Kekoa. The latter two I’m set on, but finding old pictures from my childhood was a bit more of a challenge.
My father, like my husband now, was an early adopter of new photo technology. This is all fine and good if the technology sticks, but of course as we’ve found it usually doesn’t. This resulted in two major problems:
1. 1975-1983 exists solely on old slides.
2. 1997-2002, the early digital age which also coincided with vet school, ended up on an old-school iOmega zip disk. The whereabouts of said discs are unknown. They may be floating in a box that’s been packed since the day I left vet school, or in a Goodwill store somewhere, or maybe Brian put them on an old PC that is also dead and gone, who knows. It is possible the pictures could be recovered if I actually HAD them, but at this point I would need a genie and a committed tech nerd.
Fortunately for me, my father kept his slides miraculously intact, and spent the last year faithfully transferring them into a digital format. It was crazy to see what he delivered, keeping in mind the last time my father actually set up the projector in the house was 1983. I hadn’t seen any of those pictures since then, kindergarten, first communion, all those moments from decades ago. Taffy as a puppy.
I chose one or two of Taffy looking cute then a few more of me looking as dorky as possible, which meant pretty much all of them (I had a very extended awkward phase.) So because I love you all and I thought it was funny, I wanted to share one of the pics I didn’t end up using but is very illustrative of my formative years:
I’ll need my sister (the elegant brunette in the back) to chime in on the age of this one. Mid 80s for sure. And there’s me, the love child of Sandy Squirrel and Benny Hill:
It was a bad time for fashion in general.
And of course Taffy, who was as always plotting her escape. Or perhaps planning where in the house she wanted to pee next. I owe my dedication to the newest odor removing technology to years of following her around with an ineffectual roll of paper towels and whatever carpet cleaner they had in the 80s.
Your turn- who was your first pet? What is your most clear memory of them?
Veterinary medicine, the happiest field on earth, land of puppy butts and kitty snuggles and Pet Doctor Barbies in hotpants, or so they told me when I was 10.
Or perhaps it is the land of crushing student debt, clients frustrated that they are priced out of affordable care, and the unending mental strain of not being able to make every client happy and whole at the price they want you to provide it for.
Maybe it’s somewhere in between, but to be honest it seems to me like it’s leaning a little more towards the latter than the former. It wasn’t always this way, and yes, there are plenty of vets who still tell you they couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but for many, they can. And do. I was shocked to see how many of my colleagues- good, smart, compassionate veterinarians- have left the field. It happens a LOT.
Kitty snuggles may not solve all the world’s ills, but it does help a whole lot.
Burnout rates are high, depression is rampant, and though the world was shocked to learn veterinarians have the highest suicide rates of medical professionals, no actual vets seemed too shocked by the news. The truth is, this is a tough, tough field, and the toll it takes is financial, physical, and mental, each and every day. We are expected by society and each other to buck up and put your own needs on the backburner, day after day after day, and it. wears. you. down.Justine Lee has a great article on the topic: one in four vets have considered suicide.
Last week, a colleague followed through, and our field is all the less for her loss.
It might surprise you to know that while our field tiptoes around the concept of compassion fatigue, it’s not regularly acknowledged as an almost inevitable part of what we do. Those who feel the strain are often left to feel guilty and disappointed in themselves for feeling that way. When the timing is wrong, when the wrong case hits at the same time as a broken water main or someone delivering a court summons, it can be very easy to forget that there is a way through that mess.
Animal lovers are deeply sensitive by nature, and I think both animal care providers and clients may be prone to those intensities of emotion that can veer into unhealthy places. I’ve dedicated my work the last year or so to acknowledging we need to do a better job supporting the emotional needs of our clients, but the truth is we need to so the same for our own.
I sincerely hope our field is able to provide better support for our own in terms of learning to cope with the unique stressors of this career, that those support groups that exist within the veterinary community are not kind of shoved in the corner to be sought out in desperation but held up as a standard for healthy venting and encouraging each other to live well and live outside the clinic.
I bring this up for several reasons, namely because I was very saddened by Dr. Koshi’s death and the circumstances surrounding it. I want my colleagues, especially those of you who are young and still learning how to do this vet thing and do it well, to understand that we all know how hard it can be. The internet has not made this easier. We need to be able to rely on each other and on the profession as a whole.
If any of you are struggling, please reach out, to your friends, to a hotline, to me, I don’t care who you reach out to but just stick your hand out and wave and we will take it. I am happy to hear multiple veterinarians including Dr. Lee, Dr. Myers, and others at NAVC met up to discuss what we can do to be more organized in our support of each other and stop being ashamed of admitting sometimes, this field is HARD.
And for you non-vets, because I know many of you are amazing clients, I want to thank you for being the kind of people who make going to work worthwhile. You are the reason we continue to pull our lab coats on every day.
RIP Dr. Koshi, and know that we will acknowledge and remember the wonderful work you did in this world.
One year ago today, we said goodbye to Kekoa. After a month of bucket list indulgences going from kale to turkey and then, that day, chocolate chip bacon ice cream, I said I love you one last time.
We pet owners talk a lot about heart dogs, that dog who just ‘got’ you, the dog who changed you and will never, ever be replaced (you can substitute dog for any pet, of course.) And once you have a heart dog, once you lose a heart dog, you may wonder if you will ever have another one again.
I’m here to say yes, you can.
Emmett was my heart dog, the dog who taught me fierce love and how to be a family and how even the best of us were allowed our jealous moments but we’d get over them eventually. He taught me forgiveness. I loved the other dogs I had before him just as much, Taffy and Mulan and Nuke, but he was the dog who spoke to my soul.
Kekoa was brought into our lives furtively, a sneak adoption if you will. We were supposed to adopt a different lab, a younger one, one glossier and with better teeth, but as I didn’t realize until after she was gone, she spoke to my daughter’s soul, and there it was. She was the shoe that fit. That was a February as well. This is her month, the month of heart.
Kekoa lived without a spiteful bone in her body. I think she growled once in her life, when Apollo tried to steal a bite of her food, and even then it was more indignant than menacing. She loved food, almost as much as she loved us.
When she died, when I made the decision to euthanize her when her bone cancer was causing her pain I couldn’t control, I wrestled with the same emotions every pet owner struggles with: uncertainty. Is it the right time? Guilt. I’m acting too soon. Pain. I don’t like seeing this. She was bothered by none of this internal turmoil, choosing instead to just trust us and sleep in my daughter’s room at night. I was so busy thinking of my own distress I really missed the boat on thinking about how the kids would be affected, but Kekoa stepped in- completely unaware she was even doing it- to be there for them.
Many things happened afterwards as a direct result of her death. I began working with Paws into Grace. In the midst of my mourning, her story wrote itself into the book proposal I was working on, which will be a forever monument to her. I committed to getting certified in pet loss counseling, which I completed last week, in order to give a voice to those who are sad and suffering so they know: NO, you are not alone and your grief is real. They don’t call them heart pets for no reason. They take some of it with them.
She was a heart dog too, and I never even gave her credit for it until long after she was gone. This sad, head hanging little black dog with terrible head/chest proportions and bad gas taught me how to take care of others just by being true to yourself. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
Miss ya, girl. Thank you for everything.
Yesterday, I was working on a homework assignment for a course I am taking on pet loss and bereavement. I was reading about the guilt so much of us feel after losing a pet, and one of the exercises they recommend we do is imagine a conversation with our pet. I decided I would try this with Kekoa, as I struggled- like so many people do- with knowing if it was the right time to say goodbye to her last year as she dealt with bone cancer.
Me: Kekoa, I’m sorry.
Kekoa: I love you.
Me: I feel like maybe I let you go too soon.
Kekoa: I love you.
Me: Do you forgive me if I made the wrong choice?
Kekoa: I love you.
I kept waiting for her to say something else, but that was all she ever had to say. It’s been almost a year, which is hard to believe. February 10th. A Valentine’s Day with a massively broken heart.
But now, I can think of no better way to reflect on this anniversary than to be with all of you, my friends, who can all relate to the special sort of sorrow this kind of loss rains upon us. The first- and hopefully not last- online pet memorial candle lighting ceremony is tonight, February 5th, 6 pm PST. I will be joined by several wonderful friends and we are so honored to be sharing in this event together.
How to Participate:
This ceremony, and this hangout, is for you and all you find meaningful. I encourage you all to participate to whatever degree you wish.
If you like, you can watch the Hangout right here, no special account required.
(Crying along at home is fine, by the by. I wish we let ourselves do that more often.)
You can also watch the Hangout at the Google + Event page here. You do not need a Google account to do so, but there are two ways you can participate there that will require an account.
Share a memory: You can click on the Q & A button and write a memory of your pet.
Share a photo: You can post a picture of your pet by clicking on the camera icon next to the “say something” box. If all goes as planned, I can incorporate those into the ceremony too.
Tweet a memory: If you post on Twitter using the hashtag #petcandle, I should be able to incorporate those tweets into the ceremony as well.
Above all else I want people to feel included. This is a group-owned event. Feedback after the fact is welcome as well. If you’re not up to watching, we’ll be sending much love to you. And if you know of anyone who might want to watch, I would love it if you could share this with them.
There is something vastly powerful about going through grief with friends. It validates, it resonates, it comforts. When it comes to losing a pet, too many of us are forced to endure the pain without that camaraderie of a circle of friends.
To that end, and because I know so many people continue to hurt and feel alone in their grief over the loss of a beloved pet, The Tiniest Tiger and I are hosting a Pet Loss Candle Ceremony next Wednesday, February 5th, at 6 pm PST.
What Will Happen
During this Google Hangout, we will be lighting candles to remember those who have left us, and to comfort those left behind. It’s open to all- kids can participate too!
How To Participate
1. Watch at home: at Google +, YouTube, or here.
The main Google + Event page is here. You do not need to RSVP to watch it, but if you do you will be sent a reminder through your Google account.
You can also watch at light your own candle at home without a Google + account. It will stream live, and also be up later as a recorded event, on YouTube. All you need to do is click on this link at the time of the hangout, or simply come back here and watch it here on this post.
Date: Wednesday, February 5th
Time: 6 pm PST (Click here to convert to your time zone.)
2. Watch and Chat
If you’d like to type in a question or memory during the Hangout, you’ll need a Google + account at plus.google.com.
3. Be an Online Candle Lighter
If you would like to be online with us as a candle lighter, we will have a limited number of spaces. You will need a Google + account as well as a webcam- and a candle :). If you’d like to be a part of that, please contact me here or through my Contact Page and I can give you more information.
We are very excited to be doing this event as so many of us have known this sadness recently- or even not so recently. We hope you can join us!
This morning, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Joanne McGonagle over at The Tiniest Tiger for a Google Hangout on the topic of pet loss. I had this whole long post about how easy it is to get wrong and how hard it is to get right, but rather than go through the long sordid tales of all the times I’ve said the exact wrong thing I thought I would instead sum up what we, along with all the wonderful participants, concluded during the course of the talk. Some of the statements are specific to pet loss, but really, most of them are pretty universal when it comes to grief.
WORST THINGS TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHO HAS LOST A PET
1. How old was he?
While it may be an innocent question, it sort of implies a gradient of allowable grief depending on the age of the pet. Three? Tragic. Thirteen? Well, he was old, so it’s not quite so sad. Losing a pet is sad and awful no matter the circumstances; pets who lived a long life had that many more years to seal into your heart.
2. Aren’t you over it yet?
Clearly, they’re not. Making a person feel like there is something wrong with them for feeling sad will only force their sorrow into isolation. There’s no official grief timeline.
3. Come on, it was just a dog/cat/bird. I can get you another one this afternoon.
A pet is not a yoyo, an easily replaceable object. Nor is the pet a human, but that does not mean the attachment the person felt to their pet wasn’t just as deep, nor their grief easier to bear. And that individual will never be replaced.
4. Too bad you didn’t try fish oil/more chemo/crystal therapy.
Second guessing what a person did in the days leading up to a pet’s passing serves no purpose other than to add guilt to what they’ve already piled on themselves. This is not a teaching moment; nothing will change what happened. If you can’t say “You did the right thing”, don’t say anything.
5. My dog had cancer too- all of my dogs! And my hamster!
While it’s human nature to want to empathize through sharing similar experiences, beware of the Pain Olympics- being the person who has to turn someone else’s grief into their own, and then top it. “Oh, you’re sad? Well, not as sad as I WAS back in 08! Boy was that a doozy!”
6. He’s in a better place.
The only place we wanted him was here, with us.
BEST THINGS TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHO HAS LOST A PET
1. I’m so sorry for your loss.
Simple, right? Just acknowledge their pain. Those around a bereaved owner may hesitate to say anything out of discomfort, not knowing what to say, or trying to avoid having the topic come up at all. Make no mistake, they haven’t forgotten that they are sad, they’re just stuffing it down as hard as they can because that is what one is supposed to do.
2. My favorite memory is:
I love this one. Share a memory, something their pet did, or how their fur felt, or how they always leaned up against your leg. It is so lovely to have another person share with you an impact, no matter how big or small, your pet had on them too.
3. (Silent hug)
If you can’t think of any words, just go for the hug. It is another form of powerful acknowledgement.
4. Take as long as you need.
Grief is not a straight line that decreases in a defined percentage each day. Think of it more like a receding tide, waves roll in, then go back out, then roll up again, and pull back, a little bit further each time. There are good days and bad days, and having a meltdown 6 months after the fact in a Barnes and Noble just happens sometimes. It just does.
I’m happy to explore this topic more, as I think there is so much to learn to help us be better pet care providers, better caretakers, and better friends. If you have more suggestions as to things you’ve heard that were good or bad, please share them below.
I have no one to blame but myself, of course, for the events that have transpired since Christmas.
I was the one who brought her in, invited her to come into our home and get to know the place. My husband said it was the only thing he wanted this year, so I went with it, albeit with some trepidation.
You should have seen his face when he realized what I had done. “Wow!” he said. “Finally!” The children looked on in confusion. Brody ran away. Only Penelope, the newest addition to the fold, approached her with anything resembling curiosity.
Her name was Rosie, and she was here to stay.
I don’t consider myself a jealous person under normal circumstances, but it’s hard to compete with someone who plays their role with such aplomb. I even took out my Thomas Keller Bouchon Bakery cookbook and made what may be the most amazing chocolate chip cookies in existence in an attempt to regain my rightful place in his affections: “See!” I say, holding one out. “Aren’t they wonderful?” He takes a bite, nods in assent, and before I can say another word in she comes, swerving around me to clear the floors. She’s loud in her approach. You can’t miss her. Immediately his attention is gone, focused now on something newer, shinier. He smiles in admiration as she saunters away, the crumbs vanished.
Rosie is, if you haven’t figured it out yet, our new Neato robotic vacuum. I thought I was buying a household appliance. What I was getting was an obsession.
Every day, my husband greets us after work: me, the kids, Rosie. “What did you get done today?” he asks, then turns to Rosie. “And how did she do?” He surveys the house. “Wow. Wow. This is, like, the best thing ever. Is the dustbin full? Is your brush stuck?” He turns to me. “Did you check if she was OK and if she needed anything? Did you check the dustbin?”
She is thorough, I’ll give you that. She follows Brody around and grabs more off the floor in one afternoon than I seem to manage in several gos around the house. She doesn’t get annoyed at and ignore the space under the coffee table where furballs go to retire. She flushes them out like an angry beagle.
Living with her is sometimes a drag. She drones on and on, vRRRrrrRRRRRR. She always seems to be underfoot right where I need to be. Brody is petrified of her. My husband won’t stop talking about her. One day, when I lost all patience for her and her distracting antics, I hissed “Choke on a carrot, you dumb robot.”
Later than day, I came home from the grocery store, expecting the usual roar but instead being greeted with a disquieting sense of silence. The floor in the entryway, sparkling clean since her arrival, had the thin sprinkling of daily dust we were accustomed to in our pre-Rosie days. Brody looked at me with an expression I couldn’t read. I heard her, finally, a quiet, desperate chirping. I followed her cries for help to the kitchen.
She had choked on a squirrel.
Immediately chagrined, I disentangled the two battling toys and dispatched Rosie to the entryway, while I spent the time I would normally be dragging my Dyson around working on the book. When my husband got home, he didn’t even need to ask. “I emptied the dustbin. Twice.”
My husband posted about her on Facebook a few days ago, and one by one, the men all came out of lurking. “I have one too.” “Me too.” “It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.” Our friend J just bought posted that he bought two. One for each floor of the house, or one for each dog, not sure.
I’d be more insulted at the apparent poor vacuuming skills this implies were it not, if I must tell the truth, an entirely correct assessment. We have come to an agreement, Rosie and I. My husband can gloat and lavish praise all he wants, as long as she keeps those hairballs away.
*No, I have no affiliation with Neato. This post is all me.
One part of being a medical professional that no one really prepares you for is how to deliver bad news. If you watch those who have done it long enough (read: emergency doc) you’ll see the professional approach: sterile, blunt, quick. You have to do it that way, because you have a bunch of patients still alive to attend to. OK, not this blunt:
This approach is frowned upon in veterinary medicine
But that’s a learned skill. Those who haven’t done it as frequently have obvious tells: the grimace when your hopeful face meets their eyes, the sympathetic tilt of the head: I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear. It’s the same in human medicine as it is in veterinary medicine- humans are humans after all- so I’ve become extra sensitive to the way people talk in the confines of the exam room.
Last week I was fortunate enough to experience that singular medical test known as the mammogram, a tool developed by someone who I can say with absolute certainty never actually had to have one himself. If you’re not familiar with the process, fill a Ziploc with jello, place it on the concrete, and drop an anatomy textbook on top of it. That is kind of what it is like. Then do it in the other direction. Anything that has a knob dedicated to “Newtons of pressure” is never something that should be applied to one’s boneless bits outside the confines of the torture chamber. What sicko looked at a trash compactor and said, hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I put someone’s chest in that thing?
Nonetheless, we do it because it’s the best we got right now, and after the first time I went through this and they found all sorts of things they decided to biopsy, one by one, before saying, “No worries, it’s fine” I’m a bit jumpy about these things. Like I said in my post about preventive care, when in doubt, slice some out. So I go through this every year.
Seriously, we can endure this without having to pretend it was a joy. Do you ever see anyone leaving their colonoscopy making this face?
This time around, I had an ultrasound technician and someone else- maybe a trainee- in the room with me, casually discussing the whorls and swirls of my hyperechoic lesions like I was an earless blob of flesh attached to a lump of interest. They took photos of whatever it was they saw and sent me on my way. As I was in the dressing room, I heard a discussion in very hushed tones, the sort you use when you absolutely do not want someone to know you are talking. So I froze, turned on my mom ears, and listened.
brllb lrb whoosh she might have cancer brlb shhhhh
I’m not 100% certain that is what they said, but it sure sounded like it. I mean, what else would one be discussing in a mammogram office? Horoscopes? She seemed kind of moody, she might be a cancer….Or lunch? She might have a Casear but be quiet, they might be hungry out there in ultrasound… It’s not like the office was busy. I was the only patient there when I walked in. Who else were they trying to hide the discussion from?
I pulled back the curtain, and there, two feet away, was a woman probably the same age as me, holding the ubiquitous pink crop top medical shawl thingie tight to her chest as she waited her turn for the dressing room. We gave each other the tight smile of comrades in arms, comammrades, before heading our separate ways.
I looked up, and saw the technician standing in the hallway. She avoided my eyes, the trained response of one who gets asked questions she can’t answer on a daily basis, and said, “The doctor will have the results tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Have a good day.”
“You too,” she said. “Good luck.” (note: not the best verbiage in this situation.)
So I spent the next 24 hours jumping at every ring of the phone, certain I was fine at the same time I was certain something bad was going to happen. And then, right at 9:30, my doctor’s office called. I grabbed it on the first ring.
“Hello,” said the nurse, and I immediately breathed a sigh of relief, because no one ever makes the nurse (or in my case tech) call when it’s bad news. “Your test results were fine. Have a great weekend.”
And yaay, now I would, except now I started thinking about the other woman in the waiting area. I can’t say I was hoping they were talking about her and not about me. I actually hope they were talking about me, because in that case they were simply wrong and everyone’s fine. But if they were talking about her, all I can say is, I hope she had the Caesar.
Hoo boy, that 20/20 piece sure stirred up some emotions, didn’t it? And it’s Thanksgiving, a week of gratitude, so I’m going to take a step back and say thank you to all the wonderful readers and colleagues who make writing this worthwhile. In honor of that, I’m going to take a moment and also share with you some of my own veterinary secrets. For the low low price of nothing, I want to explain to you what I believe, based on over a decade now in the field, is the best way to save money at the vet. No sarcasm here.
The best way to save money at the vet is….are you ready?
To spend more time at the vet. No, really.
Preventive Care is where it’s At
If one wants to know some of the best ways to save money on medical care, we need look no further than the group that has gotten the cost/benefit analysis down to an exact science: the human medical profession. It’s taken a long time for the field to come away from the model of medical firefighting: wait until something gets bad- CANCER! KILL IT WITH RADIATION! and more towards preventive care: MAMMOGRAM ALL THE LADIES! Firefight when you have to, but how much better is it to catch things early? For us, of course, it’s lives on the line, but guess what? It’s better for the bottom line too. Win-win.
Interestingly, the three situations described in the 20/20 bit as potential money grabs by the veterinary profession are perfect illustrations of why preventive care is so very important. Had we seen the extent of Marty Becker’s 90 minute interview for the piece in context, this would have all been part of the piece, by the by.
50% of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer. I see it every day. It stinks, and once it’s diagnosed in advanced stages the treatment options are difficult and expensive. When your veterinarian finds a lump on a dog during a routine exam, for the love of everything, check it out! Trust me, I would make more money resecting it in a messy surgery a year from now when it’s huge as opposed to doing a little biopsy or fine needle aspirate here and now, but I don’t recommend that because I don’t want that to happen to your pet.
Here’s just a few examples of things I have diagnosed on a check of a lump the owner was on the fence about doing anything about:
-mast cell tumor
Kekoa had a sarcoma hiding under a lump of fatty tissue that, to my fingers, felt like a lipoma (benign fatty tumor.) It wasn’t.
Early detection saves lives.
People often go to those weekend vaccine clinics to save money instead of getting it done in the office. Then what happens? They hand you a pamphlet and you have to decipher which package, A, B, or C you want like it’s ordering your kid’s school photographs. It’s confusing. Often, you overbuy. It’s a lot of work to try and stay on top of these things, and I certainly don’t expect pet owners to be reading up on current best practices for vaccines each and every time the dog’s getting boarded and you need a Bordetella vaccine.
I take vaccines very seriously. I keep up on the latest AAHA guidelines- based on research, science, and the best our field has to offer in terms of what constitutes duration of immunity and core versus non-core vaccines. I use that to tailor a vaccination protocol for each pet who comes through the door. I can’t tell you what I recommend across the board because there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’. I’ve done the full complement, I’ve done titers, I’ve written letters asking the county to exempt an elderly pet with a history of vaccine reactions from a rabies vaccine. This is what we do. If your veterinarian isn’t open to that conversation, I agree 100% that you may want to find someone else.
That being said, the majority of my patients do stay on schedule with vaccines, because once you’ve seen dogs dying of parvo while a little child weeps, you kind of get invested in doing all you can to prevent that.
Bottom line: It’s worth it to find a veterinarian you trust. We’re not unicorns, at least in my experience; we usually can be found hanging around.
Vaccines save lives.
Here’s the one that caused the most discussion. Our profession is in the middle of some real change in terms of recognizing the importance of dental care. Since I am not a boarded veterinary dentist, I defer to their vast reservoirs of knowledge and the evidence is clear: 85% of pets have periodontal disease by the age of 4. Most of it is invisible to the naked eye. Can you imagine if we waited until our teeth looked brown and grungy with recessed red gums before going to the dentist? There is real, actual value in getting professional care even if a mouth “looks” OK.
The *best* way to keep your pets’ teeth healthy at home is incidentally also the cheapest: brush their teeth daily. The other best thing is to get regular, anesthetized dental cleanings to prevent disease from developing/worsening. If you choose not to anesthetize a healthy pet at 3 years old for routine maintenance, the end result is often a 12 year old with impaired organ function and a mouth full of horrifically painful teeth that need to be removed, at great expense. I can address the anesthesia component in another post, because it’s worth a discussion all its own, but suffice to say, anesthesia performed to excellent standards of care- that’s the key- while not risk-free, is actually very safe in healthy pets.
The three issues presented above are life-savers for pets. I am not saying this hyperbolically. Done early and with forethought, they are also money-savers, because they stave off much more significant, and expensive, disease down the road. There’s a reason my own insurance has a $0 co-pay for preventive care: it works. Same goes for our pets.
And happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Did you see this bit on 20/20 this weekend? Ah, media. Titled “Veterinary Confessions,” the piece follows a couple of dogs through a series of veterinary visits where different vets offer different services based on their clinical experience, interspersed with the contrite admonitions of a former veterinarian who says that he was, before he relinquished his license (more on that later), the medical equivalent of a used car salesman.
Look, I’m not going to tell you that every vet in the world is equal and that everyone follows the same recommendations every time, but if you think that was the real point of this piece, you’ve been duped. Citizens of Oz, let me show you the Wizard.
“The vast majority of vets are ethical” and don’t recommend what’s not needed, says Dr. Andrew Jones, who then goes on to admit he regularly practiced the most unethical practice of recommending what wasn’t needed, just to make more money, hence confessing that he personally was worse than the vast majority of vets. Sounds like a legit guy to speak on behalf of the profession.
Why is he a former vet, you may ask? Well, the excellent blog SkeptVet profiled him a couple of years ago, if you’re interested. Rather than stop his continued practice of talking smack about, well, pretty much any vet except for himself- he was great, you see, unlike the rest of us slobs- he voluntarily gave up his license to practice in Canada.
And what is the good Dr. Jones doing now? Championing the cause of the poor and underserved, fighting the good fight to educate consumers about the latest AAHA vaccination recommendations or raising money for all those people getting soaked by the rest of us unethical greedy vets?
Um, not quite. He has a website. On it, he offers a
which sounds nice and altruistic. Oh look, he’s pre-prepared for the website traffic he’ll get tomorrow:
So, if you continue to scroll down for 5 or 600 feet, you’ll see that yes! it’s FREE!
(save the $6 shipping and handling)
Hey man, sign me up! Only $6 for all this info! I’m going to CLICK!
Wait, what? In order to get the free $6 DVD I have to also sign up for the $10 monthly service in perpetuity? Isn’t that the Naughty Video Site approach?
So, in return for tossing me, and my friends, and the vet you hopefully like and trust, under the bus, the good doctor is already planning for the side bennie of all those new subscriptions (note the date on the website, and the date I’m posting this.) All in the name of altruism, you see. Behold the Wizard.
You know me, I don’t normally get this upset, but MAN, my hide’s a little chapped right now. Greedy vets? When’s the last time I’ve asked you for a credit card in order to peruse my website?
I will leave you with one last thought. In this piece, Dr. Jones called dental cleanings the “would you like fries with that” of veterinary medicine, a very often unnecessary bit of work. To illustrate the point, he used a little pit bull who was seen by several vets who said she was fine and didn’t need any dental work. Anesthetized dental cleanings, by the way, often allow you to do a closer examination than you can do on an awake pet and might let you discover something like
Yes, that’s the same dog.
But by all means, continue to compare me to a kid at McDonald’s. In the meantime, may want to get that looked at.
Hardened criminal. Swimsuit model. New media revolutionary. NPR host. Animator. What do they all have in common?
Their lives have been made better by having a pet. And we’re not talking oh, I have a cute cat and I sometimes feed it and it makes me chuckle, I’m talking about people whose lives have been profoundly affected by the animals in their lives.
I assume if you’re here reading this blog, you feel it too. Something about the bond between ourselves and our pets goes way beyond the mildly symbiotic relationship developed millennia ago when cavemen tossed scraps to the wolves on the outskirts of the clan; it is an uncomplicated, pure type of love, and those of us who are fortunate enough to have experienced it spend most of our lives trying to come up with ways to pay our animals back for what they give to us.
This Tuesday, I attended the Purina Better With Pets Summit in New York City. As it was the inaugural event, I didn’t know what to expect. No one did, really. 16 speakers in a Ted Talk-ish sort of format, 20 minutes each to share their stories of how pets have enriched their lives. It was, to put it mildly, fantastic.
Some speakers were enlightening, like Dr. Brian Hare from Dognition who is learning some amazing things about dog breeds and different measures of ‘intelligence’:
Some were funny, like Alex Ohanian from reddit- who talked about how putting a cat on your head and taking a picture creates an experience that allows people to connect with all of humanity:
Some moved us in entirely unexpected ways, like Black Label Dance Company’s exploration of a man’s relationship with his aging dogs:
And some just reduced me to a slobbering mess of OMG-can’t-deal, like Judy Finnegan of Puppies for Parole. Missouri’s program has rescued over 2,000 dogs from euthanasia at high kill shelters, placed them with prisoners for 8-12 weeks, and ended up transforming the lives not only of the saved dogs, but the deeply hardened men who found, through these dogs, how to learn compassion.
These are just a couple of samples, but the other previews are available here, including the inimitable Dr. Marty Becker ending us on a lovely note. When the full videos are up I’ll share again because there were some powerful messages in there that bear repeating, like Dr. Robin Downing’s assertion that reducing pain saves pets’ lives, and Dr. Arleigh Reynold’s touching discussion of moving to Alaska to live and breathe life with his dogs. Doesn’t that sound cool?
I left the event much more affected than I thought I would. As someone who has made my life’s work about animals, I forget that just because someone else hasn’t, doesn’t mean their pets aren’t just as important to them as mine are to me. I forget why I do what I do- not because I love pets, but because so many other people do as well, and I can provide something that helps make that even better. In our human world of strict social order, etiquette, and rules of conduct, pets are one of the rare things that can transcend that artifice and bring us all to the same level.
Group hug, everyone. Life really is better with pets.
*disclaimer: Purina invited me to the Better with Pets Summit and generously covered my travel expenses. They did not pay me or require any posts about the Summit- all opinions and musings are entirely my own.
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