As you can imagine, this job has its share of emotional stress. Everyone copes with it differently, with the frustration and the anxiety at not being able to do what you want to do. And you never can do ALL that you want to do.
If you were to meet me now, after these years of practice, you might not think that I care. When I tell you in a neutral voice that I think your pet has cancer, or that your cat is blocked, or that your dog has a pyometra, it isn’t that I don’t care. I promise you, the only reason I am there with you is because I care.
When I tell you that the road is long, expensive, and uncertain, I say that because it is the truth and I want you to make an informed decision. Only you know your family’s situation, and I promise, if you have to choose between feeding your kids or unblocking your cat, I understand. And I care. I am being honest with you. You can be honest with me too.
I know that it stinks when I tell you the cost of these things. It’s my job to let you know all your options- it’s not fair of me to judge you by your appearance and decide on your behalf what you can and can’t afford.
You see an estimate and hear an outline of the things I think your pet needs. You don’t see me in the back, crunching numbers and moving things around to try and give your pet the most I can with what you have. Calling my bosses, getting permission to waive this, discount that, so that your pet doesn’t die. Staying late on the phone with specialists, who consult with me for free, to help me come up with a plan so you don’t have to go to them yourself. Tell me your limitations and I will tell you your options.
But understand that I have my limitations, too. I can’t treat your pet for free. If I don’t make a paycheck, I can’t pay my day care, and then tomorrow I won’t be at work. I can’t take your sick pet and find it a new home. I will point you to places that can help you try and do that yourself, but I can’t take that on. I don’t offer these things, but it’s not because I don’t care.
I do care. I have done those things, more than once. It takes a lot out of a person. And the next day, 3 more pets just like them are waiting on the doorstep, without fail, without end.
My job is to help you do what is right for your pet, but I cannot be you. And for my own survival, I cannot allow you to place that responsibility on my shoulders. It is that line in the sand that allows me to be there day after day. If you have refused all I have to offer, if you leave with a pet in your arms that I know is going to die, every muscle in my body twitches to run after you, take your pet, and save them. But I can’t. So I take a breath, go back into the shelter of the lines I have drawn, and let it go.
If I didn’t learn to let it go, I would never sleep, mourning the things I couldn’t change. This removal is what allows me to return to the front door day after day and feel that I am accomplishing something worthwhile and good in this world.
And now I need to go have a glass of wine and will myself to forget this sad, frustrating afternoon.