Thursday, May 16, 2013

#FurbabyFridays: The Oath That Breaks Your Heart



This has been one hell of a week for me the veterinarian.  I’ve seen the best of pet owners and the very worst humanity has to offer. It’s the worst cases that weigh heavily on my heart today. I’m at a loss as to how to fix the overall ignorance of more and more of the people walking into our hospital doors. At every single turn we’re tossed road blocks and speed bumps that prevent us from upholding the oath we take when we become veterinarians.  Not only are we prevented from upholding it, we are constantly told we aren’t doing what we’re sworn to do by clueless individuals. These people have no idea what the oath states and most assuredly no understanding for what those words mean.  Here’s what the veterinarians before 2010 recited at their graduation ceremonies:

Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of livestock resources, the promotion of public health and the advancement of medical knowledge.

I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.


Now here’s the “revised oath” adopted by the AVMA since 2010 and recited by every graduate of a veterinary school in the United States.

Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.

I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

Read the words carefully. Where in there does it say that as veterinarians we are obligated by our oath to give away our services for free? Yes, we can and do eliminate suffering for animals presented to us by offering humane euthanasia at no cost. Yes, we do stabilize an animal that is in shock and pain until the owners can be found at no charge to the owner. Yes we do perform many services, nursing and supportive care to our four legged patients in need, often at a reduced or NO COST to the owner of the pet.   But nowhere in that oath does it say we have to vaccinate you pets for free, microchip your pets for free, give you free medications to treat your pet that’s been sick for months all for free.

Nowhere does it say we are responsible for your decision to NOT vaccinate your 10 month old puppy and then have to give you all the medications necessary to treat the same puppy because it contracted parvo due to YOUR negligence.

Nowhere does it say we have to perform the third C-section on your dog because you refuse to have her spayed after the first difficult pregnancy.  You didn’t think her “son” would breed with her since they were “related” even after we told you that doesn’t matter in the animal kingdom!

Nowhere does it say that we have to keep treating each and every new puppy you bring into our clinic with parvo FOR FREE because you didn’t listen to us when we told you the virus is deadly and can survive in the environment for at least six months to a year. We BEGGED you not to bring another puppy into your contaminated house and yard and yet you decided you and Dr. Google knew better than those of us who “took an oath.”

I take my oath very seriously that’s why I spend the time with you in the exam room and on the many phone calls you make to my hospital daily. I’m not trying to “rip you off” by recommending “unnecessary” tests. I’m trying to give the information you need to make informed decisions about the care and wellbeing of your pet.  Part of that oath I took implores me to “protect animal health and welfare.” I’m trying to do that by recommending the appropriate vaccinations for your pet’s lifestyle, the proper flea control methods and heartworm preventatives.  I’m “promoting public health” by discussing and recommending flea control for all of your pets, routine dewormings and fecal testing.  Many diseases can be spread to humans through parasites that infect animals. This is part of my job daily…and the bane of my life as a veterinarian.

Why?  Because so called experts online and those in the community who’ve “owned pets all their lives” claim to know more than I do and tell many of my clients to ignore all vets. “You don’t need that fancy flea control. Just feed your animals garlic.” “You don’t need no heartworm prevention. I’ve had dogs for over 30 years and not one of them have ever got it.”   “They’re all about money.”

Not in my hospital. Each and every one of my colleagues, nursing staff, and receptionists bust their butts daily for the health and wellbeing of our patients and their owners.  We work short-handed and hours after our scheduled shifts to make sure our patients get the care they need. We hold our patients in their last moments on this earth when their owners couldn’t bear to watch them die or just didn’t want to deal with them anymore.

At the beginning of the week, I had to step in and tell a pet owner enough was enough. No amount visits to my office or specialists were going to bring back their beloved Dalmatian to his glory. The poor thing was in full dementia, could no longer stand and refused to eat. He continued to yelp out in pain and at times for no apparent reason. This wasn’t the dog I first saw in my office many years ago. This was a shell of skin and bones the owner clung to. Both were suffering and I had to beg my client to please let me take away his best friend’s pain.

So the next time you think veterinarians are just out to get your money, think about that Dalmatian and his best friend and owner.  Think about YOUR responsibility as the owner and guardian of your own pets. Maybe if perspective pet owners had to take an oath such as the one I had to take, there wouldn’t be so many unwanted animals in the shelters. 

Maybe there still wouldn’t be so many unvaccinated puppies dying of distemper and parvovirus  annually.  Maybe there wouldn’t be owners just callously tossing their little Yorkie aside because they didn’t want to be bothered with the nursing care it would take to save her.  Instead, they tossed a hundred dollar bill down and walked out munching on their McMuffin as they went.

Maybe there would be more people setting up relief organizations that help pet owners with the cost of the care of their pets instead of pushing it off onto veterinarians and overcrowded shelters because we “took an oath.”

Maybe there would be more people spreading the CORRECT information about what it takes to keep pets healthy instead of perpetuating mistruths and Old Wives tales as facts. 

And maybe there wouldn’t be such a high rate of burn out in this profession.  Walk a few days in my shoes and you’ll learn a hell of a lot more than you ever wanted to know about the joys and the sorrows of being a veterinarian or veterinary technician.  The fuzzy kittens and chubby puppies will steal your heart while the injuries and diseases that attack them will shatter it into a million pieces.

~Dr. Tammy

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