So you think rescuers have it bad? Putting their lives on the line with strange, scared dogs capable of anything? Yeah, it’s a rough life. But you know who else does that? Every day?
In fact, vets may well be the most undervalued of animal welfare heroes. They do so much, and get so little recognition.
Being a vet is kind of like a mash-up of all the negative aspects of being a doctor (for humans), without any of the pluses. Think about it. Veterinary med school is just as hard, takes just as long—but with one crucial difference: you can count on one hand the ones who’ll ever come close to making the big bucks people doctors make. Their patients can’t talk, can’t say where it hurts or what they last ate. At least pediatricians have a parent to fill in the blanks—and a mom or dad can usually be trusted to follow instructions, call if something looks or feels wrong. (You wouldn’t believe how many dog owners don’t.) Also, people doctors restrict themselves to either general medicine (for anything more complicated than the common cold they’ll give you a referral) or to a particular specialty—and only for a single species (humans). But vets are expected to cover all the specialties, from reproductive health to ophthalmology to X-ray technician to pathology to diagnostics to odontology—even surgery! And they’re expected to do all that not just for dogs and cats but for all sorts of species.
Try asking your ophthalmologist about your digestive problems. Try asking him about your dog’s digestive problems.
No, being a vet isn’t easy. And, as if all of the above weren’t enough to qualify them for most challenging profession ever, they get all sorts of crap over their fees. You’ve no idea how often I hear people—smart people—complain about the vet bills they have to pay. Not long ago, at the vet’s waiting area, I witnessed a woman who refused to pay her bill. She’d brought in a puppy who had been diagnosed with parvovirus, too advanced to do anything but give him a painless way out. But his owner, this woman, didn’t want to pay for the euthanasia. “Why do I have to pay? He’s going to die anyway, right?”
|You small, pathetic piece of feces. I am a doctor. I don't poke around in—in animals. Take it back before I sue you.|
She preferred, rather than pay a measly 50 bucks, to take the puppy home and let him die on his own, in pain.
(The vets waived the fee—which is to say, they paid for it themselves—and put the puppy down anyway. The woman left happy.)
This is why, back when I was around 15, I decided against becoming a vet. This situation, with me as the medical professional, would’ve ended in a lawsuit. Or me in jail. And this is, too, why vets are my heroes. The idiocy they put up with, the costs they absorb, the strength of character and the patience they exhibit to educate the more-often-than-not clueless, and only sometimes well-intentioned people that walk through their doors…
And then there’s the actual patients. A vet’s physical integrity is on the line with every single animal they see, Chihuahua dog or Arabic stallion. We rescuers talk about building trust and taking our time, we talk about kits and traps and tranquilizers, and then we celebrate when, after three weeks, we finally get a dog into a car. The vet? S/he won’t get time to make friends, or to earn the dog’s trust. S/he’s got a job to do—and that job means putting fingers and even noses closer to those unfriendly and very strong canine jaws than any rescuer. Do they balk? Do they say, Ah, well, let's try again tomorrow?
No. They GET THE JOB DONE.
Oh, and then there’s the rescuers themselves. “But this is a street dog. You should be doing it for free.”
|Comics got it wrong, y'all. Clark Kent wasn't a journalist. He was a vet.|
Look. Vets volunteer enough of their lives to animal welfare already. They’ve committed their entire careers to low wages and the hardest, broadest, most challenging of medical professions because they care. No one becomes a vet for the money, or for glory, or even for academic recognition. No one’s going to win a Nobel for veterinary medicine.* No one’s going to name a hospital after you. No, if you chose to become a vet, it's because your desire to help animals trumped everything else.
Seriously. Hug your vet today. Bring them some coffee next time you visit. Some homemade cookies. And, please, don’t complain about your vet bill. If you have reason to believe you’re being overcharged—I won’t deny it happens; there’s unscrupulous people everywhere—then change vets (because, if their ethics are faulty that way, then your dog isn’t in safe hands anyway). But do your research. And check why a certain vet might be more expensive than another. If it’s talent, or commitment, I suggest you pay up.
* This guy actually did win a Nobel. Even if the research that earned him the prize had to do more with human well-being rather than with animals', it gives me hope that maybe the world is beginning to realize we owe veterinarians huge, and long-overdue, recognition.
Coming soon (in May, after we've all slept a week): HOW TO CHOOSE A VET
Hint: not because they treat you nice.
Thanks for the visit, everyone! This has been the most rewarding A-to-Z I've done (it's my 5th)—and it's all thanks to you. Your comments, the stories you've shared, the insights you've provided... It's been one heck of a special April. Masha danki! (That's thank you in Papiamentu, the language of Curaçao.) Tomorrow there'll be a special treat waiting here for you: Michele Truhlik, of Angels Bark, will be here to tell the rescue story of one of her own dogs; it's guaranteed to stay with you for the rest of your life. (Bring Kleenex.)