Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Power Of NO. The culture of vet med and how we cannot utter nor accept "NO".

There is a culture in veterinary medicine. It is pervasive, overarching and in many cases detrimental. We cannot say "No". We are taught not to, conditioned against it, and therefore it persists and cripples us. Inside the profession of veterinary medicine there is never a welcomed voice of dissent. There is also not a culture of open acceptance that others have different goals nor sense of purpose. And, with all of that truth we still cannot say "No". Would any of us want to teach our children to be so passive and prejudiced to not question what intrinsically does not feel right? And, yet, we are these parents. You do as your profession has dictated. You accept the reality as it is laid out for you. There is not a line between species outside of human and non-human. It is confusing, painful and nonsensical to admit outside of our own ranks.
Luna. Rescued from the Humane Society.
Looking for a second chance and perfect in every way already.

Spend a few minutes explaining to outsiders how and why the way we practice medicine is so different and disparate within the separation of the type and/or species you practice on and it becomes apparent. There is a huge difference in the ethics and laws within our profession. Say, for example, if you are a food animal practitioner versus a small animal specialist. What about a feline exclusive practitioner versus a poultry practitioner? After all they exist on the same pieces of real estate. Do you think that any boarded feline specialist is paid to practice "herd food production management" by calculating acceptable losses for cost savings versus medical need based interventions? The spectrum is wide and the rules to play vary so significantly we cannot put them into words and rules without species delineation to qualify them as "just" and/or "appropriate" when in fact they are much more likely to be simply based on "archaic practices" and/or "profit margins." Within this large spectrum of diversity there is a lack of oversight, accountability and an almost complete abandonment of enforceable laws based on compassion at the end of the 'less than canine' spectrum. Ask the USDA slaughterhouse vets how differently humane euthanasia resembles the in home euthanasia's that are franchised and marketed to be the "peaceful passage" we would all want for our beloved pets. They aren't even remotely similar. Why is that?

Dimples. Rescued from the local Humane Society.
"Dimples lives her truth everyday.
She is kind, gentle, and longs for human companionship.
Living in the present and full of second chances -
please help us help us find Dimples her happily ever after." Laura 

How do we get to a point where vets assault patients in their clinic? Or shoot their neighbors dog? Or euthanize themselves with Euthasol? We are a fragment of society without a consistent code of ethics and the nuances to allow transparent public perception with the derivation from them. We are also an old, humble, gritty profession. We don't adopt change quickly enough even when the death rates and discord dictate the critical nature of the current time. We are a profession who says "Yes" to financial incentive more than "No" to the ethical divisions, or our obligation to all species to unite us. It is the power of being trained to not question abandonment of our own internal "No" response meets simple basic greed with an unwillingness to permit the other side into our discussions for "best practice" management.

I have found that I far more regret the "Yeses" than the "Nos". Maybe because it took me a long time to find my voice, assert an opinion and start to protect my own soul? It has become a matter of life: professional and personal, and death: personal and professional. How much does "Yes" versus "No" cost you? It is a question I would like to ask every veterinarian. I would also like to know how so many got to this pervasive place of indifference basking in shaming blame that seems so pervasive in general society today? Was it when you started to accept not saying "No" more often?

It is the nature of being a student to not question authority when your purpose is to absorb first. Every person in medicine remains a life long student. We veterinarians are all students our entire lives, UNTIL at some point you get to be in charge. Once you reach that pinnacled place you have to learn the word "No" as a matter of survival. In the end, (and there is always an end), it is all about survival. Not the financial kind, nor the status, popular, nor celebrity kind. It is about the little voice who guides your ability to even like yourself when the crowds leave you for the next new enlightened thing.

I was interviewing a new vet grad a few weeks ago. I was telling her about our clinic. How hard I work to protect the emotional toll being a veterinarian can take on you. How we are a practice that protects our patients and staff and the ethical crossroads that living the life of a veterinarian that can often present. "We are a safe place for our patients and staff first." She went on to tell me how this had already become a point of inner conflict for her. "I was at a practice where a chihuahua came in with a puppy who had been stuck in the birth canal for two days and the people had no money. We sent them away without anything to die at home. I will never forget her." It is a scenario that plays out every day, in every practice and I reassured her that here, under our roof, no person will ever leave without feeling like we hadn't offered every single option to make a happy ending possible."

That night I couldn't sleep feeling that we failed so many. We failed this new grad who is feeling and being taught to be powerless, voiceless and being conditioned to remain this way. We are failing our clients who were brave enough to seek help. And worst we perpetuate cruelty we blame the owner for without taking a moment to reflect upon ourselves as being complicit to it. Did that vet who turned them away ever follow up? Did they at least call Animal Control, (as awful as that ending might be?), at least the dog would be humanely (?) ceased in her suffering with a dead puppy stuck inside her? I would venture the answer is again "No". We don't speak up often enough, (even if we are now bound by law to do so. More on the Mandatory Reporting of Animal Cruelty here).

Our conversation resonated so hard with me that later that night I sent her this text message; "Hello. I wanted to say how nice it was to talk to you. I hope that you have a wonderful trip back to school, and most of all I really hope that you never lose your sense of compassion for even those it seems that you cannot help. (That last part of that sentence I also hope proves to be your most treasured asset as you leave vet school). I keep thinking about your chihuahua case. Indifference is learned and conditioned in vets. It is shameful so many vets abandon it for reasons I do not understand nor accept. You never have to walk away feeling helpless. I hope that you always remember that. Even 40 years from now when you have seen everything. Enjoy your last weeks at school. They are precious and life is never the same (which is definitely both good and bad ;-) ). "

I have learned to say "No" because I had an accelerated path of defining where my loyalties and ethics were rooted. I am not here to perpetuate outdated selfish practices and ethos. I am not here, in the trenches to believe the outdated, unmarketable internal dialogue we still cling to. We should not be a profession serving ourselves first. Protecting outdated cruel practices to protect profits, "property" designation, and disfigurement to our patients. I am here to serve my patients. Not only the patients who can afford me, but all of the patients who need me. (Where and why did the debate about pain management, declawing, debarking, and factory farming ag-gag laws take precedence over our obligation to be our patients advocate?).

There needs to be a reminder to all among us what the indifference, silence and bullying culture costs both us and the society we live in.

Questioning is the advancement of science. The innovation of professions. And most importantly the protection of liberty that every soul deserves.

We need to start pulling back the veils, dismantling the incestuous relationships with producers, manufacturers, lobbyists, and put our patients and our people first. Please start to question, and even mutter "No" to the slaughterhouse practice of overpopulation herd management (this includes, cows, horses, pigs, cats AND dogs).. "No" to toxic people.. "No" to clients who hit their dogs, threaten, deny basic care, neglect, harm, hurt, perpetuate disease via their neglect, and allow pets to die horrible suffering deaths. We see it, we don't do enough (or anything?) about it, and it undermines our ability to recognize it even in our exam rooms. It also makes us complicit. We are just as responsible, (perhaps even more so?), and we are part of the indifference that makes killing in society "ok". I may be a single solitary voice in a profession of pleasing paying people but the core of why and who I am is preserved and protected. It is also the influence I have every intention of fostering and perpetuating in my practice for my staff, my clients, and most importantly for my patients. It is time to have a voice other than the lobbyists hushed threats about what we will lose if we stand up and demand a kinder approach to serve the animals first. It is this internal conflict that each vet sees, feels, and knows that is the greatest consequence to our work-life inner peace.

Stuart and Falcon. rescued from the Humane Society.
A long story of their own and now ready for a home of their own.
Call me, email me, ask me about them, or any of our rescues.
They are all proof positive of the power of "NO!"

The profession is at a cross roads. Societies views of pets as members of the family, the financial incentive for us to acknowledge this, and the power of social media when we forget these are all testament to this. We are acting like we are making huge efforts to curb the suicide rate, job dissatisfaction, dwindling numbers of vets seeking ownership, and stagnant pay when compared to rising costs of our educations, but, we are still promoting, permitting and accepting a culture of exclusion and complacency. We are trying to empower, encourage and inspire each other while at the same time not acknowledging the most obvious reason we feel so trapped. Yet among all of this we don't have our own voice. We are sheep in a pack of masses huddling to stay alive while the wolves hover. I will attest to the pain found outside the pack. It might be better to follow the school and avoid the sharks but the inability to exercise your second amendment power is more than I can bear.

The profession has become a lobbying firm. You either adhere to the pervasive culture or get (forced) out. In most cases they won't really mind if it is at your own hand. It is stifling to live here. I hate it. I will come out and say I hate living here. I am losing hope. It is the fundamental lifeblood to a passionate person borne into a profession that alienates and destroys life on whims, economics and opinion. It is a reflection of the bullying that society does not adequately address nor protect.

There is a storm brewing. Maybe I will be some part of it? Maybe I will be yet another vet deemed collateral damage to a profession that doesn't say "No", doesn't have a voice of its own, and doesn't care enough about anyone or anything outside of its bottom line? We are far too worried about preservation of our power, our influence over lives without voices, and our lack of oversight from the human sides restrictive, profit driven corporate controlled medicine practices. The cruelty in vet med is alive top to bottom, across all species lines. The culture of accepting it is crumbling too slowly. And the death is both inside the pack and around us. Start to question who you are? Why you are here? And why hope for change is so elusive? Say "No" to being unkind, unwilling, and unable. We aren't sheep, and we aren't replaceable. I'm here to say "NO!" to being a part of  death of compassion of this new grad. I am also here to say "NO!" to sending a chihuahua home to die because we think we can't afford to care anymore.

There is liberation in having a voice that is your own to guide you. Being even more than who your white coat and oath asks you to be. There is the place where trust, integrity, innovation, inspiration peace, and purpose lives. If you can't learn "no" you will pay for the assumed "yes" whether it be in inconsistent drama based business, sleep deprivation, bankruptcy, or collapse. At some point something gives and you learn to say "No".

Where is your "NO!" living? What is your silence costing you?

Me and my Jekyll. Another "No", one of the best ones I ever muttered and stood up to.

More information on chihuahuas and dystocia here. Coco's Story.

More on Compassion Fatigue here

Get Out Alive blog here.

Gratitude. The Grace That Hardship Gifts blog here.

More on Fate versus Indifference In Vet Med here.

More on Ag-Gag Laws here.

AVMA Euthanasia Guidelines here.

More information on me, this blog, and who we are at Jarrettsville Vet can be found here: is about saving lives, and providing options with data. Let the data set the standard of care and integrity via transparency be the guide.

If you care about pets, believe in making happy endings happen, and want to help others please join me on our Jarrettsville Vet Facebook page, our Pawbly Facebook page,and also on Twitter and YouTube.


  1. thank you for writing such a heartfelt and heartening advocacy essay about unnecessary animal euthanasia.

    1. Thank you for reading. I am trying my darnedest! It just isn't right and we absolutely can (and HAVE to) do better! Be well.

  2. Thank you for this. It is a brave and fearless piece for you to write for pet people and veterinarians.

    I recently went to the funeral of our local veterinarian. He was a fine man and no animal would suffer in his care EVER. Dr Hughes was a rare man and his loss through cancer is a huge one for the community who loved him.

    I am anti declaw - as a European I consider it a barbaric procedure done for profit and I stand with against it. The AAHA has blocked me on Twitter rather than engage in honest conversation. It is this conversation the vet world so badly needs.

    Marjorie Dawson

    1. Hello!
      Thank you for taking the time to read and write.. and thank you for your dedication and love to all of the pets! I am sorry to hear of your loss of your beloved vet. The world needs more people like him.
      And PS if it makes you feel any better I too have been blocked by most of my profession.. so you aren't alone! welcome to the care-club my friend. Please also meet me at It is a free place dedicated to helping people and their pets. We would welcome your voice and expertise.