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Vet’s Emotional Challenges of Caring for Our Pets

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On the Bad Days, I Go Home and Snuggle My Pets’: Rover.com Talks with Vets About the Emotional Challenges of Caring for Our Pets

Many animal lovers dreamed at one point or another of becoming a veterinarian — I know I did! But being a vet is so much more than being surrounded by adorable animals all day.

As Dr. Monica Dijanic of Beaver Brook Animal Hospital in Connecticut pointed out, “Unfortunately, the dark side of veterinary medicine is that we suffer greatly from compassion fatigue.”

Veterinary medicine has its share of emotional tolls, and vets must find ways to cope so they don’t become overwhelmed by the stressful demands of the career.

We learned a lot about the emotional challenges of being a veterinarian while interviewing animal experts for our new Rover.com feature, True Stories: Veterinarians Share Inspiring Tales of Overcoming Career Challenges. What they shared with us was eye-opening — and made us appreciate and admire the work they do even more!

Finances are often an obstacle

“Being a veterinarian can be emotionally challenging,” admitted Dr. Mary Gardner of Lap of Love, which has vets in multiple states. “Many people think we deal with puppies and kittens and fix sick animals all day.”

But providing animals the care they need to heal or stay healthy can be costly — and unfortunately, pet parents can’t always afford the treatment their pets need.

“Finances often interfere with proper care, and this leads to many veterinarians feeling helpless and depressed,” Dr. Gardner said.

Dr. Lisa Aumiller of HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service in New Jersey and Pennsylvania has witnessed many occasions when her patients’ humans couldn’t afford the care their pets needed — so she took action.

“One of our clients and several of our staff members started our non-profit, the Boo Tiki Fund,” Dr. Aumiller explained. “Our clients and staff help fundraise for this great fund, which helps clients when they can’t afford the medical care that their pet needs.”

Sadly, money often presents a hurdle for pet owners trying to afford the health care their pets require. And although vets work with their clients as best they can, limited budgets frequently cause frustrating circumstances not just for pet parents, but for vets too.

Vets sometimes have to honor distressing requests

Dr. Jessica Waldman of California Animal Rehabilitation recalled an incident that moved her deeply, and is a difficult situation that many vets are faced with.

“I once had a walk-in appointment for a euthanasia of a German shepherd that wasn’t able to walk due to hip dysplasia,” she remembered. “I was crushed that I was going to put this pup to sleep due to a condition I thought was manageable and the situation possibly preventable. I asked the vet who owned the practice if I could refuse, and he rightfully told me that this was what the client wanted, and the owner wouldn’t be able to adequately care for the pet. I performed the euthanasia with tears.”

Dr. Waldman decided to do something positive with this difficult experience, and it changed the course of her career.

“I thought then and still think that pets should pass from sickness, complicated disease, or cancers, but not from physical disabilities,” she explained. “This experience pushed me to follow my passion to become certified in acupuncture and rehabilitation, and I opened the first veterinary rehabilitation clinic in Los Angeles. I wanted to prolong pets’ lives. I wanted to take away their pain. And I wanted to prevent life-ending outcomes that are actually preventable.”

While Dr. Waldman forged a remarkable career path that offers pets a second chance, this is a heartbreaking position that many vets are often placed in.

Vets take care of animals and humans

Dr. Caroline Rehm Hassell of Rehm Animal Clinic in Alabama learned an important lesson about how vets aren’t only responsible for the pets they treat — they’re also responsible for the emotional well-being of their human companions.

On her first day as a vet, Dr. Rehm Hassell was so excited to correctly diagnose her first patient, Macy, that she forgot about how devastating the news that Macy had cancer would be for her mom.

“I was concerned about Macy’s illness but satisfied that I had determined a diagnosis,” she told us. “I went back into the exam room and announced proudly that Macy had a mast cell tumor. Macy’s mom was devastated — she began crying and was shocked. I quickly realized how insensitive I was as I delivered the news that Macy had cancer.”

She immediately took action to be more empathetic.

“I was able to schedule Macy for a biopsy, and handled the rest of her care with compassion and sensitivity to both Macy and her mom.”

She practices this compassion with every patient she treats. “As veterinarians, we treat pets because we love them,” she confessed. “It’s easy to feel compassion for dogs and cats because they are so wonderful, but being a veterinarian means also being there for their human counterparts.”

While a vet’s biggest job is taking care of animals’ welfare, sometimes, their most important role is being a source of emotional support to pet parents.

Ultimately, the positives outweigh the negatives for these devoted doctors

As with any profession, being a vet certainly has its share of difficult days. But despite the challenges, the vets we spoke with wouldn’t choose any other career.

As Dr. Dijanic told us, “Even on the bad days, I go home and snuggle my pets, grab a book, have a glass of wine, and remember that most days as a vet are wonderful.”

If you’re interested in working closely with animals in a fun and stress-free way, pet sitting with Rover.com is a wonderful way to get your fix!

Kelly Wright explores and celebrates the magical and mysterious bond between pets and people for Rover.com’s Animal Heroes section. If you have an amazing story about how an animal has brought joy and wonder to your life, please email her at kelly@rover.com.

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