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When I perform a euthanasia, I care for the pet owner as much as the pet. I walk the owner through the process; I reassure him or her that it is essentially painless for the pet; I comfort, and hug, and hold hands, and connect with grieving people on almost a spiritual level. When I euthanize a pet, I feel like I am a hospice caregiver, providing love while eliminating pain. It is an incredible privilege to be able to provide that kind of care and comfort for my patients and their owners.
Just the other day, I sent a sweet older Shih Tzu over the rainbow bridge in the presence of her family, including a 9-year-old girl who is the same age as my youngest child. Although it was heartbreaking, I felt thankful to be able to act as a liaison between life and death.
I am able to share love and connection with people when they need it most, and I am glad to care for people and pets in this sacred way.
While I went into veterinary medicine to care for the health of animals, I ended up caring for the health of humans as well.
A decent portion of my job as a veterinarian is keeping families safe from diseases that their pets may unknowingly harbor. From ringworm to intestinal parasites and other disease-causing agents, I keep my eyes, ears and other senses tuned for diseases that might affect humans when I see your pet in the clinic. You might not even know it, but your veterinarian is doing the same thing. For example, every time you purchase heartworm preventives from your veterinarian, many of these medications also help protect against internal parasites that can infect humans, especially children.
In Colorado, we have a wealth of zoonotic diseases, which can be spread from animals to humans, including rabies, plague and tularemia. Veterinarians here have to be on the lookout to help protect human health. We also have a large beef industry, and veterinarians are hard at work protecting your food supply, so you don’t get sick from food-borne diseases.
In veterinary school, we didn’t talk much about the detrimental effects of fear on pets. At the same time, many pets, especially cats, did not receive vital veterinary care, because transporting fearful pets to the vet was stressful. And pet owners were often embarrassed and couldn’t understand why their normally well-behaved pet was out of control.
Since then, due largely to the Fear Free movement and the pioneering work by Dr. Sophia Yin, creating a low-stress handling environment in veterinary hospitals has changed the way many of us practice medicine. By focusing on reducing fear in pets, veterinarians are able to provide more care in a less stressful manner, which helps boost overall animal health.
Veterinarians may even have to consider pet owner fear, because pets often feed off the emotions of their favorite people. While it might seem strange that veterinarians care about both human and animal fear, it’s actually part of the One Health Initiative. This worldwide movement encourages collaboration between human physicians, veterinarians and other scientists involved in health care and the environment to advance research and improve knowledge. Doctors and veterinarians are working together to save millions of lives.
When you think about it, we really are all connected. By reducing fear and improving health care for animals, and caring about the anxiety and health of the pet parent, veterinarians are also enhancing human health. Pretty cool, eh?
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