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Kekoa died while I was coming up with the book proposal, and I had an epiphany that she needed to be a part of [the book]. She was just a nutty, awkward senior Lab with serious separation anxiety. Initially, I spent so much time and money trying to undo the damage nine years of bad owners and scary experiences had done, but then I stopped and celebrated her for the lovely dog she was. She taught me that we’ve got to laugh at ourselves and our quirks.
Vetstreet: You mentionother noteworthy animals (and owners) in the book. What’s one lesson you learned from the animals you treated?
Dr. V: One of the ways the dogs — both mine and some of the dogs I treated — made me a better vet was to help me think about compassion for owners, as well as pets. I realized I had to look at every family as a unit, not just a dog attached to a person you had to barrel through to treat the dog.[Veterinarians] don’t always have the ability to spend a lot of time talking with clients, but when you do get [that chance], it creates a great relationship that helps you, the client and the pet. Trust is built on compassion; dogs are tremendous teachers of compassion.
Vetstreet: You now work in a home hospice and euthanasia practice. How does your experience there tie in with the underlying message of your book?
Dr. V: Saying goodbye to Emmett in my own home was what drew me into hospice, and my hospice work has taught me that, even in death, our pets are teaching us a lesson. People are scared of death, and they want to shove it in a corner, but what they really fear is seeing their loved ones suffer.Pet hospice lets me help people understand that death doesn’t have to be a painful process.
Vetstreet: And that experience helped you in a recent personal situation? Dr. V:Yes, I just went through all of this with my mom. She was sick and had a hard time articulating to medical professionals that she didn’t want treatment — there was no possible cure, and she didn’t want to waste time in the hospital. Her doctors didn’t want to hear that, but I had her back. And while we only had two months, she didn’t spend it suffering. We spent it together, watching hot air balloons and Harry Potter.
All those dogs taught me an amazing lesson: to focus on the time we had together and not the end itself. The struggles and trauma people experience [in end-of-life situations] are often because they’re busy putting off death rather than appreciating life. To be able to enjoy the time you have left together is a truly powerful gift, not only for pets, but for any loved ones.
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