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By Cherie T. Buisson, DVM, CHPV
Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian

I’ll tell you two secrets:

1. I hate taking care of my own (including my family’s) pets
2. I rarely let anyone else do it.

This isn’t an indictment of my family members, their pets, or my pets.

It’s an acknowledgment of the pressure (all self-induced) I feel when I don’t have that one step of the distance between myself and a client/patient. This situation is actually good for me since it helps me have empathy for my clients and their pets. I have a very good idea of what happens when they get their pets home and actually try to follow my instructions.

Many of us in the veterinary profession are perfectionists. It hurts us when things go wrong, especially when those things involve people we’ve spent our whole lives trying to please. It hurts even more when we deeply love a pet we struggle to help.

As I write, I’m sitting with my dachshund (Frieda) whose rear legs are paralyzed. My husband is out of town, so I’m all alone with my brain running amok. I’m second guessing myself and hoping I’m not the reason she becomes paralyzed or has to be euthanized. The swirling whirlpool in my head got so bad that I did something an introvert like me almost never does – I called someone for help.

“I need a real vet,” I whined into the phone. There is never a time that I feel my absence from clinics more than when one of my pets is ill.

My good friend and fellow veterinarian laughed. “You ARE a real vet!”

She gets me, though, so she knew exactly what I needed. I laid out everything like I was going to confession. I felt lighter with each word that came out of my mouth. She confirmed that I was doing the right things and reminded me what to do to monitor Frieda for changes. After all, I haven’t treated a young dog with a disc herniation in years. Then she asked me about her cat’s breathing treatments. We both left the conversation feeling better.

So many of us feel like wimps for not being “strong enough” to handle our family pets on our own. We feel like we must be failures if we have to ask for help. Yet, we lecture our clients that they shouldn’t practice medicine on their pets themselves. That’s mostly because they don’t have the knowledge that we do. But part of it is because it’s hard to be objective and do what must be done when you’re making life and death decisions about family. We encourage and expect them to ask us for help. Why shouldn’t our rules apply to us as well?

So phone a friend. Ask a colleague to work on your pets. One of the smartest decisions I ever made was having my friend and local vet dentist perform dentistry on my pets. It’s worth the money to not agonize over every little detail.

Do whatever you have to do to make this job just a little less stressful. And remember – the next time a client is having trouble with compliance, show some compassion. Because we’ve all been there.