THE YELLOW DOG PROJECT

Protecting your dog and others

Have you ever seen a dog that needed more space from other dogs or people? What if I could tell you that there has been a way to identify these dogs in public since 2012, yet many dog owners are unaware of this simple method? What if I told you that there is an international effort to help dogs to have their own space while also educating their owners and the public? The effort is called the Yellow Dog Project, and it identifies these dogs with a simple yellow ribbon on the leash.

Why would a dog not want to be touched?

  • They may be recovering from a painful surgery
  • They may be ill
  • They may be old and tired
  • They may be a rescue/shelter dog who is still stressed and anxious
  • They may be in training with all of their focus on their owner’s commands
  • They may be a service dog whose focus is solely on providing a service for the owner’s well-being without interference from others
  • They may be “in season”
  • They may have been trained as protection dogs who will react if they or their owner feel threatened
  • They may want to be left alone

So many people expect all dogs to be cuddly, family pets and sadly, too many owners believe their dog will never bite. Why? The dog is friendly at home, plays with the children and has never shown aggression. 

With more people owning dogs, it is even more important today that owners protect their dogs, other dogs, and people around them from being bitten or attacked. Understand your dog’s everyday behavior, what makes them anxious, the effects of medication such as steroids which may cause depression, anxiety, or even aggression. Taking steps to protect everyone is responsible dog ownership.

Many behaviors a dog exhibits are predictable and are similar for people.sickness, If they are ill, recovering from surgery or a sickness, expect them to be anxious. Dogs do not understand surgeries, splints, stitches, or missing limbs. Communicating with the veterinary staff is harder and depends on expression and body language. Dogs cannot focus or hear well while recovering from anestheanesthesia,sia which will be unnatural for them. They do not know who all the strange people are that are poking and prodding them or why they are stuck in a cage attached to another cage with unfamiliar animals and scents. They do not understand why their family is not around to protect them.

Even service dogs can be seen donning yellow vests or bandanas. Err on the side of caution when a dog dons yellow. Service dogs often show no aggression.  They are at work and need to focus on their handler. The same rules apply as if they needed space.  

Know the signs of anxiety. If any of these signs are seen regularly, it is time to see the veterinarian.

  • Panting
  • Excessive yawning
  • Salivation
  • Obsessive licking
  • Gazing around
  • Drooping ears
  • Lowered body language
  • Tucked tail

Your dog may be anxious around people or dogs they do not know. If the dog senses fear, this may lead to a traumatic event for all. This is where the Yellow Dog Project can help everyone. Always keep your dog on a leash in public. Yellow dog ribbons quickly identify your dog as needing space. As word gets out about the Yellow Dog Project, the public will understand that you are trying to prevent unwanted situations for your dog. By giving the dog space, others are helping you refocus the animal’s attention and reduces the animal’s psychological stress during health and behavior rehabilitation.

Never assume that everyone knows what a yellow ribbon means.

If your dog has a yellow ribbon and someone approaches your dog:

  • Simply redirect the dog by pulling gently on the leash and turning away from the approaching person until you are at a safe distance.
  • Educate the approaching person in a slow and quiet voice. A loud voice may startle the dog or others in the area, setting off an unwanted chain of events.
  • Explain that the yellow leash or ribbon means the dog needs space and that it is for everyone’s protection.
  • Never assume your cute, cuddly dog is friendly, especially if YOU had a reason for identifying the dog as needing space.

If you see a strange dog and there is a yellow ribbon attached:

  • Always ask the owner before reaching down to pet a dog.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with the dog, as they view this as a sign of aggression.
  • Position yourself lower, without losing your balance, to be the dog’s size.
  • Never move quickly or run toward the dog.

To learn more, check out the Yellow Dog Project or DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space.

Compassion Fatigue and Veterinary Suicide Part 5: You Are Never Alone

Over the past several weeks, I have tried to bring attention to a very real problem facing the veterinary profession. I am not a veterinarian, nor do I work in the veterinary profession. I write as a freelancer when time permits, and have written many articles on rescues, shelters, pet placement services for active military personnel, and service dog organizations over the years. When a vet tech friend of mine suggested last year that I write a little article on compassion fatigue and veterinary suicide, I told her I would consider it. I honestly never heard that suicide was an issue that was affecting the veterinary profession, but I had to push it off until I had more time to look into the issue.

What I discovered over the past several weeks brought tears to my eyes. I found it hard to actually write on the sensitive topic as I kept picturing myself in the veterinarian’s shoes. I felt myself drawn into their world and wondering how I would manage the same issues if I was faced with them every day. I love animals, writing and sharing information with others. Like most little girls when I was in 2nd grade, I wanted to be a veterinarian. My parents were very honest with me and said they would be unable to help me financially. As I got older, I accepted that and went into an unrelated field. I was able to work for a very short time in a small animal practice while going back to school in my early 20’s, but then I faced two situations in one day that did not set well with me:  assisting the veterinarian with the cropping of a Doberman puppy’s tail and docking it’s ears and then assisting the vet with the euthanasia of a 12 year old dog who, despite some physical disabilities, was a healthy senior. I wanted to ‘save’ the dog from death and became emotional. Why couldn’t the veterinarian tell the client no to euthanasia? I learned that day that working in a veterinary practice was not for me and sometimes, the decisions they have to make are not easy. Thankfully, the veterinarian in charge that day, pulled me aside, explained why the position was not be a good fit for me and I was released. After writing this blog series, I now understand more fully and have to say I am very thankful for her honesty. If those two incidents are still vivid in my memory after 35 years, I can only imagine how the job would have affected me on a daily basis. She spared me a lifetime of mental health challenges.

This topic was too important to rush through and just bullet issues, and I tried to cover many issues. However, two issues I did not delve into were HIPAA and the availability of controlled substances.

The first time I was handed a HIPAA form at a vet, I admit I was taken back. Why would my veterinary office be handing me a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act form for my dog when it is designed for the human healthcare industry? I recently learned why. Attached to every animal is a human and that human’s financial and personal information is collected by the practice and must be protected. Maybe HIPAA is not the correct wording for this form; however, veterinarians are required not only to secure their clients information but also are required to abide by the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics (PVME). Though the PVME is comprehensive, under the Principles with Supporting Annotations, it specifically states under Section 5.1:

“Veterinarians and their associates must protect the personal privacy of clients, and veterinarians must not reveal confidences unless required to by law or unless it becomes necessary to protect the health and welfare of other individuals or animals.”

When complaints are posted on social media, veterinarians and their staff must not violate HIPAA or the PVME. For them, it is best to not respond and ensure the trust with clients is retained. Sadly, they are unable to defend themselves from cruel and one-sided defamation which can have long lasting effects on their practice and their reputation.

With the ease of availability to controlled substances and the knowledge how to use these substances to humanly end to a life, it unfortunately makes this a more accessible option for those contemplating suicide. I will not go into details on this option since there are so many other factors involved with controlled substances which are critical in the veterinary profession.  However, I am sure control measures will be looked at in more detail over the years in an attempt to minimize the possibility of suicide by veterinary staff through this means.

The bucolic lifestyle of an animal loving veterinarian living in the Yorkshire countryside and made famous in the James Herriot books was a ‘perception’ created by Alfred Wight to help him deal with his own depression in the 1960’s, yet this ‘perception’ resulted in many entering the veterinary profession. It is not until that perceived lifestyle has slipped out of reach, when the debts become unescapable, when a procedure does not go as expected, when clients yell, scream and post disrespectful comments on the practice’s website, will the veterinarian begin to ask themselves over and over what went wrong. Society has become demanding; expecting veterinarians and staff to have all of the answers, to be open 24/7, to have more access to fancy expensive diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and treatment. On top of this, clients balk at paying for the services and complaining of the excessive costs every time they have an appointment, when in reality, they may only visit the vet once or twice over a several year period. The hours are long, the demands keep coming, but the gratitude and praise are less each year.

As I wrap this up, it is my hope that those in the veterinary profession that have been following these posts realize that they are not alone. Mental health is no longer considered the stigma it once was. Help is always a click or a phone call away, and as more people become aware that the veterinary profession faces a crisis, the more resources become available to help those in need.

I hope that veterinary staff will unite when they suspect a colleague is struggling; that they will initiate QPR which means to question, persuade, and refer those in need to available resources which can help them through tough times.

I also hope that clients will learn to be more patient, kinder, and understanding toward their veterinarians and the staff. They are doing their absolute best under the parameters of the law with the knowledge and resources they have to keep pets happy and healthy under stressful conditions.

So how do veterinarians work through the mental health and financial challenges that haunt their profession? Instead of going into detail. let me highlight a few key points.

  • Learn to protect your own needs:  physical, mental, and emotional. This also means learning to say NO.
  • Identify your personal goals and objectives
  • Improve employee teams:  insist staff take scheduled breaks, lunches, and time off
  • Offer benefits; support wellness programs such as gym membership; offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or an insurance which includes mental health benefits
  • Provide training and growth opportunity
  • Allow paid time off when a pet dies
  • Understand the legal parameters in which the vet tech is allowed to perform and identify opportunities to utilize them more fully

AVAILABLE RESOURCES FOR VETERINARIANS/SUPPORT STAFF/STUDENTS

  • Not One More Vet Home | Not One More Vet (nomv.org)
    • NOMV helps veterinary professionals through peer-to-peer support, financial support grants, education presentations, and by collaborating with partner agencies to extend services to the veterinary community. When we say veterinary professionals, we mean everyone – veterinarians, veterinary technicians, veterinary students, and veterinary support staff. 
    • Online support also includes How to Deal with Cyberbullying, Help for Compassion Fatigue, Access to Crisis Intervention Training, Crisis Numbers for the United States and Abroad, and Facebook Forum Groups:  Not One More Vet, Not One More Vet Support Staff, and Not One More Vet Student
  • American Veterinary Medical Association We are AVMA | American Veterinary Medical Association
    • Online resources, annual wellness summit, Train-the-Trainer courses, Free Access to QPR (question, persuade and refer), ProQOL Assessment (professional quality of life assessment – balance of positive & negative, personal, and work experiences)
  • Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study | Merck Animal Health USA (merck-animal-health-usa.com)
    • Collaboration with AVMA and NOMV, provides links, resources studies and toolkits
  • Mighty-Vet Homepage – MightyVet 2021
    • On demand Continuing Education, Global Mentorship Program,  Office Hours with Industry Professionals and Thought Leaders Globally, Free Continuing Education
  • Mentor Vet About — MentorVet
    • A national mentorship program designed to help newly graduated veterinary students in the United States with locating mental health interventions.

In regard to your clients and the public, consider posting the following in your facility, on your website, or offering it as a handout to clients. Feel free to curtail it to your practice.

Dear client: We value you as a client. As we navigate through the continued COVID-19 fallout which has affected all of us, we ask that you remember that veterinarians and their staff are humans and are doing their best to help your pets with the in-depth knowledge they have gained through their education and experience. Here are a few tips that can help us service you better.

Veterinarians are on your side and want to provide the absolute best care for your pet. I hope this 5-part series helped shed light on this growing issue not only for veterinary staff but also for the general public.  I have learned so much and will do what I can to get the word out to help a profession who has always gone above and beyond to keep my pets healthy.

  • Trust your veterinary team and take an active role in following our advice. We are on your team.
    • We are well educated and will always give our best professional advice in regard to your pet as well as alternatives if they are available. If you choose not to follow this advice, those decisions may have irreversible consequences or lead to other conditions such as obesity, diabetes, arthritis, or early death.
  • Be patient, kind, and understanding. Ask the vet and staff how they are doing when you see them. Let them talk. They will not discuss another client’s case, but it may allow them the time they need to gather their composure after something very emotional.
  • Be reasonable and rational when on-line. If you do not have something nice to say, do not say it.
    • Post positive reviews whenever possible. If there is a disagreement with a veterinarian or their staff, be a mature adult and ask to speak to them regarding the issue in private.
    • Negative words affect personal and professional reputations as well as business operations, but they could also open up legal ramifications against the poster.
    • Due to the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics (PVME), reviews will always be one-sided.
  • Be flexible with appointments. Plan far enough in advance to reserve your preferred provider. Be clear about what you plan to discuss and your expectations.
  • Plan refills for your pet’s medication by using their preferred method.
    • Prescriptions need to be signed off by a veterinarian and we prefer to do this at one time rather than interrupting someone else’s appointment to sign your prescription.
  • Thank the veterinarian and the staff by sending a card, dropping off cookies, or updating us on how our recommendations are helping your pet recover, lose weight or have more energy.
    • A simple thank you goes a long way to let staff know they are appreciated.
  • Be a responsible pet owner. Keep up with routine care and preventatives
  • Own your financial responsibility.
    • Obtain pet insurance, have a separate savings account, or credit card to help with unexpected costs that arise. Setting aside so much per week will enable the amount to accrue and it will be there when needed.
  • Make sure you do not have more pets than you can responsibly manage. Pets are luxuries not impulse decisions and require time and money. One pet should not have to suffer or go without so another can thrive. The more you invest in them, the more they will thrive.
  • Veterinarians and their staff NEED time to decompress. When they are not working, refrain from asking for advice. Focus on helping them find a healthy work-life balance: go out to eat, go to a movie, a concert, sports game, a hike, the beach…but do not talk about work.
  • If, during a visit, you sense a staff member is struggling emotionally, do not hesitate to ask if they know about Not One More Vet (nomv.org).

Thank you from your Pet’s Healthcare Team!

Veterinarians are committed to the well-being of animals but with such dedication, long hours and numerous stressors, their mental health is challenged every day. They want to provide the absolute best care for animals, but they also need to take care of themselves. Resources are available but they need to be aware that they are available.

I hope this 5-part series shed light on this growing issue not only for veterinary staff but also for the general public.  I have learned so much and will do what I can to get the word out to help a profession who has always gone above and beyond to keep my pets healthy.

I want to give a special thank you to Stephanie for bringing this topic to my attention and to Jen for her professional insights. I highly recommend anyone in the veterinary profession that is struggling to overcome a challenge to head over to Not One More Vet (NOMV.org) or one of the other sources identified above. The partnerships and resources they share are exceptional. Knowing that you are never alone can make all the difference in the world.

Compassion Fatigue and Veterinary Suicide Part 4: Financial Stress and Cyberbullying

Financial Stress and Cyberbullying. Why these two issues are so overwhelming.

Financial Stress

The veterinary profession is a rewarding field, but it is definitely not without its dark side.  In the last post, I addressed euthanasia and the toll it takes on the entire staff.  I also briefly touched on their financial stress. Let’s take a closer look at the financial impact on mental health. Isn’t repayment of a higher education loan a ‘normal’ stressor which many people face upon completion of a degree?  If that is true, why should veterinarians feel that their financial stress is so different? 

According to Not One More Vet, the AVMA reports that in 2020, ‘the average educational debt for that year’s veterinary school graduates was $157,146 with the average debt for those with debt being $188,853 and over 30% had at least $200,000 in debt’ (AVMA, 2021).

The additional debt incurred to achieve the DVM degree sets these young energetic students back $157,146-$200,000 in addition to a debt may have been incurred for their bachelor’s degree. If they are fortunate, they may be able to obtain scholarships or other financial assistance which does require repayment. Sadly, that is not the norm for many. With such a large debt upon completion of their DVM degree, one may assume that they would earn a large salary immediately. The sad truth is the majority do not.

In a blog post by Associated Veterinary Partners on the Not One More Vet website, titled The Veterinary Mental Health Crisis Part 1 of 2: The Root of the Problem, they discuss “the cost of veterinary medical school in the US is well in excess of $200,000 and veterinarian salaries fall on average about 2.5x lower than physician salaries despite a similar level of educational debt. Decades of financial stress often follow veterinarians beyond graduation and can snowball with all the other stressors in their lives. Heavy indebtedness has been linked to poor mental health outcomes, meaning that the student debt crisis is playing a role in worsening the mental health crisis in veterinary medicine.” https://www.nomv.org/2021/09/12/the-veterinary-mental-health-crisis-part-2-of-2-where-do-we-go-from-here/

This is not just in the United States, but it is a global issue.

According to My Veterinary Life AVMA Veterinary Salary Estimator for Current Students – AVMA My Veterinary Life, the 2022 average starting salary for a 27-year-old companion animal exclusive veterinarian in Pennsylvania working an average of 50 hours per week in a suburban community is estimated to fall between $72,440-$107,494.  Using the same criteria for Massachusetts, this falls to $67,004-$106,526 and falls even more when looking for work in the heartland of America.  In Kansas, the starting salary falls between $61,885-$102,282.  Considering these average starting salaries are similar to those leaving college with a bachelor’s degree or finishing a trade school, it is understandable that the financial stress on a veterinarian is enormous when their debt is much higher. After a few years, they may reach an average mean salary of $108,153.

Two leading veterinary schools, Penn Vet University of Pennsylvania and the Cummins School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, are each on the high-end spectrum of the tuition costs between $54,742 and $56,322 annually.  An additional $28,302 to $38,844 should be available annually to cover insurance, labs, housing, textbooks, clinical rotations, and other supplies to name a few items but these costs are not etched in stone.  As one can see, without doing their research for an education that would be financially within their reach or looking into financial assistance, a student’s mental health could easily be affected well into their career. (Penn Vet and Cummins Vet School costs at bottom of page)

Hopefully, students do their research before committing to a particular school to uncover more affordable options available in the United States, but even then, the debt, with the bachelor’s degree, may still be around $300,000-$350,000. That is a reality. A list of available scholarships can be found at the American Veterinary Medical Foundation website https://www.avmf.org/programs/student-scholarships/.

Add to this debt inflation, rent or mortgage, property, health, auto, business insurance including medical malpractice and/or professional liability insurance, car payments, and if a practice owner, add the cost of benefits, equipment, training, and hiring, etc.  The expenses skyrocket without the salaries keeping up with inflation.

If one is fortunate enough to have their bachelor’s degree paid off before embarking on a DVM degree, the debt will be greatly reduced. Available scholarships should be considered. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation is a good place to start. How Much Is Vet School? What Students Pay for a D.V.M. – NerdWallet.

Financial planning is critical to success, especially when one incurs such a large debt by choice. Financial security plays such a huge part in the stability of one’s mental health, and unfortunately, when these decisions are being made about a career, the student is usually young, inexperienced and has not considered the impact on their future. The results can easily make a person feel as if they have no other way out but suicide.

When that debt keeps rising, and the salary is not keeping up, what is a veterinarian to do? For current veterinarians, students, and veterinary staff, confidential peer support groups are available to discuss issues, obtain support and get recommendations for assistance. Such sources can be found at one of three Not One More Vet private Facebook Groups: Not One More Vet, Not One More Vet Support Staff, and Not One More Vet Student.

Social Media & Cyberbullying

While veterinarians and their staff do their best to care for each animal they treat, not everything will go as it should, just as it doesn’t always go as it should with human procedures.  And just as in the human medical field, smaller practices are swallowed up by corporations resulting in procedures and appointments times being closely monitored. Communications also seem to have been affected in some practices and not always for the better.

Sadly, in this new age of posting everything on social media, the veterinarian and staff must now also deal with cyberbullying on top of their financial worries. Not One More Vet (NOMV) describes cyberbullying as: ‘using direct comments to or about individuals, naming individuals, or using their photos online in ways designed to harm their professional or personal wellbeing. Cyberbullying has real and detrimental effects on the wellbeing of those targeted, and at least one in five veterinary professionals has reported being one of them.’

In a post I recently saw on-line through a community social media site, I watched as a client described her experience at a local vet with her one-year-old healthy black Labrador retriever that underwent a routine neutering, developed other sudden issues, and passed away six days later at a different vet. The neutering veterinarian and practice was named.  As with all on-line posts, this was one- sided. There was no input from the veterinarian or the staff, but quickly garnered over 180 views and over 130 responses.  The practice and doctor were chastised, several responders called for legal intervention to include suing for malpractice, pain and suffering, reimbursement for all vet bills, and the cost of the dog’s purchase. One reply even vilified the veterinarian for thinking they were God because of their education. Two practices which were unrelated to the alleged incident were brought up, named and chastised for negligence for unrelated incidents.  Many said the original veterinarian should be terminated…never to practice as a veterinarian again, but the ripple effect of the post will most certainly have undesired consequences, not only on the original practice and veterinarian but unfortunately also for the other practices that were mentioned. 

With all of the negative responses I read, one thing was very clear and that was ‘how the client felt’ with the ‘reaction’ by the veterinarian and the staff.  This is huge and this is where communication is critical. I can see many things that could have been done differently on both sides by simply communicating so I will not choose sides. I will; however, address options in my final post.

It is important to understand that the training received in veterinary school on financial well-being, business operations, cyber bullying and how it affects one’s mental health is practically non-existent, although this is starting to change. Communication is also critical as some find it easier to ‘talk’ to the pet rather than an irate client.

Many people struggle with finances trying to make ends meet. They struggle with their professional reputation being smeared across the internet and their local communities. It can become overwhelming at times as well as mentally and physically challenging. When threats of violence enter the picture, the overwhelming feeling of depression, anxiety and fear escalate. The veterinarian wants to help the animal but when clients start bullying, either in person or on the internet, their job becomes more difficult, and their mental health starts to get compromised as they begin questioning their own professional actions.

Education on mental health, finances and cyberbully are coming both during the veterinary program and for seasoned veterinarians. Organizations such as Not One More Vet https://www.nomv.org/ and Mighty Vet https://mightyvet.org/ offer education to help veterinarians and students understand issues on mental health. But there is so much more, especially on Not One More Vet. If one needs a confidential peer support group, it is here.

Penn Vet has hired a financial counselor, a career counselor and mental health counselor for both their Philadelphia and New Bolton campuses to help students with understanding and addressing financial issues. https://www.vet.upenn.edu/education/vmd-admissions/paying-for-your-education/financial-assistance

Veterinary students can look to the AVMA for resources to help them understand and calculation loans and learn early on how to manage their financial well-being. https://myvetlife.avma.org/current-student/your-financial-health.

American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) identifies scholarship opportunities which students should consider when applying for admission to a veterinary school. https://www.avmf.org/programs/student-scholarships/

In my final post, I will highlight what resources are available to veterinarians so they may help themselves and their co-workers and I will also identify what measures pet parents and the general public can take to help end compassion suicide and veterinary suicide.

Compassion Fatigue and Veterinary Suicide Part 3: Mental Health Challenges

Dr. Sophia Yin, age: 48
Died by suicide 09/28/2014

BURNOUT V. COMPASSION FATIGUE:  The importance of understanding the difference

  • Is burnout, which so many people experience at some point in their life, the same as compassion fatigue?
  • What exactly is compassion fatigue?
  • Why does compassion fatigue, if left untreated, affect the veterinary practice and lead to thoughts of suicide or committing suicide?

Burnout is ‘a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.’  It is often associated with the workplace, and is a consequence of stressors in the work environment. These can be an overdemanding boss, long hours, inadequate pay, and poor benefits. Oftentimes, a simple change of the work environment can help with burnout and life goes on with little interruption.

Compassion fatigue, also known as ‘secondary traumatic stress disorder,’ is much different. There is no doubt that this is more serious and follows a person despite leaving the environment where it originated. Without proper management and treatment, compassion fatigue can lead to not only thoughts of suicide, but with some, like Dr. Sophia Yin, Dr. Shane Cote, and numerous others; suicide was the end result.

According to the statistics at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as Auburn University Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), from 2003-2014, male veterinarians died of suicide at a rate of 1.6% higher than the national average, with 51 % choosing firearms and 33% choosing to overdose. During the same time period, female veterinarians who committed suicide were 2.4% higher than the national average with 18% choosing firearms and 64% choosing to overdose. Veterinarians are dying by suicide at high rates, beset by stress, death, and debt (inquirer.com). Today, veterinarians are 3.5x more likely to commit suicide than the general public. With euthanasia drugs being readily available, the veterinarians possess the knowledge and the means to an end.

Thankfully, there is less of a stigma on mental health issues in 2022, and suicide prevention programs are more available through resources like Mighty Vet (founded in 2018) and Not One More Vet (NOMV) which was founded in 2014, after the tragic suicide of Dr. Sophia Yin. Over 400 veterinarians have died tragically,, and these numbers continue to grow.

In my last post, I spoke about the James Herriot Effect and how it presented “a life as it should be for a veterinarian”:  bucolic settings, small financially secure practices where people paid or bartered for services, received gratitude from clients and were highly respected in the community. Veterinarians spent many days going from farm to farm to help bring newborn baby animals into the world, to heal sick livestock, equines, and swine which all resulted in the farmers to continue operations without much interruption. The veterinarians were depicted as happy and satisfied both in the books and on television. It seemed like the perfect life. So how did we get from the preconceived ideas of veterinary medicine portrayed by Alf Wight to losing over four-hundred veterinarians to suicide since 1979?

If we take a closer look, veterinary professionals realize that there is a sacred bond between the pets owner (caregiver) and their animal companion. In this bond, the caregiver provides the necessities of life: food, shelter, medical care, grooming, protection, and love. The caregiver assumes a responsibility to provide these necessities as well as giving a voice to their pet in times of need. The pet trusts that their caregiver will take care of them, In return, the pet provides comfort to the caregiver through their silly antics, soulful eyes, the cocking of their head as if they are trying to understand what the owner is saying, and allowing their owner to run their hands through their fur or pat them on the head which somehow relaxes their owner.  All of this aids to balance a person’s mental health. When we care for another while also being cared for, it is definitely an emotional and sacred bond.

Oftentimes, the staff has cared for the animal since it was a baby or first adopted. They have been through vaccinations, illnesses, injuries, good times and bad. Some veterinarians send birthday wishes to the animal via their owner and in turn some owners send cards at the holidays. Animals, like people, do not live forever, but the bond that formed in such a short amount of time often affects people worse than losing some family members. When the owner’s bond is severed, it transfers to the veterinarian, vet techs and nurses who have treated the animal all the way down to the front desk and back-office personnel. They own the burden of a dying or ill patient. Although emotional, the staff is expected to hold in their emotions and move on to the next patient as if nothing happened moments before. Picture reliving those feelings several times in a week with no relief.

Veterinarians are the only profession that can legally end a life. When a patient is suffering, it is often the kindest alternative, but that does not make it easier. The sad reality is, the medical necessity is not always there, and they wish they could refuse to perform the service. Pressure from owners or pressure from the practice to “keep moving ahead with patients” leads to moral and ethical issues for the veterinarian.

Animals may come in with a behavior problem, either to a veterinary office or a shelter. Though many behavior issues can be overcome, there are often times the caregivers do not want to invest the time or money for the training or they have been told by authorities that if the animal repeats a specific behavior, it will be deemed dangerous and faces euthanasia. The owner can be charged both criminally and civilly. The caregivers answer at this point is usually euthanasia. Lack of training on the owner’s part most often leads to this result and the veterinarians realize this as well. Some veterinarians struggle with the moral and ethical issue of euthanizing an otherwise healthy pet. Some offer to take the animal and invest their own time and money to avoid taking a life when there is help available. Trying to address a moral/ethical dilemma in this way pushes the legal responsibility onto the veterinarian should the animal injure someone. It is risky to say the least. They see it as a waste of a life that never had to happen, especially those veterinarians that service shelters. They face even more pressure from the public and experience first-hand more animal abuse cases sometimes brought on by behavior issues that could have been corrected.

Other times, the caregiver lacks the funds for the treatment needed. Despite wanting to help their pet, when faced with an expensive surgery or treatment, many owners have no alternative but to euthanize. Few clients have pet insurance, and even if they do, many insurances require that the client pay up front and file for reimbursement. Veterinary practices cannot front the funds for the animals care even though they would like to see the animal get the best treatment. Those that have done so in the past risk never receiving payment back by the client once the animal has been released.

Sometimes, there is nothing that can be done, and the pet must be euthanized. Those in the veterinary profession are highly intelligent and many are thought to be over-achievers. They strive for perfection and when something goes awry in an animal’s treatment, or moral/ethical issues creep in, they take it personal and obsess to the point of pushing their mental health to the brink of collapse all while trying to manage these adverse events, interacting with difficult clients, working in teams, and balancing work and home life. Ethical issues face the veterinarian several times a week.

As feelings of inadequacy and loss start to affect personnel, compassion fatigue enters the picture. The whole practice is affected in one way or another with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and psychological stress. Efficiency drops, workers compensation claims rise, and turnover rates increase. Staff talks. Sadly, rumors and gossip run rampant, and staff will be unable to complete their tasks. This leads to a lack of team cohesion and unhealthy competition among staff which can become aggressive. The veterinarian must now deal with the animals, the clients, and a toxic work environment.

Covid 19 has had both positive and negative effects on the profession. Teams were over worked and overwhelmed due to shortages of staff that were a result of government mandates in regard to lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing. School closures forced working mothers to be absent from the workforce for two years. The interruption of staff was significant. What many people fail to realize is that some medical supplies were now being diverted for human medicine during the COVID-19 crisis which also contributed to postponements of surgeries due to lack of supplies.

Veterinarians were an essential business during the pandemic so in an effort to meet the client’s needs as much as possible and still comply with the government’s mandates, they refocused their practice for urgent cases only creating new workflows, operating procedures, safety protocols, transitioned to curbside pickup, splitting staff members into rotating teams, and sanitizing exam rooms and other surfaces after each visit. Unfortunately, this forced wellness visits and elective surgeries to be postponed. Since people finally were spending more time with their pets and not on frivolous entertainment, they noticed more health concerns in their pets and started requesting more services as practices started to re-open with the ralaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.

In the next installments, I will shed a light on why financial stress and cyberbullying lead to mental health challenges and finally, in the last post I will address the resources to help veterinarians and their staff overcome these challenges while also identifying measures for pet parents and the public to take to help end this serious issue.

MEMORIAL VIDEOS:

Compassion Fatigue and Veterinary Suicide Part 2: The James Herriot Effect

What exactly is meant by the James Herriot Effect?  The explanation is a curiosity or infatuation with veterinary medicine for millions of people throughout the world that, through James Herriot’s vivid descriptions of the Yorkshire countryside and his accounts of the animals, their owners, and the people of the community which he served, instilled a picturesque lifestyle with bucolic settings that was rewarding and profitable.  This image stayed with many people who read the Herriot books or watched the television series.  They saw themselves living the lifestyle depicted by Herriot and that meant pursuing a veterinary career. 

The books were written by a Scottish country vet in Yorkshire, England by the name of James Alfred ‘Alf’ Wight under the pen name of James Herriot, a real-life Bristol City soccer goalkeeper.

Wight realized by age 12 that he wanted to turn his passion for animals into a career of treating sick animals. Passion for animals is considered one of the main criteria of pursuing the veterinary profession which has not changed in over 80 years when Wight started in the profession, but veterinary medicine is not just helping cuddly, furry animals.  Even Wight knew it was also about interacting with the owners, being a respected part of the community and helping advance the science of veterinary medicine.  Although the criteria for wanting to enter the field has not changed, times and the profession have evolved.  Veterinarians must always remind themselves why they entered the profession and must always remember that ‘animals do not care what a veterinarian knows, as long as they know the veterinarian cares.’ 

Veterinary medicine has advanced from the days of the Herriot books where veterinarians traveled farm to farm ‘putting out fires’ using simple oral medications, manual palpitations, and late-night parturitions (birthing).  They sustained numerous near misses and strained muscles. They worked in non-sterile environments, and payments were received through food bartering and small monetary exchanges…which did not sustain a practice.  The vets of years ago were part of the community, being praised and respected by the public for helping through tough times 24/7.   By addressing milk fever, prolapsed uteruses, and breached births right in the stalls, it helped the farmers continue their farming duties while their livestock was being treated.  Family pet emergencies were just starting to emerge as a new practice as they were now viewed as part of the family and not considered chattel by all owners.  The clients started to bring their pets to an office as opposed to the veterinarian traveling to the clients’ home. 

Today’s veterinarians seldom travel the countryside as described in the Herriot books. Farmers are more skilled and equipped to handle their emergencies.  Instead, today’s veterinary services are more focused on smaller animals and provide these services inside a small building with several exam rooms where the staff may attend to twenty clients or more in two hours or less with more in the waiting room.  It is a much colder approach than in years past where the animal was treated in their own environment.  It is more stressful for everyone.  Instead of putting out fires, veterinarians now promote preventative measures, vaccinations, more specialized treatments, and there are better diagnostics available.  A wider choice of pharmaceuticals to include injectables is available and the environment is more sterile.  More education is provided to the client on home treatments and first aid.  Payments are made with cash, check and credit card.  There is little to no bartering for services. 

Unless private practice veterinarians have taken courses to understand business ownership and operations to includes accounting, taxes, regulations, human resources, mentoring, and employee relations…the pressure on the owners to not only provide the best care to the patients but keep their business profitable is highly stressful.  Their work-life balance takes its toll mentally, physically, and financially since it requires working extremely long hours to pay off expensive loans, satisfy their business debts, pay their employee salaries, providing employee benefits all while ensuring they keep themselves and their staff current on new diseases, treatments, diagnostics and supporting staff who want to further their own education.  Though practices have front end staff to assist with initial client contact, answering phones, scheduling appointments, and keeping up with the paperwork and payments, they still definitely struggle to keep the practice moving smoothly.

Often, veterinarians struggle to find a balance that works for them.  Their quest to be the best combined with the daily stressor of business ownership cause some to become short with staff.  The result is an unhappy staff who finds their superiors unapproachable, more support staff turnover of vet techs, vet nurses and administration, and more worry for the veterinarian. 

Despite the advancements, many smaller practices have been purchased by corporations and are now run more on a business model than a small private country vet practice which was made famous by the James Herriot books. The result is more practice management oversight, more accountability, far less time with the animal, far less personal touch with the owner, and more paperwork while the veterinarians focus on better preventative measures and less on heroic measures. Heroic measures are often performed by emergency veterinary hospitals and clinics which are fully equipped to provide life saving measures around the clock.

Today’s society is demanding.  They expect veterinarians and staff to have all of the answers, to be open 24/7, to have more access to fancy expensive diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and treatment, they want to know why the services are so costly as well as why their pet may not survive.  Clients balk at paying for the services with some responding with a curt “a bullet would have been faster and cheaper.” It is comments like this and the ungrateful attitudes that prey on a staff that gives it their all within the parameters they are allowed by law.  Veterinarians are the only profession that can legally take a life and that in itself is a huge weight on their shoulders. The hours are still long, the demands keep coming, the gratitude and praise are less each year and to top it off, corporations expect more from the staff regarding community events. 

Veterinarians are highly intelligent, highly educated and often highly driven to succeed.  Some people even say veterinarians are ‘over-achievers.’ As fantastic as these characteristics are for successful individuals, they can also be a curse leading to depression and suicide. 

Even Wight suffered from bouts of depression. He never thought he was good enough in his parent’s eyes. For a period of time, he only had sixty pounds to his name and could never afford to send his children to private school as his parents did for him. The depression at one time led to him receiving electroconvulsive therapy. He turned to writing about the clients, the practice and the community as a way to deal with his depression. But depression was not discussed. It was a stigma then and still exists today, though more resources are offered to anyone feeling they need help.  No one is immune.

When the once perceived bucolic lifestyle of the Yorkshire countryside slips out of reach, when the debts seem unescapable, when a procedure does not go as expected, when clients that once respected them yell, scream and post disrespectful comments on the practice’s website, they will ask themselves over and over what went wrong, and it will eat at their soul.

James Alfred ‘Alf’ Wight M.R.C.V.S and author writing under the pen name James Herriot

Compassion Fatigue and Veterinary Suicide Part 1: A Tragic Reality of the Profession

Part 1: From the James Herriot Effect to a crisis. Veterinarians and their staff face increasing mental health challenges.

I recently came across an article called Not One More Vet – The Tragic Reality of Veterinary Suicide by Dr. Alex Avery. I cried as I listened to his podcast on mental health issues in the veterinary profession which was attached in the article, and the causes. It is honestly something I never expected. After listening to his words, researching on my own and speaking to those in the veterinary profession (on all levels), I realized that this is an epidemic much of the public is unaware exists. The causes are real which worsened under the pandemic, and it is a topic that needs more attention and support.

Like so many little girls in the 1970’s, I dreamed of being a veterinarian. I still have the assignment I wrote in second grade on what I wanted to be when I grew up. Like my brothers, I loved animals and was always trying to bring home strays.

Walking to school, my friends and I came across dogs tethered outside with no water and living in horrible conditions. Often the areas they could reach on the tether was so short that they would walk, sit, and lay down in their own feces. The dogs were filthy and matted. I could not steal the dogs and bring them home. My heart sank each time I walked by and no matter what I said to people, it seemed to be ignored. Even the owners used to yell at us to stay away. And then one day, the dogs disappeared. I never saw them again. I absolutely loved animals and wanted to devote my life to them.

As a child, the only thing I knew about veterinarians is my father did not believe an animal should have a “doctor,” so I never experienced taking a sick animal to a vet until I was sixteen. Our old 17-year-old Heinz 57, who lived outside year-round, was extremely sick with a neurological condition. I refused to let her suffer. Against my father’s advice, I begged him to take her to a country vet, where they determined that, without medication, her condition would continue to worsen, and she would suffer. My father would have no parts of providing medications to an animal. To him, it was a waste of money. She would be euthanized. I stayed in the room with her, holding her in my arms as she drew her last breath while my father begrudgingly paid the bill at the desk. He never explained his reasoning and I never forgave him.

I knew little about veterinarians; only what I read in All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. He was an English vet in the Yorkshire countryside of England who treated farm animals early in his career and then later saw the need to offer veterinary services to pets as well. His vivid descriptions gave the reader the insight of being a country vet. The descriptions of the lifestyle, the landscapes and the animals were wonderful. I wanted so badly to be a veterinarian:  financial security of being a vet surrounded by animals all day, bringing home strays, living in the countryside, and caring for them when they were sick. I was not the only one to suffer from this delusion of the perfect life. Dr. Avery refers to this in his article as the James Herriot Effect.

“…you’ve got this picture of this amazing individual, and I’m not saying he wasn’t, but there definitely were some liberties taken when writing that book. When you actually talked to his family, they said he actually struggled with depression and was actually an introvert…”

Dr. Avery mentioned many issues in his article that have led to mental health issues in the veterinary practice but to my surprise, these mental health issues, and compassion fatigue, affect every position from the veterinarians to the vet nurses, vet techs, specialists and even the front desk receptionists. People contemplating a career in the veterinary services need to understand that there is also a dark side that has been present for quite a long time that is only now recognized as a crisis in the United States. The profession isn’t glamourous or without its stressors.

Organizations like the CDC, Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Veterinarian Medicine and Biological Sciences at Texas A & M, Harvard Medical School, Mighty Vet, NOMV and various other organizations are focusing on how to stop this epidemic before it destroys the profession so many of us depend on.

Follow me on this journey into the world of mental health and the veterinary profession where I will delve into:

  • The James Herriot Effect
  • Empathy and Personality
  • Euthanasia and the Mental Challenge
  • Financial Stress – Owning a Practice
  • Clients and Attitude
  • Financial Stress – College Loans
  • Limitations
  • Pandemic Effects
  • Social Media Posts and How One post can Ruin a Reputation
  • Thank Your Vet and Recognize the Team
  • Have a Complaint? Complain in a Mature Manner. Remember, we are all human and make mistakes.

Even though I will use Dr. Avery’s points as a guide, I will expand on each post for you, the reader, to learn as much as you can on this epidemic. Together, we can be part of the solution.

Black Dog Syndrome

Hunter, adopted at 10-1/2 months old weighing 112 pounds. Turned in two times before we finally adopted him. He was loyal, gentle and very loving.

The idea of Black Dog Syndrome or Big Black Dog has been gaining media attention since the mid-2000’s. Many people perceive black as being aggressive, evil, or bringing misfortune due to folklore or their culture. Thus, people tend to overlook them and choose a lighter colored dog, whether it is a puppy or adult, which appears friendlier.

Though some believe that Black Dog Syndrome is a myth, others have seen firsthand how long black dogs remain in shelters compared to the lighter colored dogs and honestly believe that this syndrome is real.

I wanted to bring this topic up so my readers can decide for themselves. First and foremost, Black Dog Syndrome is not associated with just color but also size, breed, and health.

Shelters and rescues do not do a black dogs justice. The pictures they post on their sites do not always capture the beauty, soulfulness of their eyes or their personality. Photographing a black dog requires skill with managing the lighting so that the dog’s features pop and are not blurred. If the pictures do not present well, potential adopters will not be drawn to see them in person.

As much as a large dog attract people’s attention, the large size also scares some away. This may be due to a past unpleasant experience or more likely, inexperience with dogs in general. Now present one of those people with a large black dog that has dark eyes, and they will overlook it, in fact, they will walk past it, unless you are me or my husband who find large black dogs stunning.

The media has always targeted certain breeds as dangerous:  Doberman pinchers, rottweilers, German shepherds and pit bulls to name a few. Sadly, when a breed makes this list, the stigma lasts for years to come. Municipalities have made it even harder by drafting specific breed legislation banning homeowners from possessing these breeds. It is discriminatory to say the least. Each of these breeds, if trained correctly are wonderful family members and many in this group have gone on to do amazing things throughout history. I admit, my parents always believed Dobermans, German shepherds and rottweilers were aggressive and whenever I saw one, I was trained to cross the street and not make eye contact. As I matured, I learned firsthand that these fears could be overcome but I had also learned how and when to approach them.

Max: Adopted from an abusive home

The media’s perception of black dogs in the news and movies is a major contributing factor to the problem of black dogs. Why? Black dogs are often portrayed by the media as aggressive, and it only takes one misconception being conveyed over and repeatedly until people “assume” that all black dogs or large breeds are inherently bad. Sadly, people would rather believe fully in what the media tells them than doing their own research and talking to others who have adopted black dogs.

Many children’s stories, television shows and movies have used black dogs to convey a negative theme since the color black in many cultures and folklore represents bad luck and sometimes death. Consider this:  the most popular color at funerals is black because its represents sadness, depression, and finality. When a black dog appears in a show, it often represents a bad omen. The blackness of a dog brings about both a conscious and unconscious fear in people resulting in black dogs not being afforded the opportunity of a forever home. Lighter colors often appear happier, friendlier, and less aggressive.

When it comes to the health of a black dog, they are susceptible to the same illnesses and diseases as light-colored dogs; however, precaution must be taken during outside activities since black dogs can overheat much faster. Knowing how to read a dog’s body language is imperative but can save a black dog from prematurely overheating.

Looking at shelter websites, it seems as if the phenomenon is subsiding. Though black dogs still spend more time in a shelter, they do appear to be adopted at a much better rate today than 20 years ago. With every shelter, there is always work to do.

My husband and I have adopted many black dogs over the years, especially when Black Dog Syndrome and the list of dangerous dogs was hitting the news often. We never found black dogs evil or aggressive nor did they bring more misfortune. Our black dogs have been extremely loveable and loyal. In fact, of the eight dogs we have had five since we were married, and I had another two as a child. Only one of these was “presumed” to be aggressive but, Thor was true to his breed. He is a German Shepard, completely locked into the family and extremely loveable with us. His presumed aggression was more our lack of understanding the breed; therefore, not socializing him as we should have.

Today, Thor is 10-1/2 years old, and finally with my husband’s retirement and my working from home since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, he spends every minute with us. He has warmed up to people when out on walks and allows us to have company without trying to “protect us” every second of a friend’s visit. I must admit, staying home with Thor is so much more rewarding than going out these days. We realized that having experience with a certain breed helps, but so does spending endless amounts of time with them so that a mutual bond of trust is formed. We are attuned to our dog’s reactions and feelings. We have NEVER had a bad dog.

Thor, adopted as a puppy from a friend and has known nothing but love

When it comes to adopting a dog, be wary of myths.

  • Just because a dog is in a shelter, does not mean it is a bad dog. They just caught a bad break in life and need a second chance. Believe me, they know when they are given that chance. They will become such a huge part of your family.
  • Do your research and whatever you do, do not discount a dog just because of their color.
  • Choose the right breed for your family. If your active; adopt an active dog. If you are a lazy person, adopt a laid-back dog.
  • If you have small children, think twice about adopting a large breed dog as children may rough house and inadvertently get nipped or knocked down during play. It is particularly important to educate children what is acceptable behavior when around the dog.
  • No matter what you decide to adopt, be prepared for a lifetime commitment. If you cannot afford the time and finances to care for a dog, think twice about adopting.

Compassion in Action

Silver Linings Sanctuary

There is no doubt that the eyes are the window to the soul, and for animals, it is also their way to connect and communicate in the word around them. It is their own language where they have learned to convey love, sadness, pain, fear, shame, wants and needs. Understanding their eyes, helps us understand their thoughts and feelings which they communicate back to us. By watching their eyes, body movements, and expressions we have learned how to be their advocates.

One of the hardest jobs is caring for another in their final days. Those that provide a place for aging, disadvantaged, or unwanted animals through sanctuaries are an example of compassion in action to its highest level.

  • It is respecting the mannerisms of each animal and understanding what makes them feel their best.
  • It is reimagining what may now seem impossible to overcome, even life ending in some case, and finding a way to help them rise to the challenge to live their best life in their final days.
  • It is restoring the animal’s confidence that they can once again be happy in a safe environment that allows them to be as active as they choose.

This is the mission and philosophy of the non-profit Silver Linings Sanctuary in Honeybrook, Chester County. 501c3 status is pending.

I recently found the sanctuary through a friend, internationally known equine artist Sandra Severson, whose paintings of horses, foxes, goats, sheep, chickens, and all domestic animals I have come to admire over the past 5 years. Her ability to capture their personality and soul through their eyes is astounding.

Sunrise’ painting by Sandra Severson (modeled by Charlie of Silver Linings Sanctuary
Tamborin and Kristin

Sandra and I share a love for animals and when I saw a post on her social media site from Kristin Severson about a sanctuary, I thought they may be related.

Soon, I found myself talking to Kristin and learning about Silver Linings Sanctuary which she and her husband, Ed Amador, cofounded in 2020. For the past few months, I have watched as Kristin and Ed have not only expanded on an idea of taking in unwanted, abandoned and disabled animals but also have learned how they apply their philosophy of the three ‘R’s” of respecting, reimaging, and restoring these beautiful creatures to a state where they can live out their best and final days free of pain, fear, and shame.

Prima
Corona and Charlie

It is a place where the animals wants and needs are met, and they know nothing but love. Though the sanctuary is small, social media enables them to share with the public how they apply the three ‘R’s” to each ‘resident.’ Silver Linings Sanctuary has also become a place where they communicate with others to provide educational information and collaboration on an array of topics that affect all animals.

6-month-old ‘Evie’ wrapped in the love of other Majmun, Majka, and Blanco was recently found by Kristin alongside a road in a ditch screaming. Little Evie was covered in lice and coughing up worms. She had lost a lethal amount of blood from the lice but was too young to treat with flea and tick. Kristin shaved her and then spent 4-hours removing the lice. Once the lice were removed, Evie started to retain her own blood and bounced back into a feisty little kitten who will remain at Silver Linings Sanctuary.
 

Every non-profit depends on the kindness and donations of others to help them succeed. Silver Linings Sanctuary is no different. Anyone who provides care for an aging animal or one with special needs understands the commitment, patience, and financial means needed to provide the best life possible for the animal. With 20+ residents in need of extra time, love, and patience at Silver Linings Sanctuary, every dollar helps. Four supporting membership levels are available:

  • Bonze
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Platinum

Silver Linings Sanctuary has recently created a Memorial Garden to honor those that have crossed over to Rainbow Bridge. A nominal donation of $25 reserves an all-weather plaque to be placed in the garden where they will be memorialized.

The famous author and English veterinarian James Herriot once said, “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”

The compassion and kindness that Kristin and Ed show to the residents of Silver Linings Sanctuary is genuine. They work hard to understand all those they come under their care and carefully evaluate their needs to create a path for each resident to live their best life. Looking into the residents’ eyes is all the proof one needs to know they are on the right track and are appreciated.

Lord Byron

A Fergie’s Friend post

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” Roger Karas

I am a huge animal lover. In fact, there are many days I prefer animals over people, especially lately. An animal’s love is unconditional. Ask anyone who has ever rescued a dog from a shelter, and I am sure the story they will tell you will pull on your heart strings.

This was the situation I found myself in when I saw ‘Franklin’ on Petfinder. He was a yellow lab who seemed to be stuck in the shelter with no hope of adoption. Although several people came to see him, the deformity of his jaw and the slight depressions on the top and side of his head seemed to repulse them. I credit the shelter photographer who took Franklin’s picture for Petfinder. He captured the softness in Franklin’s eyes, and I knew at that moment, there was something special about him. When Franklin was introduced to me, the woman at the shelter led him into a room, explained to me that he had a deformity and would hide his head. She then handed me the leash, but Franklin would not look at me. I took the time to let him get comfortable. Finally, he lifted his head, looked at me with those beautiful soft, brown eyes and pushed a stuffed toy towards my hand. He did not want me to take the toy, but he started wagging his tail while still hiding his face. I could see something was not right, so I asked the woman what happened.

Adopted as Franklin but lived as a Lord

“He was found wandering the streets. No one came for him. We believe he broke his jaw, and it was never set correctly. We understand if you would rather not adopt him. Everyone walks away when they see him.”

“I’ll take him. Every dog deserves to be loved.”

That act of compassion to care for an animal with a disability changed the life of both me and my husband. When we adopted him, I had been dabbling with my writing but had not taken any of my work serious enough to send it for publication. I needed that spark to not only ignite my creativity but also to give me a purpose on what to write about. Little did I know that spark came in my new four-legged companion.

Every room in my house had a reference to a famous literary work or author, so it was only appropriate to rename Franklin after someone in literature who excelled despite having a disability. After much thought, Franklin was renamed ‘Lord Byron’ or Byron for short.

If Lord Byron could overcome a birth defect of a club foot and still go on, despite the excruciating pain to travel extensively throughout Europe, become a leading figure in Europe’s Romantic Movement as well as one of England’s greatest poets, while still having the will to live, well then, my Lord Byron would have that same will, despite his injuries.

We loved Byron. We needed to be patient; leaving Byron to adjust to us, his new fur brothers and his new forever home. We reached out to Dr. Paul Orsini, formerly with Metropolitan Veterinary Associates in Trooper for an explanation on Byron’s injury and to give us an overall health checkup. The shelter staff initially told us it was a broken jaw which was not set properly. Dr. Orsini explained that Byron had a partial mandibulectomy (removal of a portion of his lower right jaw) which could have been due to cancer, but he believed it was from a traumatic accident since there were obvious depressions on the upper right side of the head and a few teeth were pushed to the left. The mouth was sutured on one side so that a pocket was formed allowing him to keep food in his mouth to eat.

Dr. Orsini, said whatever had happened, Byron had adapted well to the surgery. Byron had no trouble eating which was evident from his 80-pound body weight and his disposition was very calm. Byron was scheduled for several extractions to save his oral health. Besides the dental issues, Byron seemed to be in good health.

Lord Byron

We never did learn what had happened to him or why he was abandoned. We believe he was struck by a car since we soon realized he was attracted to loud noises (like our lawn tractor, snow blower and cars). But why was he abandoned? We were not sure and surmised that it was primarily the result of an economic issue or his owner’s death.

Prior to Byron arriving at the shelter, the economy had crashed, and people were losing their jobs and homes. People struggled to keep their heads above water and having another mouth to feed was difficult. The surgery that Byron had received at the time was approximately $4,500, not an amount many young people would be willing to quickly invest, especially not knowing the future costs of his care or their financial stability. However, an established older couple often does not hesitate to provide the care needed for a pet when the pet is sick or injured, even if it means they need to forego something for themselves. Their pets are family, and they would do anything for family. It is possible that the older couple became sick, went in a home, or passed away. The children ‘inherited’ a not-so-perfect dog that needed extra care, and not all children would be willing to undertake that responsibility. It is easier for people to simply abandon them so as not to look like the ogre turning the dog into a shelter. Sorry if the conclusions seem harsh but my husband and I were both in law enforcement and had seen the worst side of people and sadly how some people viewed animals. Whatever had happened, we knew that Byron would live the rest of his days with us where we would provide for his health and safety no matter what.

Byron’s disability was invisible to us. Sure, we had to give him a little more attention than our other two dogs, but it was well worth it. We learned so much by watching the other two interact with him. It was the most amazing experience we had. Somehow, the other two sensed there was something different with Byron and they instinctively adjusted their actions to allow Byron to be a part of the family, eating, sleeping, and playing together. If only people would have those same instincts and not judge others, our world would be much better.

It was through my interactions with Byron that I learned to accept my own disability and make it work for me. Until then, I would not discuss it. I started writing again but this time I was more confident and honest with my own situation. Soon I was published every week in newspapers and eventually magazines. I credit Byron for showing me the way.

For us, Byron was our special boy who reminded us that life should be enjoyed, that through patience and persistence, we can overcome the odds and be happy with what we are dealt in life. We learned so much from him and are committed to helping another unwanted, abandoned or aging dog.  Their hearts are pure and the unconditional love they show is something everyone should experience. It  is life changing.

Christmas is good

Helping one animal at a time overcome harsh treatment, taking care of them when they are sick or injured, giving them a safe and healthy environment, and fighting for them, when necessary, has rewards far greater than money.  In my opinion, people who devote their lives to the welfare of animals will have a special place in heaven. One particular non-profit that does just this is Silver Linings Sanctuary.

The power of newsletters for non-profits

In my last post, I discussed the pandemic and how it has affected small businesses and non-profits. Before giving up, I discussed how rebranding the business and notifying customers of the change may be able to the salvage the investment already made into the business and if the pandemic had a budgetary impact, the easiest and most economical way to get the word out of any changes is through a simple newsletter. A newsletter simply keeps the customer informed of upcoming events, such as newsworthy items that affect the business, opportunities, and victories within the business. The possibilities are endless. The question is, can non-profits benefit the same way as regular brick and mortar or internet businesses? Absolutely and more so. The key is to not only communicate when seeking donations but to keep the readers informed of what is happening in your organization.

Benefits for the reader:

  • Make sure that your newsletter is beneficial to the reader. If you only reach out to ask for donations, you will lose your supporters.
  • Tell others what has been happening in your organization.
  • Introduce new volunteers or employees.
  • Tell them what your goals are and how you plan to get there.
  • Give them interesting news that they can use such as how-to articles, self-care, something that happened that may affect the business or even a new law that may affect the business.

Recognition:

  • Spotlight those who have been helpful through volunteering their time with administrative tasks, events, training or caring for the recipients (ex. children, those with disabilities, patients, animals, or even historic sites.
  • Highlight donations received and who the doners were.
  • Tell the reader how the donations will be allocated.
  • Highlight promotions within the organization, a new employee or volunteer.
  • Receiving recognition keeps moral high and your relationships active.

Successes are important for every business, especially non-profits. Examples of successes are everywhere.

  • A recent fundraiser reached its goal
  • A new treatment or therapy which the non-profit was involved, obtained approval for an illness.
  • A volunteer just completed a grant writing course to better help the non-profit raise funds.
  • The organization assisted with rescuing animals out of state after a weather emergency.
  • A $5 Snip and Tip Feral cat Spay/Neuter Clinic was recently held.

Promotions of events and volunteer opportunities by the organization year-round. Often, people want to attend events but find out after the event through posts or conversations with others.

  • Announce events a month or two in advance so people have time to schedule it into their day
  • Announcing volunteer opportunities in advance allows people to find a time that works for them
  • Identify the opportunities available like driving meals to people’s homes or walking dogs in a shelter.
  • Identify skilled volunteer opportunities for a repair person, IT specialist, marketer, or writer.
  • Identify professional services needed, such as legal advice or veterinary care. Often, professionals are looking to fulfill pro bono services as part of their full-time job and they would be very happy to do this for a cause they support.

The best part of newsletters are they are much easier to create and cheaper to distribute through an email server or as a link on a website which the reader can download. Some newsletters may have in-depth articles while others may only have brief summaries with links for more information. This is the organizations choice, but anything is acceptable, as long as your give the reader something of value. If using an email provider, the newsletters are sent to people based on the interests they opted in when they signed up thereby, reducing the number of unsolicited newsletters sent out. The days of sending direct mail has been fading out over the years and when people receive unsolicited mail, it tends to end up in the trash.

If you would like to see a sample newsletter, head over to my website and look for NEWSLETTERS – Paws for a Cause Portfolio – Wingman Copywriting (gailynnemferguson.com).  I am more than happy to create a newsletter for you that will keep your supporters informed. If you like what you see, please use the contact page on my website to reach out. I will respond within 24 hours.

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