Our cats mean the world to us. They bring us tremendous joy with their distinct personalities and their playfulness. Once or twice a year they need to visit their doctors who always come across as happy, dedicated, empathetic and gentle people. They make the job look dextrous and fun. They remind me of James Herriot, the author of ‘All things wise and wonderful’, a book I loved as a child.
Today I was surprised and saddened to learn that veterinary doctors are at an exceptionally high risk of suicide: twice the rate of doctors and dentists and 4 times the general population.
Various causes have been stipulated for this, easy access to lethal drugs and guns being one of them. Mercy killing is an essential and accepted part of veterinary practice. That mindset could possibly make deciding to end ones own misery a smaller hurdle to cross. The challenge of constantly dealing with not just the animal but also its owner who might be under huge financial and emotional pressures must be massive. Working in isolation all hours of the day and night, exhaustion, stress and not knowing where to turn for emotional support must contribute to the problem.
Vets are vets because they care. They get to know their animal patients and owners over many years and work hard to keep the animals healthy for as long as possible. Having the power to “do the best thing” must be the worst dichotomy. Knowing that the owner will most likely be very upset, yet for the sake of the animal, having to end its life sounds simple but the emotional impact has to be absorbed somewhere. No wonder it overflows into tragedy for too many vets.
The next time I visit the vet, I will positively show my appreciation for what they do.
“Animals are unpredictable things, and so our life is unpredictable.” James Herriot