Why online bullying is a new problem for vet suicides…

Unfortunately vets deal with life and death every day, patients will die. With this there are owners who are suffering from grief. It is an emotional time that can quickly escalate out of control by doing what now comes naturally and posting about it onto social media.

Often these stories are emotional, they are however only the owners version of the story. Why? It is really simple – vets are bound by rules on patient confidentiality – they cannot share anything about a patient or owner publically online or elsewhere. It is a offence with the RCVS for which they can be struck off and lose their license, their income, and their career.

Most vets are compassionate people, dealing with death so often means that many are trained in the process of grief. This is why often an angry owner will just be allowed to make threats, and given time and space to calm down after losing their loved pet. Anger is part of the grieving process which is split into 5 stages:

  • The first stage is that of denial that their pet is dead, this is often rapid and is a stage where a person refuses to accept what has happened.
  • This is followed by the second stage – that of Anger – the pain of loss is so great that we cannot cope so the pain of loss is reflected out as anger. This can be at anyone – however as vets that care for animals it is often directed towards the doctor that tried to save them. During this stage it is a vicious cycle as the owner then feels guilty about being angry and becomes even angrier.
  • Once through the anger the healing process begins – the next stage is bargaining – the what if stage. Its where you attempt to regain control – where you start questioning what you did looking at ways that things may have been different. What if you went to vets sooner? What if you got a second opinion? What if…?
  • Then is a stage of depression – where the loss breaks through and we prepare to deal with the loss. Often a quite personal stage where we prepare to say goodbye to our loved one.
  • Finally is acceptance – not everyone will ever get here. It is the stage of making peace – of calm withdrawal. It is not a happy stage, however it the stage that allows you to move on.

Vets are taught these stages; they are taught that anger is normal, and whilst not psychiatrists they are taught to support the owner through the process. They may suggest that you call or come back in a few days once this stage is past. In the past before social media came about this was not an issue as owners would share with friends and family.

However social media is a boulder on top of mountain, once you give it a push it is very difficult to stop rolling. A single post made in this anger stage can now be picked up by hundreds or thousands of people you do not know all out for justice. Whilst during the anger stage this group outrage at the perceived injustice may help you feel better it will outlive your anger.

Vets already have the highest rate of suicide for any job – every day is an emotional rollercoaster. A vet may start with an euthanasia of a unwanted puppy, then fail to save a loved cat hit by a car, then have to do consultations with the client that cannot afford the needed medications within a single hour… And then they have to keep going the rest of the day. Vets often are perfectionists – we like to be in control and we do not like to lose a single patient – it is often these patients that we think about at night instead of the 99 others that we succeeded in helping. Vets care a whole lot more than you will ever realise as we are taught that we need to support you as owners so often hide our own pain

Unfortunately vets are not taught public relations – there is simply not time with everything that vets have to learn in school. So when that anger snowballs into a massive thing online by social media with random people calling them monsters – or worse. When their own clients (who may have an emergency) with their pets cannot get through because of the abusive phone calls and emails. It leaves a vet feeling helpless, alone, and can even drive them to turn to suicide as the only option when they give up..

There is very little support for vets in this situation right now – it is something new from a very old grieving process. Before social media speaking to friends and family was self-limiting – it let people go home and talk through what happened slowly with the time to heal. Now social media allows someone that is blinded by anger reach a worldwide audience right from the front step of the vet office.

And those are words that cannot be taken back. Anything online will be there forever in some form, angry messages are emotional and spread faster than any plea to take them back when you leave the stage of anger.

It is not just one country – it happens worldwide – just yesterday I wrote about a shelter vet in Taiwan, and there was a vet who saved a cat in New York. Both of these were directly related to social media and cyberbullying. Many times it doesn’t even reach the news – not a week goes by where I don’t see at least one vet being targeted online. Just yesterday a owner lost a tortoise – and in anger posted onto social media about it… These are some of the replies by strangers with just one side of this story…
2 3 4 5 6If you are that vet that is a target of cyberbullying – then reach out! There is http://vetlife.org.uk which is a confidential telephone & email support service for vets. Even just talk to a colleague or friend…

Somehow we need a solution to this – whether it is better education of clients – or development of a grief app for the smartphone to add a delay to posts so that it can be reflected on before being made public after the anger stage if there is still a need…

The truth about animal shelters

I was deeply saddened yesterday to read about the shelter vet that was bullied to suicide. Sadly with social media there is a lot of power given to people – however it is how they choose to use it as whilst it can do great good, it can also do great harm.

Animal shelters are never an easy place to work, it is a highly emotional environment and you really want to save every single animal that comes in. I’ve seen some bad shelters, and I’ve seen some good shelters. However the attitude of people working there is always the same – and that is to do the absolute best they can. Many workers will at one point fail to say no and adopt an animal from the shelter themselves as it is so hard to say no to these beautiful animals.

Unfortunately it is something the majority of the public will never see, rows of dogs wanting your attention to play. The hundreds of cats waiting and watching you for cages along the walls. These animals need the best care that can be given. They need their own space, they need to be able to relax, need to have space to play. They need to be protected from infectious diseases which are all too easy to spread in a shelter environment. And the people looking after them need to have the funds to be able to do this.

Now Jian Zchicheng did this every day for up to 500 dogs and 100 cats (can you even imagine what this looks like?!?!) which is the shelter capacity. However under Taiwanese law an animal shelter cannot refuse to take in stray animals – and just because the shelter is full doesn’t mean that animals magically stop arriving.

The limit on the number of animals is not random – it is there to ensure that diseases cannot spread, that animals have space, that animals have staff time, and that it’s possible to maintain cleanliness. Going over this limit puts every single animal in the shelter at risk – reducing an animals space and social interaction can affect behaviour – and this reduces the animals chance of finding a home.

When an animal arrives there are checks done both medical and behavioural – if it is too aggressive then it will be euthanized for safety reasons. If it has a disease or injury that is not easily treatable it will be euthanized. Unfortunately when you have 500 animals in your care spending £1000+ on surgery for a single animal is not realistic – this will feed all 500 animals for 2 – 3 days – and you know that within hours the next animal that does not need £1000+ in surgery is going to arrive.

So Jian Zchicheng did this, saving countless animals every single day, rehoming countless animal every single day. Yet when she appeared in a TV documentary a year ago which she probably hoped would help more animals get adopted all some animal rights people cared about was the euthanasia’s. They called her names like ‘female butcher’ and ‘beautiful executioner’, they made threats against her, and they gave her a torrent of abuse about the animals she could not save.

Every single “animal rights“ person that called Dr Jian names needs to take a look at themselves in the mirror now, you have taken an angel away from the 600 animals that were under her care. You have made other staff at other shelters hesitant about appealing to the public because of fear of your torrent of abuse. And you have driven a vet to death. I hope that every single day you remember this, and that every day going forward you become part of the solution. Encourage people to adopt not shop, volunteer at a local animal shelter, raise funds for local animal shelters, walk dogs from local shelters.

Jian left in her note “A (human) life is no different from a dog’s; I will die from the same drugs that we use to put dogs peacefully to sleep.”

I really hope you are peaceful Jian, and that you know every single animal you saved remembers that.

400 days to graduation…

What feels like forever ago when I first started my diary I was counting up each day another day on my journey to becoming a vet. Now however I am counting down – that is either scary that I will be released onto poor unsuspecting animals, or amazing that I will finally be able to put my hard won skills to good use to make a difference.

I’ve come a long way since I’ve started not just in my knowledge but as a person. I never understood what I was letting myself in for when I got on the plane to come here – back when I started it was only accessible by Budapest and then a road transfer. I realised in Budapest that there were languages other than English – and that not everyone spoke English when trying to find my transfer company. It then got better when I was shouted at in the supermarket when I tried to buy ham – seems that I don’t understand here is mistaken for I cannot hear…

However I love Slovakia – and whilst I have just 400 days left here I am reflecting on what a great country it is. I’ve met some of the nicest people I’ve ever known, and seen some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The culture is amazing – I’ve never been anywhere where I can just walk down main street to find something going on – whether that is drums and folk dancing – or the Christmas market with hot wine in the snow. I’ve been up mountains in the snow – and at times thought I was going die – and then in summer laid by the outdoor swimming pools.

I’ve had opportunities here that I would never have got anywhere else. From anaesthetising a tiger, to working with dolphins, to chasing bulls around hills with a blowpipe. It is not always smooth, and its often crazy organisation – however that is just medicine – it depends on a lot of things and plans often go out the window. I’ve learnt loads, done loads, and seen even more.

So yes I am excited that I only have 400 days left, however I am sad that I only have 400 days left in this beautiful country. Each and every day I will learn a little bit more, both I hope in veterinary and as a person…