For the past couple of weeks, my social media feeds have been rife with justified rants from colleagues who work in veterinary emergency rooms all around the world – veterinarians, licensed veterinary technicians, and client service folks who work tirelessly to help your pets. Long hours, feelings of not being appreciated, and downright disrespectful pet parents spur these emotional outbursts, and for very good reason. One colleague made a comment I believe speaks volumes about the disgruntled cynicism felt by many emergency veterinarians:
“Animal owners like us, but they don’t respect us.”
Before you roll your eyes and assume this is just a “oh woe is me” tirade, bear with me for a few moments. Most pet parents are truly friendly. They’re great partners with whom to collaborate to ensure their pets receive the healthcare they deserve. But a few out there really need help coping with their emotions. They need to learn respect. Maybe they need to find Jesus or some other higher power. They need to know that it’s not OK to lash out at veterinarians because they’re afraid, not in control, and/or have financial limitations. Temper tantrums are for children, not adults!
Why Do Pet Parents Get Mean?
I’ve been percolating on this question for a while. After all, this sadly isn’t a new issue. Unfortunately, it only seems to be getting worse at least based on feedback from emergency colleagues. So, here’s what I’ve elucidated:
Lack of Control
No pet parent likes to visit the emergency room. Why? It means their pet is experiencing an urgent health crisis. That’s downright scary. Medical emergencies create stress and anxiety. Pet parents’ heart rates and blood pressures go up. They must give over to a total stranger – albeit an educated emergency room veterinarian – the care of their fur baby. I get that’s stressful. Truly I do. I also acknowledge folks react to stress in different ways. Some become exquisitely dogmatic. Others breakdown and cry. Some need to have details repeated multiple times for them to fully process information. This is entirely normal and expected. I was trained to help pet parents through these types of scary situations. But the minute an animal owner becomes mean, they show a lack of respect, and a veterinarian’s defenses inevitably go up!
Death occurs in the emergency room. That’s an inevitable fact. With death comes grief, a powerful emotion with five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These aren’t stops along a linear timeline, and not everyone experiences every stage. Emergency veterinary teams are keenly familiar with these stages, particularly denial and anger. Did you ever stop to think and realize veterinary teams experience grief, too? These doctors and their staff know this emotion all too well. They see it every day. They experience it every day. Yes, believe it or not. Veterinary teams fall in love your fur babies too, even if they’ve only known them for a few hours. These folks grieve with you. For that very reason, they are irreparably hurt when pet parents disrespect them by getting angry and lashing out.
Emergency medicine is expensive. Why? Emergency rooms have high fixed overhead costs. Whether pet parents bring their animal to the emergency room with a life-threatening condition that requires complex care or whether they have a minor ear infection, the emergency room is staffed 24/7/365 (or at least at “off hours”) and has expensive state-of-the-art equipment to maintain. In one way or another, you pay for all of that whether you need it or not. What’s the best way to avoid the emergency room? Follow your family veterinarian’s recommendation for preventative healthcare. Just like you should see your personal physician routinely, so too should your pets. Unquestionably, preventative medicine can identify health issues early before they become serious ones that are expensive to manage.
If you do end up in the emergency room with your pet and can’t afford the veterinarian’s recommendations, don’t take it out on the veterinary staff. They didn’t cause your pet’s emergency. They aren’t the source of your financial woes. They’re just doing their job, trying to help your pet on the road to recovery. They certainly don’t deserve heartache for doing it. My mother always told me to embrace the acronym ‘THINK’ before I spoke. So, I’m going to challenge each of you to ensure your words are Thoughtful, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and most importantly, Kind.
Why am I bringing this up?
Too often veterinarians are accused of only being it for the money. You can’t imagine the ignorant and uninformed statements owners make to veterinary team members all the time, especially in the emergency room. Being blamed by owners for forcing them to kill their pet because they can’t afford veterinary care is perhaps one of the meanest and harshest things I’ve ever heard. This is a wicked form of emotional bribery, and is entirely unacceptable. In the age of social media where pet parents can post anything they want if they don’t get their way, veterinarians are emotionally exhausted because we can’t reasonably fight back. Just know one’s 1-star review on Google or Yelp chastising an emergency veterinarian for not providing free care because you couldn’t afford it or because the emergency room was so much more expensive than your family veterinarian bruises our soul and ultimately darkens our hearts with cynicism.
Before I lose you, maybe you’ll appreciate this. Being mean and disrespectful may actually be a detriment to your pet’s healthcare. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics reported medical teams in a neonatal intensive care unit made worse decisions during simulated emergency scenarios if they had been treated rudely by an actor playing the role of an angry family member. I found this study to be quite interesting because I’ve always said I would have been a neonatal intensive care specialist if I had gone into human medicine. The study was conducted at an Israeli teaching hospital, and showed exposure to rudeness caused an approximately 40% reduction in good decision making. Of course, I don’t know if it is entirely accurate to extrapolate the findings of this study and apply them to veterinary emergency medicine. The similarities are obvious. I can easily see how emotional attacks by pet parents could hinder a veterinarian’s decision making ability. In the emergency room where accurate split decisions are life-saving, this hindrance could ultimately compromise care and result in poorer outcomes.
The take-away message…
I’ll leave you with this request. Be kind, collaborative, and grateful. Emergency veterinarians just want to help your pet make a full recovery. They’re not looking for adversaries. They’re looking to be partners in your pet’s healthcare during a very stressful time. Let’s do this together!
Wishing you wet-nosed kisses,