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I am almost hesitant to post this, as I don’t want it to come off as unsympathetic or negative, but there is always one aspect of my job that bothers me than others. We frequently get calls from people who need to bring their pet in but “don’t have money.” And I fully accept that there are people out there who, for whatever reason, have fallen on hard times and are struggling to make ends meet, including health care for them and their pets. There are many others who simply feel that pet care should be free and that we exist only to rip people off and cheat them out of their money. (I have had one client make a comment — after a $70 vet bill — that he was “in the wrong profession.”) It’s not uncommon for people to complain about a bill after professing that they “will spend anything” to save their pets, asking to “be billed” of “set up payment plans,” and usually we are lucky to see even 10% of the bill. We have people get upset when we tell them that we must have some form of payment at the time of the visit, most of whom act so indignant that we would even make such a request. And then there is my favorite — the belief that vet bills should be almost nothing because we “aren’t real doctors.”

Allow me to address these. The clients who genuinely can’t afford the vet bills are usually the ones exhausting every last resource to find a way to pay. These people exist, but they are rare. It’s hard for me to accept not having enough money to pay for a $15 vaccine when they have fresh ink on their arms and an iPhone 4. What people fail to understand is that this is how I make my living. This is what I studied for 8 years to do, sacrificing time, money, and a good chunk of my sanity. I don’t do this for the money; I don’t do this because I want to go on lavish vacations, have the latest most expensive car, or spend my lunch breaks on the golf course (which I have actually had a client accuse me of when I wasn’t there on my lunch break to see her as a walk-in). I still drive the same car I had in high school, and I’ll probably be paying on my debt until I die. I do this job because it is my passion, because nothing makes me happier than seeing a pet feel better and watching the owner light up when it happens.

Still, this isn’t free. I still need to eat, make payments on those loans I’ve accumulated, put gas in the 10-year-old car I have, feed my pets, and occasionally put a bit aside for when something goes wrong. There have been months when my bills exceeded our combined income and it was only by the grace of having saved up in the months prior that we made it through. I have taken on additional jobs to bring in even a small amount of extra income. There are costs associated with running the clinic. We have to pay for everything you see us use. Every syringe, every needle, every pill that goes out the door (and the bottles it goes home in) costs us money. There is the cost of the electricity, the water, the heating and cooling units, the cleaning supplies to keep the rooms sanitary, the equipment we use for diagnostics, insurances, the machines to process credit cards, the paper we give receipts on, all of this has to be paid for. Then there is the issue of paying for our time. Sure, you can go get advice from the breeder down the street or the pet store owner, and you can buy some vaccines and medicines at the local feed store. But what about the knowledge needed to use these safely? No matter how many years a pet store employee or breeder has been in business, they do not have the proper training to know the intricacies of medicine. As veterinarians, we are expected to train yearly and further our education regularly or we lose our license. How many breeders are operating on knowledge from 20 years ago? We go through the same amount of school that an MD goes through, and they only have to learn one species. And if you compared our starting salaries, you would probably be shocked at how little veterinarians make in comparison.

Emergencies are another cost. In some big cities, there are clinics that specialize in taking cases after normal business hours. In small towns like here, usually the emergency clinic is “waking your vet up.” Yes, these cost more. We sacrifice sleep, family meals, family events, holidays, all so that we can be available in a time of need. Our families sacrifice these things with us, because it disrupts their lives as well. Again, this isn’t something we do to make money, we do it out of a commitment to providing the best service available to our clients. We do it willingly because it is part of our job, something we knew we would have to do when we started this journey. (Keep in mind that an emergency surgery at 3am will use more electricity, water, etc than what is used during a normal business day, again adding to our costs that we have to pay for).

Please do not think i am complaining. I love what I do and love where I am. We do all of this because this is what we want to do. Of course there are veterinarians out there that DO try to squeeze every last dime out of their clients, but they are the exception to the rule. Veterinary medicine isn’t the latest “get rich quick” scheme, it isn’t an elaborate hoax to use a person’s concern for their pet to swindle money for no reason, it is a passion. So the next time you are tempted to grumble over your vet bill, please keep these things in mind. This is how we make our living, no different than any other person with a job. The thing that separates us from many, however, is the amount of passion we throw into our work. And that isn’t something you can buy.

Since I’m un-officially done with my 3rd year (woohoo!!!!!!), this post will just be a conglomeration of random thoughts as I spend time NOT studying and finally being able to relax.  So enjoy!

-School:  Awards banquet was tonight.  Surprisingly, I had an absolute blast!!!!!  I met the coolest woman who was the pure embodiment of how I want to be when I grow older.  Outspoken, lively, loving life, not afraid to share her opinions — she was amazing.  I only wish I’d been able to sit at her table and talk to her more.  I could have spent hours with her.  I wound up getting one award for ZEW (zoo, exotics, and wildlife) preceptor/conferences, which was really cool.  I wasn’t expecting it at all, but it was a wonderful surprise.  I did get to sit with Dr. Ketz, which is always enjoyable.  So overall, it was really a nice night.  Not having a test tomorrow was an added bonus.

-Love:  I get to see my wonderful husband in 5 days!  It’s been way too long and I’m excited to finally be seeing him for the first time since Christmas!  I’m really looking forward to a nice relaxing trip, getting to visit good friends, and mostly just getting away from the toxic school environment that has been weighting me down for so long.

-Friends:  Went on a shopping trip with Melissa yesterday.  Oh so much fun.  And I have a problem with makeup and body stuff.  This was already common knowledge, but it was rather obvious I haven’t been really shopping in awhile.  Oops…..

-Life:  Got my hair done today for the first time in awhile.  It’s darker and redder than the last couple of times, but I still like it.  Plus, since it’s red, it will fade rather quickly, and then I can go from there.  I’m not complaining, though.  I really love it.  I was in dire need of a deep condition too, since I haven’t had anything done since last semester, and it was rather obvious that my hair was desperate for something.

-Animals:  Not much going on in this front.  My dad’s bunny was diagnosed with cancer last week and went under surgery to remove a tumor that wound up being about the size of a softball.  Nevertheless, she is recovering quite well, despite having chewed her outside stitches out.  Hopefully she’ll still be around for a little longer, but it was nice going home over Easter weekend to see her since I don’t know when I’ll be able to visit again.  Life is, as you can imagine, emptier without little Luna, but I am dealing.  I’ve got ideas of how to keep her memory alive, so perhaps there will be an update about that soon.

Other Random:  not sure how alphainventions.com managed to direct traffic to my blog, but I’m not complaining.  Surely my life has to be interesting to more than the 2-3 consistent readers.  😉

Alright, off to go………oh wait, I don’t have to study tonight!  HAHAHAHA!!!!

*Edit:  not sure why wordpress decided to add slashes in front of all my apostrophes, but whatev.

Today, I had to say goodbye to my precious little mouse, Luna.  Last week, she developed difficulty breathing and a weak back end.  I took her into the vet on emergency, where she was diagnosed with cancer.  I brought her home with some medicine for pain, and she held on for about another week until yesterday when she started to have difficulty breathing again.  I made the decision today to let her go so that she would not be hurting anymore, since the tumor had continue to grow and likely had spread throughout her body.  She went peacefully and, as hard as it is, I feel like I did the best thing for her.

Here are some pictures for her memory:

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This past weekend was the SAVMA symposium in Columbus, OH.  I have to admit — I wasn’t incredibly sure what to expect.  I was going for two main reasons:  1.)  I got into the Sea Turtle Anatomy wetlab, and 2.)  I was also using the trip to visit a family friend.  I was incredibly impressed with the conference and had a fantastic time!  After getting there and planning out my schedule, I’m pretty sure I only went to half of the lectures I planned on attending, but it was awesome!  It was really nice going to more “alternative” lectures, such as feline indoor enrichment — stuff that is really important in real life that isn’t adequately covered in vet school.  I also attended a lot of alternative therapy lectures and was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed them.  While I’m not going to run out and be a purely naturalist/holistic vet who shuns traditional medicine for herbs and chants, a lot of what was said made sense to me.  Part of me wishes I had gone to past symposiums, but I’m not sure I would have gotten as much out of them.  Crashing at Dan’s place and going home to a non-vet-school environment and spending time with someone I haven’t seen in 8 years definitely provided a healthier environment I think, and that really enhanced the entire trip.  Needless to say, I am thrilled that I got to go this year (even if both my flights to and from did get cancelled due to weather).  It did make it a lot harder to go to school on Monday.  The lectures I attended reminded me of why I went into vet med, and school is not helping in that regard.  At least I only have 2.5 weeks left of classes before a break and 4th year, and then when I get out, I’m free to do what I want!  May 2010 cannot get here soon enough!

Yesterday, an article ran on Fox Sports (below) about the death of a sled dog during the Iditarod.  Never mind the fact that the cause of death has not yet been determined, nor the circumstances surrounding the death, yet there were 24 pages of comments on the articles.  Granted, most comments on both sides were relatively unintelligent and leaning to vast extremes, but still, it was frustrating to read so much hate toward the musher and the sport itself.  So, since I don’t believe in registering just to leave a comment (and I don’t want to argue with closed-minded ignorance anyway), I’ll post my opinions here.

I have a hard time considering a race with multiple, mandatory veterinary checkpoints to be animal cruelty.  Somehow, I think that if there were gross atrocities being committed on a regular basis, we would have heard about it by now.  I’ve seen people trying to use books and media articles from nearly 20 years ago as “evidence” of ongoing cruelty.  Please.  Two old newspaper articles and one old book hardly constitutes “research.”  True research would involve actually visiting the living conditions of these dogs, watching the race, perhaps participating in one of the checkpoints to evaluate for oneself the ethics of the race.  Boycotting alltogether because you don’t “agree” with something you read on Fox Sports (there’s an unbiased source) is just plain ignorance, and intentional ignorance at that.  I can’t discuss matters like this with people who choose to be ignorant.

For those who say that Alaska has “evolved” past dog sleds:  I hope those people realize that a vast majority of Alaska is only accessible by dog sled or airplane.  Since airplanes require a lot of money (and that pesky, all-important license), most people choose dog sleds.  This sort of work is not something that these dogs are unaccustomed to.  Plus, these dogs are not just thrown out there.  They are trained well for years before being allowed to run.  If that isn’t enough, most of these dogs are fed specialized diets.  They have custom-made equipment to ensure that they are well-taken care of along the way.  It’s not like a brand-new puppy is just thrown out into the elements.  And just for future arguments, puppies that don’t meet the standards aren’t “bludgeoned to death.”  In fact, a lot of mushers keep the dogs that don’t race because they can’t bear to let them go.  Or they are adopted out for pets.  You never hear this side of it though.

On my honeymoon to Alaska (which was last June), I had the pleasure of visiting one of these training camps.  I’ll be honest — I thought it was rather hokey at first.  Getting to ride in a “dog sled” (a big cart on wheels) sounded like a tourist trap.  However, once we got there, I learned that, not only was it a tourist stop, it was a legitimate training organization.  There were probably close to 50 dogs there, all looking quite healthy, and all very excited.  They informed us that the “carts” we rode in were part of the training regimen.  The dogs were so excited to run that they had to chain the carts to the ground to keep the dogs from running off with them.  Along the trail, we took multiple breaks to allow the dogs proper rest and recovery time.  When we came back, the dogs were given water and taken back to their houses.  We got to see the booties that the dogs run with, and each of us got a “souvinier” bootie, a real one that had been retired.  A bootie is immediately retired if it begins to show signs of wear.  A musher takes multiple sets of booties for each of his dogs along the race to protect the dog’s feet.  If a dog shows any sign of illness, it is immediately pulled from the race and given veterinary care.  If it is severe enough, the dog is flown home.  All of these are REQUIRED by the Iditarod board.  These standards of care are not optional for the racers.  Somehow, I’m having a hard time seeing the cruelty of all this.  Then again, I’m not basing my opinions on poorly-researched media articles written to spark controversy and get ratings.

I believe the statistics are 133 dogs have died in the last 36 years.  That’s less than 4 dogs a year. And nowhere did I read that those dogs died due to overwork or injuries due to being beaten.  How many times has a person taken their beloved pet to the vet for a routine checkup to find out that their seemingly-healthy dog has only a month to live?  Dogs don’t always show signs of being sick.  It’s simply the way animals work.  They don’t play up their illnesses to garner sympathy like humans do — they try to hide their weakness, because if they lived in the wild, showing weakness could result in immediate death at the jaws of other animals.  So they don’t always “tell” us when they are sick.  Until the results come back, there is no way of knowing how this dog died.  I’d be willing to bet that, unless it is something dramatic or controversial, we won’t hear about it.

Cruelty is taking one of these dogs and forcing it to live as a housepet.  These dogs need to run and work or it will literally go crazy.  The same training camp I visited had a malamute that was surrendered when the owners could not take care of it.  The dog basically went insane from boredom.  There is plenty of veterinary research out there on the subject.  Destructive behaviors, self-mutilation, even aggression can all result from a dog simply not having enough to do.  These dogs WANT to run.  When the dogs were selected for our “fun run,” every dog in the camp was pulling at their rope and barking.  When the dogs were harnessed up, every single one was lunging and trying to pull before the cart was released.  These dogs were far from “forced” to do anything, and no amount of training will produce those levels of excitement.

I’ve heard all the arguments about “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.”  Sorry, not buying it.  Those “bad apples” need to be weeded out, no question about it.  One bad apple does not make the whole sport cruel, nor does an anecdote from 20 years ago mean that this one dog died from abuse or cruel treatment.  I would hope that the intelligent members of society would be willing to reserve judgment until the results are released.

For those interested in the article:  http://msn.foxsports.com/other/story/9315662/Gebhardt,-two-time-runner-up,-takes-Iditarod-lead?forum_key=StoryComments&topic_key=9315662