The spectre of suicide hangs heavy over those we entrust with the critical care of our pets.
Michelle Savery, a registered veterinary technician-emergency, has done extensive research and is well aware of the risks that come with the territory. According to a 2018 study by the American Center for Disease Control, suicide rates among those in the veterinary profession are significantly higher than the general U.S. population.
“Thankfully, I have nothing that even resembles suicidal thoughts,” said Savery, who works at West Coast Animal Veterinary Emergency Specialty Hospital (WAVES) in Langford. “But I can certainly understand why the veterinary industry is the leading field for suicides. The struggle is so hard some days.”
Stress levels have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic for a variety of reasons, Savery noted. One factor is that family vets are so busy that people wind up taking their pets to an emergency hospital, like WAVES, she noted. That alone can result in people having to wait from two to five hours. The severity of the condition the pet is dealing with and health protocols arising from COVID-19 can contribute to wait times as well.
“The wait time might be less, it might be more,” she said. “What people don’t realize is that your family vet can’t fit you in as quickly as they used to, and people have no idea what’s going on inside the building when they bring in their pet.
“We are doing our absolute best to keep up, but we’re running on empty. We rarely get to stop and eat or even use the washroom. We often leave at the end of our shifts or long after our shifts were supposed to end in tears wishing we could have worked a little harder, stayed a little longer, but knowing we did the best we could and will again tomorrow.”
Trina Legge, a registered veterinary technician-rehabilitation at WAVES, said that people aren’t aware of what goes on behind the scenes and that mistakes happen, especially when it’s very busy. “We’re a very community-based company, but we’ve had to take on much more work during COVID-19, and the vets are extremely busy as well. That amps up the stress.”
“We’re dealing with everything from an ear infection or a torn toenail to a major emergency such as a dog getting hit by a car that needs immediate surgery,” Legge explained. “That means the ear infection may have to wait a long time before they’re seen. That requires more patience and understanding on the part of the owner.”
Savery and Legge underlined the importance of the need for pet owners to practice those virtues, especially during the pandemic.
“When pet owners get impatient or yell at us for taking too long or not trying hard enough, when you publicly shame us on social media because you think your pet wasn’t treated fast enough, try and remember the person in the car next to you might have been the owner of the pet we’re trying to save the life of,” Savery said.
The personal attacks and cyber-bullying on social media are particularly unsettling because they portray such an inaccurate picture, Legge stressed.
“Some of the comments linger and create self-doubt and anxiety. We all go into this profession to try and help people and their pets. All we ask is that clients take up their concerns with management and not through social media. We want to support our community and would like to have their support in return.”