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Veterinary social work opens outlet for grief, emotional stress
From the Pittsburg Post-Gazette on July 3, 2017
The veterinarian side
Every day, five to 12 euthanasias are performed at PVSEC, the region’s largest specialty and emergency veterinary center, seeing several hundred cases a day. The number of euthanasias is high because many pet owners cannot afford the complex medical intervention needed to save a pet’s life.
“It’s hard when they know the animal can be fixed but the process can’t be paid for by the family,” Ms. Harbert said.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, based in Illinois, reports that 1 in 6 vets struggle with thoughts of suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that veterinarians have a four times higher suicide rate than the general public and are two times more likely to commit suicide than dentists and medical doctors.
“We see the sickest cases, so its hard for us as doctors and nurses everyday to see deaths. We are sad every time,” said Christine Guenther, a PVSEC veterinarian.
As a result, some PVSEC veterinarians suffer from compassion fatigue, burnout and ethical exhaustion when trying to come up with an alternative way to save a pet, given an owner’s financial constraints.
“You empathize so much with patients that you take on the burden and it takes a toll on you,” said Michael San Filippo, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Ms. Harbert works with the veterinarian staff to emotionally process the cause of a pet’s death and help staff members cope with their own grief. She assesses how individuals are acting and then helps them reach a stable emotional state.
Training for this counseling is not typically taught in vet school.