Letters to the Editor: June 2016 Issue

Viewpoints from Veterinary Practice News readers.

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Open Dialogue is Best

I was pleased to see the “Open letter to the veterinary community” signed by Dr. Ralph L. Brinster and 19 others [Viewpoint, May 2016].

While I don’t closely follow the veterinary educational issues addressed in the letter, I have experienced and have heard of others having letters rejected by JAVMA editor-in-chief Dr. Kurt Matushek for similarly stated reasons—“not add(ing) any new information or advanc(ing) any new argument.”

It appears the current editor of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association has taken a different direction than his predecessor, Dr. Janis Audin, who did an excellent job of moderating letters to JAVMA, even when she disagreed with the letter writer’s point of view. Now, it seems, if the JAVMA editor disagrees with the premise of a letter, it is summarily rejected. Such is not a healthy practice in representing the variety of views within our profession.

I once responded to a letter written to JAVMA by a non-AVMA member who asserted that our profession was sexist. My response questioned the writer’s criteria by which we were judged to be sexist, noting among other things that the current gender ratio in veterinary school would suggest otherwise. Dr. Matushek refused to print my letter, claiming that merely questioning the letter writer’s assertion was in itself a “sexist act.”

It is encouraging that Veterinary Practice News does not seem to share the autocratic editorial authority of JAVMA, preferring instead to be open to diverse, reasonable discussion on the issues that face our profession today. I now have an even better reason to read Veterinary Practice News every month.

— John Parker, DVM, Novi, Mich.

Dangerous dogs and Irresponsible Owners 

I read Dr. John Lewis’ article “Tough decisions await when dogs bite kids,” Dental Pearls, May 2016. I applaud Veterinary Practice News’ attention to a subject that has not received the notice it deserves. As a veterinarian for 30 years, and having practiced in lower socioeconomic areas for most of them, I am too familiar with these incidents. 

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In 2007 I sold my practice in Palm Bay, Fla. A primary reason was that 60 percent of new patients were pit bull or pit bull mixed-breed dogs. A high percentage of these animals were owned by the most irresponsible people. Most of the dogs were not spayed or neutered. Many were in homes with small children. It got to where I hated going to work and lost much desire to practice veterinary medicine. 

Between what I saw through practice and working on the Brevard County Dangerous Dog Commission, it became apparent that canine attacks on humans were, to be generous, underreported. In fact, there is probably more misinformation regarding canine aggression than proper instruction. I swore that if I ever sold the practice I would write a book to educate people, primarily parents, about canine attacks.

With over 90 references, “My Dog Doesn’t Bite: The Parents’ Guide to Dangerous Dogs” is a fact- and opinion-based discussion of canine attacks on humans. Anyone who reads this book is less likely to fall victim to an aggressive dog.

Americans, as a society, have tolerated the injury, disfigurement and death of children and adults rather than being perceived as impolite or unsympathetic toward animals. I believe it is time for people to stop looking the other way when it comes to dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners.

— Mark S. Mathusa, DVM, Sanibel, Fla. 

Dr. Mathusa’s book is available electronically and in paperback through online retailers. 

Entire Staff is at Risk 

While veterinarians are certainly subject to the type of stresses that may result in depression and suicidal thoughts [“Confronting suicide,” March 2016], let’s not neglect the stresses on the support staff of all these harried vets.

In the wake of the recent suicide of a former hospital employee who had moved on to another clinic, there was much discussion among my colleagues about what precipitates the hopelessness that would drive a person to end his or her life.

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As support staff, we are not only exposed to dead and dying pets and grieving clients, we are also exposed to the hopeless, stressed-out veterinarian who is now our boss. In some cases the support staff come in earlier and stay later, are dismissed by clients we are trying to help, go unacknowledged by our doctors and managers, and are often required to support ourselves on less than competitive wages, all of which could contribute to a hopeless view of their world.

In addition, some technicians have fairly easy access to the tools to carry out the task and often carry the same views about death as the veterinarians do.

When the veterinary profession examines what drives doctors to suicide, we need to consider everyone in the profession, not just veterinarians. If the industry is interested in reducing the suicide rate, owners and managers should be encouraged to:

Provide more CE opportunities regarding burnout, compassion fatigue and signs of depression.

Encourage frank discussions among staff as part of team meetings.

Encourage hospitals to invest in employee-assistance programs where employees can obtain confidential help managing conditions that which could lead to suicidal behavior.

— Laura Wilson, CVT, Portland, Ore. 

Second Chances 

I was merely a little depressed when I curiously picked up Veterinary Practice News and started scanning Dr. Lou Anne Wolfe’s article on suicide. By the end of the article I was ready to call the nonexistent hotline number. Perhaps it hit me so hard because I am from that little dot on the map that was featured in the story, or perhaps it was because many years ago I myself was almost a statistic.

Only a few years into practice, I took a bottle of antidepressants but woke up two days later with the phone ringing and a calf to be pulled. I thought I could never, never think that way again, but the article was scary.

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I am glad the veterinary profession is addressing this issue. I attended the keynote speech at the American Association of Equine Practitioners convention and his workshop.

I could have missed the whole ride. Thank you, everyone, who is trying to prevent more dumb choices like mine.

— Name withheld, Arizona 

We are Scientists, First and Foremost 

I tried to refrain from entering the conversation about God in the examination room [“Bringing God into the treatment plan,” Dr. Marty Becker, December 2015], but after it degenerated in April’s issue of Veterinary Practice News into an open pitch for a book on creationism, somebody has to say this:

Veterinarians are scientists, and as such we are not at liberty to believe in virgin births, resurrections, raising the dead, walking on water, turning water into wine, feeding 5,000, and other miracles and superstitions.

If it contravenes the laws of thermodynamics, it didn’t happen. Period. No point in arguing.

I realize that much of the country is far more religious than the majority of people where I live on Long Island. In flyover country, allowing God into the consulting room may be excellent client psychology and a good business model, but please, let’s not confuse it with practicing veterinary medicine.

— Peter Lugten, BVMS, MRCVS, Lindenhurst, N.Y. 

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