Recessionary Relationships And Revival

After attending the North American Veterinary Conference, listening to the wildlife update at the Morris Animal Foundation luncheon and witnessing the global approval of America’s 44th president, it is plain to see that our profession, its allies and the world at large are concerned, yet hopeful.

Recessionary Relationships and RevivalRecessionary Relationships and Revival03-10-2009bondbeyond, smlanimalBy Alice Villalobos, DVM

After attending the North American Veterinary Conference, listening to the wildlife update at the Morris Animal Foundation luncheon and witnessing the global approval of America’s 44th president, it is plain to see that our profession, its allies and the world at large are concerned, yet hopeful. 

International veterinary meetings such as NAVC, the American Veterinary Medical Assn., the Purina Nutrition Symposium and the Veterinary Cancer Society allow us to mingle with colleagues from all over the world. Meetings serve as a forum to meld thoughts and opinions from colleagues of varied interests and locales. 

Veterinarians who work in communities afflicted with high foreclosure rates and job loss are experiencing the deepest financial difficulties.

Since veterinarians and their staffs are among the most generous professionals on the planet, this brutal recession pits our caregiving nature against our business survival.

One young veterinarian literally found herself in bankruptcy. She became insolvent by continuing to perform charitable work for individuals and groups who rescued dogs and cats from shelters.

Personal Experience
This same predicament nearly happened to me during the first recession of my 38-year career. Our accountant asked whether I was running a non-profit facility! Overextending charitable work to the point of insolvency must be avoided, yet saying no is heartbreaking.

We get urgent requests for help from pet owners waiting outside emergency clinics because they can’t afford the deposit required to save their pet’s life. Hospitals either turn away hardship cases or adapt procedures that are affordable.

Many veterinarians help clients seek third-party payment by recommending pet insurance or by connecting owners with charities that can help in a crisis.

It would be great if every country had a People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. The PDSA is England’s national nonprofit organization that helps finance medical bills for pets of families in hardship.

Not having money does not mean that one doesn’t love or deserve to have pets.

Many made the wrong assumption during the Katrina disaster, presuming that if people did not spay or neuter their animals that they did not deserve them. Not so! People risked their lives and some died because they stayed with their pets. We have since learned that the spay/neuter/medical status of animals is often a cultural or socioeconomic issue and should not be used to judge the sincerity of the human-animal bond.

A related issue churning up again with this recession is whether animals are a luxury or a necessity.

The ‘Heresy’ Days
In 1968, during my freshman year of vet school, I wrote a paper for the late Dr. Calvin Schwabe’s epidemiology class at UC Davis titled, “Animals Are a Necessity, Not a Luxury.” Dr. Schwabe asked me to present the paper to the faculty.

In that paper, I stated that children who grow up in big cities may not have contact or touch anything natural other than a pet. The paper suggested that the government-sponsored pound systems should provide medical services for pets of indigent people.

What a ruckus! Some of the faculty followed me into the hallway to tell me that my plan was “heresy” and that people would be driving their Mercedes Benzes to get my low-cost vaccines, spays and neuters.

Those negative comments were balanced by one silver-haired faculty member who wore a big bow tie. He followed me out the door and enthusiastically shook my hand, saying, “Alice, you have a point there. Animals are a necessity in society. They should not be considered a luxury. You have a point there!”

That was Dr. Leo Bustad, who later became dean of Washington State University’s veterinary school, father of the human-animal bond and a founder of the Delta Society and the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians.

Let’s hope this recession does not lead us to rehash proven issues about the innate value, necessity and benefits of the human-animal bond.

At the turn of the year, Veterinary Information Network co-founder Paul Pion, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (Cardiology), reviewed the most active discussions on the VIN message board during 2008 and ran an informal query asking what VIN or any group could do to help colleagues create the greatest long-term impact.

He found that many focused more on the chronic issues that our profession faces than recent economic issues. Dr. Pion thinks that the intensity with which some are feeling those issues feels new because of the worldwide economic turmoil, which we have no direct control over.

Instead of fretting over that which we can’t change, Pion suggests “working on the things we can most influence, which are our own thoughts and behavior and those of those around us.”

Pion found that most colleagues he spoke with agreed there is a loss for feelings of local collegiality. There was agreement that everyone in our profession needs to work together toward solutions for the profession as a whole system, long-term, and not be solely focused upon what is best for them or their organization.

The philosophy of helping the greater good, instead of promoting self-interest, will ultimately help you.

Think Big
It was great to see Pion pondering these thoughts with colleagues during NAVC. He urges each of us to “make lemonade from lemons” and realize we are part of something very special, something much larger than us, something beyond the sphere of our practice or our community.

Thinking big, we must realize that we are a worldwide, global veterinary community, and one of the most trusted and noble professions on earth. What one veterinarian does reflects upon all veterinarians, especially those in the same town.

Pion feels that in order to initiate change, we need to reconnect locally. This means we should call and visit local colleagues and talk about current issues, the local veterinary environment, challenges and opportunities, and how you can revive and nurture a stronger local veterinary community.

It can be done! The Southern California VMA revitalized under new leadership and its Orange County chapter grew from six to eight attendees to 40 to 50 for its monthly meetings in 2008!

Pion says it doesn’t matter if one works in academia, industry, the military, government, solo, small- or large-group practice or is an owner or an associate. On one level that person might be a competitor, but since you are both veterinarians, you share more similarities than differences and face common challenges.

For instance, the entire profession and companion-animal community in California has joined to fight the governor’s proposal to tax veterinary services.

We don’t have to face the world alone when we can be part of a collective group working through issues together. It is best for everyone in practice to get and stay connected and be prepared to challenge the big issues as a cohesive group with the power to make and shape how veterinary medicine is delivered in society, locally and globally. <HOME>

Alice Villalobos, DVM, is a member of the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and is on the editorial review board of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics.

After attending the North American Veterinary Conference, listening to the wildlife update at the Morris Animal Foundation luncheon and witnessing the global approval of America’s 44th president, it is plain to see that our profession, its allies and the world at large are concerned, yet hopeful. After attending the North American Veterinary Conference, listening to the wildlife update at the Morris Animal Foundation luncheon and witnessing the global approval of America’s 44th president, it is plain to see that our profession, its allies and the world at large are concerned, yet hopeful. veterinarians, veterinary, pets, NAVC, VMA

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