Friday, May 29, 2015

The Pope, Pets and People

Pope Francis' recent statements about pets have caused some people to ask do we care too much for our pets?  "Care for pets is like programmed love, " he said.  "I can program the loving response of a dog or a cat, and I don't need the experience of a human reciprocal love."  At the risk of taking Pope Francis out of context, which pretty much all the media does, I'll give my opinion on this.  I think Pope Francis probably didn't grow up with pets, or growing up in his impoverished country, he saw a lot of cases of people treating pets better than their fellow people.  I can kind of understand where that perspective comes from...

As a veterinarian though, I certainly see things a lot of people don't see.  While I was visiting with a friend who is a social worker, I realize there are some definite similarities in our jobs.  Mine is nowhere as hard and emotionally tolling as hers.  I do on occasion get to see puppies and kittens, although far less frequently than I think the average population thinks... Maybe once a week?  Mostly I see geriatric, sick animals, animals with skin disease and a small amount with "wellness" exams.  But unfortunately, even on wellness exams, I often have to break it to people their pet is not 100% well.  I sometimes even have to break it to them that their pet has cancer when they only came in to get a vaccine so the dog could get groomed...  I digress.

What  a lot of people don't realize is we see a lot of things in veterinary offices that people don't even share with their only doctor.  I've had people lower their pants, raise their shirts and talk about all sorts of things that are X rated.  I've learned names for human body parts in veterinary medicine that quite frankly, I never needed to know.  People are willing to share a lot of information with their vet and sometimes I find myself telling them we need to focus on your pet and you should talk to YOUR doctor about that.  I think this is the flipside to the fact that most of the public sees us as a caring empathetic profession, which I hope we will continue to be.

We also see a lot of family situations/complications and mental health situations.  These do come up in the veterinary appointments.  I actually had someone several years ago who had left the mental hospital to come home and find her sick cat.  She was a very fragile person and I had to work with her the best I could and try to get someone to assist her- to find out there was no one willing to.  Often people who struggle with mental illness or behavioral problems find that their pet is their only friend that sticks with them.  Yes, as the Pope said, they can't give human reciprocal love, but as anyone who has loved a pet knows- they give unconditional love.  Often that is all people need to get through dark times.  It does put pressure on us though.  We have had people tell us that if our patient doesn't have a positive outcome, the family members are worried the owner won't be able to make it.  No pressure.  I once had a lady offer in front of her first born child to give up her first born child for the pet to get better.  No joke!  Feel bad for that family.  I obviously value medical care and good care for my pets.  We are stewards for them.  I am not a theologist, so I won't step into the whole do pets go to heaven debate.  I have an obvious opinion on that one.  I do find that the end of life issues between pets and people are different though...

I have kind of an interesting viewpoint on this one as I have worked in human hospice on and off over the past 10-15 years.  I also obviously work in "animal hospice" daily and did a very concentrated time in oncology work.  I do believe in euthanasia in pets and I have had to convince people before that this may be the right decision for their suffering pet.  It is always awkward in exam rooms when we are in the midst of a euthanasia and someone makes the comment about euthanasia in people.  This is not an appropriate time for me to launch into a religious or political debate, so I have found myself remaining silent, but not nodding my head or giving any indication that I condone the comment.  It is a fragile time and just not appropriate to launch into this topic.  But I would like to offer these views in this forum as it is not discussing specific situations.

People and pet end of life issues in my belief/experience are fundamentally different.  People, as St. John Paul II did, can have redemptive suffering.  It's not something I would wish on anyone, it is not an easy road or something most people can embrace, but it's something I have witnessed.  I have witnessed families coming back together after YEARS of being apart because of the redemptive suffering of the ill person.  Families need time to work out their issues.  Pets don't.  Families need time for forgiveness and apology.  Pets don't.

No comments:

Post a Comment