By JENNIFER PELTZ, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) – Dogs are the stars, but the Westminster Kennel Club’s upcoming program also sheds light on a human problem: the mental health of veterinarians.
Along with the first Veterinary of the Year award to be presented on Wednesday on the last day of the program, the club is donating $ 10,000 to a charity focused on the psychological well-being of veterinary professionals.
It is a new emotional territory for the 145-year-old event at a time when the coronavirus pandemic and a changing culture have exposed people’s internal struggles, from schoolchildren to health workers, to by college athletes and professional sports stars.
For veterinarians, too, the pandemic added new strains (deleted clients, increased case load and more) and amplified the long-term ones.
“We love what we do, and there’s a certain mystique about working with animals: a lot of people think we play with puppies all day. But there’s a lot behind that,” said the president of the American Association. of Veterinary Medicine, José Arce, of San Juan, Puerto Rico. He hopes the Westminster Prize will educate people about the well-being of veterinarians.
The show begins with an agility competition on Saturday and continues Monday through Wednesday, with the award for best live show on Fox Sports’ FS1 channel Wednesday night. For the first time, some action will also appear on FOX Deportes in Spanish.
About 3,500 canines are expected, most since the 1970s, on the historic Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York, said the show’s co-chair, David Haddock. The more than 200 breeds and varieties include two newcomers, the mudi and the Russian toy.
This is the second year in a row that pandemic concerns have moved the most famous dog show in the United States to June and its outdoor location in the suburbs, instead of Madison Square Garden in New York City. winter.
Westminster has been awarding scholarships to veterinary students since 1987, but the new award recognizes a practicing veterinarian. The inaugural winner, Dr. Joseph Rossi, has treated many exhibition dogs at North Penn Animal Hospital in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and his Norwich terrier Dolores and his wife won the breed at Westminster in 2020.
Co-sponsored by pet insurer Trupanion, the honor comes with a contribution to MightyVet, which offers mentors, courses, and other support on topics such as reconciling work and family life, and handling difficult conversations. with customers and looking for signs that colleagues might be in serious trouble.
“We want to make sure that our animals are taken care of, but to do that, we need to make sure that our veterinarians take care of themselves,” said Westminster spokeswoman Gail Miller Bisher.
Concerns and research on exhaustion, depression, and suicide among veterinarians have seeped into the field for decades.
But the issue received more attention after a 2019 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association showed a higher proportion of suicide deaths among American veterinarians than in the general population. Several other occupations have above-average suicide rates, according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As in human medicine, veterinarians feel the strain of managing emergencies, caring for the sick, and often starting a career with a six-figure student debt.
Veterinarians, however, also face the responsibility of advising pet owners on euthanasia and carrying it out.
There are emotionally painful and ethically difficult times when people cannot let go of a suffering pet or, conversely, cannot afford a life-saving treatment. (Some charities and veterinary facilities offer financial assistance.) Even when euthanasia is not discussed, there are challenges in communicating with distressed pet owners and accepting cases that do not turn out as expected.
“As a vet, it affects us a lot,” Rossi said. “We love animals, and that’s why we do it.”
In an average week, several veterinarians or other staff members seek individual guidance on a work-related or non-work-related issue with veterinary social worker Judith Harbor, who also works with pet owners at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York. . .
Veterinarians need to be able to move from crisis to crisis at the AMC, which cares for more than 50,000 animals a year and has 24-hour emergencies and highly specialized care.
“But then there has to be a time when difficult experiences are dealt with,” Harbor says. It aims to help veterinarians and other staff members talk about these experiences “in a productive way other than just a ventilation session.”
He advises them to focus on their inner motivations and values, be kind to themselves, and remember that many situations do not have perfect solutions.
The American Veterinary Association also offers assistance, ranging from free training in suicide prevention to a “certificate of well-being in the workplace” program that involves comprehensive veterinary practices to learn about topics such as giving feedback, browsing for conflict and fostering diversity and inclusion.
The pet-owning public also has a role to play, Arce says.
“We understand how passionate people are about their pets and the health of their pets, but treating your vet in a rough way because you’re under stress, because your pet is sick, is not the way to go,” he said.
“We are trying to help you with everything we can.”
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