At Westminster Dog Show, new focus on vet welfare
NEW YORK — Dogs are in the spotlight, but Westminster Kennel Club’s upcoming show also shines a light on a human issue: the mental health of vets.
Along with the top Vet of the Year award to be presented on the final day of the show on Wednesday, the club is donating $10,000 to a charity focused on the psychological well-being of veterinary professionals.
It’s emotional new territory for the 145-year-old event at a time when the coronavirus pandemic and a changing culture have laid bare the internal struggles of people, from school children to healthcare workers to college athletes and professional sports stars.
For vets too, the pandemic has added new strains – exhausted clients, surging case numbers and more – and amplified long-standing ones.
“We love what we do, and there’s a certain mystique about working with animals – a lot of people think we’re playing with puppies all day. But there’s a lot behind it all,” the president said. of the American Veterinary Medicine Association, José Arce of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who hopes the Westminster Award will educate people about the well-being of veterinarians.
The show begins with an agility trial on Saturday and continues Monday through Wednesday, with the best show prize awarded live on Fox Sports channel FS1 Wednesday night. For the first time, select stocks will also appear on FOX Deportes in Spanish.
Nearly 3,500 dogs – the most since the 1970s – are expected at the historic Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York, said show co-chairman David Haddock. The more than 200 breeds and varieties include two newcomers, the mudi and the Russian toy.
It’s the second year in a row that pandemic concerns have moved America’s most famous dog show to its June date and suburban outdoor venue, rather than New York’s Madison Square Garden in winter.
Westminster has awarded scholarships to veterinary students since 1987, but the new award recognizes a practicing veterinarian. The first winner, Dr. Joseph Rossi, treated numerous show 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, this honor comes with a contribution to MightyVet, which offers mentors, courses and other support on topics such as work-life balance, managing difficult conversations with clients and looking for signs that colleagues might be in serious distress.
“We want to make sure our animals are taken care of, but to do that we need to make sure our vets are taken care of,” said Westminster spokeswoman Gail Miller Bisher.
Concerns and research about burnout, depression, and suicidal tendencies among veterinarians have pervaded the field for decades.
But the issue gained greater attention after a 2019 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association showed a higher proportion of deaths from suicide among American veterinarians than among the general population. Various other professions have higher than average suicide rates, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As in human medicine, veterinarians feel the pressure to handle emergencies, care for the sick — and, often, start careers with six-figure student debt.
Veterinarians, however, also have a responsibility to advise animal owners about euthanasia and to perform it.
There are emotionally painful and ethically trying times when people cannot let go of a suffering animal or, conversely, cannot afford a treatment that could save lives. (Some charities and veterinary facilities offer financial assistance.) Even when euthanasia isn’t under discussion, it’s difficult to communicate with distressed pet owners and deal with cases that don’t go as hoped.
“As a veterinarian, it hits us hard,” Rossi said. “We love animals, and that’s why we do this.”
In an average week, many veterinarians or other staff seek one-on-one advice for a problem — work-related or not — from veterinary social worker Judith Harbour, who also works with pet owners at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York.
Vets need to be able to go from crisis to crisis at AMC, which treats more than 50,000 animals a year and has a 24/7 emergency room and highly specialized care.
“But there has to be a time when the difficult experiences are dealt with,” Harbor says. She aims to help vets and other staff talk about these experiences “in a productive way, it’s not just a ventilation session.”
She advises them to focus on their inner motivations and values, to be kind to themselves, and to remember that many situations don’t have perfect solutions.
The American Veterinary Medicine Association also offers help, from free suicide prevention training to a “workplace wellness certificate” program that engages entire veterinary practices to educate themselves on topics such as such as feedback, conflict management and the promotion of diversity and inclusion.
The pet-owning public also has a role to play, says Arce.
“We understand how passionate people are about their pets and the health of their pets, but treating your vet roughly because you’re stressed, because your pet is sick, is not the way to go. “, did he declare.
“We try to help you with everything we can.”