DEAR READERS: According to a Feb. 13 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention morbidity and mortality report, "Veterinarians are believed to be at increased risk for suicide compared with the general population." Researchers sent out a questionnaire that "asked respondents about their experiences with depression and suicidal behavior, and included standardized questions from the Kessler-6 psychological distress scale that assesses for the presence of serious mental illness ... Approximately 6.8 (percent) of male and 10.9 (percent) of female respondents were characterized as having serious psychological distress ... compared with 3.5 (percent) of male and 4.4 (percent) of female U.S. adults, respectively."
That the study found almost 1 in 10 American veterinarians might suffer from serious psychological distress and more than 1 in 6 might have experienced suicidal ideation since graduation makes me deeply concerned and wonder why. The challenges of diagnosing, treating and preventing various animal maladies, coupled with financial constraints in a culture with a schizoid attitude toward animals (ranging from treating them as family members to mere commodities), may be overwhelming at times. And it is frustrating seeing the same conditions day after day with no significant advances in the prevention of illness and suffering. This is especially true for factory farmed animals, an animal industry sector with an acute shortage of veterinarians.
Above all, I believe that veterinarians are generally more empathetic toward animals than most people in the general population. They, along with others on the front lines of animal protection, take the brunt of society's use and abuse of animals. One colleague writes to me, "We have a schizophrenic profession. One minute we are battling for a pet's life and then in an instant the next owner elects euthanasia. This can twist anyone's mind inside out. Caregiver burnout is very prevalent in the vet profession, too. Long hours and low economic returns make it challenging to get a vacation to recharge."
This burden of empathy for animals used and abused in society today, combined with veterinarians' clinical knowledge and deeper understanding of how their animal patients can suffer, calls for greater public recognition and respect for the many contributions this profession provides for the good of animals.
DEAR DR. FOX: I am in a rough situation: I have a smart dog (aren't they all?) who insists on barking when she smells one particular dog she dislikes intensely from two floors above.
Her sense of smell is amazing. She is a Havanese mix. She now barks two or three times per day. She seems bored, but won't play with other dogs, only humans. She is healthy and very intuitive.
I am 80 years old and cannot run with her. I live in a condo whose 50-year-old rules do not permit pets. Half of the building has cats; there are roughly five dogs who got grandfathered in. There are 172 units.
I have tried to work with a behaviorist from a dog shelter, who gave me some exercises for her. When she barks, she comes to me for treat and then stops. I think this exercise worked for a bit, but it seemed to teach quite the opposite of the intent.
When she knows a dog, she doesn't bark, except in this one case. We try to keep the two dogs separate. We have a dog park nearby, and I keep her leashed, as she doesn't know how to play. My husband takes her off the leash when he walks her in the park, but when I play with her in the apartment, she only runs. I hope you can help our situation. -- L.K., Bethesda, Maryland
DEAR L.K.: I am surprised the behaviorist did not suggest you try one of a variety of humane and variously effective anti-bark collars.
I am very concerned that there are animal behaviorists working in shelters who are unqualified, uncertified or simply ignorant. Your behaviorist set up a food protocol that encouraged barking by rewarding your dog with a treat every time she barked! So do seek a second opinion on this issue, possibly a reliable referral from your dog's veterinarian.
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(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.)