Veterinary medicine is personal. It does not matter that Little Fang, the three-pound Chihuahua on my exam table, would like to tear my head off. What matters is that Fang’s pet-parent loves the little booger with all her heart, so even though Fang would gladly feast upon my liver, I love him too. Fang’s welfare matters because someone cares about him. Fang’s pet-parent has a bond with him, a bond that gives Fang the magical power to lift her heart, to brighten her day, enrich her life, and to do so very, very much more.
The Bond between pet and pet owner is a very special and wondrous thing. We have all felt the love of our pets after a particularly difficult day, but aside from the legendary devotion and acceptance we are granted by our pets, our relationship with them conveys a variety of life-enriching, and sometimes life-saving, benefits. Pets lessen our anxiety and lower our blood pressure. Heart attack victims who have pets live longer than those who do not. Alzheimer's patients who live with animals have fewer anxiety outbursts. Pets provide both companionship and the motivation to exercise for all of us, but particularly for the elderly, whose welfare is hugely improved by their pets.
Just playing with a dog or cat will elevate your levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters known to have pleasurable and calming properties. Some people resort to drugs or alcohol to artificially raise their levels of these brain chemicals. The healthy way to accomplish this is to pet your dog!
Given all of these benefits (and the many others too numerous to recount) it is not surprising that people become strongly bonded to their pets. Little Fang’s pet-parent is no exception and when Fang’s well-being is threatened, his pet-parent’s well-being is also threatened. It matters. There are over 71 million dogs in the United States, and over 73 million cats, but there is only one Little Fang, and he can never be replaced. This is something that I never forget, even as I bandage my bleeding fingers.
Like most veterinarians, I respond to the bond between Fang and his pet-parent. I want to see Fang continue to nourish and improve the well being of the people who love him. I want Fang to thrive, so that those people will thrive. The bond between pet and pet-parent extends to the veterinarian, whose role is to protect and preserve the bond between them.
This is one of the joys of being a small town veterinarian: I know my clients; they are my friends and neighbors. Ours is a very real and immediate relationship. Their pets are, in certain ways, my pets too. We have a bond. My career has been fulfilled by clients whose pets I cared for from birth to advanced age. I have watched these animals grow from little puppies or kittens until the end of their long and happy lives. I have seen my clients’ children grow until, as adults themselves, they bring their own pets for my care. I cannot imagine myself functioning in a practice where I am one of scores of care providers, any of whom may be randomly assigned to a given patient.
Yet this is precisely the trend of modern day veterinary medicine. I am impressed, even awed, at the immense capabilities of a modern multi-specialty veterinary complex: These facilities have the ability to provide mind-boggling levels of care, procedures like kidney transplants and hip replacement surgery; multi-drug chemotherapies and tumor radiation therapy. These huge facilities are great when you need them, but are too often impersonal and expensive (those big buildings don’t grow on trees). An institutional approach to veterinary medicine too easily reduces pet and pet owner to little more than their generic roles as recipient and purchaser of veterinary care. I do not believe this is what people desire, either for themselves or their pets.
What is the heart of veterinary medicine? It is the personal, one-to-one Bond that grows out of trust between the pet, the pet-parent, and their veterinarian. You won’t find it at a national chain of veterinary super-stores. Support your independent local veterinary facility — where everybody knows your name.