Know that I work part-time at a specialty/emergency veterinary hospital in my “retirement.” I maintain a veterinary social work internship and a VSW program which will be a model for all programs that I am helping to develop throughout this country. Thankfully, the events of this week happen infrequently, but they are worth sharing for those interested in Veterinary Social Work.
An advanced VSW intern, who does many of her hours at night, texted me to tell me that a mother and teenage children had come in. The husband had bludgeoned their dog. The husband used a baseball bat to beat the dog, and he threw free weights at the dog. The dog was on the bed (a crime I guess). This man was reportedly the most heartfelt of animal lovers in the household. The older teenager, witnessed the entire act and called his mom who was home within minutes. The mom took the children and the dog to our hospital where social work interns are under my supervision. The intern who texted me was intricately involved with the mom and her family that night. With her assistance, the mom demanded the husband exit the house indefinitely while they were out. This man was previously without mental illness or anger issues, and he had no history whatsoever of violence. That sounds familiar this week, meaning the Las Vegas massacre.
First, I want you to know the dog is ok and getting better. The children are ok and will have contact with therapists. The mom is knowledgeable and cognizant of the risks and the correlation of animal abuse and domestic violence. She has made sure that the husband is no longer allowed in the home, and she required him to get treatment before any discussion of return, to which he agreed. The family is experiencing concern for the dog, disillusionment, trauma, and grief as their family implodes. Because of VSW services, all authorities are working it: Animal Control, Police, Child Protection. All are safe, humans and animals. Having a social worker and social work interns within the hospital have been incredibly instrumental in this case.
This mom was trying to get her child that witnessed the incident to open up and express his feelings. She told me that she was able to use what happened in Las Vegas, pointing out that the Vegas shooter did this once and once only. She said they discussed how much pain and suffering the gunman wrought. She said to her child "One time is enough." She meant that though there may be no pattern in past behavior; this can still happen, and even though it was once; they will never forget. She is broken-hearted as she loves this man and her children love him too. All is topsy turvy now for them.
People can crumble into their worst selves quickly. We all need to be awake and attuned with our intuition and gut. This past week was hellish for our hospital staff. We had this case of animal abuse and three more assailing cases. In one of the other three cases, we were able to calm an owner temporarily. But VSW's found that their job was more of supporting the veterinarians and staff, because the clients were intractable. The staff and veterinarians dealt with these clients who threatened lawsuits, threw numerous expletives, hung up the phone repeatedly with staff/doctors, and demanded innumerable hours of attention. Their language was intimidating and abusive. They also complained about the money required, saying the hospital was all in it for the money. Advanced veterinary medicine provides so many choices, but no veterinarian is in it for the money. Look at their salaries. If you want to go the distance for your animal, and have the best, it costs. There is little insurance reimbursement for animal medical care.
Sometimes clients' behavior is due to grief and frustration regarding their inability to financially afford a possibility for survival of the pet. When this is purely emotional, or an acting out of grief, VSW's help a great deal with the client. However, occasionally, a client's behavior is a product of their own personality and patterns of behavior, as in these cases. No doubt, their behavior has undermined their attempts to have good relationships with professionals before these incidents.
Veterinary staff and veterinarians model the non-judgement and positivity of the animals who are their patients. Sometimes, like in these cases, veterinary professionals are blind-sided by people who push, and manipulate, until they become out-right abusive. Veterinarians are not trained as social workers are: they are not trained in boundaries or self-care. Abuse of an animal or human being or community of human beings cannot be tolerated.
The animals who inhabit our lives and hearts exemplify non-judgement and trust. Please be kind to the people who have devoted their lives to them, and to your love for them. Their job is very very hard.