Whether a pet must have surgery, such as Caitlyn, who was treated after being found with her mouth taped shut, the unanticipated expense and the uncertainty of the outcome can be formidable for a pet owner.

 

I (Henri Bianucci) wonder what the person who coined the phrase, “believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear,” would have said about social media posts.

It all starts with the point of view of an individual. The person’s grasp, or the correctness, of the facts themselves, is unimportant. All that matters is a point of view striking a resonant chord with the reader, who adopts the position and perpetuates, or even accelerates, it.

It’s like digital vigilantism, and as the campaign grows, reputations are smeared, businesses are damaged and even people’s lives may be threatened.

Unlike a real mob, the participants are detached and anonymous. Their investment in time and effort to participate is minimal, as is their personal risk. This reduces the need to adhere strictly to truth and avoid embellishments. Although most reasonable humans realize that there are two sides to every story, these people are unburdened by an alternative viewpoint.

Unencumbered by facts, and absent a counterpoint, they freely launch a full-throated, scathing attack. Then they click to the next story, swipe left or right, or whatever. But, for those on the receiving end, the damage is done and can have a lasting effect on a person’s reputation, emotional well-being, safety and livelihood.

The very foundation of the small animal veterinary profession is rooted in emotion. Yes, objectively, pets can add to the quality of our emotional and mental health, but for most of us, that’s a side benefit. It’s not our primary motivation for pet ownership. We keep them because we love them. They become part of our family fabric and a touchstone of memories and attachments to those we love, both living and departed. So, it is little wonder that in addition to addressing whatever condition a patient presents with, we also must manage the emotional state of the owner.

Emergency veterinary medicine is particularly charged because emotions are accelerated by stress and fear. Many of these cases involve life-and-death decisions and procedures, and these are thrust upon pet owners suddenly, often in the middle of the night. Add to that the unanticipated expense and uncertainty of outcome or prognosis, and the medical team may find themselves investing as much time in managing the owner’s emotional state as they are in managing the patient. Sadly, not every patient can be saved nor can every client be assuaged.

A dog came to the emergency clinic after ingesting a piece of clothing, which was now obstructing his bowel. This is a life-threatening problem and requires emergency surgery. To make matters worse, this was his second time in less than a year, and he was only a few years old.

Evaluating her family situation, the owner made the decision to put him to sleep, citing her inability to prevent this from happening again, and not being able to repeatedly pay for the surgery. As preparations were made, the operator of a local rescue organization entered the clinic with a case of her own.

Being a frequent visitor here, she was in the treatment area and saw what was about to happen with the dog. She stepped in and offered to take possession of and financial responsibility for him. She would then find him a new home and owner who would pledge to meet all medical needs in the future. The owner agreed and signed the dog over.

As sometimes happens, following successful surgery the next day, the owner wanted the dog back. Generally, we and the rescue group are glad to make this happen, but this owner had said she would not be able to treat the dog if this happened again, and that in her house, it would likely happen again. This was a sticking point that could have been resolved with a frank discussion and assurances, but instead, the owner turned to Facebook.

Emotions prevailed over facts, and a post was launched, which characterized the rescuer, who was the sole reason the dog was still alive, as a money-hungry villain. This unleashed a wave of angry posts, which included death threats and pledges to ruin her rescue organization, which saves hundreds of hopeless animals every year.

The rescuer in question takes in anything in need, even perusing online classifieds and the “kill list” of shelters. She will drive hundreds of miles on a moment’s notice, saving animals from imminent death and terrible living conditions. She is literally their last hope; their Mother Teresa.

That’s truly the dark power of social media. It can make an enemy out of anyone. A single, misleading post can raise an army of animal lovers, bent upon ruining someone who has committed her life to preventing the suffering and death of innocent animals.

The one-sided nature of social media presentations can turn people, who actually agree completely, who share the same goals and feelings, against each other.

When the owner and our rescuer subsequently sat down and met face-to-face, an agreement was reached that addressed the concerns of both sides, and the dog was restored to the family that loved him.

This resolution resulted not from a single person marshaling destructive public rage on the internet, but by two people working to understand each other to achieve the best possible outcome.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to petdocs@postandcourier.com.

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