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Be Nice to the Big Ape

Sometimes we have to face facts, even though doing so is uncomfortable. Here is truth: Some animal lovers orient their affections on animals because they have problems dealing with humans. This applies to veterinarians as much as everyone else.

Misanthropy in its many forms is far too common in our world. What is particularly surprising is that we notice it so little. Very few of us will knowingly walk past a starving animal when we see one cowering in the street, but a homeless person in an alley under a pile of newspapers? We walk on, trying not to see. The reasons for this are too complex to discuss here. Suffice it to accept the kernel of truth and move on.

The qualifications for acceptance to veterinary school and medical school are quite similar. Why then do future doctors choose one path over the other? One answer might be, “I want to help animals.” Another, fairly common response is, “I don’t want to deal with people and all their drama.”

Oops! Four years later the new veterinarian steps into a profession that is unexpectedly all about people. Almost every animal, no matter what its condition or status, is thoroughly bonded to a human being – and the animals that aren’t, need to be! When an animal has a problem, its human has a problem. And while the human may not have the same problem as the animal, that human being’s problem is critical. There is no way to solve the animal problem without addressing the human problem.

That’s right. The Big Ape on the OTHER end of the leash has a problem, and is every bit as deserving of our compassion and concern as the cute little critter wagging its tail at us.

Let’s suppose we have a magic pill that cures all disease and a cat is brought into the veterinary office suffering, oddly enough, from all diseases. “Perfect!” we say. “We have a pill for that!” Problem solved… except that the cat’s Little Old Lady human has a problem: she has arthritis and can’t administer a pill. Hmmm…

Or perhaps the patient’s problem is terminal cancer and it needs to live as well as it can, while it can, and then leave the world peacefully and painlessly. The owner’s problem might be centered on prolonging their pet’s limited longevity so that they can have more quality time together. Or it might be learning to face the inevitability of their pet’s death and finding a way to let go. Or coming to grips with being forced by circumstance to choose death for the animal they cherish.

Many pet owners simply struggle to find the resources to address their pet’s problem in an affordable way that works within the limited means they have available, regardless of the nature of their pet’s problem.

O unlucky thou, Veterinarian, who retreated into the world of animal care in order to escape just these sorts of problems. You tried to escape them, but the Big Apes are everywhere! They hoot and holler and swing from the tree branches right into your examination room, carrying always the burden of their own unique and intricate baggage - baggage which often interferes with the veterinarian’s well crafted plan to solve some poor little animal’s problem. All that messy human drama about money and fear and lost attachment, about past bad experience or false hope just gets in the veterinarian’s way!

Most of us humans have little trouble feeling compassion and charity for needy little critters, or even for needy big critters. But humans, we seem to think, are somehow responsible for their own misfortunes (everyone but ourselves, of course). And whether those humans are actually responsible or not, it is somehow easy for us to believe humans should solve their problems themselves, with no help from us.

I try to remind myself that people are animals too. No matter what drama or baggage they carry with them, their suffering is real and their pain hurts just as much as all other pain, and a world with less pain is a better world, so I do what I can. No act of compassion is ever wasted, and this applies to humans, those big, annoying apes, just as much as to little helpless kittens.

The Big Apes don’t make it easy, of course. But that’s beside the point. People who are animal-oriented must face the fact that we can sometimes be human-disoriented - and change our habits. Veterinarians and other animal professionals must have concern for the needs of the human beings who are so important to an animal’s well being. We have to talk to the Big Apes, to draw them out and determine their needs in order to be most effective in helping the animal; if we’re unwilling to do this, we should stick to doctoring houseplants.

There are many good reasons why no sane person wants a human for a pet, but give the Big Apes a break. Most of them are pretty nice.

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