By: Andy Roark DVM MSc

o-KRISTEN-LINDSEY-facebook

I’m not going to post the graphic photo that goes along with these twisted words. If you are interested, it’s not hard to find. The image of the dead cat and the smiling human is upsetting, and it isn’t necessary to see it to understand the outrage it caused.

Last week, one of our own — a veterinarian — posted a picture of herself proudly posing with an orange tabby cat impaled on an arrow. It was an arrow she shot and a picture she posted along with the words you see above. Later, when people on social media began to suggest that she might be fired for her actions, she replied:

Reply from Kristen

For me, this story is a barbed splinter. It has burrowed its way under my skin, and I can’t leave it alone. I pick at it, curse it, and wish it were gone. But it’s not going away.

I believe people are inherently good. I also believe that, of all the good out there, those who work with animals are some of the kindest and most compassionate of all. So how could this happen?

As veterinarians, we have all taken an oath. We’ve sworn to use our “scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering.” As someone who has spoken those words, I feel betrayed by this person’s actions. What she did breaks the promise we all swore to uphold.

Stories like this spread fast, and these kinds of images and words stick in our minds. What does that mean for public perception of veterinarians as a whole? Will there be people out there who once thought a veterinarian would never mistreat their pets, and who now have nagging doubts? I expect so.

Regardless of what steps local law enforcement and the Texas Veterinary Medical Licensing Board take, our profession has suffered a hit. How many stories with titles like, “Veterinary technician saves cat, gives it a home” and “Veterinarian donates time to serve pets of homeless” will it take to surpass the exposure this nightmare has received? I can’t imagine a number large enough.

So how do we respond? As animal lovers, caregivers, and veterinary professionals who had nothing to do with this incident and would give anything to have been there to stop it, where do we go from here? How do we help our profession earn back the trust of pet owners everywhere?

Fortunately, there is a kind of story that people remember even more than horrific pieces like this one. People remember stories that happen to them.

Bad news goes viral. It flickers across the public consciousness on a large scale. But good news that happens in our own lives can go viral, too. Positive personal experiences become memorable, powerful stories that people tell and re-tell.

We can’t change what happened in this instance; we have no control over the past. Nor can we bring that cat back to life by raging against this woman or wasting our time on social media demanding consequences or apology or revenge. (To be honest, I’ve seen the tide of public outrage turn nasty online all too often. The ease with which we can attack one another over social media, even when the attack may seem justified, makes me uneasy.)

But we can control how we all behave from this point forward. We can choose to use this moment as motivation to make a tangible difference in the lives of the people and pets around us. We can use it as a reminder that integrity must be built every day and can be lost in an instant. This story may have been a sad one for the veterinary world, but we can channel our feelings about it into making a positive impact. We can focus our efforts on doing good.

If you felt as appalled and hurt and betrayed as I did, please know you’re not alone. If you feel frustrated because the actions of one troubled individual reflect poorly on you and your colleagues, I hear you. If you’re willing to join me in taking action — to double down on our own commitment to caring for our clients and their pets — then we can spark the light that outshines this dark day.

Now, let’s get to work rebuilding our reputation and giving our best efforts today. The people and pets we serve deserve it.

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