There is an epidemic in veterinary medicine that no one is talking about. It’s cyber-bullying, and it must stop. Disagreement and constructive debate are healthy and productive. Abuse is not.
I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, honestly. The fact is, I am being targeted and attacked by an animal activist group. They call the clinics where I work, lay down direct and passive aggressive threats on social media, and send nasty and harassing emails.
You may be surprised to know these people do not have a problem with how I practice medicine. The topic they’re talking about? We have some similar thoughts on it. They actually know I’m sympathetic to their beliefs about their cause. The reason they’re threatening me like this — within just inches of what would be ruled unlawful harassment — is that they want me to agree to speak out for them and publicly shame and condemn veterinarians they disagree with. I believe methods matter as much as cause, and I will not sign on to that kind of unethical behavior. So now they’re taking abusive steps against me.
I wish I were making this up, but it’s entirely, confoundingly, dishearteningly true. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. Upon further research, I saw that it was happening to others as well. I felt like it was time to say something.
I have learned a lot from this experience, and I’d like to share a few things.
1 – Nothing will ever happen because someone tries to bully me into it. I will not do anything because I am harassed or threatened, or because someone tries to shame me. Listen, I’ve got enough insecurity and shame in my life; I’m a working parent who can’t be everywhere at once and a doctor who can’t always save the lives placed in my care. I don’t need extra insecurity or shame from bullies, so I’m not taking it. No, thanks.
2 – I’ll support the causes I believe in on my own terms. There are so many causes I believe in passionately. (One of them happens to be protecting members of a profession with one of the world’s highest suicide rates from emotional abuse. So here we are.) The values I hold dear and the animal-related causes I believe in are why I work tirelessly in the clinic and on this website. And you know what? I pursue them passionately without hurting or bullying anyone. If I can work this way, so can anyone else. Threats and bullying simply aren’t necessary to champion a cause, no matter how worthy it is.
3 – This problem is an epidemic. People who have decided threats and abuse are an acceptable way to make their voices heard are attacking veterinary clinics across the country. As I began to look for resources on how to deal with personal attacks, I was bowled over by how rampant this is. So many people told me they’re dealing with a similar problem. Almost no one knew who to reach out to, and most of the people I talked to thought they had been singled out. If it’s happening to you, please know: You’re definitely not alone.
4 – The vast majority of people who want changes in medicine are good. It warms my heart to see how many people and organizations use ethical persuasive tactics to effect change. Real bullies are very few and far between, but they are skilled at gathering good people behind a good cause, then manipulating those people to become complicit in their abusive tactics. Bullies steal the words of people with good intentions and use them as weaponry in extremely unethical attacks. Actions you’d probably never agree to are attributed to your name without your knowledge.
5 – You can end this. Before you support ANY activist group (by acting on their behalf, endorsing them, clicking to indicate support, or sharing any media they create), please remember: Methods are as important as the cause. Of course, you care about animals and their welfare. Of course, you want to support a good cause. But if you do not support bullying, then you should not support groups who bully, regardless of the cause they are trying to advance.
Spending a few minutes on a group’s Facebook or web page may give you an idea of the tactics leaders in the group use. Unfortunately, these groups often hide their aggressive activities in fear that their supporters will withdraw or that legal action could be taken against them. So:
Google the name of the organization and “cyber bullying.” If there are even a few results, you should take pause. Most of these groups will continually deny accusations to escape legal trouble. How many accusations need to be made before your suspicions are high enough to walk away? Please do not support or empower abusers or bullies.
- IF YOU are threatening, punishing, harassing, bullying, or abusing someone to try to make them do what you want, STOP. That’s not OK in any context. It’s that simple.
- IF YOU are someone who cares about a cause and you think a group you support might be bullying, please don’t let this break your spirit. Quit the group but keep working to educate and make your voice heard! Be creative, be tireless, be passionate — and find people who share not only your cause but also your methods for achieving it.
- IF YOU are being bullied, do not suffer in silence. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) are all working together to support veterinarians being abused. If your practice is being targeted in an abusive way by groups or individuals, reach out immediately. Email AAHA at firstname.lastname@example.org or AVMA at email@example.com. You do NOT need to be an AAHA or AVMA member to contact them. They want to help everyone.
Also, check out these resources:
For me, this is not about causes. Remember, I’m being harassed by someone who knows we both want to move in the same direction. This is about bullies manipulating others and using fear and abuse to force people’s consent — and it needs to stop now. The AVMA, AAHA and AAFP monitor serial abusers, and I hope they may potentially be able to take legal action against them in the future. No one has the right to threaten or abuse you.