In the past few years, veterinary clinics around the country have been victims of cyber-bullying. Most recently a clinic in North Carolina was the victim and with no good reason. For those not clear on what I mean by this, I would explain cyber-bullying as a mostly aggressive, non-defensible attack through the internet that is often unwarranted. How could this happen to a veterinary clinic you might ask?
Sadly, this is nothing new since the dawn of social media. As people, we can get frustrated and need to vent some steam. Who we vent to used to reside with our closest friends, neighbors, or family; nowadays, it can be anybody with access to the web. In the recent case in North Carolina, a dog was brought in by a person who “found” a bleeding dog and claims he was denied care because he couldn’t pay for it. A conflicting report in the local paper with an interview from a client of the clinic who witnessed the exchange claims a different story that the man actually “hit the dog” with his car and they weren’t able to care for the dog as the doctor was in the middle of a surgery and could not leave the patient under anesthesia so he was told to a different clinic would be a better option.
The vet clinic has been smeared in newspaper article comments and has seen their reviews on Facebook go from 5 star reviews to their average dropping to 1.5 stars as a result of numerous scathing comments and reviews from the general public. People who have never been to this vet and are relying on a Facebook post to shame the clinic, clamoring for them to be shut down, and going so far as to utter death threats to the veterinarian. This is a classic “he said, she said” scenario where we get opposing viewpoints.
Let’s be honest. I get it. The bond that people and animals share is really close. When something doesn’t work out like the pet owner hopes, there can be the understandable and expected reactions involving anger, finger pointing, and denial. It’s natural to want to vent and it’s hard to hold those emotions in sometimes, plus it’s not always healthy. It’s good to express your feelings but not at the expense of others. What I want to recommend is not to air your grievances in a public forum and certainly not in the form of cyber-bullying your veterinarian or vet clinic.
Honestly, the people I’m trying to reach here about this are not the original posters. Nothing I say or do is going to change their minds about what they’re going to do. It’s everyone else who makes a difference. Oftentimes, the poster may not even be the pet owner. Some details may be altered or left out to make the person’s social media post weighted heavily in their favor.
Many of you who come across these posts will naturally be curious. And you will wonder why the vet clinic doesn’t speak up to defend themselves. Truthfully, we can’t respond directly for reasons of client confidentiality and professionalism. There are two sides to every story and in time, both sides can be heard. Forming an opinion based on hearsay sets a dangerous precedent for others. Pausing for a moment to consider this can prevent a lot of unnecessary anger or sadness.
As an example, common remarks within these social media posts are that the veterinarian or staff are uncaring, money hungry, or not being pet friendly. These sentiments can be quite damaging more than the poster realizes.
Cyber-bullying is damaging emotionally, financially, and in the worst cases physically.
Veterinary clinic staff & doctors can feel threatened and unsafe while at work but also when leaving. By being associated with the vet clinic, staff may feel too ashamed to go out in public or be unwilling to talk about things that may be upsetting them or bothering them. Keeping these emotions in is unhealthy and explains the reasoning for the extremely high rate of depression and suicide in the veterinary field. Financially, when the clinic comes under attack, many employees worry about losing their jobs if the business starts seeing less patients.
Yes, I said it…a veterinary clinic is a business. In reality, it’s virtually no different than an auto mechanic, human physician, farmer, or any other job really except our field involves living animals. No different meaning that just because we love animals doesn’t mean that we don’t have to earn a living to support our families. If cyber-bullying is aggressive enough to shut down a business, a few more people who are not at fault are now unemployed. That’s not a position I imagine many of us would want to be in.
So what can you do? Most importantly, as I’ve already mentioned, don’t feed the fires by also being a bully. If you feel that you must interact, ask questions to try to understand the situation and empathize with the person. Note, you can do that without condemning anybody else. What if you come across a post and it’s about your veterinarian or clinic that you happen to love? It can be hard to avoid jumping in the conversation, but that may be best to help put out any fires (don’t keep a post going). However, you can (and should) write a review of your positive experiences to help balance out the negative atmosphere which may be present on the internet.
Next time you come across something negative about a person or a business, think twice before rubbing salt in anyone’s wounds and don’t click that post or share button. You will be making a difference in someone’s life and that is a pretty good feeling.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
About the Author
Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic in Kingston, Ontario. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with 3 cats, 2 dogs, 2 horses and a pet rat named Sherman. Ryan is also a regular guest writer for the Ontario SPCA blog. You can find more of his writing at www.drryanllera.com or see what else he is up to on Facebook & Instagram.