'This Job Breaks You.' A Veterinarian Explains

Andrew Bullis details the stress and heartbreak of the job, one with a high suicide rate
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 12, 2023 5:00 PM CST
A Veterinarian's Admission: 'This Job Breaks You'
   (Getty / gettimguzhva)

In a wrenching account at Slate, Andrew Bullis writes that he never understood why veterinarians had such a high rate of suicide—until he became one himself. As the piece begins, he recalls the words of one his teachers: "I want to make this abundantly clear: If there’s one thing you must do flawlessly in your career, it’s killing. ... You will do it humanely. That means quickly, painlessly, and compassionately." Left untaught was the effect of all that euthanasia on the humans performing it. Bullis takes readers through a Saturday at his clinic, one that involves lots of angry pet owners yelling at him or one of the vet techs for one reason or another, and one animal health crisis after another.

But the crux of the piece is about Lacey, a dog in agony after a leg was crushed in an accident. The X-rays are bad: The best medical option is surgery that runs about $6,000. They could also amputate for $800. The distraught owners can afford neither. A vet tech offers to take custody of Lacey and then pay for the amputation, but her owners insist she be euthanized instead. "I grip the treatment table, looking down and taking a few deep breaths," writes Bullis. "You cannot seize an animal, nor can you compel an owner to surrender or do what you think is best." If he refuses, Bullis fears the owner will kill Lacey himself at home, probably in a way that causes her even more pain. He puts Lacey down. "This job breaks you," he writes. Read the full piece. (Or check out other longform stories.)

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