RIP beloved 4-year-old Netbook. So sorry I will not be able to blog the second day of the No Kill Conference as planned.
I will write up my thoughts and impressions afterward.
The scariest feral cat in a trap doesn't get him down, and neither did the failed batteries in the room mic when Peter Wolf of the great blog Vox Felina and, more recently, Best Friends Animal Society, talked about community cat advocacy at the 2013 No Kill Conference in Washington DC.
What follows is a real-time summary of Peter's presentation. If something is in quotes, he said it; otherwise, it's a paraphrase.
How does your community handle community cats? What are the relevant ordincances? How do those things impact our behavior as advocates, and what do we do about it?
And the gray area: What won't we get caught doing?
Of course, it depends on where you are. Some communities are more or less permissive or restrictive. So your first step is identifying where on the spectrum your community lies.
He used several different communities to walk the audience through how that process works.
For example, how do they define "owner" when it comes to cat? Maricopa, AZ, defines it as six days of "maintaining" the animal -- does that include feeding? Do you just have to skip a day every week and start the clock over?
In some communities (he uses example of Phoenix which is not at all restrictive), it's a mistake to try to change ordinances. If you can do what you need to do within the existing regulatory and enforcement environment, you are better off leaving it alone. You could open it up and end up stirring up opposition and getting worse regulations and more enforcement.
In Akron, Ohio, cats are specifically mentioned as not being allowed to "run at large" off their owners' property.
What does that mean for a cat without owner? Well, in Akron, the law says it's the "duty" of the City Animal Control Wardens to apprehend animals, specifically including cats, who are "at large." Since 2003 in Akrgon, "free-roaming cats are simply not permitted."
What does enforcement look like?
He took some time to discuss the community cats online panel I moderated for Maddie's Fund earlier in the week, then introduced what's going on in Jacksonville, Florida, which was discussed during that panel.
He quotes the Jacksonville ordinance, which, for example, discusses managed cat colonies but doesn't have language requiring all community cats be in a managed colony. But they do set guidelines for such colonies when they are in place.
The ordinance says "sterilized, vaccinated, ear-tipped community cats are exempt from licensing, stray, at-large and possibly other provisions of this ordinance that apply to owned animals." Why does this matter?
Too often, opponents of TNR describe it as "abandonment." If you keep using the language (think "death panels"), people start to question. Hmmm, maybe this isn't good for cats after all. It's like anti-cat advocates trying to re-brand TNR as "trap, neuter, abandon."
Ordinance also says there is no stray holding period for feral animals, but EXCLUDES those cats that qualify "for a community cat management program established by the City." Doesn't micromanage that in the ordinance.
Wherever you live, whether a bad or great ordinance, never fail to look at what's REALLY happening. Are bad provisions being enforced? Are good ordinances being honored? Example Prince George's County, MD, where some fo the language sounds good, but what's really happening is not so good. He also reviewed a proposal that was just amazingly bad for cats and clueless.
Then he said something to the effect that if you think THAT was bad, wait til you see what was proposed in Hillsborough County, Florida, this year.
Some veterinarians in that county are fighting TNR fiercely -- it's cruelty, it's abandonment, it's rabies, it's toxo -- and since people think they are there to help animals, that "DVM" gives a lot of crediblity.
The proposal was called AWAKE -- "Animal welfare, Adoption, Kids and Education" -- and was proposed by the Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society and Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation.
Under proposal, there would be no new colonies allowed. Existing colonies have to test, have to keep rabies "current," each colony and cat has to be registered, have to be treated ANNUALLY for internal parasites!
None of this is required for PET cats, "but the ones we can't touch, we have to do it."
Only permitted a mile and a half from various business including food stores, schools, etc. "You map it out, there's nothing left of Hillsborough County."
Newcomers would have had to be removed.
Even though proposals like this would essentially eliminate the lifesaving their supposedly intended to promote, they often sound very reasonable to lawmakers and are promoted as GOOD for the community, for caretakers, and for cats!
Looked great to the press, too.
In Salt Lake City, they found that designated caretaker requirements were "almost like a deterrent" and diverted resources from spay/neuter.
So, don't unowned free-romaing cats NEED designated caretakers?
First, most already have someone caring for them. Even if we don't know who they are.
Second, most of these cats are doing well, healthy, thriving. Data from Jon Cicirelli in San Jose, some studies by Dr. Julie Levy.
Third, concern over reuniting lost pets with their owners? What if we TNR an owned cat? "As long as cats are returned to their original location, their chances of being reunited are surprisingly good."
"In one study, lost cats are more than 13 times more likely to be reunited with their owners if there is no shelter intervention." About two-thirds of cats just come back one day.
None of this is to say we don't want cats to have caretakers, Peter said. And in fact, they probably do. There are benefits to the cats and the caretakers. Guidelines, networks, financial assistance.
Registered COLONIES, however, not a good idea. The wrong people shouldn't know where the cats are. Can also generate bad media. If licensed/registered, subject to public records laws.
Requiring caretakers to do TNR reduces likelihood of positive outcome.
It's that time again -- the annual No Kill Conference in Washington DC.
I'll be doing some blogging from the event, starting shortly with Peter Wolf of Vox Felina's session on community cats.
My own presentation is at 3:15 PM Eastern, and I haven't yet figure out how to liveblog while giving a talk.
Thoughts and impressions later -- see you soon!
This is the third in a series of posts examining the comments made by No-Kill opponents in public discussions of the movement to save all healthy and treatable pets in our nation's shelters.
There's a new "talking point" popping up with orchestrated frequency wherever people gather to discuss the No-Kill Movement online. I call it "WILL NO ONE THINK OF THE STRAYS?!?!??" (All-caps and multiple exclamation points and question marks are required to really express the hysteria that underlies this particular talking point.)
Because it's new, a lot of No-Kill advocates aren't quite sure what to make of it -- which is exactly why they thought if up in the first place. It's certainly not because it's true.
To save all healthy and treatable homeless dogs and cats in our nation requires we find homes for around 2.5 million additional pets out of the pool of approximately 27 million households that get a new dog or cat each year.
This simple piece of math puts a huge crimp in the habitual contention of No-Kill opponents that there are "too many pets, not enough homes" and therefore slaughtering homeless pets in shelters is unavoidable.
The other problem with their old math is that communities all over the U.S. are routinely and sustainably saving more than 90 percent of their homeless pets without divine intervention, billions of dollars, or the laws of nature being turned on their heads.
They are doing it by implementing the No-Kill Equation:
All of which has left No-Kill opponents in search of something, anything, to change the math. So they came up with strays. I'm sorry; I mean, "STRAYS!!!!!"
What they're contending is that no matter how well shelters perform in saving the lives of the pets who come in their doors, it won't matter nor spell success because there are uncountable quadrazillions of stray dogs and cats all over the country, and if we add them into the equation, there really are "too many pets, not enough homes," just like they always told us back in the days before we learned to count.
The beauty of using this "gotcha" point to argue against no-kill is that it's a sensationalistic, vague, unquantified concept. Advocates of shelter reform could point to success in reducing intake and increasing lifesaving until literally every community in the country was saving more than 90 percent of the pets who enter its shelter system, and No-Kill opponents could still go, "It's all a lie because STRAYS!"
Are they right? No.
First, by their own admission and the best estimates of both feral cat advocates and enemies, the vast majority of unowned, unsheltered pets in this country are feral cats.
Feral cats are not "strays" and they're not "homeless." They are no more or less a matter for shelters to deal with than racoons are, and that is a simple fact we have to grasp if we're ever going to have a reasonable conversation about a humane approach to free-living, unowned cats in our communities.
Second, while there are a few areas with a "feral dog" problem, that's all there are: a few. I live in the Detroit metro area, where there are an estimated 20-50,000 free-roaming dogs on the streets. This is widely acknowledged to be the greatest density of such dogs in the United States. Detroit Dog Rescue fonder Dan "Hush" Carlisle estimates that 80-90 percent of them are recently abandoned pet dogs rather than feral dogs.
Nor are all these dogs homeless; many are currently owned dogs being allowed to run loose by their owners. That's also true in rural areas where dogs run loose. They are also not homeless.
Yes, there are pockets of truly feral dogs in junkyards, remote areas, and abandoned urban neighborhoods, usually running in mixed packs with free-roaming owned dogs. And while no one knows the exact number of truly homeless, free-living, feral dogs in the United States, no credible source contends the number is so large that it significantly alters the bigger picture of canine homelessness and sheltering.
Which is to say, it can be addressed by the No-Kill Equation, ie, targeted spay/neuter, rehabilitation, sanctuary, and adoption when the dog can be safely housed, or killing for the safety of society when the dog cannot be safely housed.
Of course, these facts won't do one damn thing to convince a "THINK OF THE STRAYS!!!!!" devotee to change his or her mind. That's because they didn't come up with it because of facts, they don't post it on Facebook dicussions because of facts, and they aren't even interested in facts. (Which is painfully clear, since they haven't got any.)
This is nothing, really, but baseless goal-post moving, and a reassuring (to us) sign that we have pretty much proven our contention that there are enough homes, and that communities that adopt the No Kill Equation can adopt, return-to-owner, spay/neuter, TNR, and embrace our fellow humans out of shelter killing.
Which is good news for the animals, even if the No-Kill nay-sayers will never admit it.
This is the second in a series of posts on the common tactics used in public discussions of animal sheltering reform by opponents of No-Kill. This one today is a perennial favorite of theirs: The distraction.
One of the reasons they like it so much is No-Kill advocates seem to fall for it a lot. So let me break it down for you.
First, there's a post about some elements of saving all healthy and treatable homeless pets in your community's shelters.
Soon, one or two or an avalanche of strangers appear, all with varying levels of politeness or hostility asking a few simple questions about totally unrelated issues: Farm animal conditions, vegetarianism or veganism, abortion, gun control, the Affordable Care Act, poverty, malnutrition in children, the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran or North Korea, and pretty much any other compelling social issue you can even imagine.
The gist of their questions is that you either can't really advocate for shelter pets if you don't also advocate for [fill in their chosen cause], and/or you shouldn't waste your time on shelter pets when there are all these other horrible problems demanding solutions.
It's very easy to let these people distract you from the actual work of shelter reform, and off the topic of saving the lives of homeless pets. That's because many of us are active in other forms of advocacy as well as shelter reform, and also because many people in our movement lead with our hearts, and want to address all forms of suffering and injustice.
Here's the thing, though: If you let yourself get pulled off in ten thousand directions chasing every injustice anyone mentions to you, you'll be completely demoralized and utterly ineffective in, oh, around ten minutes.
You'll also allow your message to become hopelessly muddied, and thus lose one of the biggest things the shelter reform movement has going for it: Near-universal support from average pet owners. That is, in fact, why our opponents are so vicious in their attempts to distract us and get us off message, because our message can't be contradicted otherwise.
Here's a handy test to know if a question should be answered: Is this a problem that has to be solved before we can save all our community's healthy and treatable homeless pets?
If the answer is "no," then it's a distraction, and you need to point that out and move on. Every minute you spend engaging on their terms is a minute you are not spending focusing on saving healthy and treatable pets.
Right now, the three topics that are most frequently used to divide and distract No-Kill advocates are abortion, farm animal treatment, and veganism.
Do many people in the No-Kill movement have opinions on these issues, particularly the last two? You bet. But we do not need to agree on any of those three things to save all the healthy and treatable pets.
We do not need to have many all-night consciousness-raising sessions on those issues to save all the healthy and treatable pets.
We do not need to limit our ranks to only those who hold the same views on those issues to save all the healthy and treatable pets -- in fact, doing so will only hamper our efforts.
In short, we do not need to resolve, mention, or otherwise discuss those issues to save all the healthy and treatable pets.
Therefore, even if they are issues you care about or want to advocate for or want to support or oppose, they are distractions from the work of saving all healthy and treatable pets. Attempts by people in public conversations to divert your attention to those issues is not part of making the picture bigger or widening the circle of our compassion or even changing our ethical priorities; it's about stopping the No-Kill Movement.
Stop. Falling. For. It.
Gas chamber defenders have a predictable set of defenses they trot out whenever their right to gas pets is challenged. Let's take a look at them.
1. The AVMA says it's okay.
While the American Veterinary Medical Association continues to stand on the wrong side of history on this one, the fact is, if you actually look at what the AVMA says in its supposed "defense" of the gas chamber, you'll find that they've put so many qualifications on that seal of approval virtually no shelter could possibly comply with their guidelines for its use – certainly not the backwards, poorly-performing shelters most likely to be clinging to the gas chamber:
In previous editions of the guidelines, the use of carbon monoxide (CO) or carbon dioxide (CO2) gas was considered ‘acceptable’ for euthanasia of dogs and cats. In the 2013 Guidelines, the classification for use of these gases has been changed to ‘acceptable with conditions’…. The use of these techniques requires that specific conditions be met to ensure that death is achieved in a humane way. When ALL of the conditions are met, ‘acceptable with conditions’ methods are equivalent to ‘acceptable’ methods. And, if all conditions are not met, they are not considered ‘acceptable.’
Some of those conditions include:
The AVMA statement concludes, "Gas chambers are not recommended for routine euthanasia of cats and dogs in shelters and animal control operations."
So if a shelter truly wants to live and die by the AVMA's blessing on the gas chamber, they'd better be prepared to meet all the standards for its use. They might also want to take a look at the raging debate about this on the AVMA website, where you'll find that the organization itself knows its position is not popular with its member veterinarians, who haven't been shy about letting them know.
2. We can't afford to kill animals individually.
Guess what? Killing pets by injection is actually less expensive than gassing them to death. Even if there are some costs associated with making the transition, the gas chamber is so unpopular with average Americans that raising those funds should be a snap for any organization with enough operational savvy to hold a bake sale or make a Facebook post. (Fakkema D. Euthanasia By Injection Training Guide, American Humane 2009)
3. Killing animals individually is too hard on our staff.
If you want to make the job easier on your staff, don't rely on the gas chamber. The Association of Shelter Veterinarians has this to say:
Use of carbon monoxide cannot be justified as a means to… distance staff emotionally and physically from the euthanasia process. Studies have shown that carbon monoxide…. has not been shown to provide emotional benefits for staff. Some shelter workers have reported being distressed by hearing animals vocalizing, scratching and howling in the chamber, and by having to repeat the process when animals survived the first procedure
Additionally, exposure to carbon monoxide is dangerous to human shelter staff; at least one shelter worker was killed on the job by the odorless, tasteless gas. (Gilbert, Kathy; "Humane Society Cited in Death of Employee." The Times & Free Press, Chattanooga, TN, July 25, 2000)
There are reasons the AVMA has put so many conditions on its oft-cited "approval" of gas chambers in shelters, and why the Association of Shelter Veterinarians is unequivocal in its opposition to the practice.
And there are no reasons at all to keep doing it.
Toll House cookie recipe:
Ingredient list of Nestle's Toll House frozen cookie dough:
Bleached Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, Hot Fudge Filling (High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrogenated Coconut Oil,Corn Syrup, Sugar, Water, Cocoa [Processed with Alkali], Non-Fat Milk, Modified Cornstarch, Disodium Phosphate, Salt, Potassium Sorbate[Preservative], Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor),Margarine (Palm Oil, Water, Sunflower Oil, Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Salt, Vegetable Mono & Diglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Natural & Artificial Flavors, Vitamin A Palmitate Added, Beta Carotene [Color], Whey), Nestle Toll House Morsels (Semi-Sweet Chocolate [Sugar,Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Milkfat, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin-an Artificial Flavor, Natural Flavor]), Water, Eggs, Molasses, Salt, Baking Soda (Contains Soy Lecithin), Vanilla Extract, Vanillin-an Artificial Flavor.
Transfats, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and preservatives. And a whole generation of children growing up thinking you make cookies by taking a hunk of Frankenfood out of the freezer and heating it in the oven.
My Val has PLN, a progressive kidney disease common in Greyhounds. I was thinking of making some diet and supplement changes, and went to join a list I used to belong to, the K9KidneyDiet Yahoo Group.
I filled out the brief form Yahoo provides, and got this in reply:
Hello, and thank you for requesting membership to the K9KDiet Group. Please take a moment to provide us with the following information: (NOTE: The short comment that was filled out at the YahooGroups site when requesting an application for membership does NOT supercede or take the place of the following Membership Application).
The initial inquiry you sent to Yahoo is held for 5 days. If the Membership Application (below) is not completed and returned we will understand you changed your mind, and will remove the initial inquiry from pending.
WE TAKE THE SAFETY AND SECURITY OF OUR MEMBERS VERY SERIOUSLY. TO THAT END, A CONDITION OF INITIAL AND CONTINUED MEMBERSHIP IS VERIFIABLE, ACCURATE, AND COMPLETE INFORMATION WHICH IDENTIFIES YOU AS WHO YOU STATE YOURSELF TO BE. THIS INFORMATION IS NEVER SHARED WITH THE LIST MEMBERSHIP, AND LIMITED EXCLUSIVELY TO THE LIST OWNERS AND MODERATORS FOR VERIFICATION PURPOSES.
NOTE: We REQUIRE to know your PAID PRIMARY Email Address (i.e., Comcast, Aol, Earthlink, etc... ). This is for VERIFICATION purposes.
Also note that none of the (below) information will be shared or conveyed to any group member at any time. It is MANDATORY that you answer ALL the questions, completely and accurately to be considered for membership.
1.) Paid Primary Email Account (Mandatory):
2.) The email account you intend to use for mail from this group:
3.) Your Full Name , Address, City/State, and Phone:
4.) Kennel Name (if Applicable):
5.)Your website (if Applicable):
6.) The breed of dog(s) you own:
7.) A short intro/reason as to why you wish to join K9KidneyDiet (i.e., is your dog in renal failure, does he/she have bladder stones, chronic urinary tract infections, etc.):
(a) How did you learn about this list?
(b)If from a fellow member, or other individual, please include their name:
9.) Are you a list owner and/or moderator of any other pet-related online group? Please list all:
10.) Are you a member of any other pet-related online group? Please list all:
11.) Do you own or work for a pet-related company? Please explain:
12.) Are you a Veterinary Professional? A Medical Professional? Please list your position and affiliation:
THE APPROACH TO KIDNEY DISEASES IS NOT 'ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL'. MEMBERS HERE HAVE GAINED QUITE A LOT OF FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE WITH THEIR OWN DOGS OVER MANY YEARS AND IT IS THAT WHICH WE SHARE. WE ARE NOT VETERINARIANS. MEMBERS WILL NOT, AND CANNOT DIAGNOSE OR PRESCRIBE. THEY SIMPLY SHARE WHAT THEIR OWN EXPERIENCES HAVE BEEN. No member claims to have a "magic bullet" or the know-how for curing any ailment. Opinions expressed on this list are not necessarily those of the list owners, &/or moderators. What may work for one dog may not work for another. IT IS UP TO EACH MEMBER TO FULLY RESEARCH ANYTHING READ ON K9KIDNEYDIET AND TO DISCUSS IT WITH THEIR OWN VETERINARIAN(S).
WE STRONGLY BELIEVE THAT THE BETTER WE UNDERSTAND KIDNEY DISEASE THE BETTER PREPARED WE CAN BE TO HELP OUR DOGS. WE ALSO ADVOCATE FORGING PARTNERSHIPS WITH OUR VETERINARIANS. WE FEEL THE BEST OUTCOMES COMBINE OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE DISEASE WITH STRONG PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH OUR DOGS’ VETERINARY TEAM.
The diet of a renal dog can seldom stay the same for long. Predictable changes in taste & preference are a challenge. Experiences are shared on how others have handled similar situations. K9KD is not a storehouse of recipes. Each dog is unique in presentation, and preferences. Focus is on home - prepared foods. It is expected that while not all will agree on feeding methods and treatment protocols, all members will treat each other with respect in regard to individual opinions.
While K9KDiet is a supportive group, it is important to point out that we are not a Support Group, and our focus is on discussion and understanding of the physical aspects of kidney diseases and associated complications. Regardless, an emotionally supportive and respectful environment is expected at all times. Flaming, disrespect, sarcasm & passive aggressive behavior is not permitted.
K9KDIET IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH ANY OTHER GROUP, FORUM, OR LIST.
Upon approval to the group, a questionnaire will be emailed along with informational documents that other list members found helpful in the beginning. The questionnaire provides a point of reference in regard to what you have done so far with your dog, what your dogs' Veterinarian has advised, and what treatment plan you have chosen.
We ask you to refrain from asking general questions before submitting the questionnaire. It is difficult, if not impossible to form a credible overall 'picture' of your dog via multiple emails over a period of days. We have found the questionnaire to be a reliable and time saving method to create a 'snapshot' with which to begin.
******** DISCLAIMER: K9KDiet is a list for sharing ideas, opinions and information only. The information on K9KD is not intended to be used as veterinary advice, or to replace consultation with a qualified Veterinarian. WE ARE NOT VETERINARIANS, (although we have Veterinarian members), and WE DO NOT PRESCRIBE. No member claims to have a "magic bullet" or the know-how for curing any ailment. Opinions expressed on this list are not necessarily those of the list owners, &/or moderators. What may work for one dog may not work for another. To that end, it is up to each individual member- individually and independently - to thoroughly research anything shared on this list and to speak to their Veterinarian. K9KD OWNERS, MODERATORS, AND MEMBERS, SHALL BE HELD HARMLESS FROM ANY GRIEVANCE OR ACTION BY ANY LIST MEMBER. NOTE: K9KD POSTS AND FILES AND/OR PORTIONS THEREOF ARE COPYRIGHTED, AND MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED, FORWARDED or SHARED without express written permission from both the author and the list owners.
YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF MEMBERSHIP ACKNOWLEDGES YOUR AGREEMENT WITH AND ACCEPTANCE OF THE TERMS STATED ABOVE.
Promotion, marketing, and/or sales of any product to K9KD members is not allowed, on or off list. If any member contacts you with offers to sell or promote any specific product or service, we ask that you notify us by sending an email to K9KidneyDietfirstname.lastname@example.org
At first I laughed, then I got pissed off, and then I just had to come here and share this paranoid insanity with you all.
I own and have owned many email lists. I get wanting a disclaimer. I get wanting to know a little bit about the people joining your list. I get reminding them of the "rules of the road." But there is no shortage of places to get information about canine kidney diets without having to give fingerprints and a DNA sample.
So by all means, K9KidneyDiet moderator, remove my application from your files. I wonder how many people have been so desperate to get information to help their sick dogs they just gritted their teeth and filled this out? And I wonder how many, like me, just walked away -- people who perhaps didn't have the skills and experience to find the information they needed somewhere else?
Sad and bizarre.
I've been a pet writer since 1991. In that time, I've probably received enough snail mail and email asking questions about pet health, diet, and behavior to fill my house. So I think I'm qualified to identify a trend that has persisted over time.
Someone writes me with several paragraphs -- or pages -- about their pet's medical issues. They list the symptoms they've observed, the remedies they've tried, and lots and lots of minute details about the time of day the pet exhibits certain symptoms, the color and consistency of discharges, and the entire history of every bite of food said pet has ever consumed.
In a huge percentage of these missives, nowhere are the opinion of the pet's veterinarian, the results of the veterinarian's physical exam, nor any diagnostic tests mentioned.
The only way I ever respond to this type of letter is by asking, "What did the vet say?"
Sometimes they reply telling me what the vet said, but usually they say they haven't been to the vet, even in the cases of pets with fairly troubling symptoms that have persisted for weeks or months.
Now, I realize that some pet owners cannot afford to go to the vet, or can only do so if it's a dire and acute emergency. There are some resources to help these pet owners get care for their pets, but they're not easy to find and don't usually cover the entire amount. It's a bad situation and I sympathize with the people caught in it.
They're not who I'm talking about here.
I'm talking about the ones who respond to my query about the vet with some variation on the following sentence: "I don't want to go to the vet because he'll just put him on antibiotics," or whatever treatment the person doesn't want the pet to receive, or thinks will be futile.
Let me explain this as simply as I can: No veterinarian can "put your pet" on anything without your consent. And if they try, it's your responsibility as your pet's owner to ask for something more from your veterinarian than to have a prescription shoved in your face.
If that seems overwhelming to you, I understand. Confronting authority is hard. Learning to have an equal and productive partnership with an authority figure is also hard. Hell, finding a good veterinarian is hard, let alone one who is located within driving distance and has good communication skills.
But here's the thing: Your pets can't find their own veterinarians, can't advocate for better care, can't even tell the vet where it hurts. They are entirely dependent on you to do that.
If you feel your veterinarian doesn't listen and doesn't see you as a partner, you need to either speak with her about that and see if you can fix things, or find a veterinarian with whom you have some rapport.
Additionally, even if you have a hard time communicating with your veterinarian, he may still have extremely valuable information about your pet's condition to give you. Vets have, after all, seen thousands of pets with these same symptoms. They know what diagnostic tests are available and which are likely to narrow down the diagnostic and treatment possibilities for your pet.
They can also write prescriptions for pain medication as well as drugs for bacterial, viral, or fungal infections that might be at the root of a pet's symptoms.
If nothing else, they can help you rule out a lot of things you were "treating" your pet for with your home remedies, and ideally allay your worst fears.
Of course, just as there are vets who have poor communication skills, there are vets who don't practice good medicine. They don't keep up with advances in the field, don't use good diagnostic skills, and shove an antibiotic and/or steroid at everything. These are bad vets, and you shouldn't be giving them your money in the first place. The answer, however, is not to stop going to the vet, but to find a good vet.
You may be locked out of the pet health market by finances, or live somewhere there simply are few or no veterinarians, but your own lack of backbone should not be allowed to compromise your pet's health, nor prevent you from accessing the information necessary to make an informed decision about her care.
You can set the stage for better care the minute the vet enters the exam room by telling him you're not just looking for a prescription, but a diagnosis and an understanding of your pet's condition before the exam. Be friendly but clear. You may find your vet welcomes a client who really wants to get to the bottom of a pet's health condition; many people actually get pissed off when their vets want to run diagnostic tests, assuming they're just doing it to pad the bill.
Even before that appointment, go to trustworthy veterinary sites -- I highly recommend VeterinaryPartner.com, the pet owner website of the Veterinary Information Network -- and search for accurate information about the conditions you suspect your pet has. See what diagnostics are usually done in these cases, and what the treatment options might be. This can help when you're in the exam room with your veterinarian.
Still too overwhelming? I get it. Maybe you're shy, or maybe you're just too close to the issue to be objective. Find a friend or family member with more detachment to come with you and ask the tough questions.
Finally, remember that taking some time to consider your options is not just okay, it's admirable. If your veterinarian tells you something you don't understand or don't like, tell her you would like to think about it, unless she feels that would put your pet's life at risk.
Maybe you just need a few minutes to re-group. Maybe you need to sleep on it. Unless your pet needs emergency surgery or is really suffering, a few hours or a day usually won't make that much difference.
Ask your veterinarian to give you a written diagnosis and include any information you want to consider, including costs. If you came alone, get on the phone and talk it over with a trusted friend. Or go home and visit some of those reliable Internet websites again, and see what you can find out online.
If you're still unsure, either because you think the vet missed something or because you can't afford everything that was suggested, ask your vet for options. Be honest and open about financial constraints, or things you don't understand.
If the vet acts as if you're being unreasonable, get as much out of this particular appointment as you can, and as soon as possible, start your search for a new veterinarian who will welcome a client who is thoughtful and thorough.
But don't just slink away into the darkness whining about what you think your veterinarian will do or say. When you do that, you're abdicating a huge hunk of the very real obligation you have to your pet: To be her advocate, and take care of her as best you can. Be strong. Keep the faith.