goatwisdom

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veterinarians

01/10/02

Myth

He arrives at two AM driving a battered old pickup. When the dog greets him in the driveway with snarls and barks, he reaches in his pocket and pulls out a couple of Milkbones and quickly calms the viscious beast. He walks with a slight bounce and you just know that you have done the right thing in calling him out at this hour to look at Suzie Q, your favorite doe. She's been sickly looking for a couple of days, but when you just checked her at one o'clock you knew she had to see the doctor right away.

You exchange pleasantries as you walk out to the barn in the dark. Suddenly you hear an "umpff" noise coming from the good Doc as you realize that he has just hit his head on that door that was made too short for anything but ten year old kids. Before you could apologize, this wonderful soul says that his hat, now lying in the mud, was due for a washing anyhow. As you enter Suzie Q's stall, you see her look up at him with that sad glance that has become too common in the last few days. The good Doc leans forward and touches her ever so gently on the head. Then the hand passes gently down the back of the neck, along her back, and down over her rump.

"She's such a nice ole gal," he says obviously deep in thought as he sets down his old black bag. He pulls a stethoscope out of the bag and, while listening so carefully, passes it over her sides and then down the front of her chest. Then he straddles her, facing backwards and bends his head over her rear end. He lifts her tail and makes a funny little groaning noise. Now you're sure you are in the presence of a real wizard.

"Is she going to be okay, Doctor?" you ask, mustering up all the strength you possibly can.

"Oh, yes. It's an obvious case of androslobovia agricolensis. All's we gotta do is give her a shot of Ohmygosha and she'll be up and running around like new by morning."

Oh, what a sign of relief you let out. She's going to be okay! "But," you suddenly think, "this is going to cost a fortune." The good Doctor puts his equipment back in his well-used black bag and you walk back toward the house in silence.

"Doctor, do you like cookies? I just baked a new batch of chocolate chips this afternoon. We don't have a lot of money, you know. Would you take a plate of cookies in payment for all this. We are really grateful."

"Oh! How did you know I like chocolate chip cookies better than anything else in the world. That would be wonderful."

As predictable, Suzie Q was as lively as can be the next day and you're so glad you called the vet, even though it was in the middle of the night.

Nightmare

When you dialed the number you got a recording indicating that the Doctor would be in his office at 9:00 AM and would be please remake your call at that time. "Your business is important to us."

After lying in bed and stewing in raw awakefulness all night, you go out to the barn at 6 AM and find that Suzie Q is breathing heavily and that her eyes are sunk back into her head. This is certainly a grim situation! It's a long way from 9 AM. What to do?

Needless to say, by the time nine o'clock arrives you are no longer rational. And when you dial the number, you get a busy signal. At about 9:30 you finally get a real live voice to talk to. No, the Doctor cannot come out today; he has a full day of patients to see at the office. "If you could bring her in at 5:30, he can try to squeeze her in." ...if she's still alive by then, you think.

After convincing a neighbor to haul Suzie Q in his pickup, you wait outside the clinic for what seems like hours. The vet comes out and lowers the tailgate. He asks you to hold Suzie Q as he sticks a needle in a vein in her neck and draws out a whole lot of blood. You manage to ask him what he thinks is wrong.

"I won't know anything till I get the results back from the lab. We'll call you when that comes in. Shouldn't be more than three or four days."

You can't figure out whether to faint or hit him. You close up the pickup and follow him back into the Clinic. As you approach the desk the receptionist has a long computer printout all ready for you to view. "We expect payment at the time of service," she says. You grimly write a check that represents a week and a half of your hard-earned wages and saunter back out to the truck.

Four days later, the receptionist calls and tells you that you have an appointment for Suzie Q at 4:30 today, that the lab report indicated that she has a very rare disease called androslobovia agricolensis and that she needs a shot to bring her out of it, that this needs to be done in all haste or she would be in great risk.

"I'm sorry," you say, "We burried her three days ago."

Somewhere in Between

This Web site is an attempt to provide some help to the person who is new to the whole idea of raising goats. Both of the above fictional accounts are, I think, based on misconceptions about what to expect from your first contact with a veterinarian. A fantasized story based on All Creatures Great and Small is what we all think of when we consider getting veterinary help for farm animals. FACT:  It just isn't going to be that way. Yes, there are a few vets who will come out in the middle of the night, but they don't take cookies and they probably won't do it for a goat.

The second story presents more of a problem. All professions have grown more dependent upon modern technology to provide improved service. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of medicine. Think of the marvelous tests and drugs that are now available to treat illnesses that were considered incurable just a few years ago. There is now probably a tendency to rely on expensive diagnostic tests whereas the old family doctor could seemingly just draw on his experience to tell you what was wrong. And, like it or not, this is becoming more common in veterinary medicine as well. But, just as we recognize that the modern physician can provide us with better care, we need to learn to take advantage of the advances in the world of animal medicine.

Another problem that the new goat owner may face in finding a vet for Suzie Q is that some vets just have terrible "bedside manners" and apparently no matter how hard they try they just come across as greedy, uncaring, gruff and all those other horrible words. Because of the vet "myth" we have an idea that people who make it their calling to care for "the poor little animals" don't have a right to behave this way. In some locations, you can easily switch to another vet. In other areas, there may be only one vet who will treat "large animals" (How large is a goat?).

What You Can Do About It

If you have had an opportunity to read postings to alt.med.veterinary you will notice that there are many folks who "rant" about their experiences with their vet. Those postings have caused some consternation to vets and their supporters. Hopefully, we can wind our way through these opposing positions and provide some suggestions for the goat "newbie."

The following, from the wife of a vet in respose to the many negative newsgroup postings about vets, is used with her permission. It shows that not all vets are the uncaring monsters caricatured above.

Group, most of you come across as being very kind and loving people to your pets but so many of you seem to heartily dislike your vet and some seem to hate vets period. As the wife of a vet, this is heartbreaking for me. My husband's office is attached to our home and many, many nights I have missed him from our bed only to find him in the office, on the floor in his undies hand feeding a dog or cat who wouldn't eat or was recovering from some traumatic event. Most nights I make sure he doesn't know if I wake up in the night because if he knows he starts rehashing his latest case that is baffling him and just won't let it go. On vacations (often cancelled at the last minute by a call from a good client) he reads vet journals and studies the latest methods and research. Where else do you find a dr. who must work on creatures who fight, bite, and scratch, deficate on them and THEN have a person try to second guess his every move and decision?? My husband is the kindest, gentlest man I know and I would put his knowledge of health care up beside ANY m.d. of ANY kind. Don't knock them until you've met all the quacks who own animals. Not everybody is capable of assisting with a euth. or of holding their dog so it won't bite. Give these guys a break.. It takes just as long to study to be a vet as an m.d. and the pay is about 1/4.

First of all, it is important to realize the FACT that the modern-day practioner of veterinary medicine is a very intelligent and highly trained professional. You should be aware that it is harder to get accepted into vet school than into medical school: which is to say that there are MD's out there treating real live people who were not able to gain admission to vet school. Nowadays almost all doctors are specialist. But most vets are trained in all areas of the organism and able to do it on several species of patients as well. So, respect your vet as a bright, well-trained person, at least until you know otherwise. Maybe you should be willing to swallow your pride and let this "ethically challenged" person treat your animal if it means getting the best care for it that is possible. Try to demand his or her services as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and all that that implies, not as a social worker, a dog food salesman or an undertaker. If there are areas that he or she appears to be weak in, encourage him or her to study the subject or contact other colleagues. Take charge of your animal's care. Lean heavily upon and respect the doctor's training and skills, but let him or her know that you are a participant in the treatment process.

Second, if you are a goat owner, accept the fact that it is may be unreasonable to expect a vet to come to your home to treat a goat. There are many very skilled vets who simply do not make field visits but who provide great care to "large animals" if brought to their clinic. If you have some sort of epidemic which seems to be going through the whole herd, then it may be appropriate to request a visit to do blood testing, etc. on all members of the herd on site. If you start your contact with a request for an office visit for your goat patient, you will have a lot better luck in being seen promptly and pleasantly. So go buy a pickup or van! We once had a little kid who got hung up in a feeder and broke his leg. We hauled him into a small animal practitioner (didn't do large animals and didn't make house calls) and persuaded the doctor to see him. That doctor did an outstanding job of x-raying and splinting his broken leg with a little plastic splint normally used for dogs.

Third, the problem of MONEY. Today's young veterinarian comes out of school with a huge student loan to pay off--many in the neighborhood of $50,000 or $60,000. He/she mingles with colleagues who feel they are being greatly underpaid in comparison with others of comparable training and exprience. Another important rapidly growing concern is legal liability. The medical profession recently went through an era of rapidly increasing malpractice insurance premiums. Now this epidemic of fear and litigation has spread to the vet world. The result is that many expensive tests and procedures are being performed for the sole purpose of self-defence; and, of course, the animal owner must pay for these. No longer can the vet guess at a diagnosis and and prescribe the little pill that "usually" has worked in the past, because there's an increasing chance that he'll be sued if old Susy Q should die. So we're rapidly spinning into the black hole of unaffordability.

When to Call the Vet

Generally, it is a goal of this Web Site to help the goat owner deal with the day-to-day care of his or her herd without having to call in a professional veterinarian for every little thing. But, there are occasions when one SHOULD get help right away. Some of these are:

Any disease which is "reportable", that is, the law requires that a confirmed case be reported to the proper authorities.

Any contagious epidemic which seems to be spreading through your herd.

An abortion "storm", where a large number of females abort or produce weak or dead offspring (testing of blood and/or fetal tissue may be necessary to establish the identity of the causative organism).

An animal is in obvious severe internal pain for which you can identify no cause.

Severe injury or trauma, especially with significant loss of blood. (Unless you are trained and equipped to deal with this.)

Zoonotic diseases (illnesses that can be transferred to humans).

Caesarian section is needed. (This is rather rare in goats.)

A fever that does not respond to treatment (antibiotics, etc.).

When you need to induce an abortion (accidental breeding of a very young or old doe, etc.).

Some Suggestions for Vets

Any vet reading this may be defensive when reading the "Nightmare" story offered above. That's a good sign. The majority of veterinarians do NOT treat goats. There is even the strange idea of there only being a few who "specialize" in goats, kind of the "odd duck".

Goats are very good patients. They have an unbelievable pain threshold. They need little restraint in being treated. They are very hardy and, in my experience, seem to survive ailments to which other species would readily succumb. People who own goats are kind of a strange lot. If a person is willing to bring a goat to your office, be sure to take a few minutes to enjoy them both.

I would like to encourage vets who will treat goats to register at the Web Site referenced on my Links page. And, most of all, I would really like to hear from vets with some positive suggestions on how to improve this Web Site. Frankly, I am tired of the hateful letters which I get from a just a handful who have not taken the time to read this page all the way through.

Finally, this Site, which represents hundreds (or more) hours of hard work, was pulled by the former host in December of 2001 for reasons which they refuse to disclose. It is now back together in an abbreviated form. Since the original creation of "goatwisdom" I have had complaining letters from only two groups: animal-rights people and veterinarians. The first group is a separate issue; but a minority of vets who have written indicated a belief that I have purposively tried to make them look bad and have little understanding for their side of the story. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are a large number of vets who share my feelings about animals and who try to do everything humanly possible to make sure that all animals are treated humanely, professionally and reasonably. I have worked along side numerous vets in a former job and can honestly say that "some of my best friends are vets." I am, however, upset to think that perhaps one selfish, mean-spirited member of the profession may have had a part in getting the site closed down. I truly hope that this is not the case. There have been several letters from veterinarians who have written to ask for help in difficult cases and who have enthusiastically encouraged their customers to view "goatwisdom" as a resource.

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