Questions for Reflection
In each episode, we offer you a few prompts to think about how that day's conversation applies to you. You might pause the podcast and answer them right then and there, but if you keep a journal (Steph and Beth both do), feel free to download and print a PDF of the Questions for Reflection we've made just for you:
Landscape or Portrait
Beth Demme (00:03):
Welcome to the Discovering Our Scars podcast...
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:06):
... where we share personal experiences so we can learn from each other.
Beth Demme (00:08):
Our mission is to talk about things you might relate to, but that you don't hear being discussed in other places.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:13):
Our hope is that you're encouraged to have honest conversations with people in your own life. I'm Steph.
Beth Demme (00:18):
And I'm Beth. On today's show, we're going to have an honest conversation titled Why Veterinarians Euthanize Themselves with our special guest, Stephanie B.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:27):
Stephanie B. (00:28):
Hey, how are you?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:29):
Doing good. So we have been friends for a couple of years now.
Stephanie B. (00:33):
About two years, yes.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:34):
About two years. Okay.
Beth Demme (00:35):
We just met, but the Stephs have been friends.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:37):
Yes. Oh, no. She's Stephanie, I'm Steph. Don't get it confused. If we get it confused, the whole world just crumbles, it doesn't work. So we both have greyhounds and we met at a Greyhound group, a Greyhound function. So nerdy.
Stephanie B. (00:51):
A local Greyhound meetup.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:54):
Yes, back in 2020. And we're like, "Hi." "Hi." "I have a Greyhound." "I have a Greyhound." And that was cool. But then I was also thinking, her name is Stephanie, I bet she's pretty cool. So one of us Facebook friended each other. Probably me. I can't remember.
Stephanie B. (01:08):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:08):
Stephanie B. (01:09):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:09):
Yes. And then I was getting into kayaking, and then you commented on a post and was like, "Hey, I kayak." And so the rest is history, really.
Stephanie B. (01:17):
Yep. We have been kayaking hundreds of times?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:19):
Stephanie B. (01:20):
Thousands of times.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:23):
Yes. So we kayak a lot together. I've talked about kayaking before. It's something that I love to do. I guess you like it? Maybe?
Stephanie B. (01:30):
I love to do it as well.
Beth Demme (01:32):
I feel like we were just lucky to get you both in the podcast studio and that you didn't make me try to get in a kayak to do this because-
Stephanie B. (01:38):
Oh no, that's where we're going next.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:39):
Next. Dun-dun-dun. All the equipment, come into the... Although, one of the last times we kayaked together, I fell out. So I have now learned... I'm now more humble and realize, make sure everything is waterproof, and don't forget to put your phone in a waterproof case. All the things that I knew, but I learned real quick.
Stephanie B. (02:00):
She actually made a comment before we got out onto the ocean. Went, "I'm going to film it when you fall out," or something along those lines.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:08):
To her. I said it-
Stephanie B. (02:08):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:09):
... to her.
Stephanie B. (02:10):
Yep. She got hit by a wave and just toppled right out.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:15):
But the worst part is that my camera wasn't on, and so I did not-
Stephanie B. (02:18):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:18):
... get footage of it. That's what I'm most mad about. Not falling out, it was not having footage of it. But what's interesting is that we kayak together a lot. When we kayak. We talk a lot about the vet profession 'cause Stephanie is a vet tech. Veterinarian technician.
Stephanie B. (02:32):
Yes. I'm a licensed veterinary technician. I'm licensed in Georgia and Florida. I've been a licensed technician for about 10 years. Graduated in 2014, so nine-ish years. I teach now. I teach veterinary technology now.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:45):
And you teach in Georgia, you said?
Stephanie B. (02:46):
I teach in Georgia.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:48):
Beth Demme (02:48):
And how long is that program to get licensed and...
Stephanie B. (02:51):
It's an associate's degree program, so it takes about two years.
Beth Demme (02:54):
Two years, okay.
Stephanie B. (02:55):
You can do a bachelor's program. You can get a bachelor's in veterinary technology. I'm actually working towards my bachelor's right now.
Beth Demme (03:02):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (03:02):
So what made you want to get into the vet field?
Stephanie B. (03:06):
I always wanted to be a veterinarian when I was a child. Grew up with animals, always really liked dogs, cats, other rabbits, snakes-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (03:17):
Stephanie B. (03:17):
... birds, goats, turtles, you name it. There are very few animals that I don't want to pet. And my dad is actually a medical professional. He's a respiratory therapist. So I always thought it would be really cool to do what he did with animals. I didn't realize that there were different delineations. I figured, oh, you could only be a vet. I didn't realize there was a veterinary nurse or vet tech. So I wanted to go to vet school. And then in high school, I did not apply myself, and that was not an option. It's really hard to get into vet school, so you have to not be lazy.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:00):
Well, and it's really expensive, right?
Stephanie B. (04:02):
It's also very expensive. And I grew up below the poverty line, so that was not probably going to be an option for me. But after I got married and moved down here, after working 10 years in kitchens, I was a professional chef for a while, I actually went to culinary school, my husband said, "Oh, they're opening a vet tech program in Thomasville. You should go." And so he supported me as I went to school. And I actually had a friend from high school, also named Stephanie.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:31):
Beth Demme (04:31):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:32):
Stephanie B. (04:33):
And she actually went to tech school at Athens, and she really helped push me in that direction too. She really enjoyed it. So at that point, before I actually started the program, I got a job part-time as a kennel tech 'cause you had to have so many hours of experience. The rest is history.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:52):
That's awesome. We've talked about it on the podcast, but recently, about seven months ago, actually, I had to euthanize my Greyhound, Mac, which you helped me through definitely. But I remember, when that happened, my mom sent me an article about the toll it takes on vets and vet professionals to have to euthanize an animal and what that process is like. And I had never really thought about it, but then I talked to you about it, and you're like, "Oh, yeah, that's something that is definitely big in the industry." So that's why I thought it would be good to bring you here today to discuss that and what the reality is of working with animals and people and euthanasia and all that. And suicide. So why not bring my friend to-
Stephanie B. (05:39):
Well, it is-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:39):
... talk about that?
Stephanie B. (05:40):
... National Suicide Awareness month.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:41):
It is, yes.
Stephanie B. (05:42):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:42):
So it is a good tie-in, I guess, you could say.
Beth Demme (05:47):
It's a tough topic though. It's a tough topic, and it's an aspect of your industry that I think would be... Is it fair to say that's the toughest aspect, is dealing with euthanasia and with people around the euthanasia of their pets?
Stephanie B. (06:01):
Beth Demme (06:03):
Stephanie B. (06:04):
Euthanasia is difficult, but generally it's viewed as a gift we can give our patients when they're suffering. We can help alleviate that suffering, which is the entire reason most of us went into the field is to help alleviate suffering of animals. Now, the whole death process surrounding an animal is difficult. Watching them decline is difficult. Watching owners have to deal with their pets declining, that can be really difficult.
It's also really difficult to watch owners not accept that their animal is at a point that they should probably let them go, and that can actually lead out to burnout and compassion fatigue, which is probably... Compassion fatigue is probably the number one difficult issue in veterinary medicine, and that's got a lot of contributing factors.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:01):
So have you euthanized an animal? I'm assuming.
Stephanie B. (07:04):
Personally me, push the drug?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:06):
Well, no, 'cause a veterinarian has to do that, right?
Stephanie B. (07:09):
Well, in Georgia, technicians can legally do that, and I have.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:13):
Oh, okay. Wow.
Stephanie B. (07:15):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:15):
Okay, well, then tell me about that.
Stephanie B. (07:18):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:18):
Actually having to push the meds that euthanize the animal.
Stephanie B. (07:21):
The first time was actually in Florida, but because it was a friend of mine, and she was another technician, she asked me if I could come into work early and help her with her cat. And it was time with her cat too. But that's always a little harder, more because it was a friend, and I was watching my friend have to go through that. And then the last time I actually had to euthanize an animal, the doctor was out of town, but it was a puppy who had a liver shunt and was not going to... I don't know the details around the owner. There may have been some financial constraints. It may not have been an option to treat. But had an abdomen full of fluid., Was acting normal, very happy puppy wiggling around and wanting to lick my face, but it was not going to stay a happy, healthy puppy. It was very quickly going to deteriorate.
And that's also difficult when you have to euthanize an animal that is happy and looking at you smiling, trying to lick your face, especially a puppy. But it was the best thing to do for that patient. So that's a little difficult, but it doesn't make me feel any different than just being present, the actual act of being the one who pushes the drug. I didn't feel any different than I would have if I had just been restraining or just being involved in the process without actually being the one to administer. 'Cause I generally administer the other drugs. Any anti-anxiety meds we give beforehand, I'm usually the one that gives those. So...
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:08):
From my knowledge of euthanasia, there's usually a vet tech and a veterinarian, and the tech will put an IV catheter in, and then the vet will give the sedative and then the euthanasia, which is the substance that basically kills the dog.
Stephanie B. (09:26):
Yeah, it's an overdose of pentobarbital.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:28):
Is that something where it's based on the weight of the animal, how much is given? Or is it just a standard amount?
Stephanie B. (09:34):
It's based on the weight of the animal, and we usually pull up a little extra because that's not something you... You're already giving an overdose, you can't over overdose them. So we are very particular about calculating doses of drugs, so that you avoid unwanted side effects. But since that is the side effect you want, it is a large amount.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:00):
Do you know how many euthanasias you've been a part of?
Stephanie B. (10:02):
Probably upwards of a thousand.
Beth Demme (10:04):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:05):
Oh my goodness.
Stephanie B. (10:06):
In the 10 decades that I've been doing this. We're also involved with signing a card or sending flowers or what have you. So we're involved in the process somehow, generally. So yeah, when you count the patients that I wasn't there directly for in the room, it's easily in the thousands.
Beth Demme (10:29):
And are there times when the client or the pet owner is not present? Is that their option to be with the patient or not?
Stephanie B. (10:36):
They do have that option. We encourage owners to be there just because the pets really do, they look around for them. It's a comforting presence for the animal. But there have been a handful over the years, probably only a handful that I've been a part of, where the owners did not want to be there. And in that situation, we do what we can to comfort the animal. One of us holds them, pets them, tells them that they've been a good dog or cat or what have you, and usually give them treats if they'll accept it, if they're not so sick that they won't eat. Give them something nice to sit on, or we'll take them outside. If it's a sunny pretty day, we'll go sit under trees in the backyard of the vet clinic, which is also an option with owners present. Sometimes we'll go outside for that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:30):
So with all these euthanasias that you've done, do you always feel the same during the process? What does it feel like for you?
Stephanie B. (11:40):
It really depends on a couple of factors: my relationship with the individual animal, my relationship with that owner, how sick the animal is, and a lot of times, which doctor I'm going in with. In general practice, there were times that I didn't know the pet or the owner particularly well, or at all. It might've been the first time we saw them. So you don't really have that bond or a connection. You still feel sad. You hurt for that owner having to lose their beloved pet.
When I did internal medicine, I worked as an internal medicine technician for five years. And we followed a lot of patients long-term. A lot of these animals had chronic illnesses, so a lot of what we did was palliative. So we diagnosed them with say, cancer, and then we'd be with them through the treatment of their cancer until that treatment didn't work anymore.
And you're seeing these animals once every three weeks or even more frequently. So you get really attached to some of them. And I get really attached to owners. I've got a whole list of owners that I just absolutely adore. And so you know their relationship with their pet, and you've seen how it has affected them, so I generally do cry at euthanasias. A lot of technicians try not to, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. A lot of vets do as well. This is an emotional situation. I think that it's okay to show emotion.
You don't want to bawl and make it about you because it's not about you. But usually there's... Almost always, there's a sense of release after it's done. You feel better. You feel like you've actually helped to alleviate the pain from that animal.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (13:39):
Does it take a mental toll on you, or is that something that all is done in the room? Like you said, after it happens, you are relieved. But I didn't know if there's something like when you go home, "I always listen to this song or do this thing." I didn't know if there's a process you have to go through that.
Stephanie B. (13:55):
After the owner leaves, we still have some things that we have to do with the animal. We have to prepare them, usually put them in a coffin. We get these little cardboard coffins that we'll send them, if they're going home to be buried at home, or a body bag, and then put them in cold storage so that they can be picked up by the crematory service.
And then at that point, that's when we're preparing things like nose prints or paw prints or what have you. So we still have to do some processing with the animal after the owner leaves. So that gives us a chance to decompress a little bit. There have been definite situations where I've had to take a five, 10-minute break after euthanasia, especially if it was a particularly difficult one. And that's more often to decompress from the emotions from the owner, purge that from your system, put on a game face before you go into the next room.
When you're walking out of a euthanasia and into a new puppy exam, it can get emotional whiplash. So you do have to take a minute or two to recenter yourself. Euthanizing animals is, like I said, it's a relief. We go into the field because we want to alleviate suffering. And sometimes that's the best way to alleviate suffering.
That's a gift. That's something that we can do that I feel good about. There are technicians that go into services where that's all they do, and they choose that.
Beth Demme (15:40):
Stephanie B. (15:43):
Because it makes them feel good about themselves, it makes them feel like they're contributing to society in a meaningful way. And I agree with that. There's a lot of other things, a lot of other components to vet med that is really stressful. Low wages, long hours can affect anyone. Not getting recognition. I went to school. I've done continuing education. I have years of experience in specialty med. But in Florida, there's no delineation between an on-the-job trained tech and a licensed tech. There's no title protection. And I know plenty of on-the-job trained techs who are fantastic. I love them. I hope that when they do eventually change the rules in Florida, they will be able to be grandfathered in.
But I do have a problem with people just coming in off the street and being able to do the same things that I went to school to do, especially when we're working at the same level as human nurses, basically. That's obviously not the only component. Owners can be very mean. When you bring your animal to the vet, if it's not for a wellness visit, and even if it is for a wellness visit, it's usually stressful. If your animal is sick, then the owner's going to be stressed. But because most owners don't have insurance, a lot of them have financial constraints. And they tend to take that out on the staff.
We set our prices because we have to be able to live.
Beth Demme (17:21):
Do your jobs.
Stephanie B. (17:21):
We have to be able to pay rent, we have to be able to buy food just like anyone else. And we're not making a ton of profit, especially in general practice. Specialty practice, you're probably seeing more of a profit, the techs are probably getting paid a little bit better. And I did specialty med, and I did get paid a little bit more than... But it still wasn't enough. It's higher stress because, for example, I scheduled to work four days a week, Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 6:00. I usually would get there at 7:45, and I'd usually leave about 8:00 PM most days. Between 7:00 and 8:00 PM. My husband's waiting in the car for me because we would carpool in. We would see up to 20 internal medicine cases a day. And internal medicine is not like a quick in and out. It takes hours to... So these animals-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:19):
It's basically a specialty vet.
Stephanie B. (18:20):
Well, it is a specialty vet. She's actually a boarded specialist. So it's the long hours. I may or may not have a chance to sit down and eat lunch. Lucky if I get to go to the bathroom on a regular basis. Then you have animals that are whining. There's the sound component. I handle it pretty well, but I do get migraines, and I've had migraines triggered from just being at work.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:49):
Just barking dogs.
Stephanie B. (18:50):
Barking dogs, whining dogs, cats that are-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:52):
Stephanie B. (18:52):
... yelling. Operating room, when they pull out the bone saw, you can hear that from across the building. So yeah, there's a lot of noises, a lot of... It's hard on your body. You're not sitting down very often. You're moving a lot.
Beth Demme (19:09):
Lifting a lot.
Stephanie B. (19:10):
Lifting a lot. I've got a bad back because of it. That's why I teach now instead of-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:14):
Do you have to lift animals onto tables and stuff? Heavy animals?
Stephanie B. (19:18):
Oh yeah. So yeah, if you've got a 180-pound Cane Corso, and it needs to have-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:25):
And how do you do an X-ray on a belly of a giant dog?
Stephanie B. (19:28):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:30):
Don't you have to spread their legs open and-
Stephanie B. (19:34):
You have to put them on their back, usually in a trough, so that they don't roll over, 'cause a lot of these dogs are deep-chested. Tech at the head, holding the arms and the head, tech at the back end, holding the back feet.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:48):
How does that work when you're doing an X-ray? 'Cause you said you have to hold them, but isn't there a danger with X-rays?
Stephanie B. (19:55):
Yes. We wear personal protective equipment, PPEs, lead line vests, lead line gloves, a thyroid shield. You try to move yourself as far away from the primary beam as you can. I actually taught radiology this past semester, so I won't go into too much detail, but there are some other safety precautions and stuff you do.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:21):
So is that always taken, all those safety precautions taken, at all vet offices, or is there a danger for...
Stephanie B. (20:29):
Ideally they are, but realistically, no. If you see pictures online of a dog's X-ray, and you see a technician's hand in the picture, that happens, but that shouldn't happen.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:44):
What happens if you X-ray too many times? Isn't there cancers and stuff that you could get?
Stephanie B. (20:48):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:49):
Wow. Do you know of any people in the vet field that have gotten cancer from-
Stephanie B. (20:53):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:54):
Stephanie B. (20:54):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:54):
Wow. So it's definitely-
Stephanie B. (20:57):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:57):
I wonder if that's a higher amount-
Stephanie B. (20:59):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:59):
... as well. Yeah.
Stephanie B. (20:59):
Yeah. There's a... yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:01):
Because I know, at the dentist, they walk out of the room to do the thing, but you can't.
Stephanie B. (21:07):
Well, if we were to sedate animals as often as we should, but owners-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:15):
It takes time-
Stephanie B. (21:15):
... also don't-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:15):
... doesn't it?
Stephanie B. (21:16):
It takes time. Owners generally tend to not want their pets sedated, even though it can actually be less stressful. But yeah, we frequently have to be the ones who restrain during X-rays.
Beth Demme (21:31):
I'm not a pet person, but as you were describing having one tech at one end and one tech at the other end, I'm like, which end would I want? Neither, neither.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:40):
Beth Demme (21:40):
I would want neither end, yes. This is definitely not what I'm called to. Very clear on that, thank you.
Stephanie B. (21:44):
The back end is better because-
Beth Demme (21:47):
They can't bite you from that end.
Stephanie B. (21:49):
But they can kick you in the face, which I've had happen.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:52):
Actually, Beth, you can answer the question for us though. Where do dogs go after they're euthanized? Since you're a pastor, can you answer that for us?
Beth Demme (21:58):
What do you think, Stephanie B? Do you believe in a human and/or an animal afterlife, and do they intersect?
Stephanie B. (22:06):
I'm actually very agnostic and don't actually believe in anything following death. However, if there is an afterlife, then there best be animals there. All dogs go to heaven, and there has to be. You can't make a heaven for people without having their beloved pets. I would refuse to go to a heaven that didn't have all of my animals there.
Beth Demme (22:35):
There you go. So it must be there.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:37):
Do you believe that?
Beth Demme (22:38):
Stephanie B. (22:39):
Beth Demme (22:39):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:40):
So it's true? 'Cause you're a pastor, you can say it's true.
Stephanie B. (22:42):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:43):
Okay, it's true. We learned it.
Stephanie B. (22:46):
The answer to are there dogs in heaven?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:49):
Pastor Beth said yes.
Beth Demme (22:51):
One of the reasons we wanted to have you on today was to talk about how all of those factors, the euthanasia of animals, but also all of the things that are involved in this caring profession, how it really affects the people who work in the field. And just based on our cursory look at it, it seems like veterinarians and vet techs are more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Has that been your experience?
Stephanie B. (23:23):
Not just my experience, but it's been proven through studies. I follow a lot of different publications, and that is something that they address frequently in veterinary publications, and at every conference I've been to, there's always someone talking about that because there is a big push to help with the mental health of our profession.
But one study I'm going to quote found that female veterinarians are 2.4 times more likely than the general public to commit suicide or to die by suicide. The rate of... It's higher for male veterinary technicians. It's up to five times higher. There aren't as many male veterinary technicians in the field, so that's a smaller pool. But then also female veterinary technicians, the rate is 1.6 times higher, and for male veterinarians, it's 2.3 times higher.
I've read other studies that have given different statistics. The veterinary profession as a whole, I think, in one study I read, was up to four times higher than the general public to have people die by suicide. There have been people in our community, veterinary professionals in our community, that I have known of. I didn't know them personally, but I did know of them. There was someone several years back when I was a student who actually had bought the clinic from a vet I knew. He had retired as a clinician and was actually teaching and sold his practice, and the woman he sold his practice to had moved into the clinic. She was living there, and she had a bunch of special needs animals that she had adopted.
And one night, she closed up, and she actually euthanized all of her animals, and then used the euthanasia solution on herself. And her technician came in the next day and found her. I read articles about veterinarians and technicians who have died by suicide in the Atlanta area or other big cities fairly frequently. And vet students. I think vet students actually have a pretty high risk as well, while they're still in vet school.
Beth Demme (25:43):
And all sorts of people are called to this profession, feel called to this profession. So the common denominator is the work. It's not as if it's something about the people who choose this as a profession, right? So what would you say? Why are the rates so much higher?
Stephanie B. (26:02):
It probably can be partially the types of people that are called to this profession. You generally aren't called to be a caretaker, especially a caretaker that's not going to be financially compensated, because you're an empathetic person. You probably are a little bit more sensitive. You see things that are innocent, and you want to help them.
And a lot of people who are not people people get into this. They like animals. They don't necessarily like people as much. So they get into the profession, and there's a human attached to every leash or every carrier, their owners.
Beth Demme (26:46):
The animals don't bring themselves to the vet? Wow.
Stephanie B. (26:48):
Niles would. He likes to go to the vet, but he's an anomaly.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:53):
Stephanie's greyhound, he's the best. He's here with us today, by the way.
Stephanie B. (26:56):
Yeah, he's sleeping on the sofa. It's higher for veterinarians as well because they have this financial investment. Going to vet school costs as much as going to medical school, takes the same amount of time. They've got to do a four-year undergrad, then they have to do a four year vet school. And some of them may go on to do a residency or what have you. Not all of them do. Some go straight into practice. So I know that human physicians do a four-year residency, and that is not always something that vets do, but it is an option. Any specialist has done at least a four-year residency, if not longer.
But you get out, you're not making a lot of money, but you have student loans. So you can't really leave the field. If you start burning out, what are you supposed to do? A technician can. Even me, who went to school and paid money to go to school, I'm not in debt from it. We paid for it out of pocket because it was affordable. We ate rice and beans the whole time, and I don't want to leave the field because of the financial commitment that I've made to it, but I have that option because I don't have that debt over my head. It would be easier for me to start over, whereas a veterinarian can't really start over as easily.
They also have a lot more of the blame. Pet owners don't have pet insurance frequently. Some do. Those, bless them, I love them. They generally aren't the problem. But you have people who bring an animal to the vet because it's injured or sick, and they can't afford treatment. And then we recommend euthanasia because that is in the animal's best interest, and they get mad. "You don't care. You obviously don't care. You're just in it for the money. Vets don't care, they're just in it for the money." That is a very common misconception. Most vets, if not all of them, have heard that at least once in their lifetime in their career, probably more frequently. I know that I've heard it multiple times when I worked at the specialty practice. It wasn't as big of a problem there because most people knew it was going to cost more going in 'cause it was a referral center, they'd already gone to their primary care vet. But in GP, you hear that a lot.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:35):
Do vets not make a lot of money?
Stephanie B. (29:37):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:38):
'Cause you just said they have to go through all the same training as a medical doctor. And I think the perception is medical doctors make a lot of money.
Stephanie B. (29:47):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:48):
So do vets not? It would take years and years and years to-
Stephanie B. (29:52):
I think the average is something like $80,000 a year.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:55):
Stephanie B. (29:57):
You can obviously make more and bigger cities. And if you are an intern, a resident who's just out of vet school and decides to do a four-year residency, they're probably making less than the technicians are. They're probably making 32 a year or something. I don't know.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:16):
And they still have to pay off all their loans.
Stephanie B. (30:17):
Yeah, they're still having to pay off their loans. You're not going to get into human physician money unless you're a specialist.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:25):
So do they really get into it... If they have to do all the same as people stuff, they just like animals more than people? Is that why they become vets over medical doctors?
Stephanie B. (30:35):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:36):
Stephanie B. (30:37):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:38):
This is probably really oversimplified, but do you think it's better to euthanize than wait for your dog to die on their own?
Stephanie B. (30:45):
Depends, but generally, yes. Dying is painful. I watched my grandmother pass away. It took her about four days from the moment that she lost the ability to be cognizant of what was going on around. And it was dehydration, and it was really awful. Yeah, dying is a painful process. Even if the animal is not displaying signs of pain per se, it's not comfortable.
I know that a lot of animals die of kidney failure. That's a very common disease process that happens with older animals. And some owners don't... Their animals not necessarily in pain, but their animal's chronically dehydrated. And anyone who's had a hangover can tell you that being dehydrated sucks. And if you're that dehydrated for weeks on end, 'cause it takes a long time to die of dehydration from kidney failure. So yeah, I do think that that's not the best option. I know most owners want, I've heard, that are opposed to euthanizing their animals, "I want him to pass peacefully in his sleep." It's like, "Well, that's what euthanasia is."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:00):
And the definition of euthanasia is humane death.
Stephanie B. (32:04):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:05):
Good death, yeah. So that's basically what you're doing, and that's why you call it a service almost, is that you are being able to provide that for an animal and not have to suffer.
Stephanie B. (32:14):
Well, these animals don't have the same sense of mortality that we do. They don't grasp it. So they feel like crap. And it's not going to get better. So the very first thing that the pentobarbital does is it blocks the pain sensors, it takes away pain. And then it shuts down the central nervous system. So it is a very painless death.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:42):
I'm a client, and my animal's the patient, right?
Stephanie B. (32:45):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:45):
So as a client, having this knowledge that you're telling me like, "Whoa, it's a hard job to be in the vet profession," what could I do as a client to show my thank you to my vet and to show that I understand that this is hard, and I really appreciate? What's the best way of showing appreciation, I guess?
Stephanie B. (33:13):
General common courtesy. Don't be a jerk.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:16):
Don't be a jerk, okay.
Stephanie B. (33:18):
Have patience. When they're backed up, when things are taking longer than you think they should, there's usually a reason for it. Actually, there's always a reason for it. They're not just being lazy. We always like food.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:29):
Stephanie B. (33:29):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:30):
Stephanie B. (33:30):
Yeah, any time-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:30):
... what's the best food?
Stephanie B. (33:32):
That depends. Not pizza. We get pizza parties-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:37):
Stephanie B. (33:37):
... all the time for office-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:39):
Not a party at that point.
Stephanie B. (33:41):
Yeah. I love pizza, and I'll eat pizza anytime you put it in front of me. And so I'm not saying, "Never pizza," but because that is the default... Pizza and donuts are the default.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:54):
Ah, okay. Sandwiches?
Stephanie B. (33:56):
Sandwiches. And keep in mind that a lot of technicians, not all of them, but a lot of technicians are vegetarian. We had one client, to say thank you, would very frequently keep our refrigerator or freezer stocked with popsicles or put popcorn in the cupboards. Even after we weren't seeing her pet anymore, she would come around and bring goodies and just come in and be a good human being. People like her really help. Also being a good, compliant owner. That helps.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:36):
I do that. I'm good at that.
Stephanie B. (34:37):
You are very good at that. That's really, really frustrating when someone does not follow our instructions and then comes in and complains that things did not work out the way we expected it to because, well, you're not following the instructions.
Beth Demme (34:53):
Yeah. That happens with humans too.
Stephanie B. (34:55):
Yeah. My sister's an RN, so yeah, it absolutely does.
Beth Demme (35:01):
What would you say about compassion fatigue to someone who was thinking about becoming a veterinary professional? And what would you maybe say to them even about how the ways that this impacts mental health also leads to an increase in death by suicide? Would you warn people about that?
Stephanie B. (35:19):
I think it's valid to warn people, that have an interest in the veterinary field, that it does have an emotional toll. Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of people who go into it are very sensitive. Especially technicians, I think. You see a lot of tech students that have divergencies. I've had several autistic students, I've had several students with ADD. Those people tend to also be empaths. So they are a little bit more heavily affected by the emotional atmosphere around them.
And they go into it because they love animals, obviously, they want to help. But if you ask them, they would tell you, "Oh yeah, I know that I'm going to see dogs and cats that are sick, I'm going to see the dogs and cats that are going to die." Most of them are aware that that is a component of it. My nephew actually said that he didn't think he would want to be a vet tech because he didn't want to see animals die.
So even at his young age, he's 13 or just about, he's aware that that is a component of it. But what they're not aware of is how mean, honestly, some clients are. I come from a background of working... I worked 10 years in kitchens. And you had the same sort of stressful, you've got clients yelling at you. It's hot, you're on your feet, it's physically demanding. You don't have the same emotional side effects of suffering, but I'm pretty sure that the restaurant industry also has a higher suicide rate because of the same sorts of problems: low pay, hard on your body. That's not something that I think people are really aware of when they decide they want to go into vet med. So yeah, people should be warned, but not scared off of.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:30):
So if you had been warned by someone like you, if someone had said, "Just so you're aware, dah, dah, dah," would you have still become a vet tech?
Stephanie B. (37:38):
Yes. Yeah, absolutely.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:43):
Well, thank you Stephanie. I'm so glad we had you on the podcast.
Beth Demme (37:47):
Stephanie B. (37:48):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:49):
I feel like next time I want to talk about kayaking, but I don't know how you talk about that. You just do it, right?
Stephanie B. (37:54):
We can come up with a way to talk about kayaking.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:56):
Just kayaks and just being on the water. And gators. We'd have to talk about gators.
Stephanie B. (38:02):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:02):
Stephanie B. (38:03):
I love alligators.
Beth Demme (38:04):
So there's one-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:05):
Have you ever had an alligator come into your practice, into your vet med practice? That would be so exciting.
Stephanie B. (38:10):
Not in practice, but at school.
Beth Demme (38:12):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:14):
A baby gator?
Stephanie B. (38:14):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:15):
A big gator?
Stephanie B. (38:16):
[inaudible 00:38:17] about...
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:16):
It just walked in itself?
Stephanie B. (38:18):
No. Someone brought him in. And she was licensed to have him. I did an ultrasound on them, and we took radiographs.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:25):
My gosh, you probably were-
Beth Demme (38:26):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:26):
... loving it.
Stephanie B. (38:27):
It was awesome.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:29):
Wow. There's one question we like to ask all of our guests, just a random question at the end. So Beth is going to go ahead and ask.
Beth Demme (38:37):
What book TV, show, or podcast are you excited about right now, other than this one?
Stephanie B. (38:42):
Podcast: Fear of Going Outside by Ivy Lee. She's a friend of mine out in Texas.
Beth Demme (38:48):
Stephanie B. (38:49):
She's awesome. You should check her out. Oh, anything Star Trek.
Beth Demme (38:52):
Stephanie B. (38:54):
Currently, we're watching that new Ahsoka Star Wars show.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:59):
On Disney plus.
Stephanie B. (39:00):
Anything science fiction. I'm actually really, really excited about the next Dune movie. That's probably the one thing I'm most excited about, out of life in general, is Dune 2.
Beth Demme (39:09):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (39:11):
Lastly, I was wondering, are there any resources for people actually in the vet field that they could use for helping with some of the stuff we talked about today?
Stephanie B. (39:20):
There are. There's a nonprofit organization called notonemorevet.org, and they are really focused on helping address the suicide rate in veterinary medicine. There are some other ones. I can't think of them off the top of my head, but-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (39:38):
Well, if you send them to us, we can put a link in the description.
Stephanie B. (39:40):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (39:41):
Perfect. At the end of each episode, we end with questions for reflection. These are questions based on today's show that Beth will read and leave a little pause between for you to answer to yourself, or you can find a PDF on our website.
Beth Demme (39:54):
Number one, what surprised you during today's conversation? Number two, have you ever had to euthanize an animal? Did you think about how it impacted the vet's office? Number three, have you ever had a colleague who died by suicide? Do you think the job played a role in their decision? And number four, what do you think happens to animals after they die?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:20):
This has been the Discovering Our Scars podcast. Thank you for joining us.