A major aspect of providing the best care for all of the residents at your animal sanctuary means working in partnership with licensed veterinarians who can provide critical medical assistance when necessary and routine examinations to prevent emergencies from cropping up in the first place. Working with veterinarians can sometimes be a complicated endeavor when serving a population of residents who may be perceived to deserve less consideration by many humans, but by striving to maintain a healthy rapport with veterinarians, your organization can reap many benefits beyond receiving an excellent standard of care!
Set Expectations Upfront
If you have the luxury of choice when it comes to veterinary care providers for your residents, you should schedule time to interview potential candidates, ask them about their care experience with your residents’ species, and discuss your sanctuary’s Philosophy of Care and what it means to you. You could explain to them how these residents are treated like companion animals or even family members, that they are regarded as individuals with their own preferences and needs rather than as a herd or flock.
For some veterinarians who work primarily in animal agricultural environments, these parameters may be quite different than they’re used to working within. What’s important is not whether they necessarily agree with your philosophy (and a veterinary interview probably isn’t the best time to insist on ethical transformations), but whether they’re willing to work with your team and your residents respectfully. Depending on where your sanctuary is located, you may not have many choices when it comes to qualified veterinary services, making this conversation even more important. For more information on finding a qualified veterinarian for your sanctuary, check out our resource here.
Once you have found appropriate veterinary care for each of the species at your sanctuary (as typically a large animal veterinarian will have a very different skill set than an avian veterinarian, versus an equine veterinarian, and so forth), it’s important to begin your relationship with the perspective that even the best veterinarian in your area for your residents’ species may not have been trained to treat (or even been exposed to the idea of treating) farmed animal species in a similar manner to companion animals. For this reason, they may be suited to handling and treating your residents less mindfully than you would prefer. Whenever working with a new veterinarian, someone on your care team should spend time with them and the residents during preliminary examinations. If, for instance, they move to pick up a turkey by their wings or feet, or insist on a steel snare for pig handling, gently demonstrate how you would prefer your resident be handled. This is not a time for a confrontation; after all, the veterinarian in this case might have never been shown another way of doing things! However, if the veterinarian refuses to adapt their techniques to better serve your residents, it may be time to reconsider the use of their services.
When Disagreements Arise
There are many reasons why you and a veterinarian may not see eye to eye when it comes to certain care standards or treatment plans. Perhaps you feel like they are not exploring more options for difficult, yet treatable conditions. Maybe you have historically seen different outcomes than what they have relayed to you, and you have a gut feeling that they are treading down the wrong path. Always keep in mind that most veterinarians are trying to do their best. Also consider that there are areas of knowledge where they will have more experience and training, and some areas of knowledge where you may in fact have more information and experience (especially when it comes to the long-term care of intensively bred species such as large breed turkeys), and sometimes these two knowledge pools do not fully come into agreement.
In cases such as these, do your best to keep things as cordial as possible. There are very few scenarios where openly disagreeing with your veterinarian about their expertise reaps positive benefits. You can almost always get a second opinion from a different veterinarian in non-emergency situations, but it can be difficult to repair a relationship with a veterinary practice if you ever fight with them. Even if you were completely correct in your assessment, arguing with a veterinarian puts you at a serious risk of your sanctuary’s reputation being damaged among veterinarians in your region. If you are branded as difficult or uncooperative (as unjustified as that may be), you may have a very difficult time ever receiving good veterinary care again, which would be devastating for an organization striving to take the most compassionate care of its residents.
Just like any group of specialists with extensive training, veterinarians typically keep close communication with other veterinarians, go to conferences, and likely have a desire to continue learning new techniques and information whenever possible. Your interactions with your veterinarian could very likely influence other veterinarians that they come into contact with. The special care and treatments developed for your residents can spread to other veterinary practices, giving other farmed animals the possibility of receiving the best treatment possible.
Conversely, if a veterinarian doesn’t know about a treatment or technique, and you have a relationship with another sanctuary that does receive these treatments from their veterinarian, see if the two veterinarians may be open to having a dialogue amongst themselves about it. Veterinarians are far more likely to be amenable to new techniques if they talk them through with others who have similar training rather than talking with a sanctuary worker about it, just as you would probably prefer to discuss management techniques with another sanctuary’s staff rather than a farmer.
If a veterinarian develops a good relationship with you and your residents, it can be a positive, beneficial experience for everyone! It’s important to recognize their invaluable contribution to your mission, and thank them for providing your residents with the level of care that they deserve. Let them know that your organization is truly grateful for their services either verbally or with a card, especially if they go above and beyond to help a resident. Or, highlight their positive impact to your community, perhaps shouting them out on social media channels and giving them positive reviews online.
Although they may not ever fully get on board with your sanctuary’s philosophy, it’s more than likely that they too will come to know your residents, what makes them special, and they might develop their own special connection or two. One never knows exactly how a sanctuary will impact those who spend time on its grounds, but having more veterinary allies in the sanctuary movement is a net positive for all farmed animals!