I had one of the most stimulating and interesting nights of my animal writing life at the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) in Orlando. More than 200 vets and vet techs jammed the conference room and we talked about the human-companion animal bond, grieving for animals, the growing prism through which animals are seen as abused and piteous creatures, the things vets can do to prepare their clients for loss and the other emotional issues they face in their practices.
I heard some of the best and most insightful questions I have heard at a talk. And there was considerable disagreement too. We talked about separation anxiety, gender differences in response to animals, and the struggle of many vets to educate their clients about the genuine nature of animals and also find ways to help them cope with the growing intensity surrounding animal loss and grief.
I talked about my own growing interest in the spirituality surrounding animals as well as my growing discomfort at the growing tendency to define animal spirituality in our terms – the Rainbow Bridge and meetings in heaven – and words rather than working to understand the language and instincts of animals, currently far beyond my understading.
I said I felt we were projecting to many of our emotional issues onto animals that we were losing track of what it means to be an animal. My belief is that we are coming as a society to worship and rescue animals while almost simultaneously losing respect for people, and for the idea of rescuing or even helping them. Our society is divided about many things, but is nearly universally adoring animals, an interesting phenomenon. The vets were touchingly sincere about looking for ways to help people. I suggested seminars, blogs, conversations and also asked them to consider redefining the idea of animal advocacy to go beyond the rescued or abused animal and to include understanding, preserving and protecting the real nature of animals. We talked about bringing social workers into practices, expanding the idea of animal hospice – a wonderful idea, I think.
It was a great conversation and I hope I get to have the chance to have it again. As a writer, I will move on to other things but the vets have to remain on the front lines of this extraordinary evolution in the relationship of people and animals. I’ll write more about it this week. Tomorrow. heading for the Magic Kingdom and some more convention meetings. Thanks to Elanco and NAVC for bringing me to Orlando. Maria and I are staying until Wednesday. It was a wonderful evening for me. Maria, I see, has an awful lot of fans and admirers. I am one of them.