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On The Human Animal Bond

This op-ed piece was submitted by Kristy Herman from Michigan State University!


Within the last few years there has been a push to emphasize wellness in the veterinary profession, and for good reason. Current data suggests that veterinarians are over 3% more likely to consider suicide compared to the general population. Why is it that our profession, such a noble and respected calling, has such an emotionally overburdening connotation? Yes, dealing with debt, life and death decisions on a daily basis, and navigating our way through oftentimes difficult client interactions can weigh heavily on one’s emotional wellbeing. Is there hope for our profession?


Personally, my path to veterinary medicine has been serpentine, akin to climbing a spiral staircase with some obstacles to overcome with my ascension. Some of my earliest memories circle around fear and uncertainty. I was a shy, serious child who took education seriously, and while I was loved by family, I still felt that there was something missing. When I was paired up with my first cat, I felt like that “something” was finally found; I had a friend who could comfort me when I was upset and listen without judging. During middle school my physical and mental health started slipping downhill and my cat was always there, helping to take some of the pain away. My family and friends helped support me during that time but, as humans, we all have our own share of personal struggles and it can be difficult to fully reach out to others without giving too much of yourself away. I recognize that the human animal bond can have a profound influence on the health of both the human and the animal- I truly believe that my health would have deteriorated more quickly and significantly if I couldn’t spend quality time with my cat.


During high school I still struggled with physical and emotional wellbeing due to academic and extracurricular demands. Veterinarians are self-selecting with a tendency to lean towards perfectionism and overachieving. Getting good grades wasn’t good enough- I remember thinking less than 100% was not acceptable and there was no celebration in straight A’s- that was expected. Missing the mark was devastating. Thankfully, I have now learned to celebrate the passing of exams with lower expectations and more self-congratulating. I think that’s a large part of the reason why I have seen such a shift towards feeling better inside and out. There is a physical lightness in peace with oneself that is vastly more pleasant than the “heaviness” of disappointment. This lightness allows me to be more receptive of the love from others and open to forming relationships which makes client interaction more enjoyable and appreciable.


While I am still an introvert at heart, I have learned to be more charismatic thanks to working with animals at a local veterinary clinic. 13 years have passed since I started as a volunteer and the passion for promoting animal health has only strengthened. Long hours at the clinic, toxic coworkers, and tragic patient outcomes can be physically and emotionally taxing but the core passion has never faltered. Finding acceptance that doing the best I can and understanding that I cannot change anyone other than myself aid me in my quest to be the best advocate for patient health. I want to be able to put my best foot forward for the sake of the patient, the client, and myself. While I still have two years to go before I am a fully licensed veterinarian, I aim to promote wellness for myself and my peers in order for us to all respect the power of the human-animal bond.

Noche, the best cuddle cat since 1998

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