Editorial November 1998 Issue

Compassionate Care

The standard by which ALL dog care should be measured.

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a conference where the “stuff” that WDJ is made of was discussed for four days straight. Imagine my joy; four days without a single person saying, “Your journal is about what?” The conference was the annual meeting of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), a group that I list in the “Resources” section every month. (You can call or write them and ask for a list of holistic veterinarians in your area.)

The majority of the attendees of the AHVMA convention are veterinarians, but their points of origin varied widely. I met healers who shun the use of antibiotics and vaccines altogether. I met medical moderates who use the best of both worlds, East and West, integrating high-tech diagnostic tools and the best pharmacological agents available, but who are just as comfortable prescribing herbal tinctures or chiropractic. I also met some veterinarians who had no experience whatsoever with non-traditional healing modalities – but a lot of curiosity.

What all of these professionals had in common was a sincere interest in and desire to heal animals. One principle that was commonly expressed, with varying degrees of outrage, was frustration with modern “cures” that cause as many (if not more) health problems than patients originally exhibit.

In one of the most electrifying and inspiring lectures at the conference, Dr. Gregory Ogilvie, a Board-certified specialist in internal medicine and oncology, gave an overview of the most effective treatments for cancer in animals. Ogilvie, a professor at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine, started out his talk with a brief discussion of compassion, underlining his conviction that compassionate care is the veterinarian’s number one priority, no matter what the animal’s illness or what type of therapy is to be used to heal the animal.

Probably the most Western, most scientifically oriented presenter at the conference, Ogilvie’s message was nevertheless especially appreciated by the AHVMA crowd. He calmly stated that some standard veterinary treatments cause the animal to suffer along the road to greater wellness. He never identified any particular treatment as cruel, but he was matter-of-fact about the side-effects and disappointing returns of some therapies.

Ogilvie never said that a particular treatment was unacceptable, but he did cite studies that found some treatments to be without measurable benefit – and he left it up to his audience to decide what to use on their patients. He showed slides that reported the results of cancer research studies involving everything from the latest medicines to biofield therapy. And every so often, he would interrupt himself to ask his audience in a shout, “And what’s the most important aspect of veterinary medicine?”

Having been prompted as to the answer he wanted, the crowd shouted back, “Compassionate care!”

I can’t say for certain that Dr. Ogilvie was subtly editorializing about the value (or lack thereof) of certain kinds of treatments. But the brilliance of his refrain became more and more clear to me as the conference went by.

As I listened to the discussions about holistic healing modalities, which ranged from the commonly accepted (such as chiropractic and acupuncture) to the rare and unusual (color therapy, “energy field” medicine), I kept asking myself, Is this compassionate? . . . meaning, of course, Does this seem like it would do more good, with fewer side effects, than traditional medicine, or any other medicine?”

And since I’ve come home, I’ve realized that the same question can – and should – be asked about all our dog-care practices. Our dogs would benefit from our examination of every aspect of our “care” for them – the food we feed them, the way we train them, the doctor we take them to, the exercise we give them. Are we truly caring for them compassionately?


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