Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Response to the Story of the Vet that Shot a Cat with an Arrow

I feel I have to chime in about Kristen Lindsey, the Texas veterinarian who killed a feral cat by shooting an arrow into its head (warning, the graphic photo is shown), and then posting a sickening, graphic, brutal photo of it (which I will NOT post here) while gleefully bragging about what she had done. 

I am a cat veterinarian and well-known cat lover.  Cats are my life, personally and professionally.  When this story hit, it was appalling on so many levels that it really has taken me a few days to sort it all out.  Where does one even begin?

The first place this hits me is simply as a cat lover.   It pains me to hear about any kind of harm to any kind of cat.  I live with a cat, Crispy, who still bears the scars of an act of kittenhood cruelty, so I’m particularly sensitive to this.  Seeing a photo of a cat with an actual arrow in it is agonizing enough, but seeing the person who perpetrated this sick, obscene act in the very photo, right next to the poor cat, proudly smiling at the harm she has done amplifies the disgust 100-fold. 

The next place it hits me is as a veterinarian, because it is completely unfathomable that the murderer is a colleague.  It absolutely boggles the mind.  I’ve been reading some of the commentary that has sprung up in the aftermath of her brutal act.  Dr. Andy Roark, a well-known veterinarian, speaker, and columnist, posted a column about Dr. Lindsey’s “murderous boast”, saying that it’s a “black eye for vets”.  His concern is that a story like this is bound to affect the public’s perception of veterinarians as a whole, and that veterinarians are now going to have to work harder to rebuild our reputation.  I have read many of Dr. Roark’s columns and usually agree with everything he says and writes, but I respectfully disagree with him on this one.  I don’t think anyone in their right mind, upon reading this story, has come to the conclusion that veterinarians only pretend to like animals, and that what Dr. Lindsey did to that cat is how veterinarians really feel about them.   It reminds me of the spate of shootings years ago, perpetrated by U.S. Post Office workers.   At one point, there were so many shootings that the phrase “going postal” became part of the vernacular, as meaning “becoming enraged to the point of violence, usually in a workplace environment.”   It took years for postal workers to overcome this reputation.  No one uses the phrase “going postal” anymore, and if they do, it’s thought of as being corny or outdated.   If the killing of this cat was the third or fourth of a spate of pet killings perpetrated by veterinarians, then Dr. Roark’s fears would be justified.  But I think most people see this act for what it is – an isolated incident by a sociopath.  Our reputation of compassionate caregivers remains intact.

Another aspect of this entire incident bothers me in particular: the veterinarian’s comment about feral cats.  Accompanying the sickening photo of her with the impaled cat was the comment “My first bow kill, lol.  The only good feral tomcat is one with an arrow through its head! Vet of the year award gladly accepted.” This is immediately followed by the “crying laughing” emoticon.  (If you thought my use of the word “sociopath” to describe this woman was too strong, maybe the “lol” and the “crying laughing” emoticon in her murder commentary will change your mind.)  What is it about feral cats that makes this barbaric act acceptable to her?  I’m going to go out on a limb her and assume that she does not hold the same contempt for owned cats as she does for feral cats.  The clinic she worked for provided service for dogs, cats, horses and cattle.  I don’t know whether she herself treated cats, but she did work at a veterinary office that does.   The life of a feral cat is often a difficult, miserable life.  They’re constantly scrounging for food, exposed to the elements, desperately seek any kind of shelter, trying to fight off illness with no veterinary care, dodging traffic, dogs, and occasionally cruel humans… it’s a rough, challenging life. I have a number of clients who perform animal rescue or have devoted themselves to helping feral cats.  I have two clients – a married couple – who own a home on an island and have been feeding and caring for a small colony of feral cats for years, employing caretakers to make sure these cats are fed even in the off-season.  They worry about these feral cats the way they do about their own pet cats. When I’m presented with a feral cat, whether it’s truly feral and living outdoors, brought in to me terrified in a humane trap, or brought in by a client who has adopted it and is trying (successfully or not) to socialize the cat and give it some kind of happy, cared-for life, I treat each cat with the same concern and care that I would a pet cat.  Just this past weekend, I was in the hospital for a day and night with a heart arrhythmia. (Don’t worry, I’m fine.)  I was sharing my hospital room with another patient on the other side of the room-dividing curtain, a middle-aged Hispanic gentleman.  As the doctor came in and spoke to and examined the patient, I could not help overhearing his circumstances - homeless alcoholic, drinking problem that’s been going on for over 40 years.  He arrived in the emergency room in an alcoholic stupor, was admitted, and was being encouraged once again to go into rehab.  You really couldn’t come up with a more striking contrast on both sides of the curtain – a white veterinarian practice-owner with a nice salary and good health insurance, and a man with no home, no money, and no health insurance, resisting rehab and wanting to get released so he could continue drinking (which he readily admitted to the doctor).  And yet the attending physician treated us both with the exact same concern and compassion, regardless of our backgrounds and socioeconomic status.  My point is that, as a veterinarian, I treat socially well-adjusted pet cats and feral, unsocialized cats the same. In fact, I’m often more attentive to the feral ones not just because I have pity for them, but also because I know that this might be my one and only chance to examine and tend to them.  I am very aware that, unlike most people, cats have no say in the life that they are given.  Am I naïve to assume that most veterinarians feel the same way, given the contempt that Dr. Lindsey expressed for ferals in her sick and twisted post?  I have to believe that her contempt for feral cats is just more evidence of her sociopathic nature.  It would be way too depressing to think that most of my veterinary colleagues discriminate between feral cats and owned ones.

The more one digs into this story, the more you will find, and I’m not sure how good that is.  People have also been digging into Dr. Lindsey’s background, and someone found her old blog in which she lists her “current interests” as “Living my days to the fullest, finding the meaning of happiness, killing things or trying to kill things (animals, a full glass of whiskey, hangovers, etc.)…”  Yes, a veterinarian is listing her current interests as killing or trying to kill animals.  Isn’t that just charming?  The psychotic paragraph of current interests ends with “… hunting with my dad and better yet…learning from my dad was we hunt.”

I know I’m wading into controversial waters here when it comes to talking about hunting.  I understand that millions of people do hunt, even veterinarians. (Some of my veterinary school classmates were hunters, I’m sorry to say.)  I’ve heard all of the arguments, pro and con, and it’s beyond the scope of this blog post.  Yes, it’s hypocritical to eat meat you buy in the supermarket that comes from factory farms, blah blah blah, yes at least hunters are eating the meat that they kill, blah blah blah.  Spare me.  Whether you eat the meat or not is not the point.  For me, it’s the deriving of pleasure that hunters feel when they deliberately end an animal’s life that I’ve never understood, will never comprehend, and will never forgive. Period.  As someone who is required to deliberately cause the death of animals as part of his job, I’ve lived for years with the sorrow that it causes every day.  We do it so much that it gets incorporated into our DNA.  Every veterinarian reading this knows what I’m talking about.  The knowledge that what we’re doing is justified and is relieving animal suffering is what allows us to keep it together, even though our actions cause such terrible grief in our beloved clients.  So to derive satisfaction and make a fun outing of a day where the goal is to deliberately end an animal’s life seems sick and twisted enough, but for a veterinarian to do this seems doubly unfathomable.  Again, I don’t understand it and I don’t think I ever will.

In any event, as much as I’d like to wash my hands of this entire story, I can only hope future stories will come about Dr. Lindsey’s license being revoked, or charges of animal cruelty being leveled, or lawsuits by the people who owned the cat she killed (in case you hadn’t heard, the “feral” cat she had such contempt for was actually a pet cat).  I also hope that in this age of social media where news travels very fast, that any attempt by Dr. Lindsey to remain low-key and eventually quietly find another job as a veterinarian is met with social media outrage and exposure so that no veterinary hospital ever hires her and that she never works again as a veterinarian.  She doesn’t deserve the honor and joy that comes with this job, and her clients and patients deserve better. 
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