Metaphorically speaking

Part of what I do to make the mortgage is finding content for the social media platforms of various executives, which is just about my favorite part of the job, since it requires — yes, forces! — me to read, read, read. Even better, many of the subscriptions are paid for by my employer, which is even better since it means I can support a handful of great media operations (NYT, WSJ, Harvard Business Review, the Economist paid for by company), and I can afford to pay for a few others that aren’t as expensive.

Of course, my work also entails seeing what other executives and thought-leaders are posting, so I can amplify the message as need be. That’s not always quite so pleasurable, since some of these people, for all their power and influence, aren’t posting great stuff. Or possibly, the folks who are curating their content aren’t exactly deep thinkers.

So it was that I found myself staring at a something on the LinkedIn account of top executive at a Fortune 100 company, a meme with thousands of likes and hundreds of shares, probably 50/50 split between agreement and ass-kissing. This is the “inspiration” they were applauding:

What’s the problem? Cluelessness about a significant and ever-growing population of Americans who work hard, smile for the bosses — and still aren’t going anywhere.

There are people who can’t change that metaphorical tire. It’s flat because they couldn’t afford to replace the tire when they saw the threads grow shallow. It’s still flat because they could only afford a beater, and it came with worn tires. Anyway, it’s going to be flat again soon even if they can get the tire patched because our roads and other infrastructure are falling apart because we’ve given tax breaks and custom loopholes to the wealthiest of families, individuals and corporations while starving our civic institutions.

In other words, they don’t have what they need to get by, and the common goods that used to help us all are increasingly inaccessible or just plain gutted.

I hear all the time from people who have never been in a position where they couldn’t afford to fix a flat tire, and believe me, they all think they got where they are because they are hard-working and smart. They never see that they started several steps up the ladder from those who’ve been handicapped by circumstances of their birth, of which there are many in this country.

They see the difficulties others have in their lives as their own fault.

Yeah, this is just one of those “inspirational” sayings that gets passed around when there’s nothing good to share from the Harvard Business Review. The executive (or his social media assistant) probably gave posting this a moment’s thought, and that was about it.

But the instinct to buy in to such platitudes shows at best a shallow understanding of the lives of others who are struggling, and at worst cements the views of the Corner Office Crowd that they and they alone are why they ended up where they are, and that’s just not true.

If you see someone struggling with a flat tire on the side of the road, you’d likely pull over to help if you can, check that they have help coming if you can’t help, or at the very least call for help, but you’d recognize the need for help, and you wouldn’t ignore it.

We have a lot of people in this country who need help, and saying “just help yourself” isn’t in the tradition of being part of the human community, of helping each other.

Before you share nonsense (or anything, really) think about it a moment, and see what it’s really saying. If the message is: “Fuck you, I’ve got mine,” you might want to think about the person you’ve become — and change your own attitude.

The problem with pet care isn’t what you think it is

In the space of an hour on social media, I saw posts:

1) Calling out pet owners for using liquid ivermectin (sold for livestock) on dogs to prevent heartworm infestation. Ivermectin is the active ingredient in popular heartworm preventives, and the argument was that the dose/quality was hard to get right when using the livestock product, which is true, but … misses why people are using it.

2) Calling for greater communications/education about preventive and wellness care for pets as part of a post about 40% of pets who never see a veterinarian, as if many of these people aren’t aware. Many would take their pets in, were it not for money or other issues, such as transportation and a lack of veterinarians where they live.

In both cases, these posters completely miss the damn point:

Many people can’t afford the cost of flea/tick/heartworm preventives, and they’re doing the very best they can for the pets they love.

Ditto with wellness/preventive care, which can also run several hundred to a couple thousand a year if your dog needs very regular dentals (which is pretty much all small dogs, and NO a “no-anesthetic” dental is not dental care, no matter what your feed store says).

Note before I go on: Most veterinarians are NOT getting rich. They’re carrying massive student debt burdens, and even with decent salaries they can barely scrape by. Saving for a home, the kids’ college or retirement? LOL! They’re working stiffs just as you and I are, and they are not calling the shots because they don’t own the practices. While previous waves of veterinary practice purchasers have come from within the veterinary community, big-money investment funds are jumping on board now, picking up veterinary practices to bundle, maximize profit and flip, in the same way investors have stripped many communities of the entry-level homes that are necessary to provide stable neighborhoods and grow middle-class wealth, turning entire communities into renters who aren’t invested in their communities and who can be evicted at will.

In short: Veterinarians are as much a victim of this corporate greed as we are.

Wanna fix this?

1) Quit bashing pet-owners AND veterinarians for trying to do the best they can. And no, don’t give me that “if you can’t afford X level of care for a pet, you shouldn’t have one” or “if that vet really loved animals, they wouldn’t insist on charging XYZ that I can’t afford!” Understand that even those veterinarians who own their own practices need to pay their bills, their employees, their insurance, taxes and so on, and those who work for corporations largely cannot reduce your bill because they’re not allowed to. And veterinarians, quit bashing people who can’t afford care. No, you don’t have to care for their pets if they can’t afford it, but you can acknowledge the issues and offer lower-cost alternatives when discussing care. If that still doesn’t help, stabilize for transfer or euth if that’s the owner’s decision, and try harder not to judge.

2) Acknowledge the structural problems, both of the veterinary industry and of a country in which the gap between rich and poor grows wider by the day, and the middle class is hanging by a thread. Nothing will get better as long as this keeps getting worse.

3) Continue to develop spectrum of care offerings to help the pets owned by people of all income groups. The gold-plated, top-level standard of care is out of reach for many, and even with pet health insurance (assuming you can afford the monthly premium), most plans are reimbursement, meaning you still have to pay up front. Many people have no access to credit and little if no savings, and pet insurance cannot help them. We need alternatives to help these people and their pets. Because guess what? They WANT to do better by their pets. They just can’t.

4) Acknowledge that much of the costs of veterinary care passes through from large companies that set prices for drugs such as … ivermectin (!) for the pet market. There is no excuse for the price-gouging on meds that have been generic and widely available for decades and are dirt cheap to produce.

5) Fund our great public universities again, so tuition is within the realm of possibility for those who enter professions that serve us all (and this includes veterinary medicine even if you don’t have animals, since veterinarians are a key component of public health protection). Yeah, that means taxes, which are supposed to be for the greater good, and there’s no good greater than an informed, educated citizenry with critical thinking skills, and professionals whose level of education and skill helps us all, from protecting our health to building/re-building our infrastructure. Tax the rich, who’ve been getting all the benefits of tax breaks while getting richer and richer still while schools, roads and other public goods crumble.

6) Fund loan forgiveness programs that pay off student loans for those who work a set period in underserved communities. And allow refinancing of debt when lower interest rates are lower, and allow personal bankruptcies for those who can no longer pay. (For the life of me, I don’t grok why it’s acceptable to bail out banks/industries — while allowing their execs to walk away wealthy — while shouting “personal responsibility” at ordinary people who need a break.) For those new grads who don’t need the assistance, they don’t need to sign up. But helping those who need a hand will not only help diversify a very white veterinary workforce (and as such, help to reach communities where veterinarians are few), but will also put veterinarians back in rural areas, where farmers/ranchers desperately need them.

That would be a start, and it would sure be better than pet-owners trashing veterinarians who are themselves in a bind, and veterinarians getting frustrated with pet-owners who can’t afford care. We’re whistling as we walk by the elephants in the room, and we need to stop doing that.