Category: Opinion

Fat Cat, River Cat: A story of an unlikely hero.

I blinked, then looked again.  Classic double-take. On this muggy and slightly overcast day on the Buffalo River, the last thing I expected to see was a fat cat on harness and leash, happily playing in the water.  But there he was. Intrigued, I sent the dogs on ahead with my husband and set out to learn more about this River Cat.

Rescue kitten to parent figure

It was a low expectations sort of day, late summer fading into early autumn with drab skies.  We were paying a last visit to the river before heading back to Kansas City.  But as I talked with Shelley and Roy about their cat, the day brightened with the joy of the unexpected, the affirmation of a life well-lived, and well loved.

Fat Cat is an unlikely hero, an orange tabby of undistinguished appearance, saving for his fat cheeks, from which he takes his name.  As a kitten, he came into Shelley’s life a throwaway. He quickly established himself as a member of the family.  He has been with Shelley and Roy for 5 years. “He raised three dogs from puppies,” Shelley says,”And all of them are pits.”  According to Shelley, he has trained the dogs to groom themselves like a cat.  “And he wags his tail like a dog,” she says.

River cat

Today, he is not wagging his tail like a dog, although this is something I would love to see. He is out on his leash, exploring the river.  Like us, the family is taking advantage of the warm weather to spend time outdoors. “You should have seen him earlier,” says Shelley.  He was out there where those little rapids are.”  She points to the low-running river, where ripples play, about six inches deep.  She picks up Fat Cat, who is staring at me dispassionately, and carried him over to the water.  He heads out a bit unenthusiastically.  I can understand his dilemma.  As much as he enjoys the water, it’s a hard thing for any cat to perform on demand, especially for a stranger.  I catch a few seconds of video.

Unlikely hero

When my dog comes running over, Fat Cat stands his ground without drama.  He’s a mountain of calm, this cat. “He’s brave,” Shelley says.  Fat Cat once caught and killed a rat twice his size. It is clear that no dog of any size has ever intimidated this feline. They look each other over.  The border collie is aquiver with interest, but Fat Cat is not looking for company today.

“Fat Cat saved my life,” Roy tells me.  He does not elaborate, except to say, “I spend a lot of time in the house alone, because of Shelley’s work schedule. I have probably talked more to that cat in the past year than to anybody else.”

As a committed dog person, and sometimes disparager of cats, I am struck and humbled by this simple story of one cat, who makes such a difference in the lives of these two people.  Even tough Fat Cat has not warmed to me (he IS a cat, after all, and I don’t expect to feel the love), he has lifted my spirits and given me a glance into the richness and diversity of the human-animal bond.   This cat, this simple tabby, has saved someone’s life. He makes every day better for a family and their other pets.  And somehow, somehow, he is magic.

fat cat, river cat, unlikely hero, river, wet cat
Fat Cat and Shelley

Is Your Veterinarian’s Salary the Cause of Higher Veterinary Bills?

The cost of veterinary care has risen faster than inflation for the past two decades.  Is your veterinarian’s salary the cause of higher veterinary bills?  Probably not, according to a new study.

The American Veterinary Medical Association economics team recently completed a study examining veterinary salaries in the US over the past couple of decades to see if rising veterinary salaries account for the increase in veterinary costs.  The team found that while mean income for veterinarians rose until 2006, it is now declining.  In fact, when accounting for inflation, veterinary compensation is decreasing.  An influx of younger veterinarians, more women in the profession, and a decline in practice ownership may account for the decline in compensation.

Younger workforce

As older veterinarians retire, new graduates earning on average less than $80,000 per year take their place.  Right now, Generation X professionals are reaching their peak earnings capacity.  But they are outnumbered in the veterinary profession by Millennials, who are working at or near entry level salary.  The number of new veterinarians entering the market is expected to outpace retirements for the next decade or so.  That may continue to keep the average salary low.

More women in veterinary medicine

There are now more women entering the market as veterinarians than men.  Unfortunately, women have historically been paid less than their male counterparts, and this trend continues.  In 2011, the gap between median male and female veterinary salary was $24,000.  The AVMA reported in 2015 that on average, female veterinarians make $2406.97 less than males.  Until salaries become more equitable for women in veterinary medicine, income growth may remain slow.

Decrease in practice ownership

Owning a practice has been one way veterinarians earn more money in their careers.  However, it takes substantial time to start a practice.  For instance, more than 70% of veterinarians who graduated between 1970 and 1979 own a practice.  In contrast, only 6% of those who graduated between 2010 and 2015 own a practice.  And the trend is for veterinarians to wait longer to buy a practice.

How much is a veterinarian’s salary?

The study found that the mean salary for veterinarians in 2016 was about $112,000.  To put that into perspective, remember that new veterinary graduates come out of their 8-year college experience (including undergraduate and veterinary school) with an average of $167,000 in debt (2016).   Veterinary medicine is not a quick and easy path to riches.

What is behind rising veterinary care costs?

Harvard Business Review explored the similarities and differences between human and veterinary medicine in 2017.  Costs are rising in both of these sectors.  Rising healthcare costs for humans are attributed in part to the burden of a heavy regulatory framework and involvement of insurance companies.  These factors do not influence veterinary medicine.  The authors speculate that introduction of new technologies in both sectors spurs increased costs.  Intuitively, increasing sophistication of practice, with introduc tion of expensive new instruments and the expertise to use them, should lead to increased cost for services.

The authors note that in both human and veterinary medicine spending increases towards the end of the patient’s life.  They speculate that one reason costs rise more quickly in healthcare than in other sectors is that healthcare decisions involve emotions to a much greater extent than in other areas.  This may play into the “heroic” medicine that is increasingly practiced to intervene in desperate situations.  It is less likely to be a factor in preventive care and routine treatments for pets, in my opinion.  The authors fail to make clear that neither physicians nor veterinarians use the emotional aspect of medical decisions to increase billing, in general.  Rather, heroic care is based on a desire of both the doctor and the patient/client to prolong life.

Yes, veterinary care is expensive.  Does that mean that veterinarians are taking advantage of their clients through price gouging?  Maybe in rare cases.  But overall, veterinarians are an altruistic bunch of people who could have made a lot more money in a different profession.


How I Joined the Internet of Pets

A mere nine months ago my Facebook feed was a jaded and pessimistic place.  Nobody wanted to visit my home page, least of all me.  And the real world didn’t feel much better.  Outside the office I was making few social connections. I was living in a sad, political bubble.  Then, I discovered the internet of pets, and everything changed.  Or almost everything.  My home page is still a place few people visit.  But for me and my 87 followers on Instagram, the world is now undeniably a happier place.

The Political Bubble

Back in those days when I skulked in the darker corners of social media where the serious news hangs out and political partisans go to troll each other to the point of suicide, the internet of pets was no more to me than an overheard giggle from a nearby work cubicle.  “Hey, did you see that great kitten video I sent you?” a friend would ask.  I would smile and nod.  “So cute!”  But I was rolling my eyes inside.  Kitten video, Bah humbug!  Just another unwanted distraction from my search for the secret to bringing people together in a divided and hostile world.

My perspective changed entirely one day when I was out walking the dogs.  After the 5th or 6th person stopped us on the street to pet the dogs and tell me about their own pets, I realized that pets unite people in a way that hobbies, work, and families don’t.  The love of animals connects people in an apolitical and largely egalitarian way. Pets break down social barriers and build community.  Within a month I had tiptoed into the internet of pets with KC Pet Collective.

The Internet of Pets

The internet of pets is serious business.  There are thousands of pet blogs and social media accounts in the US.  The largest accounts have a million or more followers. There’s even a new term for these animal media giants: Petfluencers.  Marketing research indicates that 44% of Millennials view their pets as children.  They engage with brands and other pet parents online as much as parents of human children do.

As a blogger trying to grow an engaged online community, I began to spend more time reading and responding to animal-related posts of all kinds.  Those kitten videos my friends sent me were opened and shared with new friends.  Engagement online led to participation in real-time as I began to get out in the community to attend and cover pet-friendly events.

The Pet Bubble

Gradually, I replaced my political bubble with a pet bubble.  The more pet posts I read, the more pet posts came to my feeds.  Today, I am a proud participant in the internet of pets.  It’s a kinder net where polite discussion, shared enthusiasm, and positive energy is the norm.  Something about pets keeps the trolls away and deflects our meaner human instincts.

I don’t miss the “serious” news.  I don’t get tired of seeing animals of all sorts come across my screen throughout the day.  Every pet is different, and the photography is often stunning and surprisingly professional.  Each image of a beloved pet inspires joy.  I keep up with the headlines on my own schedule, but I let the pet posts come freely to my feeds and inbox.

As I contribute in a small way to the internet of pets through KC Pet Collective,  I hope to build a community of pet lovers and the local businesses who serve them.  To my 88 (I got one more while I was writing this) Instagram followers, I say, “Thanks for being part of the community!”  For the rest of you, I look forward to seeing your pet videos and photos online.  And if you follow me on Instagram, @kcpetcollective,  I won’t hate you.