veterinarian is breaking under the weight of free-advice seekers

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers.” This is part question / part public service announcement. A reader writes:

I am a veterinarian, and my profession has been hit hard by COVID. Documented burn-out and compassion fatigue are rampant in this field. The profession draws people with high levels of empathy and perfectionism, and a sustainable work life balance is always a challenge. The website would provide a reference to explain the level of emotional stress many of my colleagues suffer. Most of of carry the grief of losing our patients with us constantly.

Since COVID, we have become dramatically busier. I am an emergency clinician, and we are forced to send cases away most days when we reach capacity. 12-14 hour days are the norm. It is a challenge to find time to eat. As essential personnel, we never stopped working. Our curbside protocol makes everything take longer. We are constantly and chronically short on support staff. Our clients are stressed and many have economic woes. Wait times are long and services are limited. Facing volatile, angry, and abusive clients is a daily occurrence. Most of us entered this profession because it was a calling to us, and, by and large, we pour our hearts into this job. Yet I cannot think of a colleague who is not feeling stretched past our limits.

I am dreading joining back into social events as things open up. People assume talking about their pets is something I would love to do, and it is something I would enjoy if not for being so burnt out.

To my question: Most days, I am receiving requests from friends and acquaintances for medical advice. Many times people request a second opinion after they see their vet. Some are reaching out because they need more compassion than their vet can provide. It is hard to resist these requests, particularly from friends, but a phone call often turns into multiple conversations over the course of a weekend. I have had people “introduce” me to a friend of theirs to provide advice. Many people got new pets and need general advice about ownership. Sometimes people ask me to help them get in with other services, which would result in asking for a favor from an overwhelmed colleague. Many request a diagnosis from a text or photo. I have been asked to call in prescriptions for pets not under my care. I am met with complaints about cost when my advice is to go to the clinic.

I am finding it difficult to set boundaries. I have tried resisting all forms of communication except for texts but this can become overwhelming too. I would tell people I will call when I am back at work, but my workday is overflowing already. I need time to decompress. I cannot turn my phone off as my mother is having health concerns. It is not unusual to receive a dozen messages over a weekend. When I try to cut things short or not answer texts, I have had people react with hurt feelings or anger. I understand how important pets are to people. My dog has been my saving grace through this pandemic. So, I understand that people become overwhelmed with emotion (and less rational than usual at times) when their pets are ill. I also do not want to turn away goodwill; if things were not so busy and I had fewer of these requests, none of this would be a big deal. I think of all the times I have reached out to obtain professional advice from acquaintances and feel like a hypocrite for refusing such requests. I am just not equipped to help everyone. I am writing to beseech your advice and with the hopes that this missive will serve as a public service announcement.

Readers, what advice do you have for this struggling vet?

{ 505 comments… read them below }

  1. Istanzia*

    “I’m really sorry, but the pandemic is really getting to me and I need time to unwind from work on the weekends, so I can’t answer questions about Fluffy right now. I hope you can find the information you are looking for!”
    Optionally afterwards: “X website has really great information on purple spotted heffalumps, you could try looking there, otherwise you should contact your vet.”

    Optional part is *only* if the OP knows of a resource without having to research.

    1. EPLawyer*

      WOW. This is great. It shows caring but also sets a boundary.

      Most folks won’t know how tired you are and think they are just asking a “quick” question. Caring people will take the hint. For the less obvious, you need to just be blunt. Nope not talking shop outside of the office.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        And so, so many people don’t understand that their question is one of many.

        I don’t have pets, so I can’t speak to that side of it, but I used to work in a field where I would be met with questions about children or loved ones, only at a fraction of what the LW is experiencing. My heart goes out to them.

        Other than offering the ridiculous suggestion to befriend petless people such as myself, I don’t know what to say. I just have a lot of empathy and wish the LW and their exhausted colleagues some rest and space. I will certainly be more aware of amplifying the message to show the professionals in our lives the respect and grace to stop asking ‘quick questions’ and, perhaps more importantly, to understand WHY.

        1. Clumsy Ninja*

          This is HUGE! I am in the same field as the OP, and I have to tell people all the time – “I know you think you’re the only one asking me after hours or asking me for just this one favor, but I get a dozen of those on a daily basis.”

          I will say – and I have, on my social media – that when I have posted about the burden this places on us, the people who contact me to apologize are the ones that I have never felt abused by. Because they’re the ones who return the favor with their expertise.

          1. JJ Bittenbinder*

            when I have posted about the burden this places on us, the people who contact me to apologize are the ones that I have never felt abused by

            Isn’t that the way it almost always is?? The people who have the self-awareness to understand that they should examine their behavior are frequently the ones who have the least problematic behavior!

            I guess we can hope that every time someone needs to put something like this out there, we catch a few more people in the “check your entitlement, please” net.

        2. Xenia*

          I have a family member in the medical field, and this sort of behavior has cost friendships in the past. Everyone always want medical support, and while she’s happy to help people with emergency scenarios a few people have not gotten what emergency means

          1. JJ Bittenbinder*

            It’s so difficult. I’d love to just say well, obviously they weren’t great friends to begin with, but losing friendships can be very difficult, even if it’s for the very good reason of establishing and maintaining boundaries that allow for self-care and sanity.

        3. lailaaaaah*

          Same! I work in IT, and every time I’m away from my desk or even at home I get asked tech questions, whether by colleagues or by friends and family. I’m still working on my ‘sorry, can’t talk about this right now’ script, but it can be awkward – especially when I get cornered while I’m in the toilets!

          1. JJ Bittenbinder*

            Geez, people have no boundaries! If you’re being cornered in the toilets, the only reason should be “can you spare a square?”

            My husband is in IT as well and no one has any idea what that means. He gets asked about everything from buying a new laptop to troubleshooting internet issues to hard drive repair and much more. He’s not tech support by any definition.

      2. David Levenson*

        I think honesty is your only way out, but with courtesy and respect. “I know how important this is, and I’m sure you know I do. However, I’m at it 12-14 hours a day now, and you might be surprised to know I hear from about a dozen people a day when I should be off. You know I’d love to help but I just can’t right now, I’m sorry.” I have 2 dogs and a cat, had a blind diabetic dog before, and pets most of my 61 years. I am a crazy dog person. I would be okay with this answer.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      Yep. Put it in your notes app on your phone so you can copy and paste it. Save yourself some time and just make it the go-to response! If they ask again, copy and paste it again.

      “But it won’t take long, just look at this pic I sent you…” <—- I would hide alerts from those people! If they can't take a polite no, then they're not a good friend and deserve to be SILENCED!

      1. Natalie*

        Yes, this is what I was going to suggest – have an email/text template so you can just fire off a quick response, and then mute those people as needed.

        1. Tired Nurse*

          Agreed. And do NOT customize it for every single person you send the message to. Save your energy and resist that temptation. Copy and paste the message, replace Fluffy for “your pet,” and go back to your life.

          Thanks for being another unsung hero! I have no pets, but appreciate and respect the work that you do!

          1. Washi*

            Agreed! Draft something general enough that you can use for everyone. And if they push back, I honestly just wouldn’t answer at all, or max something like “Sorry, I’m not able to help with that kind of thing.”

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              Maybe lay a little guilt on for a (boilerplate!) second message, if necessary. e.g.:

              “My time at work has been really intense since the pandemic started more than a year ago. I NEED to draw a hard boundary around this so I can prevent complete burn out and still be my best for my patients. I hope you understand and I can count on your kindness during this time.”

                1. Hey Nonnie*

                  Yeah, no one is going to want to imply that they refuse to be kind. Slightly evil, but whatever works.

              1. John Smith*

                Another idea is to put exactly what you have said here on your personal social media profile for all to see. Or if there’s a close friend or relative who hears or sees the request, maybe ask if they are willing to fend for you: “Can’t you see how tired Jane is? She doesn’t want to carry on working when she’s home.”. I have a friend who is a junior doctor and I make an effort not to discuss medical matters (esp. my own) with him. Others do not. You are entitled to look after yourself and put yourself first. Please do so.

      2. Shabang*

        Speed tip for texting that might be useful – On an iPhone you can set up replacement text – you go to replacement text and type in your abbreviation (make it something you don’t think you would ever type in real life, but is easy to remember) and then type in the message you want it to send. Once it is set up. it follows me to my ipad, mac, and iPhone. Not sure if Android or others have a similar thing…

        For example, if I type “haddy” (short for home addy) in my messages or, well, anywhere on any of my linked Apple products, it automatically changes to my home address. would make it easy to do the reply with just a few keystrokes…

        1. Camelid coordinator*

          Yes, that would be perfect. Kiddo has it set up so that his initials turn into “Kiddo is great” on my phone and iPad. So you could have nopemessage1 and Imeannoreally or whatever title you’d like.

      3. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        And consider getting a second phone so that you can turn your “regular” phone off – give that second phone number to a very, very select number of people only so you are reachable for your mother.
        You need do decompress, full stop. Being effectively on call 7 days a week is not sustainable.

        1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

          This was my first thought too. New phone, and its number ONLY goes to whoever’s involved with care for your mother. If one of them shares the number to someone outside that circle, change the number again, share the new one, reiterate the boundary.

        2. ObservantServant*

          You *may* be able to get a dual SIM for this purpose so you don’t need two devices.

          1. fluffy*

            A dual SIM probably wouldn’t fix the underlying issue, unfortunately, because then OP would have to keep the phone on anyway.

            Prepaid spare/burner phones are pretty cheap, fortunately, especially with the glut of small MVNO providers like Ting or Mint that let you get cheap month-to-month service without a contract. Heck, you can even buy them at most grocery stores now.

        3. Hey Nonnie*

          I think most phones have a “Do Not Disturb” feature, which puts all ringers/notifications on silent; and that you can add exceptions so that your mom can always ring through even if DND is on. My phone allows exceptions from “favorite contacts only” as an option, for example.

          Google Voice could also be an option, as it has lots of features for filtering calls, but you’d also have to get everyone to start calling your new Google Voice number for that to work.

          1. Freya*

            I have this on by default on my android phone, as much as anything because I hate phone calls. There are very few people who call me during the work day where I actually need to answer; the vast majority that I *want* to answer text me and understand I won’t respond immediately.

          2. Kimberlina*

            Yes to this. DND mode is AMAZING (and yes, have your mom set up as an exception).

          3. fluffy*

            Most phone providers will let you forward calls to the Google Voice number and then have the filtering rules apply to everything. It means having Google handle your voicemail too though.

            But yeah modern phones’ do-not-disturb functionality seems like a reasonable solution for this issue.

      4. Sleeping after sunrise*

        Don’t copy paste. Set up a text shortcut. My phone came with omw expanding to On my way! Create your own where 3 letters you’re not likely to use in normal writing expand to your response.

        It really is much faster.

        I’d also say, if this is coming from your close circle speak to them up front!

        But OP should expect some will be unhappy. That’s ok. Right now they are making OP unhappy. It is entirely reasonable to limit how much free work you do.

      5. Amaranth*

        I’m wondering if it would be worth the slightly extreme step of getting a personal phone that can be dedicated to calls from his mom and a few specific people, and turn off the work phone or set an autoreply in off hours. Or change the personal number and tell staff not to ever give it out, that they have to text him if its a real emergency.

        1. Self Employed*

          There are so many low-cost alternatives these days, it wouldn’t be that pricey to have a “burner” phone just for his mom and other key people.

      6. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

        If they keep pushing even after that, that’s when a handy little text back saying “Unsubscribe” may just get the point across! :)

    3. OhNo*

      I really like this answer. And if anyone does push back, especially if they use the “oh, but it’s just a quick question!” line, you can always tell them exactly how many “quick” questions you’ve gotten that week from friends outside of work. Sometimes, people need that reality check before they understand what it’s like from your perspective.

      That said, sometimes people will still think that they’re special and continue to push. I hope you would feel comfortable muting them or blocking their calls/texts, even if only temporarily. The temptation to provide your services for free outside of work is very real in professions like this, but it sounds like drawing some kind of boundary is absolutely vital to your well-being.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        A “quick question” in a lot of people’s minds is really this doesn’t take me long to ASK and they’re not thinking at all of how long it takes to answer, let alone how many ‘quick questions’ a person might get in their day.

        The benefit of this discussion is that it has made me think about whether and where I do this. I don’t have pets and never seek medical advice from anyone but my medical professionals, but it’s good for me to take stock of any other places where I might be falling into inconsiderate behavior.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Upon further reflection, I think ‘quick question’ really means “I want this answered quickly” to a lot of people…

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      And if you have a social media presence where you’re connected to some of these friends, think about using some similar wording to make a public post. It can feel weird or like you’re making a big deal of it, but it may be a helpful way to get the message out that while you love your friends and you care about their animal companions, you just don’t have the bandwidth to be “on” all the time.

      1. Fed-o*

        Yes was coming to suggest similar. To combine suggestions, you can set boundaries, link to a well-referenced animal advice site if you know of one and suggest it as a place to start, and remind folks that the person who knows their pet best is their regular vet and that pandemic vet availability is even more of a reason to keep up with those regular well-pet visits. Good luck to you! Boundaries are so so important.

      2. Mid*

        I was going to suggest the same thing. Post this letter, more or less, on social media, and then make a template to respond. OP could link to national vet associations, reputable forums, etc.

      3. ObservantServant*

        Yes and include the statistics on the high suicide rate the profession is plagued by

    5. NotToday!*

      Also, if you have not examined the pet nor had access to their medical file, then you might not be able to give treatment suggestions in the first place.

      1. Anonymouse*

        This is the direction I go for questions in my line of work (human health). I don’t get a million questions like OP but if it’s something outside the realm of I generally just repeat myself a bunch with “I’m not familiar enough with this situation, it’s a good idea to talk to your Health Professional”.

        1. Starbuck*

          Yeah, something like “I’m not able to give advice on an animal that I haven’t seen at a clinical visit in my office” might help as a redirect.

      2. Fold in the Cheese*

        I was thinking that, too — saying something like “I really can’t give you any sort of advice without having the animal in front of me at the clinic. Just too many variables. Good luck with everything, though!”

      3. Ellie*

        I would approach the whole thing this way – “I can’t diagnose your pet based on a photo, what if I was wrong, and it turned out to be something a lot more serious? I’m sorry but you will have to book in when the clinic is open. You can do that , and if its an emergency, the 24×7 vet is .” Then repeat as often as you need to – you just can’t risk it.

        Another soft technique that might help, do you use social media? If you can upload some pictures to social media that demonstrate the strain you’re under, the more sensitive people might back off their requests, or be more understanding when you can’t accommodate them. I had a bit of a light-bulb moment when a vet friend of mine posted a picture of them in an emergency clinic (they’d been a lot of bushfires recently, but I didn’t make the connection that vets would be involved with that, until I saw a picture of her operating on some of the native wildlife).

    6. Ace in the Hole*

      Agreed! This is pretty much exactly what I do, albeit in a very different line of work. I have a boilerplate response I can paste in, including a few general resources that really should be their first line of inquiry.

      I know in my situation, it’s often not that the people talking to me don’t know what to do or couldn’t figure it out on their own. It’s actually that they’re overwhelmed and emotional, and want to ease the mental/emotional load of making decisions by offloading it on someone they see as an expert. That’s important for me to remember because it helps me keep perspective on the consequences of refusing to answer: the person asking me will have to do their own emotional labor and take responsibility for their own decisions. That’s all. And they should have been doing that anyways.

      If you have a particularly close relationship where this is a frequent problem it’s worth addressing directly. For example, I talked with my mom and my spouse about how much stress it places on me when they call me with work-related questions and that I needed them to stop for my sanity. Both of them were very understanding and have cut down on it a lot. But that’s not a conversation I want to have with every acquaintance.

    7. ThePear8*

      This is great! Came to suggest something similar. Maybe you can keep track of common resources/advice too as a bit of an FAQ you can just fire off for actual quick questions? That’s something I did after getting a lot of questions about an organization I run, and being able to just send a link to my FAQ instead of individually type out a response for every person has drastically reduced the time and energy I spend on them and follow-ups I get. Of course, that’s just a suggestion only if you have the energy to create/maintain an FAQ – it sounds like you’re really struggling and realistically the above advice might be easier to stick with, but thought I’d suggest!
      And thank you for all you do for our pets and your compassion.

    8. JSPA*

      Blast email, to all offenders, on BCC

      “Dear all;

      there are 68 [or however-many] of you on this email. You are dear friends and family and dear friends of dear friends. Each of you has asked me at least one pet-related question in the past [time period]–often because the issue in question was complex or stressful or painful.

      Professionally, I spend 12-14 hours a day dealing with animals, many of them sick, in pain, or dying, and with distraught pet owners, many of whom are making heart-wrenching decisions based on finances, not best practices. The level of emotion and immersion just from work is overwhelming. I am sure none of you would explicitly ask me to give up my paying job to provide free second opinions. But collectively, the level of burnout caused by adding everyone’s “quick questions” on top of my professional duties, puts me in exactly that situation.

      Unless you are my parent or my child, if you have a medical issue concerning your pet, your options are, booking an appointment with a vet, or using any of the many resources available online. Thank you for understanding that burnout is real, that it is serious, that it is disabling, and that I am no longer available for professional advice during my (increasingly limited) down-time.”

      1. Paisley*

        I especially like this reponse!

        I also like how you can use Auto Text to further automate the response as a commenter mentioned above.

    9. Silly Goose*

      I was thinking of something along those lines, but to make it generic and have it ready to paste into emails or texts:

      I am so sorry you are needing help or advice about your pet. In normal circumstances, I would be happy to help, but due to the pandemic and the plethora of new pet owners, I am getting dozens of requests at a time on top of my own pandemic burnout. I simply cannot keep up without jeopardizing quality care, so I am asking everyone to please contact their own veterinary clinic, groomer, or trainer for help.

    10. Snuck*

      I think it’s time to do some phone screening and tech detox?

      Create a list of your favourite people, who no matter what you’ll talk to. Give them a happy uplifting ring tone. Leave everyone else on silent. Put any ‘painful’ people on a doom song or do not disturb.

      Live like that for a weekend. Live like that every weekend. Live like that out of office hours. Hand your phone to a colleague when you are in the office to answer. Give yourself a two or three week break.

      Also consider if you’ve got a couple of trusted people around you who can just handle your day to day correspondence and contact. Let them say “Oh dear, sounds like you need help, hrm… She’s not taking calls right now so how about I give you these awesome websites and this great after hours emergency line details. Yes, she’s fine, she’s actually just completely worn out and needing a short break, so this is what she’s done…” and outsource the people management for anyone not on your ‘happy to answer’ list.

      A friend of mine just lets EVERYTHING go to voice mail. Then she listens about every three days. Anything very urgent will get texts, she reads those once a day, which she takes days to respond to. This seems to work well! (She’s a dog trainer, and the best/main/only assistance dog trainer of note in Western Australia – she is similarly SWAMPED) If it’s a super emergency your friends can ring an emergency vet in their area right? And… allow that to be enough. If you are able to claw back some energy for yourself you’ll be better at work, better at home, and better for longer. Burnt out is the end of hte line, give yourself some more capacity.

      Everyone in WA has got dogs, the whole pet market here has exploded, and I was wondering how vets were coping – your post makes me heart cry and want to hug you. Big koala cuddles from Western Australia. Not that cuddling a koala is good… but you know… better than a snuggle with a kangaroo ;) <3

    11. DJ Abbott*

      Is there a website with general information similar to WebMD for humans? If so, you could point new pet owners and people who need info to that site.
      There is probably a site specifically for new pet owners and that could be useful too.
      You could put both sites in an auto reply and then you won’t have to do anything with these requests.
      Good luck!

  2. Tricksie*

    First of all, I’m just so sorry. I wonder if you can plead medical ethics, even if it isn’t quite true? It must be somewhat true? “I am not allowed to provide medical advice for pets I haven’t examined; I could lose my license to practice so I’m not able to help you.” “You know how mental health folks aren’t supposed to diagnose people in the media because they haven’t treated them? It’s the same for vets and I need to be vigilant about it. I know I’ve blurred boundaries in the past, but I’ve realized how important this is.” Or just: “Sorry, I really wouldn’t know without examining your pet in my office.” “Sorry, I can’t legally give advice without examining your pet in my office.”

    I know you are in a very high stress and high risk position. Thank you for all you do for our pets. Please take care of YOURSELF as well as you would take care of your pet!

    On a practical level, could you turn your phone on do not disturb, but have family able to call through so you can get any info you need about your mom?

    1. JMR*

      These are great suggestions. I grew up with two MDs as parents, and both of them fell back on insurance/liability issues to avoid these kinds of requests. I imagine people think the rules are different when it comes to pets, so a gentle reminder that pets are patients too, and it’s unprofessional and dangerous to provide an armchair diagnosis, should get through to msot reasonable people.

      If you weren’t an emergency physician, I would recommend using that tactic and then suggesting that people make an appointment to bring the pet in during regular hours so you can examine them, but then you might end up with people making appointments and then acting surprised and put out when they are expected to pay for your time, because they assumed you were seeing them for free as a favor. Your being an emergency physician works somewhat to your benefit here, because you don’t have a regular appointment schedule (I assume); therefore, you can recommend that they make an appointment with your highly respected colleague, Dr. X.

      As a side note, thank you for everything you do. I have clocked in three emergency vet visits during this pandemic alone, because our regular veterinarian was swamped, and it was scary for me not to be able to rely on our regular provider and to have to send my babies off with a stranger because I couldn’t go inside the clinic. This message is a reminder of how devastating it is on the other side.

      1. sofar*

        I like your response because, not only is it true, it sets a firmer boundary than, “I’m overwhelmed and I don’t have time.” Because people hear that and then follow up later, in hopes that you’ll have the bandwidth. Or they get miffed that you don’t have time for them, specifically.

        A few of my family members are attorneys, doctors, accountants (jobs that get a lot of “quick questions” aka request for free advice), and one of them has a particularly lovely response about how he’s gotten “burned in the past” by giving advice to someone who’s not a client, because that advice is often off-the-cuff and not researched (and not always within his specific specialty). Therefore, he “never gives advice” to anyone who’s not a client, but is happy to recommend a colleague/business the asker could schedule an appointment with.

      2. merp*

        I want to add on to the thanks. I saw a lot of vets for one major medical issue last year (all in an official manner, not friends of mine, I should say) and the care you all put into your work is incredible. My cat is still with me today because of the hard work and compassion of a specialist team and I am so grateful! I can’t imagine the stress and the grief – your work matters, and so do your mental health and wellness <3

        1. merp*

          Oops, slightly wrong thread, meant to add to the parent comment. Message still stands!

    2. ex-english major*

      I actually think there’s a benefit to naming the fatigue from being burned out and over worked, rather than an excuse (however true it may be) like liability. Hiding burnout seems to make it feel worse?

      1. Tricksie*

        I agree with that, too. But some people are so pushy that they might be like, just for me, this is a quick one, here’s an easy one, oh I know you’re burned out but… And if the LW has a way to externalize it, they could possibly find it easier to enforce one boundary instead of continually feeling like maybe they should make just one exception. So it can be useful if the LW is having an especially hard time with saying no.

        Just like my teens will ask me to tell them no about something so it’s easier to tell their friend no.

        1. Threeve*

          I know several people who will listen to “can’t,” but ignore anything that even remotely skews toward “I technically could, but I don’t want to.”

    3. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I think this would especially work if they are requesting the OP to send prescriptions. People don’t realize this but many of the medications that you give pets are just smaller doses of human medication. My cat was on prednisone for a while and we always had to give her an anti-anxiety medication before trips to the vet. I forget the name of it but it was something my mom had taken years before.

      My point is I bet there could be legal issues if a vet prescribed medication without seeing the animal.

      1. ThatOnePlease*

        Yes! My dog took powerful (human) anti-anxiety meds. I would be shocked if a vet prescribed meds without a client relationship – that seems like a huge liability risk.

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          I worked at a vet clinic for 5 minutes after college, and there were regularly people coming in or calling asking the vet to prescribe pain medication for their pet, without ever having seen the pet….the pain meds they asked for by name are also human pain meds, so whether or not the pet actually exists remains in doubt.

          1. azvlr*

            Even sadder that there are folks who will intentionally hurt a pet, then take it to the vet to score meds, but keep them for themselves.

      2. Freya*

        Our deceased mastiff needed a bunch of meds in her last days (mast cell tumours, she was in palliative care at home for her last few months, in the middle of which was our wedding). We still have the antihistamines in the cupboard because the human ones were a third the price of the dog ones, the same size of pill, and the right dosage so she only had to have one pill at a time instead of a couple of the ones intended for pets half her size. (After she passed, the vet specific meds went back to the vet for donation to someone in need, along with her (cleaned) beds and bedding and jackets)

    4. Dumpster Fire*

      I turn my phone to silent during the school day but have my mom’s contact information set to ring or text through even if all other sounds are off. Not sure if every phone can do that, but iphones can for sure.

      1. Android User*

        It’s on Android under “Do Not Disturb” that it’ll completely mute all notifications, but you can star contacts who can bypass DND (also there’s an option for bypassing if the same number rings in succession). You can set on/off times, schedules, etc to suit your working / school day

    5. Miss V*

      I was actually going to suggest something like this.

      ‘I’m so sorry, but my practice actually doesn’t allow me to diagnose/treat animals that aren’t part of our practice. Here’s a great website for information on X’ and maybe have a couple quick resources for common questions (house training puppies, common ailments, whatever the three most common questions you get are)

      Keep a copy in the notes app of your phone for easy copy paste.

      And the great thing about this is it’s not a lie. The practice (you, even if you don’t own it you are part of the practice) doesn’t allow you to answer questions.

      As a question for the LW or other vets- my vets office has been outstanding during Covid. I’d really like to thank them, but I’m not sure what would be most appreciated. A hand written card? Flowers? An edible arrangements? A bunch of Starbucks gift cards? A donation to a local pet charity in their name? Or is there some other thing a vets office in particular would want that isn’t obvious to those not working there (like how teachers don’t want apples, they want a gift card to target to buy class supplies)

      1. Alpaca Clinician*

        Not the LW, but a veterinarian (large animal internal medicine in a referral and teaching hospital) – I have kept every thank you card that I’ve received since I graduated from vet school. They’re on a corkboard in my office and I glance at them often, especially if we have a particularly difficult case in the hospital. I also keep all the pictures of horses that owners send to me once they are back home and healthy.

        Other monetary options if that’s possible for you: no veterinarian, vet tech, assistant, or receptionist will ever turn away free food :) – bonus points if it’s healthy! I personally get chocolate overload at Christmastime and love it when the fruit and veggie platters show up. I don’t know if your local practice has a shelter or charity they work with, but donations to those may also be welcomed, or if the practice has a fund to help low-income clients or animals with no known owners. Other things would be more practice-specific; I know we are always looking for towels and blankets for the ICU, and one year someone donated nice brushes and halter fuzzies for the teaching horses.

        LW, I feel you – I am lucky to have been insulated from the worst of it this past year since I’m in a referral center, but all the emergency and primary care vets I know are struggling. I would lean hard on the legal side of things – in my jurisdiction you have to have a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship to prescribe anything, and it’s not hard to make a case that you could extend that to giving advice.

        1. JobHunter*

          This is why I send my vet pictures of my healthy pets as Christmas cards every year. While waiting for an appointment, I noticed how many of the thank you cards on the wall talked about assistance with end-of-life decisions and felt awful about that. My vet deserves to see my pets doing their usual silly and amazing things, too.

          1. Alpaca Clinician*

            That’s awesome, I’m sure they love receiving those! I admit that most of mine are from owners whose animals were euthanized, but it seems like an extra-special card when you get one from someone whose animal left the building happy and healthy. My personal favorite is the handmade “get well soon” card made by the 4-year-old owner that hung on her pony’s stall until she went home.

            1. JobHunter*

              Haha, I think you are right! I recently noticed that my cards are prominent in the clinic’s photos on Facebook of their waiting room.

              I hope you got a picture of that get well card. That is the sweetest thing I have read here.

          2. etcetera-cat*

            At my practice we ADORE the xmas cards we get from our patients, complete with silly-outfit-pictures on the front, and there is absolutely not one of those from this last year (basset hound dressed as a cracker) still on our general memo corkboard, no siree

        2. soshedances1126*

          Also in vet med (shelter med specifically), and my thank you cards are a big thing that gets me through the toughest days. I also have a wall of them and take them down to read when I’m having a rough patch :-)

          There’s always so much chocolate and such around that really, thank you cards make me feel much better than food lol.

        3. etcetera-cat*

          Oh god, the chocolate overload can be real (particularly when there is a very much less-than-zero chance that your days at certain times of year involve treating dogs that have raided the edible presents). In the midst of last year’s second lockdown here in the UK, one of our clients gifted us with a cheese hamper and a fruit bouquet. The true veterinary experience is standing around in most of your PPE (minus your scrub bottoms because reasons) with your fellow clinical coworkers, gnawing on half a truckle of cheddar at 1am whilst staring blankly at the spectacular twin disasters that are allegedly Theatre Rooms One and Prep and realising that you get to start your next shift in 6 hours and counting.

      2. Kwsni*

        Please just send food. We are so tired and never get anytime to eat. Edivle arrangements or something healthy that can be stuffed in your face as you go get the next dog is great.

      3. Doris*

        Retired vet here, all of your ideas would be greatly appreciated. Whatever you decide, make sure it can be shared from kennel person to vet.

      4. Tabby*

        As someone who worked in vet hospitals for the greater part of 15 or so years, FOOD. Definitely food. And cards, but mostly food. We get so hungry because we’re go-go-go for so many hours, and rarely get a chance to go get anything to eat. Coffee is also popular.

    6. Let's Just Say*

      This. I’m a lawyer and that’s always my excuse. “I wish I could help, but unfortunately that could get me into trouble with the licensing board!” It’s hard for people to push back on that because you’ve made it clear that this is out of your hands; you’re not declining a “quick favor.”

    7. Ms. K*

      I would definitely keep it to the shorter version unless pressed on why that hasn’t been your policy in the past. And then stick with it going forward. If they get the same nonresponse response from you every time they’ll eventually stop asking.

    8. Dezzi*

      These are great scripts!! I would also suggest having a short list memorized of places to refer people to (local vet practice that has extended hours/is cheaper than other places, the vet in your area who’s best with difficult cats, your favorite website with behavior advice, etc.). When you’re in a profession that’s so focused on helping and compassion, saying “can’t help, sorry!” is way harder than it should be! You may find it a lot easier to say “I really can’t help with that [because (reason), if you absolutely must give one], but [other vet/website/facebook group] should be able to!”

    9. CoveredInBees*

      Yes. I have used versions of this as an attorney and I think it would apply more broadly when it would be malpractice to diagnose the pets without having seen them in an office setting.

    10. CT*

      I’m a physician, so I get it.

      I think some excellent, brief wording is “I can’t give advice on [pets, people, children, etc.] who are not my actual patients for insurance and licensing reasons.”

      It so happens that sometimes those reasons were that I would drop my insurance and throw my license in the toilet if I did not get some relief from being put into this thorny situation over and over, but I did not feel the need to specify the details. :)

      1. CT*

        PS: I know some of my friends read this site and know me by this nickname, and this is NOT YOU. In all my intimate relationships with friends and family, I have my boundaries very clearly established, and whatever I am doing with you is what I am happy to do. I promise!

    11. KaylinNeya*

      As a medical professional, this is exactly what I do. LW, I hear your burnout and trouble setting boundaries and I understand. You are doing an amazing job in unbelievably difficult circumstances. Please, draw the hard line. I know that you got into this because you love and care for animals, but it is NOT your job to take care of ALL of them. Your friends (or people that they have referred to you) can either bring their animals in to be seen (I admit that given you work in emergency services, I hope they don’t need to) or they can take them to their vet. Or if they need a second opinion, they can take them to another vet during their work hours. I also encourage the DND (do not disturb) function of your phone – that way you can get messages/phone calls from family or whoever you want to put on the list, but you don’t get overwhelmed. Grace and peace to you in this time!

    12. Freya*

      I’m in a completely different field, but I’ve had a lot of success sorting the reasonable from the unreasonable by telling them that unless we have a professional-client relationship, we’re not covered by my professional indemnity insurance. My parents are in the “reasonable” camp, because they requested I charge them, and then when I did they made efficient use of the time I was charging for (I apply a steep discount, but they stopped wasting my time anyway).

      Other people whine about needing to pay for professional advice, and they are sorted into “unreasonable”. Unreasonable people get no discounts and no favours.

    13. cacwgrl*

      I think this is great, and it’s language I’ve seen and heard my vets use with non-clients. People get upset about it and it drives me up the wall. I guess I’m a little protective of my vets because I’ve seen so much movement around the and because mine are fantastic, pre- and during COVID.

      I’m not sure if its a possibility or already being used, but my primary vet practice has an answering service. They take the calls and call the vet for you. If you need to speak to them, they patch the call to the vet and when the vet calls you back, it routes from the office phone, even when the vets on their cell. IDK how it all works but it does and seems to help protect the vet’s time and privacy.

  3. Ashley*

    Not sure who calls about your mom but if you can set it for certain favorite phone numbers to ring only that might help with some of it.
    On the advice piece can you in part claim insurance reasons for not arm chair diagnosing, prescribing when not seen, etc? Also any policy you can site for referrals and being required to see the animal I think would help. If there is some website for generic pet advice or the pet equivalent of a free health clinic you can refer people I would have a standard form handout/email/ copy and paste text for that sort of thing. Basically go against your nature and be far less helpful then you have been.
    For the social settings I would try some line about I am so tired of work and animal talk, what’s going on with X?

    1. ThatGirl*

      I largely agree with your advice, but many/most pet owners don’t have insurance, it’s just not as big of a thing in the veterinary world. That said, I definitely think the LW could lean into not wanting to offer advice when they’ve never seen the pet in question.

      And I have to admit I feel a little guilty emailing our vet a bunch for advice on various things — although at least she IS our dog’s vet, has seen him a bunch and it’s never an emergency so I don’t mind if she takes a few days to reply.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I just realized you might mean personal liability insurance, as opposed to pet health insurance. I don’t know if that’s a thing, but maybe!

      2. Reba*

        I think Ashley is talking about the vet’s or clinic’s liability insurance, not individuals’ pet health insurance policies. The LW would be “borrowing authority” from the terms of her insurance policy.

      3. AvoidingCalls*

        I read this as meaning OP’s professional liability insurance won’t cover any malpractice claims if not run through their practice. As an attorney, I’ve used this before with some success.

      4. Fiona the Baby Hippo*

        Even if health insurance/liability isn’t involved I think there’s still a nice but firm way to say “I don’t give advice on pets that aren’t my client anymore, it’s too hard to weigh in without full medical records/seeing the pet in person/whaetver and I just don’t have the bandwidth to do that for everyone who asks.” I also noticed OP is an emergency vet, I wonder if there are some non-emergency vets locally they could have on hand to refer people to that they know are generally compassionate/kind.

    2. Quinalla*

      Agreed to put your phone on DND but set up your Mom and relatives/friends who would be calling you as favorites so they will always ring through. I do this when I’m on vacation as too many work people have my cell now and I do it between 10pm and 6am to avoid wrong number, etc. wake ups. Maybe do it for a week to give yourself a break and see if you want to keep it up.

      And yeah, my Dad is a dentist, so he definitely get some of this and normally has no issue with the occasional request, but if you are working 12-14 hour days, you probably barely have the bandwith to eat dinner let alone help with yet more pet questions/issues. All the virtual hugs to you OP!

      1. hamsterpants*

        Yes, it is a standard feature on most smartphones to be able to set yourself as DND and only let through select phone numbers.

  4. funkydonut*

    First of all, thank you for what you do. I’m so sorry that you’re at such a high burnout. I’ve worked adjacent to veterinarians before (at an animal shelter, I was not medical staff), and I have pets of my own and every veterinarian and vet tech I know are great, compassionate people.

    I think you need to develop a short, kind script for when people ask you for help that you can practice saying until it doesn’t feel awkward anymore. Something like, “I’m so sorry, this year has been very hard for us in the veterinary world due to the pandemic. We are all very burned out. In normal times, I’d be happy to help you, but I just can’t right now.” And then perhaps have a link to a good online resource you trust that you could send out?

    1. Ground Control*

      I love this script! It’ll help reasonable people recognize and empathize with what vets are going through right now, and you won’t have to feel bad about anyone who keeps pushing even after you’ve told them you’re burned out.

    2. hello*

      I LOVE this advice. OP, I second everything this poster just said.

      I’d also like to add a little piece of advice that has served me well: in situations like this, if your friends are STILL pushy and angry over you setting any sort of boundaries with them (ESPECIALLY in relation to mental health and burnout), then they aren’t really the greatest friends. I’ve gone through different losses of friendships because they required unlimited resources to me, and when I couldn’t offer that, they distanced themselves from me. And you know what? I’m fine with that. This pandemic has brought along so many different struggles, and mental health is in the spotlight. You of all people deserve a break. You deserve to decompress without being constantly bombarded by people needing something from you. You have such a great heart and you want to help your friends – but they need to understand that in order for you to help them, you need to help yourself.

      1. NYWeasel*

        Yup. I’ve worked at places with employee stores, and it’s pretty clear to me which of my “friends” only want to get to use my discount and which actually care about me and are fine if I were to tell them “no”. I’ve also established some base line rules for myself—I only buy for direct friends, no “FOAF’s”, and I do the favors on my timelines, not theirs. If I lose a friendship bc I didn’t get them discounted crap, it’s not a friendship I want to keep.

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        100% this, and I said something similar in my own comment. If these are really friends, and not just acquaintances, they should understand and respect your boundaries.

      3. AnonInCanada*

        “Friends” who’re pushing for free advice and are too cheap to seek it from professional sources aren’t friends. And if these “friends” are still adamant about getting it despite this great advice to OP, they don’t deserve to be friends. Your mental health is more important. Ignore these “friends.”

        1. Liz*

          “Friends” coming out of the woodwork when they need help is something you see if you work in any helping profession. My dad is an attorney and the best advice he gave my plumber husband is: “When friends come asking for help ask yourself, Is this someone who would come to my funeral?” If the answer is no, they are not a friend they are a customer and you have no obligation to treat them any differently than anyone else. Boundaries are good and healthy, donate your time to people and causes you choose not just to someone who happens to have your cell phone number.

          1. Betteauroan*

            That’s a good way to weed out appropriate people to help, if they would go to your funeral. That’s good advice.

      4. Malarkey01*

        If you are getting tons of requests I assume a lot of these people are more acquaintances than friends (or maybe you are wildly popular), but if it’s easier for you to think about having different scripts for real close friends versus owing nothing to random acquaintances that might help.

        I’m in a field that gets a lot of questions, advice seekers, and for me taking the very occasional call from my very close friend who I saw weekly in the Before Times and who has helped me out with childcare on numerous occasions was vastly different from the call from my son’s third grade teacher’s neighbor (true). Once I realized it was fine to be a little more direct with those six degrees people who know no boundaries I no longer resented the requests from true friends (who would have all understood a no from me as well).

    3. Momma Bear*

      I agree. Some variant of “I’m not comfortable giving out advice on an animal I haven’t seen/I’m really burned out and can’t help you/here’s a resource” rinse and repeat. Have a handy script to roll out. Also, for those friends that invite other people to ask for advice, talk to them directly. Tell them how burned out you are and how you want them to stop sending people to you. If I have a quick question that a pro might answer I post it to social media and if my SME friends want to chime in, then they can. If not, they can stay silent. We shouldn’t assume anyone wants to offer free advice, pandemic or no.

      As an aside, I’m so grateful for vets and techs. It’s hard when your pet is sick and you can’t be there with them, but I appreciate all that vets are doing to try to mitigate during these weird times. We need to be kind to each other and not take out our stresses on people trying to help. It’s already a very stressful job.

    4. Paulina*

      This is great advice. You might also consider getting ahead of the requests a bit, by being somewhat more honest than typical in any initial pleasantries. When someone asks you how you’re doing, if they’re close enough that you feel comfortable with more than a rote reply, let them know enough so that if they’re listening they’ll know any request for advice will be unwelcome. It doesn’t have to be a complaint, just something like “honestly work has been so busy, I’m glad to have the weekend to unwind.”

    5. Megs*

      I think this is a great script. I would personally explicitly explain why your burnout is different? exceptional? from everybody else’s pandemic burnout. Just to preemptively smooth down those who might get their feathers ruffled. “This year has been hard for us in the veterinary world. All those pandemic puppies have added up to 12 hours days for us.” I’m not saying you owe people an accounting, but it may forestall follow up questions and arguments.

    6. Jack Straw*

      This is the best script I’ve seen. Strikes a great balance and maintains the relationship while being firm and clear.

    7. Moose With The Fur*

      I understand your temptation to recommend saying “in normal times I’d be happy to”, but that just exacerbates the problem. While there is of course truth in that statement, blaming this entirely on Covid is not the answer. Suicide rates/burnout/compassion fatigue in the veterinary profession were serious problems before the pandemic. Covid has only exacerbated, well, everything. I’m a licensed vet tech who has worked in GP practice, but currently I work in specialty and emergency/critical care. Everyone deserves the right to step away from work and just live. No one should HAVE to explain why. But if we’re gonna do it, we might as well be honest about it. I really like one of the previous suggestions that highlighted burnout and asked for understanding and kindness. I get the urge to blame legalities and covid, but if we really want to shift the stigma around mental health, we have to start being honest about burnout. And boundary setting based on the root of the problem, while very difficult, is the most important first step to normalizing these issues. I personally feel like using the law or a pandemic as an excuse, however true those reasons may be, is missing the point.

  5. Marie*

    Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs! You cannot control other people’s reactions to stressful situations, and sick pets are always stressful. Start with sitting with the feeling that you cannot help everyone, you cannot save every pet, you cannot be an emotional bulwark for your friends and family. That is a sucky feeling… but it’s true. Hating that it’s true does not make it less true. Accept that you cannot do EVERYTHING, but you can and are helping as much as you can.

    So how much is as much as you can? It’s as much as you can do without (1) compromising your own mental and physical well-being, (2) compromising your close friendships and relationships (SO and mother and a very tiny handpicked circle of people who lift you up and support you and love you unconditionally), and (3) compromising your ability to provide caring, compassionate care to the animals that you are treating.

    Focus on resetting your boundaries, expectations of yourself, and others’ expectations of you to re-align with those three guidelines above. Post on your social media and tell your friends NO MORE. Find another way for your mother to be able to contact you so you can turn off your phone and fully disconnect (do not disturb mode on your phone except for your mom? Burner phone? Google voice number?).

    Accept that you cannot control everyone else’s feelings. You will lose “friends” over this- friends is in quotes because anyone who reacts to you saying “I cannot continue to give you my services for free without risking total burnout” with “but what about meeeeee” is NOT your friend.

    Put yourself and your needs FIRST, because you cannot continue to be a caring, compassionate individual if you’re so burnt out you leave your profession entirely. Prevent that from happening.

      1. Ashley*

        I would honestly just get a burner phone for Mom and turn the other one off entirely.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      OP, perhaps you can set special ringtones or text tones for when your mom contacts you?

      1. AnonInCanada*

        But I think OP would rather not hear the phone ring/buzz/vibrate period when they’re trying to unwind and de-stress after a long week. It’s best to either have the phone in do-not-disturb mode (except for Mom’s one or two numbers) and everyone else gets voicemail saying “I’ll be away and will get back to you when I return,” without saying when you’ll return. I only wish there was a way for your phone to auto-text people saying “leave me alone!” but alas technology isn’t quite there yet :-(

    2. The Other Evil HR Chica*

      Best advice right here! There are apps that allow you to whitelist certain numbers and send the rest to voicemail. Some are free, but even if you have to pay a couple of bucks, it’s worth it – for your sanity’s sake. Shoot… you can even have your voicemail message say something like, “I’m sorry I cannot offer vet services outside of work hours. Please contact my office at [number] for an appointment, or go to [website] for information about your pet’s needs.”

      The patients you see and get paid to treat need you to be healthy physically and mentally. Everyone else can make an appointment. And I KNOW that it’s hard – SO, so difficult – to say “no” when your calling is to help animals. But like Marie said, you can’t to EVERYTHING, but helping as much as you can requires your good health.

        1. Yorick*

          Because if I called my friend with a question about my pet, and their voicemail message said that, I’d realize they’re getting way too many questions about this and would at least be happy they told me about a website or whatever.

    3. Cedarthea*

      My father has always said, “your friends don’t need an explanation, and your enemies won’t believe you anyway”. I think it will prove very true in this situation.

    4. kt*

      Agree with the comments above… and I’ll comment that part of it may be the very intrusiveness of texts and messages. Can you give yourself a no-checking-messages rule for 3 hours at a time on weekends? Check those settings so that you can allow any notifications from your mom through, and silence all the other notifications.

      Just taking 8 hours to respond to these messages to say “sorry can’t” will also help people disentangle themselves from putting this work on you. People text/message because it’s easy for them and gets them an easy response. If you don’t respond immediately — which is DEFINITELY OK — it helps break *their* habit and give you more space.

    5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Love the oxygen mask comment! I use that analogy a lot. You cannot help everyone else at your own expense or you will run out of any energy or compassion to offer help in the future!

    6. JonBob*

      “Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm”.

      I think you would benefit from a burner/another phone. That way, you can be completely cut off from other people when you don’t have the bandwidth, but can still get information about your mother.

  6. New Jack Karyn*

    Put out to your friends that you are overwhelmed, and cannot do this off-the-clock support. Put something up on social media, asking for their understanding. Do NOT take ‘referrals’ from friends of friends.

    “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. Take Buzzy into a clinic.”

    1. WellRed*

      Yes, that seems a big piece that’s missing. OP tell your friends this. Heck, show them this letter.

      1. Anonym*

        Yes, a preemptive expectation setting! Caring people want to know what’s going on with you, and if they know ~before~ they have a pet question/situation, they (the good ones at least) won’t even reach out.

      2. Hil*

        I’m guessing from how frequent this is this is more friends in terms of anyone I’ve ever been close enough to to give my number to than her group text of five best college friends that she could easily text.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Oh – I like this one! I am social media friends with a Vet and I take whatever she posts about pet health/vets very seriously. I have always felt poking her about my pet health issues would be way over the line – but she puts some great stuff up sometimes. One recently about how we think our pet is suffering staying over at the vet vs. how much they are actually pampered and doted on.

    3. Margaery Tyrell*

      Yes I came looking for this comment! Your friends who are sending “referrals” your way are not doing you or their friends any favors, and you need to set a hard line with them.

      If you especially have repeat offender referrers, here’s a script:
      “I appreciate you thinking of me, and I empathize with your friend’s situation. However, I do not feel comfortable giving advice to a pet who is not a patient at this time. I wish the best to your friend and their pet, but please do not have them contact me for medical advice.”

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      This is what I would recommend. Tell your friends you are overwhelmed physically and emotionally and need them to respect this boundary between your professional and personal life.

      For acquaintances, come up with a stock phrase for a referral to a clinic you trust and lather rinse repeat, “I can not provide professional services for fluffy [over the phone, at this time, during this party, over social media]. You can make an appointment at XYZ clinic, or ABC clinic, or check RST website for some good general pet advice.” I would emphasis gently, that they are asking for professional services at an inappropriate time and place . Don’t waiver and do it “just this once”.

    5. Blue Eagle*

      I was planning to say the same thing. Put something proactively on your social media (Facebook, instagram, etc – whatever it is that you use) to let friends and family know that you are overwhelmed by work right now and need to take some time off of social media and texts and are unable to provide any animal-related advice “for the next 6 months” (or for whatever time period you are comfortable with, perhaps “indefinitely”). People tend to think they are the only ones asking, not realizing that you are swamped by all of the other people asking.

      End the post with something like “thanks for understanding and I’ll let you know when I’m able to take on pet questions again.”

      Hope this idea helps.

      1. Jackalope*

        One thing about this too is that you may take the recommended break from answering people’s questions and then decide that you never want to answer vet questions off-hours again, or you may decide once your burnout subsides that you’re okay doing this again for your closest family and friends but no one else, or…? That’s up to you. If you’re having a hard time making that boundary right now, it’s okay to remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be forever, and the way you set it initially can be adjusted as you need. (That includes also making the boundary stricter if you need.) You don’t have to make the once and future boundary line right this very minute.

    6. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I really feel for the OP and I hope that they can get some rest. One thing I wonder is are all of your friends actually coming to you for advice or is it more general brought up in conversation and the OP just goes into vet mode?

      For example, I would totally have a conversation with a vet friend and bring up that my cat is sneezing and wonder if it is allergies. I’m not asking for my vet friend to diagnose my cat. It’s just something that is important to me and I’m bringing it up in our conversation.

      1. Pennyworth*

        It is that attitude which is causing OP to crash and burn. Why should a vet have to field work questions in a social situation? Of course a vet will answer a vet question in vet mode – would you expect her to say “Oh I read on the interwebs that 5G and Bill Gates are responsible for a sudden outbreak of cat sneezing”? If you want to know about cat sneezes book an appointment. It is abusing a friendship to get free professional advice.

        1. Jackalope*

          I mean, it could be, but the OP could also try answering as a civilian if someone makes a general pet comment (esp if it’s someone the OP has already started boundary-setting with) and see if it’s a request for advice or just a comment. I’m thinking of a couple of friends of mine that are in a church group with me and are also doctors (another group which gets this a lot). When our group hangs out and we’re sharing how we’re doing, sometimes what’s going on is a problem with our health! And our general rule is that everyone is just a group member unless they choose otherwise. So if I for example mention to the group, “It’s been a rough week; I had a bike accident and broke my finger,” I expect that my doctor friends (like everyone else) will say something like, “Oh, that’s gotta hurt!” or “I broke a finger once and it was such a pain!” or something like that (which is generally what they do). I’m not expecting or asking for a response like, “Here, let me help you set up your physical therapy plan once the splint comes off!”

          Likewise, in I’m Just Here for the Cats!’ comment, it might be helpful for the OP to respond to, say, a friend mentioning, “My cat keeps sneezing; I think she’s got allergies!” with a comment like, “Oh, man, I feel her – the pollen’s been KILLING me this week!” or sharing a funny story about her childhood pet hamster having a sneezing fit. People like to talk about their pets, and it’s not likely to work for the OP to forbid anyone from having pet-related conversations nearby, but deliberately choosing to respond as a friend continuing the conversation rather than a vet providing medical advice can be a useful skill. And IF the person was probing delicately to see if they can get free medical advice, they can follow the OP’s lead and talk about other stuff instead.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I think it’s only reasonable to bring it up to the extent that you say “Fluffikins is sneezing a lot. Should I take her to our usual vet or would they think I was wasting their time?” and she can say “Yes, we see cat sneezes all the time. Now, how bout that latest episode of Procedural Police Drama?!” without you going into any more detail.

          In my circle of friends (in different professional arenas), that’s the understanding – you don’t ask for actual detailed help, just directions to the help. Sally is a doctor and you can ask her if High Street Clinic is still the place to go for sore knees; Cath is an accountant and can recommend someone to audit the PTA accounts this year; Rosie is a lawyer and can tell you that you need a family law specialist, not a personal injury litigator, for your prenup.

          When relative strangers ask for detailed help – which is what it sounds like LW is suffering with – then you know they’re grasping at straws for any free advice they can get. It’s the equivalent of banging on the door at midnight and begging for money. Only my very best friends get more than a raised eyebrow and a big fat no.

    7. Mathemagic*

      I think this is a really important first step. People can’t respect a boundary you haven’t set, and it’s not a boundary if you don’t explicitly say it (out loud, in a text, whatever). Maybe people will push back and telling them no or even eventually blocking numbers will be necessary, but setting a clear boundary first might help a lot. Don’t apologize for being unavailable. Just say what you need and that you expect them to respect your needs.

  7. Just Another Zebra*

    First and foremost, thank you for what you do. Virtual hugs, because I know from experience being an essential worker is beyond exhausting. People don’t always understand.

    My advice – your mental health is important. I know setting boundaries can be tough, but you need to be able to disconnect from your work, even for only a few hours. If these people are truly friends, they should understand you telling them your burning out. “I’m so sorry, I wish I could help with Fluffy. But things have been nonstop at work, and I just need to step away from being a vet for a while. If your concerned about (medical pet thing), take Fluffy in to see a vet. I can recommend clinics 1, 2, and 3. Thanks for understanding.”

    Also, depending how “social” you are on social media, it might not hurt to post something about veterinarian burnout during the pandemic. Maybe even post a link to the website you showed us. Explain that you’re struggling to keep your head above water, and for now (if you plan to resume offering advice once this all calms down), you aren’t available for free advice. My friend is a pediatrician, and had to make a similar post just last week for the same reason. Again, if these people are really friends, they should understand.

    Good luck, thank you, and virtual hugs.

    1. Washi*

      Yes I was thinking the same thing! Reword your question to Allison a bit and post it to social media and state clearly that you will no longer be providing pro-bono advice.

      In your position, I might also really lock down privacy settings and then ignore message requests from people you don’t know. They will figure out their issue, if they can find and message you, they can find other resources.

    2. anonny*

      I really love this wording, because it focuses on the overall nonstop/burnout and needing to step away, rather than friends trying to get free services. Because the real point isn’t OP giving away services for free, it’s that she doesn’t have the capacity for anything beyond her current workload, paid or not.

    3. LTL*

      Not only would a real friend be understanding, they’d be grateful to know. I know that if I’m doing something that’s causing issues for my friend, I’d want to know because I never want to put my friends in that position.

  8. I edit everything*

    Get a second phone (maybe even a cheap little flip phone, so you’re not tempted by social media, etc.), only give the number to your mother, and turn your main phone off.

    1. Goddess47*

      I’ll second this! Having a ‘personal’ phone and a ‘work’ phone can be a lifesaver.

      Good luck!

      1. Cedarthea*

        I work in child care and we are provided work phones and at first it was annoying to have to carry two phones, but I am actually very grateful for it. I have the work phone on DND from 5pm to 9am each day and I do the same on weekends. My boss’s number can push through but she only calls if I really need to know something.

        I would also encourage everyone who has the means to try to disentangle their work and personal phone lives. For those who can’t there are apps that can be use to “turn off” different apps at certain times. My sister runs a small business and she only has her email on her “work computer” because she doesn’t need to see it when she is at home with her family.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          This is 100% why I chose to have a separate work cell (I work for a utility). If there’s an afterhours emergency, my contact who pulls me in knows to text my personal & work cells on the same thread. Otherwise, I treat my work cell like a desk phone and don’t answer it after my workday ends.

    2. lost academic*

      I agree with this but remember that the calls the OP and most vets are getting aren’t from work, they are from their social network who already have personal access to the OP. This is basically having carry 3 phones/accounts – work, family and social because of the trampling of boundaries people do with vets.

  9. Sunshine*

    Tell them that you have an agreement with your clinic that you cannot do free or paid consulting. If you feel uncomfortable lying, perhaps your clinic can start a voluntary opt-in agreement for all the vets and vet techs who are facing similar pressures.

  10. Ann Perkins*

    I just want to say that while people are rightfully emotional about their pets, that doesn’t give your friends and family the excuse to lash out at you if you don’t want to be at their beck and call for free advice. In addition to developing a firm but kind script like one of the ones suggested already, I would highly recommend reading a book like the Boundaries book by Cloud and Townsend. (Caveat: that book is from a Christian perspective so if that’s not your preference, someone else might have a recommendation for a non-Christian book on boundaries they can chime in with.)

    1. Thrillian*

      Nedra Tawwab’s Set Boundaries, Find Peace is on my to-read list and I think it fits specifically in this niche!! She’s also active on Instagram often with helpful guidance @nedratawwab

      1. Mathemagic*

        I’m about half way through reading this and discussing with my therapist right now, and I’m really enjoying it. Tempted to recommend it to basically everyone I know.

  11. BeanDip*

    I wonder if doing some kind of facebook or insta post might work? I know it might feel like broadcasting your pain, but it might help to get a larger message out instead of having to respond to messages as they come in. A lot of what previous commentators have said is perfect, just explaining that your work is much more stressful than people realize and you love what you do, but you need to be able to decompress after work, and cannot be expected to answer everyone’s pet questions just because you’re a vet.

    1. un-pleased*

      That’s what I was thinking, if you can stomach it, in addition to prepping for texts with a quick message you can c&p because people will still try it. And then turn off notification for comments on social media and for other comms that are from anyone but your mom and her caretakers. If I were your friend, I would get it. You have to have boundaries, and as you know, you can fully expect people to try to get around them. But the people who care for you will support you doing what you need to take care and will be so happy for you that you are.

  12. JelloTokyo*

    My heart aches for you! Maybe even more so because I just lost my little kitty of 13 years a few weeks ago and I’ll never forget how our vet came to our house, hugged us all (me, husband, and cat) outside and we all cried together as we let our cat pass on in our backyard. It was so beautiful and I have such admiration of how she worked to deliver compassionate care right down to the stage of death. So the idea that you’ve seen all of this trauma, exacerbated by Covid-19, and people still won’t give you a break is horrible!

    My best advice would be to create a phrase and just repeat it. If people get annoyed with — if they don’t understand and respect how challenging your calling can be — they might not want to be people you keep in your circle.

    One trick I’ve used in my profession is to blame things on the law. So you could say something like, “Sorry, I’d love to help but I could lose my license for offering advice outside of the context of being a patient. If you want to set up an official appointment, I can assist but otherwise I’m afraid I can’t help.” If someone says that you’ve helped them before you could always say you’ve only recently become aware.

    I hope you’re able to take a vacation or break soon. I would say you’ve definitely earned it.

    1. Pippa K*

      Seconding this, esp. your first paragraph. The compassion good vets have shown my animals and me over the years has been something that preserves a bit of my faith in humanity. That’s not hyperbole; veterinary medicine as a profession is of course about science, medicine, and business, but it also shows that people can pursue all of that and still attend to caregiving and compassion. Which, of course, is the very reason you’re in this difficult position now, as the technical demands of your profession haven’t abated, the business conditions have become more complicated, and the compassion demands have skyrocketed. All of this while you’re living in the same pandemic-stress world as your clients. There hasn’t been much recognition of vets as a particularly COVID-affected profession, but it makes sense and I’m glad you wrote this to make it visible. Much respect and best wishes to you, OP.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree – we lost our nearly 17-year-old cat last year, and the end-of-life vet care we received both from our regular vet and the specialty vet were wonderful – lots of compassion and help making him as comfortable as he could be. I would never want to make those wonderful people’s lives any more difficult.

      I see complaints about veterinary costs on our local message board all the time, and I always think that I’ll happily pay the slightly more expensive fee for the compassionate, caring vet that is a mile from our house based on the care we’ve received.

  13. WhatFloatsYourGoats*

    Start directing them to the Facebook group, Pet Vet Corner. It’s strictly moderated (and I mean STRICT) so that only vets comment on posts where people can ask for advise from vets that volunteer their time. The mods verify credentials and keep non-vets in line. And it might help you connect with other vets who are all struggling now. You aren’t alone, even if it feels like it.

    1. Sleepless*

      That’s probably a good resource for pet owners; on the other hand I would strongly advise the LW (and any other vets struggling with burnout, which is all of us) to not go anywhere near those groups. As a vet who’s been around the online world since the days of Usenet groups, those places are a giant energy suck.

      1. WhatFloatsYourGoats*

        I encourage all vets to at least look at the group. The head honcho is Deb Haines and she tolerates absolutely NO entitlement or bashing of vets. And they’ll often have appreciation posts where they allow non vets to share stories and thank vets. For example, they had one 5 days ago that shows 1,700 comments. Reading over those can help remind you of all the non jerks there are. And since it’s a group, it’s easy enough to join but not “follow” so it isn’t always popping up in your news feed. It’s just there for you to visit when you want or need it. And there’s a chance to converse with the hundreds of vets that volunteer there from around the world. Some groups might be an energy suck, but Pet Vet Corner (along with the other Corners they run for ruminants, horses, exotics, and fowl) are as safe as they can make it and as supportive of vets as you can find. They don’t even allow angry emojis with the consequences of being banned if you don’t remove it immediately.

    2. Pikachu*

      There is also a subreddit – /r/AskVet. It is not very active, but posters usually get a comment or two and there are a lot of links to resources.

    3. iantrovert (they/them)*

      There’s also a similar horse-specific ask-vets group on FB, although I can’t check the name right now. Same rules.

  14. Empathy drone*

    This is tough and I feel for you! I get asked for advice from many friends (just garden variety emotional support, but I tend to befriend folks with mental health struggles) and that can be overwhelming these days, so I’m sure what you’re going through is a whole other level of heartbreaking.

    Are there “repeat offenders” or mutual friends you could reach out to in the short term for support/relief? Instead of waiting for someone to ask you for help/advice, can you be proactive and share… basically what you have written here? That you wish you could help every pet and their owner that contacts you, but you just don’t have the time and emotional resolve to do so? Perhaps framing it as “I need to be at my best when I work with my patients and that requires time that I mentally shut off the veterinarian inside me and just be regular Suzie who likes to watch reality TV and occasionally make homemade pasta” (or whatever your non-animal interests are). I would actually avoid commiserating with folks about how hard it is to get vet care and focus on your needs. You get to be the hurt puppy for this one! Ask for support from those repeat offenders to give you space and if you have a group of mutual friends where some of this is happening they can be allies here too (maybe someone can be your go-to for texts or video messages where you just vent/rant for a minute about how out of control the requests have gotten). If you feel willing to post this on social media, that could help too.

    Just because you’re a care-professional doesn’t mean you don’t deserve care yourself! Frame shift from “how do I make this stop” to “who can help me take care of myself?”

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      I’d try to be really direct and impersonal about what they’re actually asking of you. “I’m sorry, I can’t make a diagnosis without a formal exam.” “I can’t provide unpaid care.” “Sorry, I really can’t take on more patients outside of work hours.” They each think they’re just one person asking one small favor, but it’s everyone you know, asking you to do your job for free during off hours!

      Close friends/family can get a little more sympathy combined with a request for sympathy for YOU.

      If someone introduces a stranger to you for advice, treat it like a legitimate referral. “Oh great, you can actually just call my office for an appointment!” “Unfortunately I’m not accepting new patients right now but (other vet) has some availability.”

  15. Vanny Hall*

    Maybe post a shortened version of this letter on all your social media. Then respond to every request with “My heart is with you. I’m so sorry I cannot help. Please see this letter”–and link to this post!

    1. Rarely do I post*

      First of all, sending warmest wishes to you and your family. I agree with other posters; a script that could be repeated verbally or on social media may be helpful. In addition to the increased workload during the pandemic, you also have a lot on your plate right now that requires your attention when you’re not working, and will no longer be able to provide courtesy medical advice or referrals outside of your clinic.

    2. corinne*

      I was thinking this! Share this with as many people as possible. Your letter is so heartfelt and really made me realize how much pressure and stress you must be under. It’s very well put and shows your compassion and how torn you are about this.
      Let people see the truth, and it will open their eyes. For those that don’t get it…that might be a good weeding mechanism.
      Good luck. I’m pulling for you.

  16. DataGirl*

    No real advice, just sympathy. As a person who has been dealing with a severely ill pet for most of the pandemic I have seen what you are talking about from the other side and I think a lot of clients just don’t understand how overworked and stressed you are. I’m sorry that so many people are being unkind.

  17. Lizzo*

    For the people who are introducing you to others as someone who can give advice, can you tell those people to stop making those introductions? “I know you mean well, and that you are referring me because you trust me, however I simply do not have the resources to answer these questions outside of my workday. If they (pet owner) would like to get my professional opinion, they can make an appointment at my vet practice.”

    You could, in theory, use this response for everyone. “Need advice? Make an appointment. Here’s the clinic number.” You don’t owe anyone an explanation.

    You already know this, but let me say it out loud: Boundaries are a GOOD thing. You are not a bad person for having and maintaining boundaries. Anyone who reacts negatively to your boundaries or tries to manipulate you to get around those boundaries has their own problems that have nothing to do with you, and you are not responsible for those negative reactions.

    And put your phone on do not disturb, with only phone numbers related to your mom’s care permitted to get through, so that you can get some legit quiet time/decompression time when you’re not at work.

    1. RWM*

      +1, I think it’s so important to message the friends who do this on the side and communicate that it’s really not OK to make an intro like that without checking with you first.

    2. Bluesboy*

      Yes, it kind of surprises me that friends are giving her personal contact details…I was asked the other day if I knew a vet. I said yes, and I gave them the phone number and email address of the clinic – not her private mobile phone number!

      What works for me (though in a very different sector) is to talk context. “I’m sorry, I don’t have all the information I would need to help you with that. If it’s an emergency, you should get to XYZ emergency 24-hour clinic right away, if it isn’t, I’d be happy to see you for an appointment, call 012345678 to fix one”. That doesn’t stop the requests coming, but they tend to come once, and no more.

  18. Case of the Mondays*

    I’m a client of Banfield (national chain) and with my pre-paid plan, we get free text a vet services 24/7. I recently learned that customers that auto-subscribe to Chewy get the same thing. I’d start saying something like “sorry, I’m not allowed to answer questions like this but if you auto-subscribe for your food from Chewy, you will have access to a free text a vet service.” (Or refer them to other text a vet services you know of.

    For your phone, my husband has a similar issue with his job and he has my number and his parent’s number set to bypass do not disturb. He can then put it on silent somewhere and just those important calls come through.

    I’m sorry you are dealing with this and thank you for all you do. My heart broke for you and your patients and human clients dealing with COVID restrictions and emergency pet medicine. Hugs if you are into that sort of thing!

    1. Reba*

      This is a good suggestion for a redirect resource! In my experience (which is nowhere near as emotionally fraught as pet care!) it really helps the “no” message go over smoothly if you can at least point them to some other resource.

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I’ve gotten emails from Chewy about this service but honestly thought it was an additional paid service. I had been thinking about looking into it – my 7 y/o Vizsla has the beginnings of what I fear are arthritis in her hips, if not dysplasia, and every time she has a severe bout of pain, it takes 3-4 days to get an appointment by which time she’s shaken it off (which, to the OP – frustrating doesn’t begin to describe it but I wouldn’t dream of taking it out on our vet, it’s not their fault!). This is really good to know it’s a free service for those of us who get auto-delivered food, will be investigating further!

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        Oh that is frustrating! Taking a video could help your current vet. I re-checked my Chewy email and it is a free service but you have to make an appointment. With the Banfield one, it’s instant. I’m sure there are others.

      2. MaryAnne Spier*

        I’ve used it. My cat was really sick in November. He turned out to have a tumor which they obviously can’t diagnose over text but they had me upload videos of him walking and gave suggestions. When he died I was able to ask them for ideas of how to comfort his brother, because they were such a bonded pair and Buster was grieving hard. And finally when we adopted a new cat and that cat came from the shelter with a mild URI that Buster also caught, they told me about some immunity boosters I could get from the pet store that could help once they determined that the cats weren’t coughing, sneezing, wheezing, were both eating, etc. It was a big help! And free with your subscription!

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      OP, I’m very sorry that people are being such arseholes to you. If you don’t want to feel like you’re completely blowing people off – I once had a temp job at a large vet provider and they had a series of PDF fact sheets on basic pet care and common conditions for this reason. (These were available online.) If you can make a resource list PDF or similar with the info mentioned in the replies here and upload it somewhere, you can respond to people by saying “I can’t answer questions from non-patients for liability/capacity (or whatever) reasons, but here is a list of useful resources” (then link to the PDF.)
      And if they’re rude after that point, you can block them with a clear conscience. They can work out how to use Google for themselves.

      1. Mockingjay*

        @The Prettiest Curse, excellent suggestion!

        Regarding Google, people don’t even have to type. Speak, and Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant will answer.

    4. Casey*

      Great point about the 24/7 vet text service through Banfield and Chewy. There are a number of these services- I know that members of PetCareRx have access to one as well- and many pet insurance companies offer something like this too.

  19. Llellayena*

    I’m agreeing with the comments to say “sorry, no.” but I would add LET them be hurt/angry, it’s not your problem. They should have gone to an official resource in the first place. You are a convenience to them, not a necessity. Explaining the burnout is a way to push them toward compassion, but its not necessary to tell them why you can’t help. And especially push back HARD on the “let me introduce you to my friend only so you can give them pet advice.” It’s one thing to offer some advice/suggestion to someone you know, but it’s completely wrong to ask someone to do the same for someone they’ve never met. That’s why there are professional services out there.

    1. JJ Bittenbinder*

      I agree with this:
      LET them be hurt/angry, it’s not your problem

      I adore how many calm, heartfelt, gentle answers people have suggested for scripts. They are great! And…if someone really is trying to trample that boundary, I know that I would dissolve into frustrated tears and say, “You have NO IDEA how exhausted I am, in every sense of the word. You need to stop.” I know because it’s happened before.

      And that was fine. Sometimes, the gentleness and empathy that we want to give to the world is insufficient armor for us. The last time I had this type of reaction, I was embarrassed while it was happening, but the person could no longer claim that they “didn’t know it was so bad.”

  20. Officious Intermeddler*

    I’m so sorry about what you’re going through. Our vets have been the best members of our family (3 big dogs, one recently gone, and a cat) during COVID and have given a lot of themselves.

    Do you think you might reframe a little of this and try to imagine that the reason people are asking you these things is because they love you and want your help? The reframe might make the requests feel a little less intrusive.

    That doesn’t mean that you have to give your time and emotional energy. If it were me, I might think about writing a little scripted answer for yourself so you don’t have to go through the challenge of finding a polite way to tell people you can’t give them what you need. “I’m so sorry that’s happening to you. It’s a really hard time to be a caregiver for animals, and I know that’s true in my vet practice. Things are so busy and emotionally challenging right now that we are all trying to just keep our heads above water. I really can’t give you a full answer right now because things are so difficult, but I wish I could.”

    People who react negatively to that have their own issues and maybe…aren’t worth your emotional effort. Also…are you an obliger? You may (or may not!) find a little bit of solace in learning a little more about that tendency and finding ways to protect yourself. You sound like a giver, and that can be exhausting over the long haul.

    1. lost academic*

      The OP should not be reframing any more than she already is. She clearly as she stated already knows exactly why people are asking. We don’t recommend we enable and allow abuse just because someone else loves us so much.

  21. Littorally*

    Talk to your friends now. Proactively reach out to them and ask them to please stop referring people to you. You are working 12-14 hour days and you cannot continue working the rest of the time, for free. Lay it out — what they are asking you to do is work, and you are already working so very much.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I think this is a good diea – maybe also say to them that you know they aren’t intending to overwhelm you, but that you are getting a lot of calls rom friends and friends-of-friends, and coupled with your increased workload it’s simply overwhelming.

      You could say that if they want to refer people, the best way to do that is to give their friends the clinic’s number/website.

      For people calling for second opinions maybe have a ‘rinse and repeat’ response such as

      “I couldn’t comment unless I’d been able to examine you cat/dog/pterodactyl – if you want to book fluffy in for me or one of my colleagues to do that, I can give you the clinic number, and they will be able to explain availability and costs / you’d need to ask your vet to arrange a referral to book fluffy in at the clinic”
      (I am not sure what professional etiquette would be!)

      Or it could be “It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on another vet’s patient, but if you want to switch to our clinic, it [clinic name] and all the contact details are on the website”

    2. Spicy Tuna*

      Yes, don’t wait until the next time they run into a pet emergency and are stressed! Tell them now!

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s a good idea. Kinda gently putting the word back out via trusted friends et al that you’re under a lot of stress and can’t deal with any more.

      Any friend or family who tries to fight back against that is…well, showing that they don’t care about your mental well being.

      I really, REALLY really wish I’d done something similar back in the first few months of 2020. Couldn’t bring myself to ask people to not call me at all hours because they wanted an ‘expert’ (I used to be a virologist) opinion on the pandemic and could I reassure them that if they were fit and took vitamins they were safe (no) and so on and so forth.

      All that contributed to the nervous breakdown that landed me in hospital in 2020. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that a little bit of awkwardness now is easier to get over than having your sanity shut down. Which, nearly a year later, I’m still dealing with.

      1. _ID_*

        I am so sorry and hope that you are feeling better soon. Mental health issues are so difficult to grapple with. As a fellow sufferer, I wish you the best!

      2. JJ Bittenbinder*

        I hope that you are doing better and have wonderful people in your life who encourage your boundaries and treat you with the kindness and respect you deserve.

        It’s easy to wish we had done March – whenever 2020 differently (home school failure here!), but we had no blueprint. I know what I would/will do differently in the future, but I’ve mostly stopped beating myself up about what I should have done. Mostly.

      3. Betteauroan*

        I’m so sorry that happened to you. Glad you got the medical help you needed and you seem to be back on track, if you’re on this site. I’ve been through it myself and it was not fun.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yes. “Let me give you the office phone number. Please give that out instead of my personal one.”

  22. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, thank you for doing so much for your patients and their humans. I can’t imagine how hard it is to do what you do in the best of circumstances, and what you describe is truly alarming.

    I kind of understand what you’re experiencing, though. When I was in corporate recruiting, I was held hostage by family and friends who wanted free advice, complex plans, a kind ear, someone to agree with them, and I couldn’t always say no. But I learned how to say, ‘That’s not something I can help with, let me send you the name of someone who can,’ or ‘This isn’t something I normally handle so I can’t be helpful,’ or ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t have the bandwidth, given my actual job,’ and so on. For the truly persistent, I said I would gladly take them on as a career counseling client, and quoted an outrageous hourly rate. Some of them practically disappeared before my very eyes!

    Setting boundaries is a healthy thing to do, and I understand how it feels to ‘not help’ someone. Caring for animals is more than a business, it’s a calling and it’s so obvious you care very much about what you do. But your health and well-being are important, too, and if no one is going to restrict their requests of you I hope you can find a way to do it for yourself.

  23. Bob*

    Can you afford to hire an assistant who can take care of some of the leg work?
    Perhaps you can bill for the assistant’s services on leg work, lower than what you charge?
    Think paralegal vs lawyer.

    1. No Name Today*

      This reminds me of the old story about a doctor and lawyer chatting at a cocktail party.
      The lawyer asks the doctor about headaches he’s been having and the doctor tells him to drink more water.
      The doctor tells the lawyer about his neighbor’s annoying dog and the lawyer tells him to build a fence.
      Monday morning the doctor gets a bill in his mail from the lawyer.

      So yes, OP, treat this like work. These people know they are asking for a professional service. Those who appreciate you for that will be willing to treat it as such.

    2. Disco Janet*

      It seems that the whole point is that these people want advice for free and are not respecting OP’s work/home boundaries. As burned out as they are, suggesting something that involves the work of hiring someone and having another employee to oversee doesn’t sound like something that would help.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Vets don’t make enough money as it is. The advice-seekers need to make an appointment, period.

    4. Person from the Resume*

      No. This isn’t part of the business. This is friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends wanting free advice and bypassing the office. You don’t handle annoying requests for free service in your personal life by hiring someone to handle it for you.

    5. Clorinda*

      But these people are asking for FREE out-of-office recommendations or care, and OP needs to find a way to say no to all of it even though their heart is with the animals and they know some animals might suffer.
      OP: take all the good advice that people have posted about limiting and protecting your contact information, and let go with a clear conscience. You are not and cannot be the caretaker for every single animal in your social circle. Serenity now! (but seriously, serenity).

    6. Sleepless*

      That’s a giant no. The LW isn’t looking for a paid side gig, she wants to shut it down. That will make it take on a life of its own.

      1. Bob*

        Perhaps it should.
        If someone wants to do this for money the OP can become a referral service. Maybe even with a referral fee if the someone starts their own business and does their own billing.

        I’m feeling entrepreneurial today :D

  24. Charlotte*

    In addition to what everyone else is saying about a script, you might find it helpful to make a blanket rule for yourself about not responding to these requests in the moment. Especially with texts and emails, not being immediately available to people within hours/a day can take some of the heat out of these conversations (and also reflect your current reality!). I find, especially with smaller requests, that can also give people some time to start doing their own research or taking other resources, especially if getting in touch with you seemed like the easiest solution to their problem. It also might make it easier for you to set limits if you take time to let that pop of urgency fade.

    1. un-pleased*

      This is such a great point! Even if you are answering to redirect them, don’t do so as quickly as you would have previously, and every time they respond, wait longer to respond yourself.

      1. Esmeralda*

        No less than 48 hours, not on the weekend, not before 8 am, not after 5 pm.

        That’s actually my rule with my college students. They can email any time they like, but they know not to expect responses any faster than that. If it’s an emergency, they have other resources — and the stuff I deal with is not an emergency unless the student has not followed through.

    2. drpuma*

      Assuming the OP does still want to respond to *some* people, they could even designate time once or twice a week to batch respond to everyone. There are a ton of great scripts on this thread so far to set boundaries along with suggestions of alternative resources. Most people do learn by how you treat them. If the responses slow, so too (eventually) will the questions.

  25. Elementary Fan*

    Agree with all the above advice! Can you spend some time with friends who are supporting YOU? It sounds like a lot of your friends want favors/advice, which does not help if you just need to relax, laugh, and unwind.

  26. Millicent*

    There’s no response you can give that will make other people happy and still give you a break from your job/providing free care. So the best you can do is choose one or the other – is it more important to you to preserve your time and energy or to please other people? Only you can decide that for yourself.

    Personally I would be more willing to make people angry with me if it meant they respected my work by paying for it, and I was able to keep my free time to recharge. Everyone would be meet with some variation of No. “Sure, I’d be happy to meet with X about Fluffy! Tell them to call the clinic and make an appointment” for people I’m closer to. “Sorry, I can’t give out advice for patients not under my care” for acquaintances. And just keep repeating those phrases or make up a reason to leave.

  27. Master Bean Counter*

    Reply with it’ll be a $100 consultation charge, would you like to proceed?
    If you do work for free it’s on your terms not theirs.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      No, don’t do this. There is a system for this already in place: Calling the practice during business hours and making an appointment.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          The OP is an emergency clinician. But she should have that phone off when she’s not working.

          1. Sleepless*

            Emergency vets are still only available during their shift. And during their shift (I’ve worked plenty of ER) they sure as hell don’t have time to be playing on their phone.

    2. Sleepless*

      I know a few people who have jokingly sent back the person a Venmo request for $20 or whatever. But we don’t actually want anybody to pay us. We want them to stop doing it.

  28. Colette*

    First of all, it’s OK to say no, and it’s OK to tell people you can’t help.

    I’d suggest 2 things:
    – proactively tell your friends that you’re overwhelmed, and ask them not to send other people your way.
    – when you’re asked for more than you want to give, direct them to the appropriate place (i.e. “I’m sorry, I can’t help. You should talk with your vet.”) If they complain about the cost, say something like “Yes, it’s expensive to have a vet clinic, which is why I can’t help for free.”

  29. Thrillian*

    Marie’s answer is spot on, but I’m commenting separately to evangelize Google Voice.

    Sign up for a Google Voice number, tell everyone except your mother and core family who are NOT asking for veterinary advice that you have a new number, and direct them to the Google Voice number instead. You can set that one to Do Not Disturb, set up custom voicemail recordings, send and receive text messages and make and receive phone calls from that number without compromising your *real* number for your mother who I assume may be at the level of age and health where teaching her a new number would be more cumbersome than anything else. You can get these messages forwarded to your phone in a specific app, by email, or on the web and then literally forget about it until your sanity recovers some.

    If you need help setting this up, I would be more than happy to help you out – though we may need Alison to help facilitate an offline introduction if you want to take me up on that (if she’s okay with that!).

    Please, for your sanity and wellbeing, set yourself a boundary with these folks and remember that “No” or “Sorry, I can’t” is a complete sentence and no matter what they say or justification they try to send, you do NOT owe anyone else an explanation as to why they do not get to intrude on your peace, no matter how stressed out they are about their pets. And I say this as a crazy dog lady who has my vet tech’s personal cell number that I outright refuse to save or use unless she has explicitly asked me to because it is Not Okay to push your expectations and stresses onto people who you think *should* care about your issues. Should is the most toxic, subtextually abusive word in language.

    1. Pro-GV*

      Yes to GV! It’s a really reliable, easy-to-use service. OP, I’m not certain if you want all requests to stop forever, or if you don’t mind answering occasionally but you’re just really overwhelmed right now. If you like helping when you have the bandwidth, this is a great option to do that. Thrillian has a good idea about how to set it up; you could also just give out a GV number specifically for people contacting you about veterinary questions. You could set the message to specify when you check it and to please contact their clinic if it’s an emergency situation (i.e. “I’m very busy with work, I’m only available to check/respond to personal messages on Thursdays from 3-4pm, please call your pet’s clinic or XX Emergency Clinic for more immediate assistance.”). If it’s a text-based message, you could also include a few links to online resources that may help address basic behavioral or health-related questions. Set some clear boundaries and then if people get cranky about things, well tough biscuits because they know the deal.

      Obviously if you don’t want to deal with requests AT ALL outside of work, then this isn’t a solution! Seems like many other commenters have great advice in that regard.

      Thanks for all your hard work!

    2. Tabby*

      THIS. I had to start doing this with people when they find out I’m a vet assistant. Nope, definitely not, am not going to help with any of that. Because first of all, a vet assistant (we do a lot of grunt work, a lot of restraining, we MIIIGHT scan a slide for the vet, but we don’t even do exams. Think CNA vs RN vs Doctor) is not a vet tech, let alone a veterinarian. Only thing I can advise you on is how to get your cat’s nails trimmed without getting bloodied. And even then it’s going to cost you my usual petsitting fee of $15 at a MINIMUM, unless I happen to be bored. And there are maybe 3 people I’m usually bored enough to offer help to for free, because they basically never ask.

  30. els*

    LW, this sounds so, so stressful and I’m so sorry you’re going through it.

    I think with friends especially, you can be honest; you can tell them that you’re working 14 hours a day and have been under a staggering amount of pressure since the start of the pandemic, and that if they want a second opinion, they should make an appointment with a second vet. Their feelings may be hurt, and that’s okay; if they’re unable to take the time to hear what you’re saying and empathize with you, they’re not terrific friends. My cats are my universe, but I like to think that if I reached out to any of my veterinarian friends and they responded with “This is actually my job and I’m off now, call my office and make an appointment” I would think “Oh, of course.” That’s not to say that everyone will respond this way, but good gravy; complaints about cost? Veterinary care is expensive. Pet owners know that veterinary care is expensive. (Or, they should.)

    And with people your friends have pointed to you? You can absoLUTEly ignore them, or tell them firmly to make an appointment. You can tell your friends to stop sending these folks to you, it’s okay. They’ll get mad. That’s okay. It’s not always pleasant to set boundaries, and it’s REALLY not pleasant to set boundaries with unreasonable people; unreasonable people often know this, and that’s how they get their way.

    Maybe they’ll think it’s not fair, or that you’re being selfish. It is not selfish to prioritize your own mental health after OVER A YEAR of a pandemic! it’s not fair of them to ask you to do so!

  31. ursula*

    Would it help to put a pause on all of this for a specific, predetermined amount of time, to give yourself some space to recover and think through how you need to set boundaries in general for the next little while? I wonder about deciding something like, for the next month I will not do any animal-question-wrangling outside of work. When someone asks, I will say that I am taking a break from fielding outside of work issues until X date. I can say it is due to burnout (which is true!) or other care obligations (which is true!) or give no reason at all (which is fair! they should be able to figure it out! everything has been awful for a year and a half!) depending on my feelings and my relationship with the person. If there are people you are regularly communicating with right now about their pets, you can send them a message saying something like, “I hope this has been helpful, but I need to take a break from giving animal advice. I’m putting a pause on these conversations until X date – in the meantime, here’s a website with trustworthy info and [whatever other resources]. Thank you for understanding!

    A month later, I bet you will be in a slightly better headspace, there may be slightly less desperation in your work hours, and you will probably have a clearer idea of how you want to manage this element of your social relationships going forward. Anyway, just a thought – I’m sure part of your reluctance is that you also care about all these people’s animals, but it might help to resist the idea that you are their only option! You aren’t. There’s lots of good info online, and it sounds like many of them have capable vets they are already using. Enforcing this boundary is removing their easiest and cheapest and most convenient option, but it’s not removing their only one (at least in 99% of cases!).

    As an aside, I can’t tell you the love and appreciation and admiration I feel for you and the vets and animal care people in my community. I’m so sorry this has been so hard on you. For what it’s worth, if I was a friend asking you for favours, I would want to know that it has become this much of a stressor in your life! And I’d want to stop and find another way to proceed. Wishing you the best.

  32. Rachel*

    I might recommend setting up your text auto-responder. Something like “Thank you for your text. If you are seeking veterinary advice, please call [vet office number] or check out Regarding other matters, I will follow up with you as soon as my schedule allows.” Then people know that their text was received and you don’t have to reply if you don’t want to, or don’t have time.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      Also, I second the idea above to get a phone just for personal calls, such as those from your mother, and turn off your work phone/let it go to a redirecting voicemail.

    2. Blue Eagle*

      This is a great idea with respect to texts that you receive so people aren’t sitting around expecting you to get back with them immediately. And then get mad at you because you didn’t get back to them immediately.

  33. TNT*

    I would be devastated to know that I was adding stress to a friend in your situation. Please speak up about your boundary and hold it – the people who are important to you will respect it.

    1. Amelia Shepherd*

      hard same! but at the same time, unless explicitly said, I wouldn’t know that this is going on or what the boundaries are (and I love boundaries), so I think the OP needs to talk to their friends too.

  34. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Oh! A Google number is such a good investment. Give it to your mom and her doctors and it will still ring your phone or be sent to other devices. Then, if possible, set up a standard reply (automatic if possible) to texts to your main line (also include in your voicemail and email) saying that you are unfortunately unavailable outside of business hours. Add in a link for people to find more info online and a number for other emergency vet services and rest well knowing that you’ve done all that anyone should do!

  35. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    You have office hours and you need to stick with them. If someone needs advice from you, virtual or otherwise, have your assistant schedule an appointment with you. If you’re contacted directly, refer them to your assistant for scheduling. When your office hours are done, work is done. Snooze emails and your work line. If you’re being contacted on your personal phone, set up preferred contacts now and snooze everyone else.

    It’s easy, if not tempting, to shift bandwidth from family and self-care, but it’s important that this isn’t done for long. You’ve done it for long and now it’s time to shift back.

  36. Exhausted*

    I want to acknowledge that setting boundaries is hard. Really hard. So don’t feel bad for struggling with it–I’ve never worked with animals, but even after several years of working as a social worker, I continue to struggle with saying no. Even as workload has tripled during the pandemic it’s still hard to maintain boundaries and say no to more work when people are in crisis, so I understand what you’re going through.

    To save yourself mental load, I’d give the same answer to everyone asks for help, even if it’s not strictly true, “Sorry, that’s not something I can help with over the phone–I would need to see Fluffy in person. I’d recommend you go to your regular vet/follow the advice your vet already gave you. If you want a second opinion, here’s how you schedule an appointment at our clinic, but I’ll be upfront that we have very few openings right now.” Rinse and repeat. It will feel bad the first few times you say it, but it will get easier the more you do it and will hopefully train people over time to stop asking. If people get mad at you, remember they are the ones being rude by asking you to do free work for them without anything in return.

    1. Botanist*

      Yes, thank you for acknowledging how hard it can be to hold boundaries, especially when we’ve been conditioned to want to help people, and when we know they might get upset. Something else that can help that might feel silly, but could really really help, will be to role play a few times with family members or good friends. Have them call or text or talk to you and pretend they are people who want free pet advice. Then you can start laying down those neural pathways of whatever version of “I’m sorry, I’m not giving out advice” that feel right to you, and you are less likely to freeze up when the real situation comes up. Such good luck!

  37. Temperance*

    I’m a lawyer. So, I keenly feel your pain.

    People want free help. Always. I always offer referrals to colleagues who do practice that type of law. (I’ve never had a question that wasn’t high stress, high drama, and super confusing areas of law, like property rights).

    In your shoes, play stupid and give out your card. Oh I’d love to talk about your puppy, call my office and set a consultation. Because you obviously weren’t just asked to work for free.

    1. Flamingo*

      As a graphic designer I second this. People often want to me make something “real quick” for their business or event. I say “That’s great! Let’s set a discovery / consultation session and see if we are a good match. I charge a minimum of X for the consultation.” Most people get the hint I do not work for free and step away.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      All of this.

      And a second opinion is an exam. Full stop. If you don’t examine it’s just a guess and it doesn’t do anyone any good, anyway.

    3. JustaTech*

      Exactly this. Even when I’m reaching out to my aunts for their professional knowledge (which they are more than happy to share in an avalanche of advice) I have a strict rule: if my question is going to take more than one email or 10 minutes on the phone, please send me to a colleague.

      Also, family is different than friends is different from friends-of-friends.

    4. Pennyworth*

      The problem for vets is that animal health/life is involved, which makes it harder to resist. The suggestions to DND block calls and auto-reply to texts are great ideas for preventing the free advice requests from getting through in the first place.

  38. Bananas*

    Huge hugs to you. I’ve been seeing mention of similar issues elsewhere online, from my own vets, and friends in vet med. I am very sorry that you and your colleauges are experiencing this and thank you for what you do, as a pet owner with several under regular care.

    I was really shocked when I first read about the issue and researched deeper. I had NO IDEA, but it made unfortunate sense. Reading that and absorbing it really made me evaluate my expectations and see things in a different light. I feel that we have always been good clients, but it made us be even more cognizant of giving ample time for refill requests, making sure pharmacy preferences were updated, combining visits, etc.

    SPEAK UP! This can be an opportunity to educate about the industry and the situation and ask for compassion. If one of my friends or anyone really told me that they were burned out and struggling, I would do my best to help them in general and modify any behaviors that could be causing them stress. Share a few articles with a write up asking for understanding and compassion, then if someone texts or asks you in a social situation have a script that shuts it down. You all deserve much more understanding, respect and compassion.

  39. Kelly*

    Totally agree with other comments on having some sort of short script you can use each time, maybe with a helpful link to an article online for some of the more general pet care questions. I realize this still takes time to answer, but personally I find it to be easier to transition to something like that rather than stopping responses all together. There’s also a great Facebook group you can refer people to called “Pet Vet Corner” where people can post questions like the ones you mentioned and approved vets will answer. This will allow you to send people somewhere when they’re concerned about cost – you can also point out that groups like this have multiple vets commenting, so they’re more likely to hear from someone who’s experienced with their specific problem.

  40. Practicing VSW*

    I have a really unusual job where I deal with this exact thing, actually – I’m a veterinary social worker. I work with emergency practice clients (the part where they’re coming to you because they don’t feel like their vet gave enough compassion – we take some of that burden off of our vet staff, and in return it makes it easier on them to have greater compassion in the moment) and with the actual staff to fight burnout and compassion fatigue, and to help set boundaries. On the boundary front, it is absolutely acceptable to tell anyone asking that you’d need to see an animal formally in practice to be able to diagnose or consult on any issue, full stop. Most people understand that, and if they don’t, they’re not someone you need to feel the burden of making them understand.

    For you personally, it might be really good to get in touch with an independently practicing VSW for counseling services – I’m happy to send info along via Alison if it would help.

  41. Name Required*

    I’m usually not a fan of being passive aggressive, but … “Oh hey Friend! That sounds like something I’d need to do an exam for before providing advice. Can you call the clinic and get an appointment set up so we can talk more about this?”
    And if they don’t have time to come in, “Ah, too bad then. I hope Fluffy feels better.” Or if they can’t get in and want you to come see them during your off time, “As you know, my mom has been sick … and with the 14 hours at the clinic, I can’t really fit anything else in right now. I hope you can find an appointment that works with you at the clinic but that’s the only way I can evaluate additional patients right now.”

    And if they say, “I don’t want him to be your patient, I’m just wondering what you think about this!” Then … “I’m not sure, I don’t have enough informaton. That’s something I’d expect any vet to evaluate through an exam. If it doesn’t make sense for Fluffy to come to us as a patient, then I recommend setting up an appointment with another vet for a second patient.”

    Would they do their job for free, endlessly? Nah dawg.

    1. Name Required*

      second opinion* Good gravy.

      But also, drop these people who don’t value your time and expertise. You got enough going on.

    2. Paulina*

      Yes, and it’s not even OP doing their job, it’s trying to get the same result as their job with a lot less to go on. I’m aghast at the people wanting OP to diagnose their pets from pictures, where OP is having to put in so much more research and work than would likely be the case had a proper exam and relevant tests been done instead. These pet owners are massively shifting their cost from themselves to OP, and both enlarging that cost and endangering their pet so that they can get a free remote consult.

    3. Practicing VSW*

      That’s not even passive aggressive, it’s just true. Medical exams should take place in a medical setting, and it’s typically verging on an ethical issue to do much outside of that.

    4. Pennyworth*

      All of these ideas involve OP in taking time to engage with the free loaders. She needs a break! I’m voting for putting her phone on DND (with family exceptions) and setting up a text auto-reply so she can get much needed time off when she is not at work.

  42. Person from the Resume*

    I think the answer is you have to decline to answer and/or respond. And that might seem not nice and not empathetic but you’ve got to take care of yourself and your mental health. Honestly some of these people are jerks for trying to get free professional advice from you especially as a second opinion when they have already paid someone else for the same thing.

    A good wording was provided above:
    – For your off time: “I am overwhelmed and exhausted. I’m using this weekend time to decompress. If you need my professional advice make an appointment. Here’s the clinic number.”
    – For contacts during work hours: “I am overwhelmed and seeing back to back to back patients today. If you need my professional advice make an appointment. Here’s the clinic number.”

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Rereading the this vet is an “emergency clinician” the verbiage changes …

      “I am overwhelmed and exhausted
      [. I’m using this weekend time to decompress.]
      [and seeing back to back to back patients today.]
      I can only offer professional advice at my emergency clinic. If it’s an emergency you should contact the clinic at this number.”

  43. ENFP in Texas*

    My best friend is a vet, and I try very hard not to ask her for advice, for exactly this reason. Vets are medical professionals with licensing restrictions, just like doctors, and I would encourage the OP to use that to help set boundaries. It will not eliminate the problem, but it will help.

    You must take care of YOU before you try to take care of others.

    “Im sorry, but I really can’t diagnose your pet without seeing him/her, so if you’d like to make an appointment I’d be happy to meet with you then.”

    “I’m sorry, but legally I am not allowed to diagnose an animal that I have not personally examined.”

    “I’m sorry, but legally I cannot dispense any veterinary advice to someone in another state in which I am not licensed.” (I’ve had vet friends who were on a national email list get threatened with losing their license over this).

  44. Black Horse Dancing*

    My heart goes out to you. Too few people realize the amount of work you veterinary doctors labor under and the stress and the high, HIGH suicide rates. Veterinarians and their staffs have been shining stars and been my comfort for years. I get far better service from my veterinarians than my physicians.
    So, hats off. Please tell people. “I am sorry, I really can’t give advice at this time without an exam. Please make an appointment.” (Or) ” My clinic is overwelhmed right now. Please try X clinic or Y clinic. They are great.”

  45. Not A Manager*

    Most of the advice above seems to be some variation of asking people to stop/explaining why you can’t do free consults. I personally doubt that doing so will have much effect, especially when people are stressed about a sick pet. It’s more likely to cause pushback and additional pressure on you.

    I suggest sticking to this script, always, no matter what the circumstance: “I’m sorry, even a condition that seems very straightforward could involve complications or additional issues. It wouldn’t be fair to you or safe for Fluffy for me to counsel you about her care. I can certainly recommend a qualified practice if you want to contact them.”

    Since this will be a significant change from your previous habits, if people push back you could add, “No, I’ve recently heard too many horror stories of misdiagnoses or conditions that slipped through the cracks due to situations exactly like this one. I simply can’t in good conscience consult on animals that are not in my practice.”

    Will people “see through” this? Maybe? Sure? But someone who thinks that you’re a big fat liar because you secretly want time to yourself isn’t going to be receptive to your simply *explaining* that to them. This script avoids a direct confrontation about how you’re so terrible because you’d rather sleep and eat than provide a free, on-call help line.

    1. Mary Connell*

      “ I can certainly recommend a qualified practice if you want to contact them.”

      Nope. Still offering to do free labor. The people asking can google the nearest vet.

  46. DogMama*

    Have you thought about recommending a virtual service? There are many that are cost effective and offer answers to the types of questions you’re getting asked.

    For example, I’ve personally used AirVet at 2:00am on a Saturday morning when my dog was throwing up for an extended period of time. It cost me $30 and the licensed vet was able to tell me that I was doing everything right and that no, I didn’t need to take my dog to an emergency vet but could wait until Monday to make an appointment. I could call back (for free for the next 72 hours) if there were any changes. As a side note – I have a close friend who is a vet and lives 5 minutes from my place and I didn’t call and ask for free advice.

    It’s so important to treat friends in specialized fields the same way you treat others in that profession and pay for the services they’re providing without expecting or asking for a discount. What you provide to your community is such an important service, animals are family members. Thank you for everything you’ve done and for the sacrifices you’ve made over the past year. It’s very much appreciated and recognized by the majority of pet owners, sometimes we just suck at saying thank you!

    1. Vet Spouse*

      The legality of this varies state to state – in our state vets can only provide telehealth services to a patient they’ve already established an in person client relationship with.

    2. lost academic*

      The problem isn’t not getting paid for the work. The problem is much more constantly being asked to do it, 24/7. I do not want to do my own job like that nonstop, and I don’t have the kind of job where friends usually want my professional opinion, and my regular clients are rarely aggressive or abusive. People get to not be at work.

      1. DogMama*

        Hi Lost Academic-
        The virtual service suggestion was intended as a script for OP. “I don’t have the capacity to help you outside of the office at this time, please schedule a visit at my clinic and I’ll be happy to help you.” “That’s to expensive.” “I completely understand! I can’t adjust my fees but you could try (virtual service). They’ll connect you to a vet that will answer the questions you have for a much lower cost than a visit to the clinic”

        It helps OP set strong boundaries – only working at work. It also offers a solution to OP’s friends/family that addresses their concern about cost. This type of response validates everyone’s concerns and helps maintain boundaries.

        Didn’t think about the legal parameters mentioned by Vet Spouse, so it might not work the way I intended.

    3. RWM*

      I was thinking something like this too, DogMama. I get 24/7 access to a vet texting service through my Banfield (Petsmart vet clinic) plan, and it’s been incredibly helpful during the pandemic. I’m not sure what exists outside of Banfield, but just offering one option as an alternative in your copy-paste response could be a good move, OP. (It also subtly reminds them that texting with a vet on demand is actually a real service that exists.) If they then respond and say they don’t want to pay for it/it’s too expensive, you don’t have to respond at all, or you could say something like “I hear you! Just wanted to offer that as an option since I won’t be able to help” and then just don’t respond to anything else after that.

    4. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

      I was just going to suggest this – pointing people towards AirVet (if their state allows). I used it when my cat was being weird, and the vet on call gave me reassurance that it was okay to wait until normal vet hours and not something I needed to pay crazy fees at the animal hospital for. I still have it in my phone in case I need something urgently!

      1. Bethany D*

        Thirding Airvet! Our kitten was showing concerning behavior on a weekend but our regular vet office doesn’t answer the phone outside of office hours, and both emergency vets were backlogged for hours. I learned about Airvet and 20 minutes & $30 later, I had the reassurance that she would probably be fine with just XYZ home treatment, that if her condition didn’t improve it would be safe to wait until she could see the normal vet, but if ABC symptoms showed up then that would be serious enough to be worth the emergency vet. Well worth it for the knowledge and the lessened anxieties! (And I made sure to let the AV vet know that kitty recovered fine with the recommended home treatment.)

  47. Qwerty*

    I like the idea of tacking on a couple resources at the end of the script if you’re willing to do that. There are a couple great subreddits that could give personalized answers people are looking for: r/askvet, r/dogtraining, and r/reactivedogs
    If you type your script up once in the notes app on your phone, then you can just paste it anytime someone reaches out.

  48. J*

    I agree with people above that said it is Ok and healthy for you to say “normally I’d love to help but I am just too burnt out right now.” Especially when people are trying to introduce you to their friends for free advice. I think once you start shutting down the requests and holding a firm boundary, you will find that you will eventually get much fewer of them. People keep asking you because you always respond.

    If you want to offer something, though, maybe think about the most common questions you get (general new ownership advice, for example) and come up with standard resources to share. So when pushed to respond to a friend of a friend who wants advice, you can just say “Actually Petfinder has great resources for new pet owners, I always point people there.”

    If asked to call in a favor for someone, it’s ok to say “Honestly, every vet I know is hanging on by a thread right now. There is really nothing I can do to get Fluffy an appointment for her MRI any sooner than the one you’ve scheduled.”

    My H is an HVAC tech, and he gets similar requests constantly from friends and friends-of-friends to do emergency service calls at inconvenient times, do side jobs that he doesn’t want, and offer advice and input on quotes people get from other companies. The entitlement of people never ceases to amaze me. (We have had people get mad at him for not doing an emergency service call in the middle of the night for a non-urgent issue. Someone else who informed him that he “had” to do the installation at their house even though it was wildly inconvenient, AND that they expected to be able to pay him in monthly installments over the course of more than a year. Another close friend invited us to their vacation home exactly once on the past decade– when they wanted H to evaluate their heater.)

  49. cubone*

    Lots of great comments and suggestions. I would just add that I really DON’T think your script should include “I wish I could” or “because of the pandemic”. You don’t need to offer those justifications!

    I recently went on a two month mental health leave from work and for some bizarre reason I had an unusual number of people in my network decide that was the time to apply to my company, so I was getting a ton of texts and emails asking if I could chat with them about work.

    Even though I really wanted to, I knew I needed the full disconnect from work, so I would say something like: “I’m actually on a leave from work and am forcing myself to disconnect from anything work related. I’m sorry I can’t help right now, but I really appreciate you understanding! You could connect with [x person] or check out [y blog post] on working here.”

    I think your script should follow something similar:
    1) firm no: “I’m not able to field any questions about pets outside of work right now”
    2) pretend they’ve respected the boundary already: “I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but I really appreciate you understanding!”
    3) give another resource – the person above who mentioned a Vets Facebook group would probably be the best because you could say: “if you’re not able to talk to a clinic right now, there’s a Facebook group of vets who love to answer these questions!”

    1. cubone*

      I meant to add at the end: RINSE AND REPEAT. Look up some stuff on boundary setting, particularly avoiding the JADE trap (justify, argue, defend, explain) and literally keep saying the exact same script if you have to. Copy and paste it. Or decide if you have to say it more than twice, you won’t answer any further.

      I know it’s hard because you’re super burned out, but try to approach this as neutrally as possible – just because someone puts a bag of expectations or emotions on you doesn’t mean you have to hold it. And like many have noted, any one who is bothered by your boundaries is proof they’re needed.

  50. MaryAnne Spier*

    As someone who lost a pet in the past year… oof. I’m so sorry. It was so hard and I’m sure it’s so hard to have to deal with so many sick and helpless animals. You are angels. We so appreciate you.

    You’re right that you can’t save everyone and everything. You also really need to keep in mind the oxygen mask theory they use on airplanes; if you can’t breathe, you’re not use to anyone else. If you’re too stressed and tired to think, you can’t help any of these pets and their owners. I think it’s totally understandable to ask friends to not contact you about animals after a certain time of night unless it’s an emergency. And I’m not an animal expert but if you’re getting the same type of questions over and over maybe have some links handy to spit back, like, “If your cat isn’t using the litterbox consistently try this article,” etc.

    I was a special ed teacher for the first half of last year and we were able to set some boundaries but it did blur the lines between work and home. I had office hours for my phone and I didn’t look at work email past a certain time of day. I made sure every day I went outside for a long walk so my eyes would have a break from the computer. I listened to lighthearted audiobooks and podcasts that had nothing to do with my job or the pandemic, just to take me to a completely other place for a bit.

    Something for the pet owners who might be struggling… if you have a Chewy aut0-delivery subscription you can IM with a vet during the weekdays. This really helped me when I was looking for solutions for my cats, both the one who ended up dying and the brother he left behind. They don’t prescribe meds but you can email them photos and videos and they can help provide solutions that you can try before going to the vet. It’s free with your subscription. I know it saved me a few calls to our overworked vet office just to get quick answers.

    1. Cathy Gale*

      Thank you as a Chewy autoshipper who didn’t know about the vet service. It’s terrific!

  51. whattheh*

    I’m sorry for all of the stress you’re under! My mother- and sister-in-law are both vets in small animal practice and my sister-in-law in particular has talked about the abuse she’s had to put up from clients who don’t trust her expertise or show a complete disregard for her safety in following masking and social distancing protocols (her clinic is allowing clients into the building).
    I’ll also admit to being one of those people who asks them about something we’re not sure of with our dogs. We try to keep it short and essentially “is this something we need to panic about?” (and assume that if they’re busy, they might not get to it – it’s our responsibility as the owners to deal with the issues at the end of the day) – if they tell us we need to see a vet, we take the dog to the vet. But it sounds like not everyone in your life is willing to take that as an answer.
    If it’s specifically the answering questions/back-and-forth that’s affecting you, could you have a couple of resources handy to fire off to people who have general/open-ended questions? Especially for new pet owners, there’s a ton of information available and many things don’t really need to be dealt with by a vet (like house training a puppy). Part of the reason these people might be seeking you out is that they trust you over the general internet (so much conflicting advice!) and so even just pointing them somewhere that you trust might be appreciated.
    For more specific/issue-related questions, you could rely on blanket statements about contacting their vet/not being able to diagnose without seeing the animal (one trick I like to use is calling the clinic to describe the issue and have the reception and/or techs tell us if it’s something that needs to be seen and how quickly). I think it’s also completely reasonable to let people know that you can’t handle the volume of inquiries that you’re getting. If the people contacting you outside of your practice care about you, they should understand and be willing to take their questions elsewhere. If they’re not, then maybe they’re not the people who deserve to be getting free advice from you.
    Finally, you’d be completely within your rights and reasonable to refuse any and all requests of this sort – you’re a professional who is supposed to be paid for this stuff. Practising a script might help with that.
    Thank you for everything you do and I sincerely hope you can find some relief soon.

  52. Generic Name*

    Wow, this sounds so tough. As an animal lover, thank you for fighting the good fight. You’ve gotten some great scripts above. If someone reacts angrily to you setting a (reasonable!) boundary, you might consider re-evaluating their presence in your life. Are they an acquaintance who gets huffy you won’t work for them for free? They aren’t the kind of person you want as a friend. A friend who acts the same maybe isn’t such a great friend. Setting boundaries is hard, especially when people relied on you not to have them. There will be folks who bristle when you start to stand up for yourself. Your goal in setting boundaries is not to make everyone feel good, it’s to protect yourself. If someone gets mad at you for saying “no”, that’s on them.

  53. atgo*

    One of my close friends is an ECC vet and the pandemic has been BRUTAL for her, in an already difficult line of work. I feel so much for you, LW, and wish there was more that any of us could do to alleviate the challenges of the job right now. I am in your corner, and my dog and I are cheering for you.

    Beyond the pep talk, I would say that using some of the scripts that people have given here is a great move. You can’t control how people react, and I believe you that they’re sometimes angry, hurt, scared, and may react badly. That’s not on you, and it’s not your responsibility to make them feel better. Hopefully in a cooler moment they can come around and recognize the strain you’re under, but for now you have to prioritize your own wellbeing and mental health and just say no.

  54. Dust Bunny*

    I was a kennel cleaner and then a veterinary assistant for about four years after I got out of college. I loved the work but the clients (and the pay) drove me out.

    People do this to other professions, as well, and professional standards give you an out here–you cannot diagnose without seeing the pet, so if they want a second opinion they need to make an appointment for a proper exam.

    Also: Fire abusive clients. I know you’re doing this because you’re worried about their pets, but the odds are they’ll go somewhere else, and it sounds like you’re not short of work. I worked at two different practices. The first one was run by a guy who was difficult on a good day but held onto a really great, competent staff, and one of his redeeming qualities was that he did not allow clients to abuse us. He held us to an appropriate professional standard, but if he knew the client was being an a** he’d tell them to leave, and if they were bad enough or were repeat offenders he would fire them by certified letter. I was there three years but had to leave because the long hours clashed with family needs.

    The second place was “nicer” but let awful clients walk all over us and it was incredibly demoralizing and stressful. I stayed there less than a year and applied to literally every job in the neighborhood trying to get out.

    You’re not a hypocrite; you’re human. This line of work is crushingly stressful even when times are good–I’m sure you know about the associated suicide statistics.

  55. Sleepless*

    YES!!! Allison, I am so thankful to see you publish this letter. I am a veterinarian too, and this kind of thing has come close to ruining my life on a few occasions. I’ve left gym classes, churches, and a couple of social groups because of it. I need friends like everybody else, so that was hard to do.

    At my age I’ve managed to set some fairly firm boundaries so that these days most people don’t do it, but at the expense of quite a few people thinking I’m a bitch. I tend to ignore texts/FB messages from people I don’t know well, or give a very brief “ooh, sounds like she needs to go to the vet.” I…and this is important, LW…rarely give *any* real help to anyone unless I’m seeing them as a client, in my clinic, so people won’t get any results from bugging me. I also don’t ever, ever comment on anything pet-related I see on Facebook. Ever. Even if that old grade-school instinct of “I know! I know the answer!” is so powerful I have to sit on my hands. (Yes, that also includes the weekend threads on AAM.)

    I posted a lengthy, icily polite post of Facebook a couple of years ago that shut down 95% of it, and I may cut and paste it here later.

    I’ll add my 0.02 to the LW’s plight. This is a real thing. I chewed out a family member the other day when he called me at the end of a long, difficult week with a “vet question,” when he never seems to call me at any other time. I had a friend message me “hey, how much would it cost to get my dog’s tooth extracted? Please keep it cheap!” Not having ever seen the dog or knowing anything about the tooth (or teeth!) in question, I kindly answered, “Why don’t you bring him in for an exam and I can give you an idea of what he’ll need?” and she never spoke to me again. I had one person who I strongly suspect of going through a charade of making friends with me solely so she could have a vet friend. When I declined to come to her house and do some free “vet work” for her (which apparently also involved stealing drugs and supplies from my employer) she dropped me. The most hurtful was probably a person I would have considered one of my closest friends 20 years ago, but she froze me out for unknown reasons. She did keep messaging me with “vet questions,” the last one being a few days before Christmas one year, and at the end of my answer I said, “I hope you guys have a merry Christmas! I’d love to hear from you sometime when there’s not an animal crisis :-/” and I never heard from her again either.

    I hate telling people I’m a vet. The real issue isn’t even that I will be beseiged with “vet questions,” but that it often torpedoes any chance I have of forming a real relationship with them. They don’t bother to learn anything else about me. I’m “The Vet!” Well, you know, I’m also the [a list of my interests redacted in case anybody I know is reading this], and a pretty damn fun person to hang out with, but now I am stuck with a label. I happen to adore my job, and if I’m getting to know you, I don’t want to hide this important part of my life from you. I’d love to talk about the cool thing I did that day, or what it’s been like for us during the pandemic, or what it’s been like to change to very different jobs twice in the past five years. But my choice is generally either to keep it a deep secret, or spill it and have it take over.

    1. cubone*

      Just wanted to say thank you for adding to this insight of what vets experience. I had absolutely no idea this was so common and it’s so unfortunate. I’m not a pet owner but if I end up one, this (and the LW) has really given me way more awareness.

    2. MaryAnne Spier*

      I’m so sorry. We lost our cat in November to what turned out to be an inoperable tumor and while we were trying to get a diagnosis we went back and forth to the vet several times. I’m now replaying every interaction in my head to see if I was in any way adding to any of the stress I’m sure the doctor was having. I don’t think so, but… maybe I should just write one more email thanking them for their support.

      You are so appreciated.

      1. Sleepless*

        Aren’t you sweet? Seriously, if you are wondering about this, I can almost promise you that you did just fine.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I have gone on FB rants many times at people complaining about the cost of vet care. It’s medical care on a small business model! It’s [bleeping] expensive. Everyone wants intelligent, conscientious, people doting on their animals, a clean environment, and the proper supplies on hand but nobody wants to pay what it costs for a vet to supply all that.

      “You should do it for the love of animals” literally spikes my blood pressure–vets don’t get to walk into the grocery store or call their landlords and tell them they love animals and get 50% off on groceries or rent!

      1. Esmeralda*

        When we got our current rescue cats some years ago, the shelter asked us to estimate how much $$ it would cost to have them per year before they’d consider letting us have them.

        When I said, “Hmm, two cats, [food] [kitty litter] [cleaning supplies] [paying a teen to pet sit while we’re on vacation] — call that $500 for both, then there’s twice yearly checkups, shots, some sort of unexpected medical thing at least once a year, possible trip to emergency vet…call that $1200 per cat…” — the shelter owner said, I get maybe one person a month who understands how expensive it is.

        Our vets are fantastic. Worth every penny. And more.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Our last dog . . . if dogs also had nine lives, she burned through seven of them in the time we had her. And lived to be seventeen in spite of it. Our vet brought her back from the literal brink of death several times.

      2. Pennyworth*

        I consider vets to be more skilled that doctors, because doctors only know about one species.

    4. Dream Jobbed*

      Well, you could answer the things here that you wanted to (emphasis on want) under a different name. :)

      1. Sleepless*

        I could, but I don’t want to. I fell into that trap many years ago, and I just don’t participate in online discussions anymore except for DVM-only FB groups.

    5. Dog Coordinator*

      I work for a dog training company, and I’m just a manager/admin, but folks expect that I will have training advice to give. Sometimes I do, for my close friends, but mostly not. I don’t want to talk dogs all the time, and honestly I don’t know a ton! My trainers get it way worse than I do, but the fake friendships that pop up where folks expect something out of you just for being in the industry is maddening. Thank you for sharing what has worked for you, and further shedding light on an industry that everyone thinks is lovely and perfect but is really hard under the surface. The burn out is all too real, and only getting worse right now. I hope OP can adopt some of what you’ve done.

    6. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Ugh, this is terrible.

      On the flipside of this: Our (former* – *SOB*) vet was amazing and had a special bond with our (now deceased) Doberman mix, and my husband and I really wanted to be friends with him outside of his being our vet. Just from getting to know him professionally over the years he clearly had a lot of similar hobbies to us, and we talked about how fun it would be to be friends with him socially … but kind of felt awkward about ever having that conversation!

      So basically what I mean is I think it sucks that people are like this. :(

      *He recently moved from the practice half a mile from our house to one about half a mile (I am guessing!) from his house … which is about a 45 min drive. If our Doberman was still alive I’d consider making the trek to his practice for him, but I can’t justify it for our two girls, as great of a vet he is!

      1. Sleepless*

        Why not reach out? He might be really pleased. Promise him up front you’ll keep that boundary, and it might work out fine.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          If I can find a way to not-creepily get his contact info, I may do that post-pandemic (ha, whatever that looks like!!!)

          1. F as in Frank*

            I agree with Sleepless and highly recommend reaching out in a low key manner. I was in a similar spot with my daycare provider where I really like them and didn’t want to lose that connection. Once we no longer were clients I reached out (with easy outs for them) and am so glad I did.

    7. Alpaca Clinician*

      Another veterinarian here – I don’t even introduce myself as a vet to people when I first meet them, I just say “I work at the vet college” to try and avoid the inevitable “Oh you’re a vet!? Can you look at this picture of Fluffy/listen to this long-winded story/physically examine my Chihuahua-sized shark and tell me exactly what’s wrong, but for free?” (Short answer: no. Long answer: I practice exclusively on large animals now, you really don’t want me giving advice on your “purebred F1b sheepadoodle-bernerdoodle”)

      LW, I agree with Sleepless’s points in paragraph 2. Vague non-answers and recommendations to make an appointment are the way to go. I cite legal restraints in my jurisdiction, and the fact that my personal liability insurance doesn’t cover any advice I give outside of my actual job.

      I don’t know if this is an issue for the original LW, but I detest the (relatively) recent trend of communicating with clients via text message. I refuse to give my work (or personal!) cell number out to clients unless I’m 100% sure they will not end up abusing that privilege in the future. If they need to send me a picture, I give them my work email address. If I call them from my cell phone, I make 200% sure I’ve blocked my number. I never friend any clients on social media, unless they were existing friends already, and then I refrain from commenting on any posts associated with their animals. This may not be the most helpful info at this point for the LW, but maybe something to implement with people in the future if you suspect they’re only being nice to you for free vet advice.

      1. Jackalope*

        I’m really having fun imagining someone trying to bring in their chihuahua-sized shark (bonus points if it’s one of the species that can’t stop swimming or it won’t breathe and will die!) for you to look at during a party or something.

        Also, such a good idea not to give out your personal number. Clients don’t *need* that, and you never know who will misuse it. Even accidentally; I still feel awful for calling a person I do business with regularly super late on a Sunday night and waking up their spouse. I’d seen them answer the phone on a landline at their office when I was in having my business taken care of, and they only ever called me during work hours, so I had no idea they’d forwarded their work # to their personal cell off hours for emergencies. Never did it again, but wouldn’t have done it even the first time if I’d known it wasn’t going to a landline answering machine. (This was at the point when both landlines and cell phones were common, and because of the nature of the business the person in question usually didn’t answer their phone because they’d be away from their desk, so I was used to dealing w/ their VM instead.)

        1. Alpaca Clinician*

          I realize now I meant to type “land shark” (vet parlance for any tiny, poorly-trained, bite-y dog breed) but I wouldn’t put it past some people to actually bring in more exotic animals and expect free advice. Thankfully once people learn I work mostly with horses (sometimes with other large animals) most of the weird requests stop – but I have had the (mis)fortune of working on a camel, a zebra, and a wallaby despite really wanting nothing to do with those species (zebras are mean SOBs, y’all).

          I can tell you that, at least on my side of the phone, we don’t remember any of the accidental phone calls or texts from reasonable, considerate people – and would probably be fine with people like you having our contact info. Unfortunately, though, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the party for everyone, and I don’t have the time or mental bandwidth to figure out which clients should have easier access to me than others. I’m sure this is an ongoing concern for many professionals in fields where friends and family see an opportunity to get free advice because “it’s just one quick question.”

    8. Pikachu*

      My best friend from college became a dentist. I am not, nor will I ever be her patient. She is fantastic at what she does but I can’t imagine how we could possibly hang out and enjoy each other’s company if we had to talk about my teeth. From her side, I can see how that would make her question everything, even though we became friends before she chose this career path. I want her to understand that I did not put up with her as a roommate during organic chemistry and help her study for the DAT for free cleanings. That’s just ride or die friendship, baby. :)

    9. Petfree By Choice*

      Awww, Sleepless, want to be *my* friend? I have no companion animals and never will, but would love to hear your vet stories!

    10. ENFP in Texas*

      I mentioned earlier that my best friend is a vet. She doesn’t mention it on Facebook for these same reasons. It’s disheartening, because I know she became a vet because of her love of animals and wanting to help them (she sure didn’t do it for the paycheck… but that’s another rant altogether). But the entitlement mentality of others can be so crushing that it makes that caring spirit a burden instead of a benefit.

    11. Betteauroan*

      I am so sorry you had those experiences. You sound like a very nice person and I would gladly be your friend without using you for your veterinary expertise. There are people out there who don’t own animals. Maybe some of them would make good friends for you.

  56. Dream Jobbed*

    Send people a link to this. Seriously, people are being thoughtless and it’s not intentional, they just don’t know. Requests for a friend, “can’t do it sorry – here’s why.” Friends asking minor questions, but lots, or follow-ups to what the vet says, “I need to not work on weekends – here’s a post showing why.” Let’s your friends know that in an absolute emergency you will be there for them, but they have to back off on the rest of it – here’s why. Your real friends will understand.

    You could also set a day and time to do pro bono for friends and family – “I answer things like this on Thursday from 7 – 9, first come, first serve.” (This isn’t necessary of course, but if people are broke they will be happy with what they get, and it puts in a strong boundry.)

    I’m an animal lover and it seems the minute people hear that they feel a need to tell me about a horrific animal story they heard. No, I do not want to hear what your father did to your puppy. (This was more in the 80’s/90’s when being a vegetarian for animal reasons was more rare.) It’s okay to say no, especially if the people who know you, know you will be there if they really need you.

    The animals need you, and burning out or breaking down isn’t going to help them. Prioritize taking care of yourself and setting some limits!

  57. Knope Knope Knope*

    A few pieces of advice.

    1.) Just ignore the texts that aren’t urgent. Honestly, ignore them! This is rude. Time isn’t free and this is causing you to burn out. The real victims of burnout are only you and your patients. There are SO MANY RESOURCES for new pet owners. The only reason they need to talk to you in addition to all of the resources available from shelters, online and their own vets is their own sense of anxiety or laziness. You are not responsible for either of those things and they shouldn’t take up your finite resources when it comes to empathy.

    2.) I steal this option from my lawyer sister, who uses this on me frequently. Give unsatisfying answers. Respond hours or days later with “sorry was working, not really my area of specialty” or “sorry was working, try calling your vet” or “sorry was working, did you check Google?” they will stop asking. And you can always follow up with “I am really busy at work so probably won’t see your message or may just forget about it by the time I see it. Sorry!”

    1. Jennifer*

      I second #1. Just stop answering the phone and responding to texts. Block people or put your phone on DND if you need to.

  58. I'm A Little Teapot*

    One thing that’s been happening a lot over the past year is that people are showing their true selves. Nasty people, kind people, every kind of -ism – people’s masks came off and it all showed. Believe them. The people who are nasty because you don’t give free advice? They aren’t your friends, it’s their problem, and feel free to disengage from them permanently. Or dial contact way back. Or whatever.

    Boundaries aren’t needed with reasonable people, because they don’t cross them (or if they do, they generally figure it out and don’t do it again). So when you need to assert a boundary, it’s with someone who chances are isn’t going to be reasonable regardless. That’s a THEM problem. They want what they want, so they’re going to try to make it a YOU problem, but it isn’t.

  59. k.*

    Are people receptive at all if you tell them just how many people are contacting you about this regularly? I can imagine that, in their minds, their focus is on their individual situation and their individual animal, and of course their friend would help them and their pet. Of course, they *should* be able to imagine that they’re not the one asking you, but I wonder if any of them would back off if they knew that you were getting a dozen other similar messages in a weekend. (I hope they would!) I could also imagine that “You’re the twelfth person who’s asked me something this weekend; I’m really not able to respond to everyone” or “I actually get so many questions that I’ve made it a blanket policy not to answer anything out of work hours or I’ll never sleep” might seem somewhat less vulnerable to share than “I’m super burnt out and can’t handle another question.”

    Thank you for the important work that you do! I am so appreciative of the vets and vet techs in my life.

    1. Sleepless*

      I can’t seem to find it, but this is an approximation of what I put on FB about 5 years ago:

      “Hi my friends! Looks like it’s time for a few reminders.

      1. You may think you’re the only person who ever asks me vet questions. You are not. I have 600 FB friends. If each of you asked me a question twice a year, that would be 4 questions a day that I get when I am not working.

      2. My expertise extends to dogs and cats. It does not include wildlife of any kind.

      3. The biggest reason not to message me is that I really cannot help you. I can’t diagnose anything unless you and your pet are standing in my exam room. I don’t even keep my stethoscope at home. When my own pets are sick, I take them to work. I am not trying to be difficult; this is just reality. I also can’t make guesses about how much something will cost. I’m not about to fall into that trap.

      4. Before you reach out to me with a vet question…have you reached out to me at other times too? I can tell the difference. I spend my entire work day with people who only call me when their pet needs something. These people are called “clients” and we have a financial understanding.

      5. If you simply must ask me a vet question despite the above, please and thank you go a long way, as does spelling my name right. It’s, you know, sitting right there.

      Love you all!”

  60. Quickbeam*

    Wow, as a nurse I always think my profession has it rough but reading this gave me a whole new level of understanding. That must feel crushing. I think blaming the pandemic for now is the way to go but also brainstorming ways to shield your heart against the onslaught. But you have my respect.

    1. TeacherTurnedNurse*

      I’m a nurse and my wife is a vet tech. She gets it 100x more often than I do, and the vets she works with get it 400x more than she does. It’s a real problem- I think maybe because people are at least somewhat used to being told that they need an exam or a specialty test or whatever lab work that can’t be done just… standing at a party or whatever. But for some reason they seem to think that vets are just… divining things by magic or something? It’s truly ridiculous.

  61. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I’m a dog owner and my dog is having some issues. I don’t have friends who are vets, but I am well aware that my own vet practice is SLAMMED, so when I had a question, I emailed my pet insurance’s helpline. That’s not a option for everyone, but there are lots of pet resources and you are well within your rights to direct people there. Really, it’s ok! Think of it this way: you’re still offering help by directing people to a helpline. “Work has been crazy– you’ll get an answer faster if you go to ______!”

    And if they push back, they’re the jerks, not you. Really. I understand the difficulties of having a new pet, but I had a big network of resources, like my dog’s rescue and the people I met at the dog park. Vets are busy. Vets deserve to be paid, which is why I only reach out to them when I need an appointment or I want to start a recommended medication. My dog had surgery and won’t eat? Call the vet. My dog barks at night? Helpline.

    The worst part is the guilt, and I get that too. But if you lose fans or friends because they see you as a one-stop shop at their beck and call, then you have simply saved yourself time and energy not dealing with people who don’t respect your (EXTREMELY REASONABLE) boundaries.

  62. Firecat*

    First I want to say it’s ok to feel burnt out. You are not a bad vet for needing a break. If you haven’t please check out articles on caregiver burnout. While it’s geared towards people caregivers it applies to anyone who gives their time and care for others in lieu of taking care of themselves.

    I recommend you purchase an inexpensive track phone that you provide to need to know only. Your mom – trusted colleagues that will call only in an emergency. Then turn that other phone off. If it will make you feel guilty not to answer I believe you can set up a Google phone and forward those messages to have an automated response saying the phone is not regularly monitored. If your mom will struggle with a new number work with your carrier to forward her cas to the other phone.

    When you see messages from unknown numbers or frequent favor askers when you turn it back on delete them without reading. You are not obligated to read their guilt trips. If they can’t afford going to a vet they can’t afford a pet.

    As for your feelings towards yourself, I recommend you reframe to hose feelings. Each time you think – I’m a bad vet for X. I want you to stop and imagine your mom, or spouse, or someone else you care for is coming to you with the same troubles. If your mom came to you and said I’m tired after working 5 14 hour days and don’t have the energy to answer texts for free advice would you think she’s a terrible vet? Nope so afford yourself the same grace.

  63. Eleanor*

    I am so sorry you are dealing with burnout. :( I adopted a doggo with many health needs during the pandemic because they were having issues finding anyone who would and could take care of him. I am seeing this issue with his regular vet and his specialty vet. I don’t know about there, but here there is also a shortage of vet techs. I hope people read this post and understand when things at the vet are not as smooth as they like that there is another side to the story.

    It is hard when you are in a profession where you help people with something specific (I do IT and encounter it as well, and a friend of mine is a nurse who has some friends asking if they have covid every conversation), and you are dealing with burnout and fatigue as well.

    Honestly, telling your friends and family how things are going, really, will most likely be your best bet. They most likely care about you and would not want to be adding to your stress. I would suggest, though, that instead of saying something like “don’t do this”, wording it more in terms of what you are experiencing. Something like “Work is so hard right now. It is getting hard for me to function. I will help me when I am away from it to engage in things that are not work.” Some people won’t get it. Maybe finding a gatekeeper friend who can intercede for you can help with that.

  64. Sue*

    I feel your pain and I’m sorry!
    I’m a lawyer and have spent many hours listening to friends/family/acquaintances tell me their legal problems. I have sometimes tried very hard, going late at night to help, only to find out later they ignored my advice (and shouldn’t have!). It is exhausting. I spent years only going to the grocery store very late because I couldn’t get around the place without running into someone and being held up for wayyy too long. I recommend vague commiseration and being in a rush for another commitment.

    1. Sleepless*

      Ugh, I’ve always thought lawyers must have an awful time with this. At least in my case, I really can’t help anybody without any of my “stuff”-my lab equipment and so forth. A lawyer’s help comes straight out of their own head. It’s pretty tough to draw a boundary when you’re just “talking.”

  65. RicksGuardian*

    You NEED to set up and ENFORCE boundaries in your life. This includes within yourself as well as externally with others. You may feel bad for telling people to go to a clinic, and yet you still need to take care of yourself so that you can do your job and have/live a good life.
    “I’m sorry to hear about your pet. I think going to his vet, or a pet urgent care, or the ER is the best for him.”
    “That sounds so stressful for you! I think taking your pet to her vet/urgent care/ER is best for her.”
    And then remove yourself if they do any kind of followup. Trust they will be OK.
    Tell your friends/family that you are not available for free services — especially from strangers. Set up rules in your phone and email to delete those requests or at least move them somewhere where you need to make actual effort to see them if you decide you’re up for it.

    And with yourself? Set aside 20 min/45min/1hour whatever you can spare to take care of yourself — go for a walk, read a book, meditate, listen to your favorite music, take a bath, watch a mind-numbing show, do a puzzle, journal, etc. And then make sure you do it. Like self-prescribed medicine. The world will be OK. It will not end in those 20min. Trust people to be able to find a solution to their problems if you are not available for 20min.

    Practice telling yourself that you are human — you are not a machine or a program who can run endlessly. As a human, you are doing your best, and you want to keep doing your best. And to help you do your best, you need to set and follow these boundaries. Without lines, you will be eaten up.

    It will take time. You will make mistakes. You are human.
    I hope that eventually you’ll see which boundaries need to be firm and which ones can be meshy to allow for more flexibility.

    And vent! To someone who can handle it — whether it’s a friend or the local or national crisis hotline.

    But as you have already seen, you can’t keep doing what you’re doing and expect to be OK. You need to make changes.

    And thank you for being a vet. I lost my gentle, chatty hospice kitty last month rather unexpectedly, and I’m grateful to all the vets, techs, and staff he encountered in his 6month, 25day stay with me. You all helped me give him an amazing sunset time as well as be there when he went downhill fast, and you helped me ease him into the After without judging me for bringing him home for several hours.

  66. Asenath*

    Find a way to identify calls about your mother – different notification, allow her calls through as priority when you block others. There’s a lot you can do with a cell phone if you need to screen calls. As others have suggested, set boundaries, using, when you can, ethical reasons to back you up “I cannot recommend treatment for your pet since I haven’t examined it. Call my clinic if you want to make an appointment.” I would also add that other than this, I would not give any reasons, however good they are (your own burnout and exhaustion, for example). Some people look on anything like this as a reason to try to make you change your mind. I know that doesn’t make sense but it’s what I’ve observed. You need a short but polite cut off, routine responses ready to go when you get those calls or texts from a friend of a friend, and to take care of yourself.

    I do appreciate the work vets do. I just brought my elderly cat back from getting an antibiotic shot she needed – the vet got her test results in, called me and when she couldn’t reach me quickly (I’ve now told the practice to PLEASE put only my main phone number on my file) made a next-day appointment at a suburban branch of the practice since the one I go to was too busy to see my cat today. I did get the message in time, arranged transportation out to the suburbs for me and my cat, and a rather ungrateful cat has started her treatment, thanks to a vet who knew the cat needed treatment and arranged it for her.

  67. Vet Spouse*

    My husband is a veterinarian and I basically can’t stand humanity as a result. People are SO AWFUL to their vets. I never believe anything any pet owner says any more. And both good friends and near strangers chase me down for his advice too. I think use the crushing hours to get out of it – my line to friends is that he won’t be home until 10pm and leaves at 7am so I don’t know if he’ll have time to talk. And then whether this is right or not I give the advice I think he’d give a lot, which is mostly don’t wait, take the pet into a vet now. (Also always have your pet on flea preventative, doesn’t matter if they are indoor only. Also fancy pet food is bullshit. Also coconut oil doesn’t do anything.) When he does start to answer questions he gives caveat that he’ll never know as much as the vet who has full clinical picture, to protect himself and bc it’s really annoying when his clients undercut him. But yah, stop asking vets for free advice.

    1. MaryAnne Spier*

      “fancy pet food is bullshit” … I had to bring my cat in about 7 years ago because he poisoned himself with a plant. (He’s better, I have no plants in the house, all is well.) The vet asked what Buster liked to eat and I said Fancy Feast but that I knew it wasn’t a good brand. He said, “No, mine LOVES THAT!” Made me feel better. :)

      1. LizM*

        My 12 year old cat went on a hunger strike a few months ago. Turns out, she doesn’t like the fancy food. She actually lost 1.5 pounds (which is a lot for her, she’s a small cat). The vet suggested that we try Friskies, and she gobbles it up.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          My sister’s dog was stealing our friend’s dog’s food whenever she was over at their place, so Sister decided to try her on that brand even though it was much less fancy kibble. It worked beautifully; now she’s eating much more regularly.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Every time I see a B*ue B*ffalo ad I think that the two lists of ingredients they’re comparing don’t actually sound that different. Also, my last dog would happily eat dried-out roadkill squirrel: She did not care about 100% chicken breast.

      One of my cats needs prescription food for urinary crystals that, knock on wood, have not recurred since she’s been on it. The other one gets a reputable brand that I can get at any pet supply store. They both look terrific.

      1. Vet Spouse*

        Those brands of food are completely unregulated too. It’s a scam. Science Diet brand is pretty affordable and has decades of research behind it. Barring a medical need (our dog has epilepsy and needs Rx food too) Science Diet is probably going to be your safest, most nutritionally balanced option. Grain free for dogs is super trendy and there’s research showing it contributes to heart disease. Raw diets aren’t safe for dogs (they aren’t wolves! come on now!) and really really aren’t safe for their human companions!

        1. Alpaca Clinician*

          Agreed – thankfully I don’t work with dogs/cats any more (mainly horses these days), but people look at me weird when they find out I’m a veterinarian and I feed one of my dogs Purina and the other Eukanuba. You know what dogs appreciate more than grain-free diets or organic pheasant or other nonsense? Properly formulated dog food that provides appropriate amounts of essential nutrients and that has been proven safe in an AAFCO feeding trial. Purina, Eukanuba, Iams, Royal Canin, and Hill’s/Science Diet base diets on science, not hype. I get so angry when I think of all the dogs suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy because of the dangerous trend of feeding grain-free diets – because obviously if going paleo is good for you, it must be great for your “modern domesticated wolf,” right? /s

          (Sorry if my post sounds snarky – this whole thread has hit a nerve today)

          1. Vet Spouse*

            Being a vet spouse has made me more than snarky – I am downright hostile lol. The things my husband takes on! I want clients to roll up, hand over their pet with a smile, whip out the checkbook without argument, ask 3-5 concise questions max and then express profuse thanks and roll on out. Vet care is always draining and after the last 18 months you folks have no emotional reserve left.

            1. Alpaca Clinician*

              Totally agree with you on “proper client procedure,” lol. I wish every day that pet insurance was a bigger thing in equine medicine – the number of horses I’ve had to MacGyver treatments for, or unfortunately euthanize, because of financial constraints is a fairly high non-zero number. I also work in Canada, so people seem to have an even bigger disconnect about how much medical care costs since most people here never see the true cost of their own medical care.

              I admit to being lucky and being somewhat insulated from all the abuse that primary care vets have to endure, since I work in a tertiary care teaching and referral hospital, but I can definitely feel the compassion and empathy fatigue after dealing with Covid and its consequences for the past 14 or so months. Even before this, I would strongly counsel students wanting to become veterinarians to take a long hard look at their future – both financial and emotional – before making the decision to apply for vet school. There’s a lot of other well-paying jobs out there that let you actually have free time to enjoy your own pets, and if you desperately need those puppy cuddles the local shelter always needs volunteers.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              My vet is only doing drop-off appointments except in dire, hair-on-fire emergencies. I’ve started sending pets in with as complete a write-up as I can provide of whatever is going on, with my cell number at the top (they have that in the chart, of course, but this way it’s on hand) in the hopes it reduces phone tag later.

              Cat From Hell goes in for shots tomorrow so she’s getting a sheet with basically:
              “Cat From Hell [Lastname] 2021 Appt. Date
              DSH brown tabby/tortie, FS, DOB 2012 June
              Owner cell: (000) 111-2222 Call any time.

              1. Needs exam and rabies vaccine.

              Doing fine otherwise:
              1. Doing well on prednisolone:
              —–a) Asthma is under control.
              —–b) Occasional vomiting but far less than before meds [cat has chronic pancreatitis]
              2. Doing well on glucosamine/chondroitin – no more limping.
              3. Eating, drinking, and eliminating normally.
              4. Likes the new RX food.”

  68. Jerry Larry Terry Gary*

    “I’m sorry, I’m getting more of these types of requests than I can handle in my off-hours (because everyone thinks it will just take you a few minutes, what’s the big deal?) Here’s the number for a clinic/vet calling service/referral of some kind.”
    For those asking for confirmation when they’ve seen a vet already, “I can’t diagnose without seeing them. I would trust your vet or make an appointment at my clinic, etc.”
    I suggest tiering a bit- maybe plan on saying yes to your best friend or whomever, but everyone else gets a redirect, and maybe even reach out to the repeat offenders with a mass email or text of “I am overwhelmed can no longer keep up with the number of requests I’m getting for vet assistance outside of work. I love all of your pets, but please call [wherever] for help. Thank you!”

  69. Pigeon*

    I don’t have any advice. But in April, we lost our cat to a sudden, vicious infection complicated by other medical factors, the end result being he was put to sleep at an emergency animal hospital. It was beyond apparent that they were overtaxed that night; we couldn’t even get off hold the many times we needed to call from curbside to interact with the technician and doctor caring for our pet. And yet these two individuals still went above and beyond to make one of the worst nights of our lives a little easier. They accommodated a request that I’m sure created some extra work, but meant the world to us in terms of peace of mind. Our technician stayed and listened to a few of our stories about him, after we had made the decision and we waited for the vet to arrive. The vet was so kind and shared her own story of her cat passing recently under similar circumstances, and went out of her way to reassure us that we’d done everything we could for him.

    The compassion they showed us that evening will never be forgotten. I will always be immensely grateful to them.

    Likewise, I will always be so grateful for the accommodations his regular vet and her technician made in the days leading up to his death. There were emergency appointments and phone calls and medication consults that nobody scheduled for, and care techniques we had to be taught as we attempted to save his life. She even found the time the following week to call us and see how we were doing, which was completely unexpected but such a comfort.

    My point in sharing this is that I understand we were owed none of these extra gestures of kindness. I know that it took effort and energy these individuals likely did not have to spare. But it made an enormous difference. And I’m sure there are so many families out there who are so grateful for what you’ve done.

    You have to take care of yourself. Nobody with a heart would resent that, or feel you were failing in your duty or aspirations as a vet. You have every right to not accommodate people who are being unreasonable, rude, or abusive. But please also know that your actions over this past year have not been useless, even when it might feel like they have, but have had a lifelong impact on the lives of your patients and their families. And in case you hadn’t heard that lately, I wanted to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for doing this work.

  70. 867-5309*

    OP, Can you send a general email to friend and family articulating what you have shared above? That as much as you love animals – and them – you are at capacity emotionally, mentally and beyond and cannot be a go-to resource. This way you can pre-emptively get ahead of it and hopefully you have a network of folks who would be sensitive and understanding to the message.

    Then, create a standard text response to use every time someone reaches out.

    It is not harsh to then rethink relationships with people who cannot respect your very reasonable boundary. You are not in the wrong. Please remember that.

  71. Macaroni Penguin*

    Redirect and refer. Your capacity is full of taking care of yourself and your own clients.
    Maybe something like “That’s a question that can only be answered by your clinic or veterinarian. I care about Fluffy, and it would be irresponsible to comment on treatment over text message. Thanks for understanding.”

  72. AMT*

    I am a therapist and can empathize with the constant requests for free advice. Because I’m in a niche mental health field (gender/sexuality), I’m always getting asked by near-strangers to provide free training, answer questions that would require me to do some level of research, give referrals to care, or send info on local LGBTQ mental health resources. Here’s what I’ve tried so far:

    1. Right now, I’m putting together an LGBTQ mental health resource list so I can just copy and paste it to people who ask me for this info in the future. It might be useful for you to put together some handouts or stock emails if you keep getting asked the same things (e.g. general pet care).

    2. I have stopped feeling guilty saying/writing some version of “I don’t have that info on hand” to people I don’t know who call or email asking for information. It felt a bit weird at first because it’s often info that would be much easier for me to find than for them (because I know where to look), but I not obligated to be someone’s unpaid research assistant just because they contacted me.

    3. Since going into private practice, I’ve mentally reframed my time in money terms. Sounds crass, but it helps me say no to requests by saying to myself, “Is this worth [some fraction of my hourly rate]? Would I give [x money] to this stranger?” If that doesn’t help, add up the time you spend answering unpaid requests and say to yourself, “Am I okay giving up X hours of [your favorite activity] per week for these requests?”

    4. I’ve done my best to stop answering/checking after-hours calls, texts, and emails altogether, even if they come to my personal email or phone. These requests are work, and when I’m off work, I don’t do work. I might *see* the notifications, but I’ve freed myself from the obligation to respond. With requests from people I know personally, I’ve made an effort to take my time in responding. Not everyone is constantly checking their phone or email, so I’m not committing any great sin by waiting 24 hours or so. If it’s an emergency, they’ll call 911 (or in your case, the emergency vet).

    5. Most importantly, I’ve gotten a *lot* better at tolerating other peoples’ hurt and anger. It’s par for the course in my field. People are going to be angry at me in situations where I do nothing wrong, and I can either (a) live with the discomfort of people being angry with me, or (b) destroy my work-life balance and overall happiness trying to make everyone happy. This is the choice you’re facing, too. People are sad because you didn’t give them free care? Let them be sad. You can be happy, and they can be happy, but if these situations aren’t compatible (e.g. the “Gimme free help or face my disappointment!” situations), choose your own happiness.

    1. Pikachu*

      I could not have set healthy boundaries in my own life without the help of a therapist (thank you!). It is HARD, because you absolutely do have to have a real tolerance for people having negative reactions. It takes practice. I still have anxiety about people being upset with me because I held firm on something, but that anxiety is far more tolerable than being run over all the time.

      1. AMT*

        It’s tough! I like to think I have good boundaries as a therapist, but I still get that “uuuugh noooo” feeling when someone is upset with me for enforcing a boundary. But that’s why God invented alcoh—I mean, meditation. Plain water and meditation.

        1. Amelia Shepherd*

          +1 (to the not meditation and plain water) and thank you for the laugh!

  73. Dog Coordinator*

    I work for a dog training company, and understand where you’re coming from OP. Some of my employees are former vet techs who were so burnt out despite loving the work, but couldn’t continue at that pace. We get a lot of similar questions, folks reaching out for training advice, behavioral advice, but we’re in the business of training, and can’t just give out free advice around the clock. It’s so hard to say no and set boundaries, but it’s so important to do so. I know you’re trying to be both compassionate and helpful, and it’s hard to turn down folks who are worried about their pet. At the end of the day, you have to take care of you. If that means turning away acquaintances or friend-of-a-friends, while hard, you have to do it. We do the same for our trainers. You deserve to have time off the clock, not have have clients/random folks messaging you at 9pm for what is literally free labor on your part.

    A lot of folks seem to think that the pet care industry is all fun and fluffy puppies, or that we are willing to give up all our weekends because the clients couldn’t imagine taking time out of their M-F work schedule for training/other pet care services. And you’re right that all of the folks working in pet care are compassionate and empathetic to a fault, and you’ll drain yourself trying to bend over backwards to please these people who don’t care about your own mental health and well being. At the end of the day, we are still providing a service, and it is still a job, even if it’s one that we are passionate about.

    It gets easier to set boundaries the more you do it. It did for me. You’re allowed to say no, and don’t feel bad about that. Sending you a lot of love.

  74. TCD*

    Really appreciate all you (and other vets!) do ! Curbside has been frustrating as a customer for me especially as my own vet has a new front desk person who consistently schedules the wrong things and my cat is extremely stranger-aggressive if one of us isn’t present, and I try not to let my frustration show.

    I would really draw up barriers of not being able to provide under the table or otherwise advice, redirect to call the clinic, their own clinic, or some reputable advice sites. This can be said with “my advice wouldn’t be accurate without an appointment to really see what’s going on”.

    Best of luck!

    1. Sleepless*

      I’m not sure how your frustrations with curbside are relevant to this discussion. We’ve heard many times this year how much clients hate curbside. We hate it too. With every fiber of our being. Weirdly, hearing more complaints about curbside don’t make us any less susceptible to COVID.

      1. Vet Spouse*

        Right!! Y’all haven’t closed one day this entire pandemic, if my family weren’t many years into this vet career experience I’d have been surprised that people weren’t more grateful the entire industry figured out a safe way to keep things open. (Also, our clinic’s experience is that the great majority of pets are way better behaved without the humans present….)

      2. Minnie Mouse*

        Exactly. The Maryland state board had to send out an email saying that clients were filing complaints with the STATE that they weren’t allowed inside! Almost all of my vet friends work for practices that have had to be closed for a couple weeks because someone got COVID. I go into people’s homes for my veterinary work and it has been extremely stressful this past year. Add in clients complaining about curbside service and I want to scream that if I wasn’t $200k+ in debt from vet school I would have quit this job entirely when the pandemic started.

      3. TCD*

        Totally my bad on not being clear. By “not letting it show” I mean “I wouldn’t go complaining about it or chasing down my friends/family who are vets for advice instead” or complaining directly to my vet / staff. There’s not a lot that can be done about it and it just is how it is for the moment.

        Guess the caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet.

  75. Jennifer*

    I can recommend a great colleague that can help you with that. I’m sending over their info.

    How about those Yankees?


    I’d really need to examine your pet to know what’s going on. Here’s the office number. Please call and make an appointment.

    How about those Yankees?

    1. Camelid coordinator*

      They are on Prime! I haven’t been able to watch YES since I cut the cord 14 years ago, and I was shocked to hear the same announcer.

  76. Ali G*

    OP you’ve gotten great advice already, so I just want to say thank you! I do not know what I would have done over the last year without the professionalism and kindness of my dog’s vets. He sees a cardiologist and is on 2 different heart meds that keep him from developing degenerative heart disease. His regular vet discovered his kidney levels were elevated last year and soon we go in to check up on that. Knowing that I can still access his caretakers even in this awful time and under less than desirable circumstances gives me the assurance that I am doing all I can for my grumpy old man.
    Please put your oxygen mask on first. Then you can help the rest of us (but not for free).

  77. KWu*

    This problem sounds big enough that I think it might be worth straight up getting a new phone number that you only hand out extremely selectively. It seems pretty impossible to stop people from asking, but you can lessen the burden for yourself by not having to see it all so constantly. Check on the old one only at designated, timeboxed times so that you just skim for the must-reply situations and ignore the rest. I think it’ll be better if you can set it up so your current phone feels more like any other part of the internet, in that for example, you probably don’t feel the same burden to answer all questions on a random internet message board.

  78. limotruck*

    As a longtime veterinary technician and current DVM student, I feel this so much! I also tend to be a people pleaser and have done a lot of work around realizing that my worth isn’t tied to how ‘helpful’ I am and if someone is annoyed that I didn’t give them free advice, that’s a them problem and not a me problem. Over the years I have gotten a lot more comfortable with directing people to other professionals rather than feeling like I have to help for free. I will either recommend they call their regular vet, or (if they are looking for a second opinion) tell them how to find another local vet. If they are asking for training advice, I might give a few tips if I know the person, but anyone I don’t know well I will point them to local trainers I recommend. Essentially, whatever a person is asking for, I direct them to someone they will have to pay for their service.

    I recognize this is probably harder when you are already a DVM (as a technician it was a little easier to say “I’m not really qualified to answer that”). But in reality, people have approached me for years as though I have all the knowledge of a veterinarian and I still try to defer to “oh, I couldn’t make that call without seeing your pet, these issues can be complex, definitely reach out to your veterinarian/don’t feel afraid to ask another local vet for a second opinion!” It’s still annoying to have to do this, but if they will eventually stop asking YOU even if they ultimately don’t go to anyone they actually have to pay for advice.

  79. Beth*

    Are there any standard resources where you could direct people? If so — at least for future in-person interactions — would it be possible to get some cards printed up with a list of the resources, and a short note along the lines of “My clinical policy limits my ability to offer help outside of my formal work, but here are some resources that may help you.”

    A pinned Facebook page with the same information might enable you to send a single link in response to electronic solicitations.

    The “clinical policy” in this case, of course, can simply be your own decision to set some desperately needed boundaries.

  80. cactus lady*

    While this isn’t exactly the same situation, I work in public health and have been in charge of part of the COVID response in my region, which means I spend all day at work talking about COVID and then after work… people want to talk to me about work. It’s exhausting. What’s been working for me is saying “I’m sorry but I really need a break from work during my off hours right now, it’s been completely exhausting lately. I’m happy to help when I have the bandwidth, but I just don’t right now.” People who care about YOU would rather see you take care of yourself than get free advice, trust me. And people who don’t should be paying you for your services anyway.

  81. Blisskrieg*

    Just wanted to say, Bless You, OP! I did not realize until recently when I read a few articles the level of stress veterinarians incur, and how that is ratcheted up during the pandemic. I want to say a shout out to my local veterinarian, who has been a consummate professional during the pandemic. His practice’s adherence to COVID protocols put our mind at ease and made us comfortable seeking care during this time. I felt more comfortable there than with any other local business. I could see that their practice got more and more, and then more, busy during the pandemic (I guess because people were home more with their pets?). He and his staff handled it all in a way that made it look easy. Veterinarians, thank you for all that you do.

  82. Junior Dev*

    Not quite the same situation, but I’m in IT and have been having a lot of stress at work lately, and so when a family member included me on a group text asking for tech advice I responded to her privately with “can you remove me from this group thread? I normally would be happy to help but I’m pretty burned out by work right now and don’t want to think about technical problems outside of work.” She complied and hasn’t come to me with IT problems since.

    I think you can make a more general statement to people you know well and feel comfortable being vulnerable with: “I am dealing with a lot of stress about work right now, so I’m going to ask you not to come to me with questions about your pets for the foreseeable future as it adds to my stress and makes it hard to unplug from work.” People who are close to you might even be familiar with the stress you’re under and might not have made the connection to their own behavior.

    That’s not helpful for random acquaintances and people you meet at parties though. I think other people in this thread will probably give good scripts for that. If it were me I’d stick with either “we’re off the clock so I’d rather not discuss work right now” or “I can’t really give advice on your pet without seeing them in person, so you’ll need to ask your own vet for help with that.”

  83. LabRat*

    Oh friend, I am so so sorry! I’m a former ECC tech, and I know y’all have been SLAMMED lately, from GP to ER to specialty!

    I’m so glad that you’re drawing this boundary. It’s not just good for you, it’s also good for the pets people are asking you about, and the vets who are actually caring for them. A plus self care!

    I like the idea of having a backup resource that’s accessible and accurate! That way you know they aren’t turning to to diagnose Fluffy. I always fall back on “without seeing them I can’t really tell you much” and “Yeah, they should probably be seen by a vet”, but I have that luxury since I am NOT a vet. I think in your case emphasizing the legal ramifications of diagnosis without exam is not a bad idea. Depending on the person, you can also talk about the need to disconnect from work, especially these days.

    Finally, it is OKAY to have different responses to different people. Just because you walked a friend through what IMHA means doesn’t mean you have to do the same for someone you barely know, or diagnose your neighbor’s intermittently vomiting cat, or whatever. You are allowed to make those choices based on whatever criteria you want!

    Good luck and take care, doc. You’re doing good work.

  84. jenni*

    All of these are great suggestions—my cousin is a vet and has been posting to social media about the stress/high suicide rate of vets. I honestly had no idea it had gotten so bad, and her posts were super helpful to provide some context. You might try a similar tactic, since it sounds like the biggest offenders are friends and family. An honest post on Facebook/twitter about your struggles and links to articles? This might cut down on requests (in addition to cut and paste text replies from above) and raise awareness of these issues. I know it did for me. Good luck.

  85. LizM*

    As an attorney, I get requests for free legal advice all the time.

    I tell a white lie, and say, “Oh, I’d love to help, but my ethics rules mean that I can’t give advice outside of work.” (I’m a government employee, technically there are some places I could give advice, but it’s complicated and more work than I’m willing to do at a cocktail party). Depending on the issue and my energy level, I may offer a referral to a former classmate who specializes in whatever they’re asking or point them to a website that can potentially help.

    My private practice friends tell a version of that, but they say their malpractice insurance or firm rules won’t let them.

    Or, “This is more complicated that it seems on the surface. I’d hate to give you bad advice because I didn’t give this the time it deserves to look into. Can you give my receptionist a call in the morning, and we’ll schedule a time to bring Fluffy in?”

    If people argue, I shrug and say, “Who would have thought that as a lawyer, I’d still have to listen to lawyers?” If they still push, I start to reevaluate whether they’re truly friends if they won’t respect my boundaries, and I worry less about burning that bridge. At that point, not amount of explaining will convince them that they’re being unreasonable and you just need to keep repeating your boundary or cut off communication.

    You can also set your do not disturb on your phone to let certain calls through, or to ring if someone calls twice within a certain amount of time. If the calls regarding your mother will be coming from a predictable number, that’s an option to.

  86. pretzelgirl*

    Personally if I were you I would take a break from Social Media. This way you don’t tagged in posts from family and friends and you also don’t get DMs. Not sure if its possible but can you set up an auto response for people you dont know or text with frequently?
    Something like :
    “Thanks for contacting me, if this is regarding Veterinary advice I cannot assist you at this time. For all other matter please be patient, and I will reply ASAP.”

  87. Jay*

    Haven’t read all the responses and am probably repeating what’s already been said. I’m a doc. I haven’t really been on the COVID front lines and it’s still exhausting and overwhelming. I also have a side business advising people about end-of-life care and advance planning which I started because I was spending hours doing it for friends, and then they started introducing me to their friends, and I realized it was too much. And yes, setting boundaries is HARD and painful and will tick people off and I used to get reaaaally anxious when people were angry with me….I still had to learn how to do it.

    My phone is on “do not disturb” from 10:00 PM to 6:30 AM every night. When my mother was terminally ill, I had her number, my brother’s number, and the care manager’s number on my “favorites” list for texts and calls so they rang through. Now it’s just my husband, my daughter, and my two closest friends. Everyone else can wait until the next day.

    Most texts or Emails for medical advice get “sorry! Wish I could help!” and nothing more. NO is a complete sentence. I’ve found that giving a reason for the “no” sometimes (often) invites a negotiation, which is not what I want. If pressed, I move on to “Sorry. That doesn’t work for me.” Lather, rinse, repeat. People who get upset about this are not people I really want relationships with.

    When people ask for advice about something that I do in my side business, I say “let’s set up a call and I can tell you about what I do and my pricing structure.” Either I get business, which is OK with me, or they back off, which is also OK with me.

    You absolutely deserve to say “no.” All these people and their pets have real and legitimate needs and you cannot meet all of them. Do what you can at work and please, please, take some time to catch your breath and recharge. I had to find some ways to deal with the grief of losing patients well before I started specializing in end-of-life care. For me, that was a combination of personal work (journaling, therapy, connections with colleagues who understand and are willing to share their feelings) and ritual based in my faith tradition. It’s really helped. Sending gentle thoughts to you for peace.

  88. The Other Dawn*

    I feel like you should be upfront and tell people that both your and your practice are overwhelmed with work right now and you won’t be able to help them outside of making an appointment. You could also add that you can’t provide a diagnosis or advice without seeing them in person at an appointment due to ethics, liability, etc.

    I have a lot of cats and need to use my vet a lot, especially this past year with some of the issues that have popped up. I admit to being really frustrated when I can’t get one of my cats in for surgery (not life-threatening) for several weeks, a month, or more, even when my vet has taken on two additional vets this year. I knew they were busy, but had no idea to the extent until I read your letter. I’ll keep this in mind from now on when I can’t get one of cats in right away. And thank you for what you do!

  89. RagingADHD*

    First request from a person: “Sorry, I am swamped with work and completely burnt out. I’m sure you’ll get fine care at your regular clinic.” Or if someone is asking you to prescribe or diagnose inappropriately, “Sorry, that’s not something I can do. I’m sure you’ll get fine care at your regular clinic.”

    Second attempt? Just don’t answer.

    I know it’s hard to draw boundaries, but you can’t convince other people to draw them for you. You have to act on them yourself.

    You have to just let them be mad. If they get mad at being told a polite no, they are the ones being unreasonable, not you.

  90. cwhf*

    Oh man. As a physician, I can truly empathize. Boundaries are so hard but they are the only effective long term solution here. It took some time to accept and stand firm on a kind no. I am not obligated to explain my no. It is enough and if folks don’t accept that, they are being disrespectful and that’s on them and not your fault at all. I too have to have my phone/pager on all the time for calls from hospital. What has worked is leaving an outgoing voicemail message saying essentially thanks for calling, I am swamped, I won’t be able to get back to you regarding whatever (second opinions on your pets, etc phrase as you will), thanks for understanding this is a very high volume and intensity time in my profession. Then I only answer numbers I know. Rest goes to voice mail, no obligation to listen to (or read if you have that feature). For texts, feel free to ignore/block (it’s kind of presumptious esp for someone you don’t know to approach this way, and after receiving 100 in one day last April (I’m a pediatric infectious disease specialist so 2020 was beyond nuts), I just stopped answering non work/hospital calls (which were another 100 on top of that). I made sure my circle of friends got it that I could not support this anymore consistently and not to refer friends and let it go. Hope things lighten up soon; I appreciate all you do and my dog is my absolute lifeline. Your work is so important. Take care of yourself.

  91. eons*

    Assuming that a vet is required to carry insurance, that could be used as the “out” you need. I work in the legal field and often have friends etc. ask me for advice. I’ve been able to use something similar to “because of my law insurance requirements, I am unable to give advice/general information to someone” because basically if I don’t have the whole story or give them bad advice, or they misunderstand where the conversation leaves us (see: phantom client), my insurance may not cover me if I was to get sued over a misunderstanding. (Kind of but not really entirely true). I would imagine that the LW would have some type of similar circumstances, like they cannot diagnose a pet from pictures/texts, or they have to see them in the office or something.

    I’ve found that people are often much more understanding when they are given the information that I can’t help them without literally putting my entire career at risk for a “favour”.

  92. JT*

    100% recommend having a static message you can just copy/paste to people. I would personally create something like:

    “Normally, I’m happy to help out all who reach out to me with their pet questions. Due to the pandemic, I am overwhelmed and burnt out, and need to focus on work when I’m at work, and decompressing when I’m not. I’d ask that you respect my request for help to protect my mental health and forgive me for not otherwise responding. Take care.”

    I’d also post on all my socials/send messages to the worst offenders with a preemptive notice of your new inability to help as much as you normally do.

  93. Lagrotto*

    “I would love to help but I’m feeling stretched thin and I’m finding my worklife is bleeding into my homelife too often. If you’d like to make an appointment you can do so X way. (alternatively) I only handle emergency appointments right now but you can make an appointment with my college X way”

  94. TWB*

    Not sure if this has already been said because I haven’t had time to read all of the comments yet.

    I think all the aspects could be combined into a go-to script along the lines of:

    “I’m truly sorry, but our clinic is overworked and understaffed and we’re all pulling 12-14 hour days as it is. For the sake of my mental and physical health, I absolutely need my weekends to decompress and disconnect from work-related stuff. Also, there are concerns about liability if I diagnose a pet I haven’t seen in person at the clinic. I would never forgive myself if advice I gave while exhausted ended up being detrimental to your/someone else’s pet, and it could also open me up to a lawsuit. Thank you for understanding”

    Echoing others – thank you for all you do and have done during this pandemic madness> I don’t currently have a pet, but many of my friends do and I know they are members of the family.

    Also, you can’t take care of others (including animals) without taking care of yourself as well.

  95. deesse877*

    This is more a comment on the whole thing than a direct response to the LW, but it seems relevant.

    I see these kinds of absurd, thoughtless requests for time (and even money!) often in my volunteer work, and for a long time I didn’t understand. How can people make such huge demands on someone they don’t have a relationship with? Why do they not feel shame?

    But then I came across an explanation in a @shrinkthinks thread. Paraphrasing: they do it because they think the request *is* a relationship. It’s selfish and cruel and disrespectful, but it also indicates a real failure to understand how relationships are made.

    That definitely excuses *nothing*, but it was a helpful idea for me because now I can better relinquish the idea of somehow getting through to such people, or of ever getting acknowledgement or apologies. They just don’t get it. They make big asks, and get huffy at refusals, because they don’t know that community is bigger than transactions.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      There’s the “it doesn’t hurt to ask” ideology, but it lands badly with people who have trouble saying no.

      I suspect a lot/most of the “it doesn’t hurt to ask” people have no problem saying not and setting boundaries.

      Whereas the people who have trouble saying no, like me and LW, think “well, they wouldn’t have asked such an outrageous thing unless they really needed it” because we moderate our requests to others to only reasonable things for folks that we would do the same for.

      And possibly the simple question folks are not outrageously boundary pushing, but they don’t realize how many times a vet/doctor/lawyer gets asked for professional advice everyday. But anybody who wants free consult/veterinary care is pretty damn out of bounds.

  96. Bookworm*

    I don’t have any advice but just wanted to say I’m sorry that people are imposing on you like this. and wish you luck. And to thank you for all you do.

  97. NowWhat?465*

    OP, one of my dearest friends who I consider family and their spouse are veterinarians. They get this ALL. THE. TIME. It’s even to the point where people ask me to ask them (seriously) because they don’t feel close enough to ask or have asked too many times themselves. Even though 98% of the time is “Go to the vet/call your own vet if you’re concerned enough to call me.”

    First time offenders usually get the “I’m so sorry, I can’t provide advice without examining your animal in person. Here’s the nearest emergency vet near you.” Multiple times get the “I wish I could help, but if you’re concerned you should take them to a vet near you/currently open/knows your dog.”

    A blanket social media post is also super helpful, though it does take a few minutes of time and mental bandwidth. My vet friends have done seasonal ones announcing that yes the love animals but don’t have the time/capacity/financial status to provide free care and advice to all who ask, but here’s a list of the most common questions and answers this time of year. Then they post a list or infographic (there’s tons online) with what popular foods/decorations are safe for animals, how to keep animals safe by the pool/near a Christmas tree/during fireworks/etc. And then a recommendation to look up emergency veterinarian options near them and/or find out what their vet recommends outside regular business hours, and schedule a regular check up if they haven’t had one recently. It’s much easier to look up this information in a moment of calm than in a moment of panic during a 4th of July cookout. My vet friends feel at peace because they have done what they can, without having to respond to everyone’s individual questions.

    You can then refer people back to said post “Hey, I’m busy today/spending time with family but I just made a post a few weeks ago that may answer your question. Here’s the link” and that should help cut down on a lot of the requests.

  98. CarCarJabar*

    In addition to the advice given on creating a script and updating DND settings on your phone- I wonder if it would be helpful for you to be more open and transparent about these struggles in your regular life. A few thoughtful social media posts, or truthful answers to “Hey! How are you?” would hopefully give advice seekers pause when reaching out to you for free labor.

  99. _ID_*

    Chiming in to say THANK YOU to vets and their staff. We have 4 pets and they probably get better medical care than I do!

    That said, I echo the support for boundaries. A true friend respects your boundaries. Saying “no” will help you and show you who your real friends are! There are some people you can’t do enough for – if you gave them a million dollars, they’d complain about filling out the tax forms. Cut those people off!

    Again – thank you for highlighting this critical issue!

  100. Mandi*

    I think the LW should share a link to this column on their social media. Honestly, if they’re getting 12 messages in a weekend, it’s time for a far-reaching communication to everyone they know that they just can’t accommodate special favors of this nature.

  101. Tech and Pearls*

    I think there are a lot of great scripts & thoughts here!I have noticed that when I need to set boundaries, keeping a message short, direct, and upbeat can convey a tone of “I’m really busy and I really cannot help.” Something like “I’m sorry, I’m super busy right now and I can’t give this the attention it deserves. Best of luck!” can be kind while still clearly saying no.
    Social situations might be a bit trickier, but if you can say something a few times along the lines of “Uhg, all this office talk is making me feel like I’m still on the clock! Jane, tell me more about your…” people will hopefully get the message. Or, if you want to be proactive and you’re comfortable doing it, maybe you could try to start a candid conversation about burnout with your friends, and hopefully they’ll understand that their constant requests are far too much.

  102. Just a Thought*

    I am in favor of being honest about the burnout if you are comfortable with that. The more we include mental health in the day to day regular work of being people the better. I like the idea of being proactive and letting friends know that you need NO WORK on weekends — that you have been available but are not making a change. There are lots of resources for us pet owners – and right now it isn’t you.

    And I love having a different ring tone for your family/mom — and those friends that you know won’t call about their pet issues.

  103. Pyjamas*

    My lawyer gets these queries at parties and he calmly tells inquirer to call his secretary and make apt. It’s so matter of fact and nonchalant OF COURSE the inquirer isn’t wanting free advice, that the assumption becomes fact

    Possible text script

    “Hey, John, thanks for reaching out. I’d love to chat about Fido but this is best handled during an office visit.

    [Local:] My office number is xxx-xxxx. Call my secretary to set up an appt and I’ll see you and Fido then.

    [Out of town: ]Does Fido hav a vet or do you need a recommendation?”

  104. Burnt eggs*

    Can you set an auto reply for all texts except those from your mother/small trusted circle which directs them to clinic webpage? Same with voicemail? And on clinic webpage a notice ‘from the clinic’ that due to liability, overwork, in best interest of the pets and their humans, the clinic nor any staff can provide care or advice outside of the practice?
    My heart goes out to all of you who care for people or pets who never stopped working, whose lives became infinitely more difficult. I’m sure it’s already been said, but without firm limits you cannot sustain; ‘No’ is a valid answer and in the end, the most compassionate for all.
    Good luck, I’ll be thinking of you!

  105. Sleepless*

    I accidentally nested this above, so I’m copying it as a standalone.

    I can’t seem to find it, but this is an approximation of what I put on FB about 5 years ago:

    “Hi my friends! Looks like it’s time for a few reminders.

    1. You may think you’re the only person who ever asks me vet questions. You are not. I have 600 FB friends. If each of you asked me a question twice a year, that would be 4 questions a day that I get when I am not working.

    2. My expertise extends to dogs and cats. It does not include wildlife of any kind.

    3. The biggest reason not to message me is that I really cannot help you. I can’t diagnose anything unless you and your pet are standing in my exam room. I don’t even keep my stethoscope at home. When my own pets are sick, I take them to work. I am not trying to be difficult; this is just reality. I also can’t make guesses about how much something will cost. I’m not about to fall into that trap.

    4. Before you reach out to me with a vet question…have you reached out to me at other times too? I can tell the difference. I spend my entire work day with people who only call me when their pet needs something. These people are called “clients” and we have a financial understanding.

    5. If you simply must ask me a vet question despite the above, please and thank you go a long way, as does spelling my name right. It’s, you know, sitting right there.

    Love you all!”

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      What I love best about #4 is that your close family and best friends would likely have a hundred conversations with you before even considering dropping in a work-related question. The ratios must be really telling.

    2. Boof*

      This is perfect. And wow, I have done some things that do tend to get hit up for “free work” requests (let’s say amateur comic book artist – maybe could have been pro if I’d really focused on it but decided to do other things as my main source of income), and I’m also a doctor, but actually as a doctor I get this pretty infrequently. I also tend to shut it down pretty quick though because /I will never know as much about the case as the person actually seeing them and looking at all the tests so it would be really weird for me to act like I have a better idea than they do/. At best I get flagged for a few emergencies if I’m the closest one just because I have some idea of what to do, but that idea is usually either “yes, to the emergency room!” vs “let’s do urgent care first they can do xrays”. I’m a bit flabbergasted at how frequently it sounds like vets are being tapped for this. Just say no! I know it sucks because the pet is innocent if someone decides to just not do anything for them but… make good friends with animal welfare organizations…?

  106. AndersonDarling*

    For friends and family that are asking for favors, call them and unload. They are asking you for a favor, so you can ask them to listen to you. Talk, cry, tell the depressing story that is haunting you. This is an opportunity for you to receive support form the people who care about you. It’s likely that they will examine their request and retract it once they understand what is happening.
    If you don’t feel comfortable unloading on the people reaching out to you, then you need to ask if you have enough of a relationship for them to ask favors. It may be best to ignore those texts. If it really is important to get your attention, then they need to do more than send a msg on facebook of send a text. They need to call.
    Your friends and family won’t understand how depressing/challenging your work is unless you tell them. This is the perfect time to enlist their help.

  107. Green Bean*

    A lot of people accidentally and unconsciously equate being passionate/an expert in a field with wanting to do the work 24/7, for free, and with a smile. I would suggest having a cut-and-paste response at the ready – something like “thanks for coming to me; I’m happy to schedule time during normal work hours to consult with you or set you up with a referral, here’s the number for the clinic if you’d like to schedule.” If you get pushback, try to stand firm with that boundary and explain that you’re a professional and any advice or assistance you provide needs to stay within that realm (use procedure/protocol/liability as a reason if you need!).

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Sadly, a lot of people also use this to try to leverage free care. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that vets and staff should work “for the love of animals” and give away as much free care as people need.

      1. Beth*

        I think this is especially prevalent with health related professions. If you sell teapots and someone can’t afford to buy your product, it’s easy enough to tell them to go without until they can save up. But health stuff can be very time sensitive and has huge consequences, and is also expensive enough to be a serious barrier for people, especially in the middle of a pandemic/recession. It brings an “Are you really going to let this innocent patient suffer, and maybe die? They might not be able to access care without you!” element to the table that really adds pressure on health care professionals.

        1. Dr. No Patience*

          Agree all around. Yes, health issues often are time sensitive. What most people conveniently forget is pets are a LUXURY, not a necessity. Pet owners have taken on the responsibility of caring for a living being, and that costs money. Why should veterinarians subsidize the care of someone else’s pet? We deserve to make a living, without getting paid we cannot provide care for our patients. Veterinarians are not going to let the innocent patient suffer or die, the owner is doing that by neglecting to adequately prepare for the cost of owning a pet. Trust me, the pharmaceutical companies, the electric companies, the bank, etc. are not giving veterinary practices their services or products for free even if they too love animals…

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Also, vets are private practice. Taxpayers end up with the tab if you go to the public hospital ER. If you stiff the vet, the vet’s practice eats the loss.

            I try all the time to explain to people how high-overhead and personnel-intensive it is.

          2. Beth*

            I mean, to push back on this slightly…I’ve had my cat for ten years. I’m making less right now than I was when I got him, and his care is proportionally much more of a burden than it was then. In my case, this was planned, so it’s something I took into account; I can still afford it, and I don’t begrudge that even when it makes my budget tight! But this year in particular, a lot of people are in very tight economic circumstances that they absolutely didn’t sign up for and couldn’t possibly have planned for when they were choosing whether to get a pet.

            That doesn’t mean any given vet is obligated to offer free care at any given moment. Like you said, vets need to make a living—which means both making money for the work they do today, and having the mental space to rest and recover in time for tomorrow’s work. But it does mean that I think we need to be compassionate about how hard it is for people to access care right now. In a lot of cases, it’s not neglect so much as truly unexpected dire circumstances.

            1. Vet Spouse*

              Circumstances change over time but people asking for free services from vets is a daily, exhausting occurrence far before the pandemic. The pandemic caused a huge boom in demand because people got pandemic puppies or spent more time with them and noticed things they missed before. In our family’s experience there is no correlation between client objections to the cost of care with low income. If anything, the opposite – infuriating! There’s not really a comparison to human medicine because human providers are almost never talking about billing as part of their patient encounter (most doctors have no idea what their services will cost their patients, maybe with the exception of elective cosmedic procedures or assisted reproductive med) whereas vets have both a clinical and financial conversation with every encounter.

              My husband , the actual vet, has tons of compassion for the financial distress of clients and also guilt for the cost of vet care and also guilt that his animal patients have better quality care than lots of humans. He’s just paying a big price personally as it all gets leeched out of him.

      2. DVM*

        YES! They don’t value their pet enough to pay for care, yet expect us to donate $1000 worth of care on demand. And slam you on social media for not doing so.

  108. Beth*

    Is this mostly coming from close friends and family, or from relatively distant acquaintances?

    If it’s the former (or if a large portion of it is the former, even, or if the relatively distant acquaintances are reaching you through your close friends and family), honestly, be proactive about it. Send a mass email/text/fb post/whatever will reach people and straight up tell them that you’re struggling with overwork and can’t be available for vet type questions. Make sure you’re very clear that this includes all levels of questions, from “What kibble should I be feeding Fluffy?” to “Does this spot look dangerous?” Suggest a couple general resources (e.g. a basic how-to-care-for-animals site you trust, a list of emergency vets, whatever you already know of and can link easily) and end with something like “Going forward, any pet health related questions need to happen in an actual appointment made at my clinic. Cute photos and silly stories, on the other hand, you can share anytime!”

    From there, if anyone asks you these questions, they’re either actively disrespecting a boundary you’ve set or not that close to you in the first place. Either way, you can feel justified in telling them you’re off duty and they need to talk to their vet about that.

  109. Aphrodite*

    Please, everyone vets, vet assistants, and support staff: You are so important and I appreciate you more than I can express here. Shine that spine and set your boundaries, not boundaries set by others (especially friends and family) but set by you based on what you know you need to keep yourself healthy. We need you to do the work you do so setting your own firm boundaries–and asking those who care for you to spread the word–is essential. Do it. Be firm. Take care of yourself. Know we really appreciate you and that we do NOT want to lose you to exhaustion and burnout.

  110. Essess*

    I recall reading a great response that I read that a doctor had posted long ago…. “I’d be happy to look at X. Feel free to contact my office to make an appointment and then I’ll take a look when you come in.”

    1. Llama Llama*

      I like this.

      I also like the response ” You should contact your vet.” and then don’t respond after that.

    2. Sleepless*

      I do this quite a bit. People usually act surprised, and then drop it. Once in a long while, somebody actually does it! One of my friends became a very good client.

  111. BigRedGum*

    while i fully subscribe to the idea of “No is a complete sentence” sometimes that just isn’t reasonable. as hard as it might be, you have to put yourself first! something like “that is a good question, but i can’t answer that without a full doggo examination. call the office and make an appointment.”

    You might have to repeat that several dozen times, but it should work.
    good luck to you and I really appreciate your hard work!

  112. A Case of the Mondays*

    Unfortunately you’re in a profession where your qualifications are useful to a lot of people, and many of those people are willing to abuse your goodwill to save money. I have a hair stylist friend in a similar situation – she started out giving pretty much everyone she knows free haircuts on her own time, and now it seems like she’s stuck doing that forever because no one (except me) offers to pay her. Just wanted to chime in to reinforce the fact that you should not carry any guilt for not responding when things have gotten this out-of-hand and you’re this burned out. A one-time freebie, maybe (or if it’s a close family member’s pet) – but it is important to draw the line and refer people to their regular vet after that; anything more goes into the territory of you being taken advantage of. I definitely like the idea of falling back on the excuse that you don’t know the pet’s history and therefore shouldn’t be diagnosing or prescribing anything (which I’m sure is at least partly true).

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      I just wanted to note that there are now two of us. Case of the Mondays and A Case of the Mondays are different posters. :) I agree with the comment but I’m not the author!

  113. Crazy Cat Lady in the making*

    First time commenter here – thank you OP for writing in because I am someone who probably would message a vet friend with a ‘quick question’ about my pet, and it’s helpful to have this reminder that a quick question for us is a lot more for you!

    If it’s a friend, they should understand burn out and care about your wellbeing, so I would say something like ‘I’m really sorry, work is incredibly busy right now and I’m getting so many requests outside of work that I just don’t have the emotional capacity to handle anything else – if you are concerned the best thing to do is make an appointment with your local vet, or if money is a concern contact your local humane society who may offer free or subsidised treatment’.

  114. LTL*

    Would it be helpful to send out a blanket message to everyone stating that while you’d normally love to help, work is overflowing and you’d prefer not speaking about pets so you have time to decompress? This might help counteract the effect of people getting emotional or pushing your boundaries in the moment. You can include links to helpful resources if you want to (though you are under no obligation to do so).

  115. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I’m going to address only the second part of the question, where people start complaining about the cost. ‘Yes, medical care is expensive no matter the species. I have to charge for my time, because that is what covers rent and diagnostic equipment.”

  116. exhausted veterinarian #2*

    Fellow veterinarian here. The best solution for me has been a significantly delayed response. I normally respond the next day saying, “I’m so sorry – I don’t check my messages often! That sounds worrisome – what did you end up doing?”

    Any variation of the (nice, normal, polite) responses given by most of the commenters here can unexpectedly result in vitriol :(

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I like this. Just don’t respond. But I think OP may be at a place where just seeing the questions and the ongoing nagging is too much, so I still recommend blocking the asker for 48 hours or so.

      Alternatively, a new cell number that only goes to OP’s mom, trusted family (all instructed not to share the number), and her office (again, instructed not to give out at all), and possibly her own healthcare providers … that seems like a great idea. Then she can turn off her regular phone as soon as she is off work and needs down time.

  117. anonforthis*

    Thank you for everything you are doing – and I’m sorry that this year has been especially depleting for you and those working in the animal care industry. So many people have given such great advice, but I just want to add one thing. I’m a type-A person, and prior to being in a more demanding job with a family, I responded to every text and message in a timely fashion. However, I have long had a few friends who are not reliable in their responses. I always wondered why, and almost took it personally, but now that I am in this phase of life which is so very busy with many demands, I don’t get back to about 80% of my non-work, non-family related texts. It’s not personal, my attention is just elsewhere and I need to take care of my family, my job, and myself. I wish I would have done this before, it sapped so much of my energy and it was in no way a fraction of as intense as you are describing. All this to say, feel free to just ignore. You have no obligation to even send a stock response. You may want to prioritize a few people – like family, close friends – that you do give advice to. But otherwise, give yourself permission to feel zero guilt about just deleting those messages. Hope you can get some time to yourself soon!

    1. anonforthis*

      An additional strategy, because you said these are coming up in phone calls, send every call to voicemail unless it is a person that you know is not going to ask you a question about their pet. I started this three years ago and it has given me so much more control over my time.

  118. Geek*

    How many of the people calling would come to your house and help move furniture for you if you asked? Or get out of bed and come pick you up at 11p if you were stranded somewhere?

    Those are the people who should continue to get advice from you.

    I don’t understand this. My friend’s wife is a vet. She’s *our* vet. We don’t ask her for a second opinion for free. She’s already given it to us. If she’s not in the office, we talk to her socially or not at all. The only time I’ve ever called in a favor was when the front office staff said they had no appointments, and my dog needed to be seen now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now. When I’m in the office, I call her Dr. Smith. I switched. “Please ask Jane to call me on my cell when she’s free. She has my number. I need to be seen today.” She saw us almost immediately, and she said she would have done the same if our roles were reversed.

    Socially, we talk about our dogs. They have dogs. We have dogs. We got new pups at about the same time. We traded war stories about the puppies growing up. When I need vet expertise, I call her office and make an appointment, and–except when my dog was urgently ill–I wait my turn in line.

  119. Caroline Bowman*

    This is so upsetting! Why should you, a dedicated and hard working medical professional be expected to dish out free advice? I don’t work for free unless by specific priori arrangement by my own choice, neither should you, particularly not now. But of course, how to deal with it graciously is the real question.

    I would send a group text or whatsapp or email (whichever will reach the widest number of friends and acquaintances) and spell out that you are experiencing great stress and working very long days, that you love chit chat about the various pets – and I’m guessing you do – but unfortunately you are 100% not able to dispense any after-hours veterinary advice at all, not to anyone, that you really appreciate their understanding during this incredibly tough time, but that’s that. And mean it. No backsliding.

  120. Solstice*

    You could share this letter on your social media in the context of “a colleague posted this and though I care deeply about my friends, I really relate!” Might be eye opening for some people- even for other people/professions where they don’t realize the burden of what they are asking .

  121. From Inside The House*

    I have similar advice for this vet as I do for the people who are always worried about receiving work notifications: turn it off. DND for anyone who is not your mom.

    Also: YOU CANNOT CONTROL OTHER PEOPLE’S REACTIONS, THEREFORE IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO MANAGE THEM. You can be kind and patient, but people are going to be upset when you don’t provide what they want.

  122. Plebian Trash*

    Why do people think that just because someone is a “friend” that they should have unlimited access to their time and expertise without compensating them? I have friends who are mechanics, lawyers, accountants, etc. who all have this issue. And yes I do use their services…with an appointment…during business hours…and I PAY them with no complaints. OP you need to politely but firmly set those boundaries that you are not available on the weekends and that they should call their own vet. If they continue to push they are the rude ones, not you.

  123. Hosta*

    Hopefully, providing somme proof that this can work. A few of my friends are vets, including one in emergency care. I never ask them questions about my pets. They’ve both set clear but kind boundaries about not giving medical advice outside appointments and not treating friends’ animals. Even when my animals are really sick I’d never dream of reaching out to them. The only exception is that the emergency clinic my friend works at is considered the best in the area so if needed I would take my animals there.

    My friends occasionally have to reinforce the boundaries on social media. They post something like “Just a friendly reminder that I don’t give medical advice to friends. I want to be your friend, not your veterinarian. It is just too hard to separate the two, especially when an animal is sick and their owner is hurting.” That phrasing plus a bit of awareness building about how common mental health issues are in the veterinary medicine community general helps folks understand the need for boundaries.

    If people push they recommend a “veterinarian finder” type website. And then back up whatever the friend’s veterinarian says. They also don’t participate in conversations about pet related topics unless they have a lot of emotional availability. So if a friend posts on social media about a training challenge or a pet food recall they don’t contribute. That doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy seeing our pet pictures, or compliment folks on their pets, or have pet playdates, but they make it clear that they’re being a friend, not a vet.

  124. Alan's Mom*

    Thank you so much for what you do, LW. My dog spent the better part of last summer in and out of emergency care for a sudden illness, and our vet staff was absolutely incredible. All the people who worked with us mentioned how exponentially the work had grown in the pandemic, and it meant a lot to me that they were still so caring and kind.
    Perhaps it would help ease your feelings of guilt if you mentally reframed your boundaries as protecting your clients and patients? They are the most deserving of your time and expertise, and if you burn out (even more) on free advice seekers you won’t have as much to give to your patients.
    I sent my dog’s vet team a couple thank you cards after surgery and recovery. If I knew you I’d send you one as well. Thank you for all you do. Take care of yourself.

  125. Llama Llama*

    I didn’t read all the comments so maybe someone else has said this already.

    The problem as I see it is that you don’t have any boundaries. You’ve been giving free advice and now people expect it of you to the point that it is overwhelming you. And, based on the frequency of the advice asking you’ve indicated, it sounds like you will dispense free advice to anyone at any time. It will be harder to set boundaries now than it would have been from the get go, because people now expect that they are entitled to your free advice. You’re going to have to be very firm.

    Here is what you do:
    1. Decide if there is anyone you will give advice to. Maybe only immediate family, or your best friend or whatever. Make a list.
    2. Write something that you can save that says “I am sorry but my policy has changed and I can no longer give free medical advice.” There seem to be lots of good language options in the comments already.
    3. Stick to it.

    You are a medical professional with years of school and training. You work hard and it is your job to give medical advice for pets. You are not required to do your job during off hours, you are not required to do your job for free, you don’t need to let people make you feel bad for that. People who expect you to work just because they happen to kind of know you are in the wrong here but also you have let them push you around in the past. Stand up for yourself. Say no and mean it.

  126. HeyThere*

    Lot of good suggestions here already. I had a mass email from my vet just yesterday imploring clients to please be patient and kind with them during this time and it’s heartbreaking that they even had to send that.

    1. Sleepless*

      People be crazy. My latest one-star Yelp review was from a guy who had a whole laundry list of things he was sore about, including being “chastised for yelling and using profanity with the staff.” Seriously.

  127. Pikachu*

    This sounds harsh, and I apologize, but OP you just have to commit to boundaries, end of story. Rip the bandaid off. The hardest part about setting boundaries, personal or professional or whatever, is releasing yourself of the guilt of hurting other people’s feelings. You cannot control how people react, and you are not responsible for it. Quite frankly, if people do get prickly, then you know you are setting an appropriate boundary.

    There is no easy way to do this. There just isn’t. It really sucks when people realize they can no longer take advantage of you. They get whiny, passive aggressive, and even downright mean and abusive, but you have to put yourself first and just let them be upset. The alternative is to stretch yourself so thin that your primary patients and their families are the ones that get hurt, because you are bleeding yourself dry (not to mention putting your license at risk to write prescriptions! wtf) after hours out of the goodness of your heart.

    I feel for you OP. I have had to set firm boundaries with people a couple times, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m a people pleaser and a caring person by nature, so it goes against everything I am to say no and stick to it. But my life is infinitely less stressful, and guess what? They moved on and got what they needed from somewhere else. 9 times out of 10, they don’t need it to be you. They just need something from someone and they know you’ll answer the call. Stop answering and they will go elsewhere.

  128. OnceaVetGirl*

    Wow. I wish I had seen this earlier. First of all, thank you for working in a veterinary emergency setting. It is so hard, both physically and emotionally, and it’s very hard for people to understand that. I worked in the field for decades, mostly as a tech in specialty medicine.
    First, compassion fatigue is real. It can be crippling. It also makes it harder for us to set boundaries because we want to help everyone and every pet.
    As far as setting those boundaries, well for me, I just needed to develop really thick skin. I always tell people “Fluffy needs to be seen by a veterinarian, in a hospital/clinic setting”. If it’s after hours, I’ll try to tell them whether they have to go that night or wait until morning. I do not answer questions from people I do not know, I do not answer the phone after bedtime.

    Does your hospital offer enough time away? Breaks are essential.

    At work, when someone calls in the middle of the night asking for free care? Whoever talks to them just explains how payment work and maybe directs them to call other area hospitals. People are frustrated at having to wait in the car outside the hospital, but at least they get to pick their own music and the level of ac or heat.

  129. Cat Lady*

    I volunteer in animal rescue so I feel this question to my core. Our rescue is flooded at this time of year with requests to take in kittens and it is exhausting. This year I told everyone, friends included, that all requests for help need to go through official channels instead of through my personal phone or email. I just explained I was approaching burn out and my only option to avoid quitting completely was to set boundaries. Everyone was surprisingly supportive.

    OP, I think the more you are honest with what you’re up against with these people, the better you will feel. It’ll take a huge weight off your chest and help prevent being overloaded in the future by people looking for free advice. The scripts above that are along the lines of, “I’m really sorry but I’m overwhelmed right now and am not available to answer questions outside of business hours. Please contact my clinic’s front desk to set up an appointment and we’ll do our best to help.” will be helpful. Express regret at not being able to help immediately, explain why, and then lay out the path to getting the help needed.

    Good luck to you! My heart is with all veterinary professionals. Y’all are heroes in my eyes!

  130. Jaybeetee*

    For all our social networks, O feel like many of us… struggle to use our social networks to our own advantage. (This isn’t meant to be a dig at you OP. I get how stressful these things can be).

    It might help to wrangle your closer friends and family and give them the run-down of your situation, your burnout, and why you need these extraneous requests to stop. Ask them to spread the word (and if any of them are making “referrals”, tell them to stop). Hopefully just getting the word out there will help cut this down significantly. I suspect most people asking you things are being garden-variety thoughtless, and a poke in the right direction will get them to stop and think.

    For those who don’t get the memo or try anyway, a generic response about how you can’t offer advice without seeing the pet would be appropriate.

    If anyone gets pushy or wheedling past a boundary like that, they’re *ignoring* your boundaries. Give them all the consideration they’re giving you.

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. You do important work and it sounds exhausting.

  131. Chilipepper*

    I don’t have advice, I just want to say that I am so sorry this is happening to you and to everyone in your field. I appreciate my vets so much and I thank you for all you do.

    And remember, anyone pushing to get free advice has already made things awkward, you are not the one causing the awkwardness.

  132. Don’t Think About a Cat*

    Oh, my dear colleague. I feel you.

    I, too, am a vet, and I am very burned out. I just left practice to start teaching at a tech school because after 17 years, I’m just done. I get this stuff all the time. Friends giving their friends my cell number. My own husband used to pimp me out to his management team for telephone consults (across state lines!). Neighbors coming to the door with questions, animals with wounds, etc. Or worse, neighbors coming to the door with wildlife. “We cut down our tree, what do we do with these baby squirrels?” And the expectation that from the goodness of my heart, I will solve their problem by making it mine.

    “I rescued this kitten!” they’ll say, holding it out for me to take over and deflea, deworm, bottle feed, lose sleep over, risk heartbreak for while they run home to FB about how they just saved a life.

    No one gets how vet med isn’t in the forefront of your brain all the time, that these questions force you to stop what you’re doing and dip into the vet files to get the answers. And what they really don’t get is that those files are seeped with joy, yes, but also the pain of loss. That we feel our own sorrow as well as that of our clients, and that we can’t think about it in our down time or we’ll give up, or worse. Experience can be a bitch of a teacher.

    All I can tell you is that I stopped answering my door, answering my phone. I will absolutely pull out “oh, it’s illegal for me to answer that,” and when they press, pretending to laugh while I say, “sorry! I like my license way more than I like you.” People seem to see us as responding to a calling rather than having a job. They’re shocked when I demur, because “don’t you love animals?” Yeah, I love them so much, I built my professional life around them. I also love to eat, and working for you for free isn’t helping with that one.

    When you become a vet, it’s who you are. Over time, it becomes what you do. You have to learn to protect yourself.

    All I can tell you is draw that line in flame. Refuse to help. They think you’re rude? Who cares. They tell you you’re all about the money? You know better. You owe your patients, the one you have a VCPR with, your best. We cannot save them all, and if we try, we’re the ones who are lost.

    Get a separate phone, give the number only to people you trust, and shut off your other one when you leave work for the day. Curate your social media feeds and put “no vet inquiries here” in your bio, and point to it frequently. Most importantly, don’t tell people you’re a vet. I currently sell boat insurance. A good friend of mine tests asphalt integrity.

    Thinking of you today. Evolve your carapace!

    1. Sleepless*

      I’ve been telling people I was a stay-at-home mom for years. Why not? It’s an easy way to talk about everything in my life but work. But with my youngest about to graduate from high school, I don’t think I’m going to be able to use that one any more.

  133. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    “I am sorry, but I have had a huge uptick in the number of these questions during the pandemic, and this is on top of working 12-14 hours a day during a high stress time. I cannot answer questions about animals I have not personally examined as part of my workday at this point, and I need all the time I have away from practice to decompress and ensure that I am able to be my best for my patients. At this time, I am not answering any questions about the medical care of pets or giving any pet related advice for the foreseeable future. Thank you for your understanding.”

    If they push back, block that person for the rest of the weekend. You said what you needed to say. And you need to not worry about them being angry. If it is a really close friend giving you trouble, just say, “Look, you are a great friend, but I explained that I need to step back from this for my own mental and physical health. Between my increase in work and my mother’s health issues, I am stretched too thin. I am sorry if you cannot understand this, but I won’t be able to help anyone if I do not take care of myself.” (That is for someone who you are really close too, and that will be the absolute last response on the subject).

    1. Sleepless*

      The only problem with this is that I wouldn’t want to make it sound like this is only a problem because of the pandemic. They might start doing it once things go Back To Normal. I’ve been a veterinarian for 28 years, and this kind of thing was soul-crushing even in the Before Times.

  134. Carrie Oakie*

    Thank you for what you do, I know how much I love our vet and how hard it was to find one whom I trusted wholly, and part of loving her is that she clearly cares about my baby girl. I’m thinking of the time last September when my girl was really sick and I had to beg and hope they could get her in the next day, and how our vet techs calmed me down as I cried handing over her carrier, and how the vet called me every couple of hours with updates, even if there was none, because they saw how upset and scared I – not the patient – was. You have a hard job that has rewards to balance, but nowadays I am sure those rewards are hard to come by.

    I echo what others are saying wholeheartedly – set boundaries. Give you mom/people you want to talk to a distinct ringtone. When you don’t hear that tone, don’t answer, don’t read the text. Give yourself permission to step away.
    When people do sneak past your safety net, you are allowed to say “You should talk to your regular vet or schedule an appointment with my office, I don’t “vet” in my office time. Appreciate you respecting my boundaries.” Using that last sentence at the end leaves them with the option to 1) NOT respect your boundaries, thereby giving you justification (not that you need it, but people are people nowadays) to reinforce that with a firm, “I’m sorry, I can’t help. I need to go back to XYZ now.” Or 2) they can be a decent human and pick up on that cue and move on.

  135. Sleepless*

    Check out Andy Roark’s website and look for an article called something like “The Rule of Five: You’re Killing My Wife, and Here’s How to Stop It.” It’s from a religious perspective, but it’s well done.

  136. Former Employee*

    Thank you for all you do. I do not have pets, but I support my local shelter and many organizations that work towards no kill/save them all.

    I know what it’s like to have to deal with being a support for others and it can be exhausting and heart breaking.

    Use whatever works for you to get people to back off. I personally like the idea of liability issues. For starters, I assume it’s true. While I don’t know the particulars when it comes to vets, I imagine it’s not all that different from the rules applicable to human patients. If you could be in trouble with your licensing board, insurance company, etc., for treating a patient you’ve never seen, just say so in a very matter of fact manner. Only the most obnoxious people will act as if it doesn’t matter to them that you could be risking your ability to practice if you give them advice about a pet you’ve not examined. And you can probably do without those people anyway.

    Best of luck to you and remember that things are gradually getting back to something resembling a more normal state.

  137. GreenDoor*

    I have a lawyer friend who is often approached by friends or even people he just met who “just have a quick legal question.” He quickly interjects with an enthusiastic “I’d love to help you out!” as he’s pulling out a business card which he hands to them and says, “Just call Susie at my office and set up an appointment.” For particularly rude people he will add, “I typically bill at $x/hour or you could ask for my junior colleage, Bob. He’s great and bills at $y.”

    It’s a firm response, and I’m sure it adds to the negative stereotypes about lawyers. But he has also had some of those people call and set up an appointment and hire him. If you keep your tone friendly it’s a good way to separate people who will respect your boundaries and pay for your time from those who are entitled or just want free advice.

  138. MsMaryMary*

    Hi OP. Everyone else has given great advice on setting boundaries and scripts. I want to suggest thinking about how you want your career to look going forward. I have a high school friend who worked very hard to become a vet, and after a couple years in private practice he moved into teaching. The move almost certainly saved his life and his sanity. I don’t know if that’s something you’d want to do. I don’t know if you’d want to make a permanent change. But it might let you catch your breath.

    Potentially focusing on pathology, anesthesiology, surgery, or some sort of research might be another option? Or going part time? Getting friends and acquaintances to stop asking you for advice is a big step, but the level of burnout you feel at work is not sustainable either.

    Good luck.

  139. research anon*

    I’m sorry you’re struggling.
    There are some resources and non profits that really do great with this – Downtown Dog rescue is one in LA that I send a small monthly donation to as they are super oriented on helping (via vouchers) families keep their pets who are going to turn them into the shelter:
    I’m sorry this isn’t a solution to your specific problem, but it is a resource for some people

  140. Sylvan*

    Hi, LW. I’m sorry you’re going through all of this. Some people in other professions have similar problems, like therapists. It might be helpful to look for advice they’ve written for each other.

    Thank you for what you do. You’ve reminded me to let a veterinarian know I appreciate what they did for my cat.

  141. MommyMD*

    Same boat. I shut this down years ago after non-stop requests from relatives, neighbors, friends. “I can only give medical advice to a patient legally checked in to see me. My employer doesn’t allow hallway consults”. It works. I don’t care whether or not it’s true. Those of us practicing human or veterinary medicine can get ourselves into a legal predicament doling out off-the-chart advice. I simply won’t do it. If you are an independent practitioner you can insert “insurance” for employer. Please don’t burden your physician, vet, dentist, nurse acquaintance for advice.

  142. Lawyer But Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    Proposed language: “I have had to put into practice a very clear line between my professional and personal life in order to protect my mental health and well being, as such unfortunately I can’t help you with this. Thank you in advance for understanding, I really appreciate it.” Not debate-able. Don’t engage in any back and forth. Someone who pushes after you say something like that does not have your best interests at heart. You need to protect your health in order to do the amazing work that you do. As a lawyer I have a professional responsibility not to provide advice in social situations, and I fall back on this. I am not sure if there is something like that for your practice, your insurance only covers treatment you provide at the office, and you would hate to make a mistake and lose your practice. Good luck. Thank you for the work you do!

  143. Dr. No Patience*

    OP, as a fellow colleague I feel your pain. What your “friends” are doing to you is emotional blackmail. As a veterinarian I rarely tell people I meet outside of work what I do for a living because that apparently gives them free licence to monopolize my time and tell me all about their wonderful pet and every pet they’ve ever owned since childhood and how that pet lived to be 20 years old and never went to the vet! A useful phrase I learned to say was “I can be your friend, or I can be your veterinarian. Not both.” There are only two friends who can call me any time of day or night for help with their pets and that’s it! Stand firm and block their numbers if need be. Good luck!

  144. Sleepless*

    One thing I alluded to in a couple of places, but didn’t really make clear. LW, don’t forget that you can’t make a diagnosis or really give anybody helpful advice WITHOUT AN IN PERSON EXAM. I mean, you just can’t. Just like you’re always having to tell clients at work. A text, a photo, none of those things will give you any real information. Somebody texts you a picture of a mass? You can’t aspirate it and tell if it’s a mast cell tumor. Is their cat blocked or not? You haven’t palpated the bladder. Why is their dog limping? It’s probably a cruciate tear, but since you haven’t taken X rays, what if it’s osteosarcoma? These are the reasons we don’t give any medical advice to phone shoppers. I’ve pointed out to a few people that if one of my own pets is sick, I put them in the car and TAKE THEM TO WHERE I WORK, and yes, I was an hour late to a party once because my dogs got in a fight and one got a laceration on her face, and off to my hospital they went, where I dumped them on a coworker. I didn’t even try to do anything at home. You just cannot deal in hypotheticals, so don’t make yourself crazy trying.

    1. Anonycomms*

      I think part of the issue, though, is that there probably ARE some things that could theoretically be handled without a physical exam (I mean, 90% of my doctor’s appointments have been remote this year), but (1) people are not generally great judges of what they are and (2) LW may still be inundated with questions like “should I go to the vet?” “why won’t my dog potty train?” “are there any home remedies for kennel cough?” “does the vomit/poop look concerning to you?” where “I can’t answer without performing a physical exam” is unlikely to go over well when OP does want to preserve those relationships.

      The same goes for other suggestions such as “sure I can help, just pay me”. People will respond much better to “I wish I could help but I’m getting near-constant requests for after-hours support right now so I’m asking everyone to [go to X website, call X hotline, make an appointment, go to the clinic at X location] for any requests like this.”

      Anyone who doesn’t respond well to this didn’t have OP’s best interests at heart anyway (and arguably were just taking advantage – it’s one thing to assume someone can help you, another to demand that they help you after they’ve communicated that it’s not something they can do right now).

      1. Sleepless*

        The comparison to human telemedicine is not quite valid. People can report their own symptoms pretty accurately. There is one degree of remove for a pet.

        For your other examples:

        Should I go to the vet? If you’re concerned enough to ask, the answer is yes.

        Why won’t my dog potty train? I don’t know. But there might be (and often is) a medical issue underlying it, and I can’t diagnose that.

        Are there home remedies for kennel cough? Well, that’s assuming that it’s kennel cough. It could be something else. The pet needs an in person exam to find out. In the meantime, the pet owner is wasting both of their time.

        Is the vomit/poop concerning to you? If there’s vomit, that’s concerning. If the poop doesn’t look normal to the owner, the pet needs an exam.

        I don’t mean to be contentious, this is just the nature of veterinary medicine.

        1. Alpaca Clinician*

          Agreed – being in a referral hospital in a region where it can take clients up to 24 hours of travel to get to us sometimes, I am forced by my circumstances to do some version of remote diagnosing over the phone/computer. If I end up talking to an owner, in 99.9% of my conversations, my first question is “has your local vet looked at your horse/pony/donkey/prize alpaca?” There is only so much I can do over the phone – the vast majority of it is helping the owner to decide how quickly to book an appointment with a vet who can examine their animal in-person.

          All of us at my hospital routinely look at pictures of masses, radiographs, videos of lame horses, etc. – but these are almost always sent to us by a primary care veterinarian who is looking for further insight as to where to go next. The only service we offer that seems to work okay-ish remotely is behaviour consultations – and even in these cases, there is an initial in-person appointment where the vet examines the dog and talks face-to-face with the owners.

          The power of a simple physical examination is not to be overlooked – I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve told vet students that they could have figured out what was wrong with the animal by just laying their hands on it, rather than running all manner of expensive tests. To quote Otto Radostits (semi-famous bovine vet in Canada), “You miss more by not looking than by not knowing.”

  145. Pay up!*

    Considering they are calling to get your professional experience and advice, you could set up the office phone to say – ” We now take phone appointments, please contract office to set up your time and payment.” A lot of these calls will taper off, the moment you put a tag on the advice.

    IF they call you directly, set up your voicemail to say – “If you are calling about veterinary advice, Please book an appointment” and leave all calls go to voicemail. or change your number.

  146. Wanda*

    This is a tech management strategy – could you turn off your ringer/alerts, but use the Emergency Override feature in your phone for your mom’s number and her doctor’s? This is for IPhones – you can alter the few contacts you want to always ring/alert, then go ahead and turn off all alerts globally.

    The only risk would be if you’re at a performance or movie, your mom’s call would ring through.

    I honestly would just ignore all pet-related texts/emails. I’ve had SO MANY friends do this to me – they get overwhelmed by life and go radio silent for a bit.

  147. Anonycomms*

    I’m so sorry you’re struggling with this, OP. I would suggest responding with something along the following lines when you get these requests:

    “I’m so sorry – since COVID began, I’ve been inundated with requests like this from everyone I know and unfortunately, there just just aren’t enough hours in the day.

    I’ve been recommending that anyone with requests like this [follow your suggested course of action that doesn’t involve you: call a hotline, book an appointment, go to an emergency clinic, refer to a resource, etc.]. There are just so many people looking for this kind of support right now, and I don’t want to compromise the standard of care I’m giving to anyone I’m treating. Thankfully, you should be able to get the information/treatment you need by accessing that resource, so definitely take a look/reach out to them if needed.”

    FWIW, this may be problematic with boundary-pushers that are closer to you (ie are aware of what you’re doing in your free time), if they decide you should be treating their pet instead of using your downtime for yourself.

    Anyone who goes down that path is truly awful (and it would be totally understandable to rethink your relationships with those people), but it may also be worthwhile to pro-actively reach out to some people you are close to (and anyone that tends to be a hub to other people you know). Then, when talking about COVID as we frequently do these days (and when you haven’t been discussing their pet or their friends’ pets), mention that you have been completely exhausted from all the people that are constantly reaching out to you for veterinary support over and above your already-demanding work schedule and you are trying to figure out how to handle it all (with the implication that you are looking for suggestions from them).

    It will open up a conversation about everything you are faced with right now (so you may want to be selective about who you do this with), but you will also be indirectly enlisting them to let others know this isn’t something you can do right now (and some solid reasons why). It’s also more likely that they’ll be considerate of the impact these requests have on you.

    You can certainly be more direct (“can you help me encourage people to use X resource”) but I think that it will go a long way if you let people know that the volume of requests has gotten unmanageable and that you’re directing everyone to the same resources / clinic / otherwise as a result. And don’t make any exceptions unless you are absolutely certain the person will keep it to themselves.

  148. Maybe weird suggestion?*

    There’s a sub on Reddit called r/AskVet. It’s a place for people to ask actual vets questions. The vets aren’t allowed to diagnose or treat any animals (it’s over Reddit after all!), but they can give advice or some compassionate words to help the person out. They’re also REALLY good about telling people to take their pet to the ER vet when needed and then talking them into it when they drag their feet. I definitely wouldn’t recommend if they didn’t. But LW can check it out for herself to judge its value, and then send people there.

    LW could also create a FAQ on their website to answer some of the most asked questions and to submit urgent questions. Then she could have someone go through the questions and either send a form answer to make an appointment, a quick short answer, or direct the question to her.

    Or they could do both this and the Reddit sub. Either or both might help ease the amount of question-wrangling they have to do.

  149. Ellen N.*

    First, thank you VERY much for being an emergency veterinarian. I am deeply appreciative of everything my regular veterinarians and my emergency veterinarians do to keep my precious pets healthy.

    You can start by telling free advice seekers that it is dangerous to diagnose an animal without examining said animal.

    If you have certain friends who are repeatedly referring others to you for free advice you might want to have a talk with them and lay out what you’ve said here.

  150. HannahS*

    MD here. Boundary-setting is hard and it feels bad. It seems counterintuitive, but accepting that fact is helpful. The fact that it feels bad is a testament to the reasons why you went into that profession in the first place. Accept that it will cause you distress, and understand that like other things that we do for our wellness (exercising regularly, eating less ice cream than is desirable, paying taxes) it’s sucky AND still a net good AND it will get easier over time.

    It’s a bit grim, but part of surviving this type of career is understanding and accepting that the idealism of “I’m going to help everyone/save everyone/rescue everyone!” is…not compatible with the reality of making this your profession, which you have to show up to 60-100 hours a week. And sometimes that means that other people don’t get what they want (or need, or think they need) from you. You are NOT the only vet. You are NOT the only option for your friend’s friend’s bunny rabbit. They are perfectly capable of, you know, finding (and paying) a vet. Or coming to your office during office hours. Or going to an emergency clinic.

    Here are some suggestion phrases:
    “I’m really sorry, I can’t give advice without actually seeing Snookums in my office. In general, if you’re concerned, I’d advise either talking to your regular vet who knows Snookums’ history, booking an appointment to come in, or going to an emergency clinic if it seems like an emergency.”
    “I’m so sorry, but it’s dangerous for me to give medical advice without a physical exam and/or the medical records. There’s too much of a risk of me telling you something’s not a big deal when it is, or vice-versa. I’d advise you to book an appointment, etc.”
    “I’m a vet, but I’m not your vet, and it wouldn’t be responsible for me to give you medical advice casually. I could actually lose my license over it!”

    To your friends who are “helpfully” introducing you to people, “Hey, next time someone asks, would you mind giving out my clinic contact info instead of my personal email? I can’t really help people informally like that. I don’t mind doing it for you on occasion, but if it’s someone I don’t know really well, I need to actually examine the patient and get their records.”

  151. CaptainMouse*

    About your phone. I don’t know what kind you have, but at least on the iPhone I have set my mother to “Emergency Bypass” so her calls ring even when my phone is off. I’ve also given her own special ringtone. I have another ringtone for very close friends, and then a default for everyone else.
    Also, if you collapse under this weight you can help no one. Broken record—and you can put a version of this on your voicemail—please call my office xxx-xxx-xxxx or your regular vet. I can’t help you at this time.
    Do NOT get into a discussion with anyone about why you are stressed, tired, etc. Once you do they have won. Just repeat, it’s fine to sound sympathetic, I’m sure you are, but you need to care for yourself before you can care for any other living creatures.
    And yes, people will be angry and give you a hard time. But that’s on them, not on you. Practice in front of your dog, a mirror, your partner, a good friend.

  152. Anonycomms*

    Oh also, for prescription requests I would just say “for liability reasons, I am not able to issue prescriptions without a physical exam/for non-patients/over-the-phone.”

    They don’t need to know that the liability reason is that you are liable to lose your mind if you don’t put an end to the constant requests.

    Or that you are liable to your conscience to ensure you are giving a minimum standard of care to anyone you are treating (which I’m sure you are, but won’t be able to reliably if you become the on-call vet for everyone you know and their friends, family and acquaintances. Even I secretly want to call you for pet advice because it sounds so convenient! This has definitely reached the breaking point).

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I’m pretty sure it’s illegal for vets to do that, or at least really, really, sketchy. My bosses were always adamant about never prescribing to animals they had not examined recently.

      1. Sleepless*

        It is illegal. Every state has a practice act that defines under what circumstances a vet can prescribe medication. My state specifies that they have to have examined the animal within the past year.

  153. Catperson*

    OP, Thank you for the amazing work that you do! And I’m sorry people are taking advantage of your empathy. I am a psychiatrist so have some formal knowledge training on boundaries and burnout as well as personal experience with friends using me as a free therapist. I’m still learning how to draw and reinforce boundaries to help myself not take my work home, but what has helped me overall (more than medications, even ;) is getting my own therapy and seeking community with my colleagues. People have provided so many great scripts to use with others, but when having to use them adds to your distress, and honestly when you’re already in such a burnt out place, therapy and a salty text chain can work wonders.

  154. Liz*

    Thank you so much for all you do, and I’m sorry for the pressures you and those in your field are under.

    Not the same, but as an attorney, if I had a dollar for every request for free advice I’ve gotten over the last 15 years, I’d probably be able to retire early. Funnily enough, it’s never close friends or family, who I wouldn’t mind giving some advice where I could (same way I sometimes shoot a quick health Q to my sister the pediatrician). Instead, it’s always the friend of the cousin of someone I sat next to in 7th grade homeroom. I find it very tacky.

  155. seashells*

    I know I’m late and this comment will probably be burried, but to the LW (and any other veterinarians who might see this), I just wanted to express my profound gratitude for the lifesaving work you do.

    I’m so sorry people are taking advantage and am not surprised to hear you’re feeling burnt out!

    I think the best approach is to “train” your friends and acquaintances not to expect a timely response. Reply to their texts a day or two later and say something like “Oops sorry, just saw this, been swamped at work. Hope Fluffy is feeling better!” Rinse and repeat. Once they realize that they can’t rely on you to provide an immediate response to their medical questions, they’ll hopefully stop pestering you!

    Thanks again for working so hard to keep our beloved animals safe. Rest up and take care of yourself!

  156. Speaks to Dragonflies*

    I can’t really offer any advice except to say no, and no means no. Aside from that, I want to thank you, your colleagues and all the veterinarians out there that take care of our beloved animals. I can’t express how much I appreciate the care you give and the patience with people y’all have. It has to be so hard caring for the innocent critters while dealing with people mooching your services, complaining about the cost, and being all around arses. It also can’t be easy dealing with the end of life of your patients and people like me who fall apart into a sobbing, blubbering mess when it’s time to say goodbye to an animal companion, or maybe even worse, those people who don’t care at all.

  157. Lizard*

    This is, in many ways, like being the IT professional or the doctor of a family or friend group – everyone knows and will reach out for the free advice! First things first: stop giving it.

    If I heard anything like what you described from a friend, I’d be sure to stop any of my behavior that might be contributing to your stress level. And then I’d tell others to cut it out on their end too. If you share some of your pain with people, if they really care they’ll modify their actions accordingly. For everyone else: ignore them.

  158. Trek*

    Not sure this will help but this story came to mind with this question.
    A doctor saw a lawyer sitting at his country club and went over and sat down beside him.
    “I need some advice. People stop me all the time for medical advice and never come to see me. This cuts into my practice. How do I stop this practice?”
    Without missing a beat the lawyer said, “Send them a bill.” The doctor nodded and walked away. A few days later he received a bill from the lawyer for services rendered.

  159. Happy Pineapple*

    I don’t have any advice, but I just want to thank you for the work you do. I’ve gained so much respect for everyone in the veterinary field from volunteering with my local municipal shelter.

  160. singlemaltgirl*

    i’ve just let friends and people close to me know that i’m stretched and at my limit and just can’t do more right now. i’m not in the line of work the op is in but i often get requests for advice on resumes, reviewing cover letters, how to search in a particular industry, or just networking to help them find a new job or change industries. i found people, particularly now, are just really understanding when you say, ‘you know what, i’d love to help but i’m just done.’ i have directed them to aam :) but mostly, i’ve found people to just respond with ‘i hear you’ and leave it at that. we’re all feeling some level of this pandemic in different ways and i think most people get it.

    if they don’t, remove them from your friend circle. bad jujubes lie there….

  161. ProducerNYC*

    I don’t have any advice to add– I just wanted to say thank you to OP for what you do. I lost one of my cats quickly to cancer in 2019, and the loss was so sudden and heartbreaking that I went into a quick depression. My vet sent one of the most lovely condolence letters, and he told me later how he’d tried to get my boy to eat (we think it was cancer), taking him out of the cage and holding him in his own lap towards the end. I still have that letter on the wall in my office. My other cat is 18+ and still hanging in there– we are frequent fliers at the vet and I’m constantly amazed at how jam-packed the office is- they are never quiet, and the parking lot is never empty. I keep meaning to bring my vet a thank you gift of some sort but don’t know where to begin. I know he cares so much for our pets and really gives his all. It took me so long to recover from losing our boy back in 2019- I can’t imagine witnessing that loss on a regular basis, on top of crazy workloads amid a pandemic. Your letter has inspired me to set a hard deadline– I’ll deliver my vet a thank you gift this week, and not worry about looking like a weirdo. I want to thank him for all he did to help my boy cat as long as he could, and for the extra time he’s given me with my girl cat (she has a chronic condition and he’s been incredibly helpful in guiding us through it). I’m so supremely grateful for all he’s done to help us keep the cats of our heart as long as we can.

    OP, I hope this column helps you set the boundaries and gain some peace- you deserve that and more! Pets bring us so much joy and love, and veterinarians and their staff make that possible.

  162. wee beastie*

    *Hugs* Big, supportive, refreshing, loving bear hugs for you. There is plenty of great advice here, so I just want to add “I just really wish I could hug you”
    And maybe sit you in an easy chair with a cucumber eye mask and your favorite drink and gentle music and bon bons.

  163. Youcannothandlethetruth*

    I have a horse, that I love like my child, who is competing at a high level in the sport of dressage. I think my equine vet hung the moon – and I tell them that frequently. My horse is getting on in years – and I know it will be time to retire her soon. I am conflicted about when, what is her exercise program after retirement, etc….I do not call my vet to discuss, I discuss it with them when they come to give my horse her check up every ninety days and I am paying for his time. Given my horse’s level of performance, I think it is assumed that I can just call him whenever. I respect his time. I only call after hours if it is an emergency. People need to understand that veterinary medicine is a very difficult area of study – imagine being responsible for treating a patient who cannot tell you where it hurts. Respect your vet like the professional they are – and get some pet insurance.

  164. Foof*

    Op, people who get mad you won’t work for free aren’t your friends. Start enforcing boundaries now. The reason your personal request line overfloweth is the same reason you’d never be able to keep a bowl of free money “just for friends, and friends of friends, and…” full. It’s ok to say no. Say it politely and if they press ask if they will do [their work] for free for you.
    So sorry op but for your own saks set some boundaries.

  165. Teapot Unionist*

    Honestly, I would ignore them. I work with people in crisis, and I just don’t answer the phone or respond to texts after hours unless I absolutely have to (and those are people I have an obligation to respond to professionally). If someone who is not a member of the Teapot Union that employs me reaches out, I rarely respond at all.
    When friends or close contacts reach out to me for advice about their own teapots, or their own employment issues, I will help them, especially when it is a real crisis or I have a real genuine relationship with them.

  166. soshedances1126*

    I’m also in vet med-specifically shelter but I’ve also worked private practice.

    I agree with everyone here about scripts. Use a pre-written one you can just copy and paste. There’s a ton in the comments, but the best ones are the ones that have some implication of “but of course you’ll be kind and understanding about burnout”, because a lot of people aren’t going to fight that.

    But also. Coming from this profession, as you mentioned, we’re all a big old mess of Type A perfectionist people pleasers that feel terrible saying no. I also grew up in a family that was made up of notorious boundary-stompers. It took me years of therapy to work through that in my personal and professional lives (and I’m still a work in progress). I honestly think that everyone in this profession should see a therapist. Not because there’s anything wrong with us, but because the personalities we tend to have, combined with the emotional stress of the job, pretty much requires talking it all through with someone regularly just to stay healthy.

    Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Can’t say it enough. And if people in your life can’t respect your boundaries and your needs and your right to have a life too, know that they don’t deserve your awesomeness.

    Love to all of my amazing, caring, compassionate veterinary colleagues. You’re all superheroes.

  167. Veterinary Nurse*

    I have no advice as I am struggling with this as well but I wish I could give OP a hug.

    I’m a veterinary nurse at a 24/7 specialty and emergency center. I work in the ophthalmology department and we are THE ONLY ophthalmologist in the area. Constantly we are getting sent patients we do not have time to see, people are yelling at us when we’re booking eight weeks out, other hospitals are calling to beg us to do an emergency surgery on a Friday at 5:30 PM, etc.

    It is exhausting and I hope that this question and this comment enlighten people on something that isn’t often talked about outside of the veterinary community. Burnout is so real and so bad right now for us and the veterinary community does not get paid nearly enough to deal with the daily emotional stresses we get put through.

    My heart goes out to you. Please know you aren’t selfish or mean for needing to draw boundaries.

  168. sswj*

    I’m late to this, and I have nothing useful to add that hasn’t already been said, but I want you to know just how much I appreciate all that vets do and the very, very tough spot they’re in. I have, and have had, many many animals of many kinds, and a solid relationship with my veterinarian is utterly priceless. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in animal care, but I can’t imagine being angry at my vet because a visit took too long, or that I had to wait in the parking lot, or that services cost real money.

    I am so sorry for the anguish you and you fellow vets go through when you do your utmost and still get shat on. I am so, so angry on your behalf at the people putting the blame and guilt on you for their lack of care and forethought for their animals. You should not have to give away your time, your expertise, your energy to those who cannot every appreciate what it means.

    I wish I could do more than express my support, for you and and the others in the veterinary community, in such a vague and unhelpful way. I wish I could do more. If I can, please, tell me how and I will do my utmost to make it happen.

    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all you do. It IS understood and appreciated!

  169. Tofu pie*

    Hey OP, I feel your pain. I’m not in the same field but can identify with so much of what you’ve said here. Because of the similar issues you’ve experienced I had multiple mental breakdowns and went through some serious therapy.

    What I learned was that it’s empowering to be useless. Perhaps like you I have high levels of work ethics, empathy, a desire to be helpful, and tremendous anxiety about letting people down. I am the “person who gets shit done” both in my personal and professional life, to a degree that is detrimental to my mental health and even my family.

    So I started saying no or even ignoring requests for help. It was scary at first; but I quickly realised that if I do not take on people’s pleas they will invariably sort their own shit out whether through their own efforts or other resources available to them. The world did not fall apart because I wasn’t immediately helpful to everyone who wanted my time and services.

    Saying no gets easier with practice. Now that I look back I can’t believe I took on so many additional responsibilities that were clearly not mine to resolve. The downside of being a superhuman is that you get “rewarded” with additional workload and people will never, ever realise how exhausting it is until you tell them so.

    I’m still recovering from my severe burnout. Unfortunately it has resulted in me severing ties with members of my own family who came to rely heavily on me. A part of my burnout recovery was taking ownership of how I contributed to this situation by always saying yes to people. It wasn’t about blame or guilt tripping; but recognising that I also had the power to change the situation by changing my own actions.

    Good luck to you.

  170. Variant of Concern*

    I am a vet. It’s uncomfortable to set these boundaries because we want to help. TBH I don’t have great advice for dealing with parties; you’re kind of a captive audience there (I’ve worked out with my spouse that I only attend one of his work functions per year, largely for this reason. Oh and his colleagues are PHYSICIANS who should know better).

    My solution for the social media, email, and text advice-seeking is to 1) not respond in a timely fashion and 2) just tell them “Oh that sounds like you should get it checked out with your vet.” Rinse. Repeat. If it is someone I have a real life relationship with, I might send a link to a Veterinary Partner article.

    Will people be irked? Oh yes, but eventually they will get the point once you are no longer training them to do this by being responsive and helpful! Your real loved ones will understand and who care what Becky from high school thinks?

    It’s not easy my friend but kindly maintaining those boundaries will pay off in the long run, I promise.

  171. Insomniac*

    As the daughter of a veterinarian, I have no advice. I’ve seen the toll it takes on my mom and I will be sharing this with her.

  172. A. S.*

    OP– I’m a pediatrician and like you I get inundated with requests for curbside consults all the time. (One mom undressed her child in Target to show me a rash!) My advice: 1. Ignore all text messages asking for advice. Do not answer these!!! They will get the hint!
    2. Respond to all phone calls or face to face requests with “sorry, I really can’t advise without an office visit and exam.” Then change the subject. That is all you need to say and I don’t advise offering up excuses about burnout or liability that is none of anyone’s business and opens up the possibility of trying to convince you or getting offended by your explanations. Don’t post a announcement on social media, which will offend many people. Address this on a case by case basis. The good news is that the more firm you are with your boundaries, the less you will need them as people get the hint.

  173. Floating Bath Tubs*

    Also a vet here. All of the scripts above are great but I think you also need to give yourself permission to massively decrease the priority of replying to all these messages. Whenever you get them you need to tell yourself, well it would be nice if I could help this person but I’m too busy doing something more important (whether it’s sleeping/resting/cooking/calling family etc) and don’t reply unless you have actual free time and actually feel like doing it.

    If people are reacting with hurt or anger you need to tell yourself that they are the ones being unreasonable, not you. You said in the past you have reached out to professional acquaintances for advice- if they did not reply would you have reacted with anger? Or would you have assumed that they were probably busy and looked for advice elsewhere? Setting limits to how much you are willing/able to work does not make you a bad person or a bad vet. Working as a locum really helped me with this as once I realised exactly how much my time was worth I was a lot less willing to give it away for free.

    Social situations are more difficult as you can’t just ignore people, I usually try to be polite but completely unhelpful. My other tactic is coming up with the most disgusting veterinary story I can, which is usually a great method to steer people away from the topic, especially when they are eating!

  174. Sarah*

    I know a physician (for humans) who points to liability/insurance issues or asks them to make an appointment at her clinic or says they have the necessary equipment/tools at their clinic but not at home. I get it– it’s human nature– but boundaries are okay too.

  175. Jesse*

    First of all – thank you so much for all you have done to care for your patients during an incredibly challenging time.

    I work in the human healthcare field, not care for animals, but we’ve developed some strategies to help our providers redirect requests from employees for “curbside medical advice.” Some of the scripting that we’ve come up with that I think might help you –
    “It’s really important that I don’t take any shortcuts in providing care. Please schedule an appointment with me [or other resource as appropriate]. I know this may seem harsh, but it will help to ensure that we never make mistakes due to haste.”
    “We would need to schedule a visit together for me to write a new prescription. Going forward, can you please communicate with me [about your pet’s care] via [whatever channels are appropriate]? This is important to keep [your pet’s] information safe and confidential.”
    “To provide the best care, I would want to get some additional information in the setting of an office visit.”

    I know you mentioned that you’ve gotten pushback when redirecting people to the appropriate channels – hopefully maintaining the framing that you just want their pets to receive good and safe care will help.

    I empathize with these owners that vet bills can be costly, but unfortunately this is just a reality of owning a pet that your friends need to accept!

  176. Marna Nightingale*

    Oh gosh. Throwback to the time when a vet friend of mine who followed me on social media answered the phone with “what does he weigh and how many did he eat?” (In my defence I did NOT want free services, just a quick “it’s fine, stop googling and drink some water/Don’t like how that sounds, get in the car” sort of answer.) Also I bet every vet reading this knows what the dog ate.

    In other words, bless you and most vets for usually being okay with some level of this and I so very much understand that right now it’s not doable.

    In your place, I might even reach out to pet-owning friends and acquaintances as a group with an email that says, roughly, guys, I know I’m usually good for some level of this, but I can’t do it right now.

    I suggest this BECAUSE all vets are slammed right now. You’re in no way obligated to give off-hours advice to people for free, but it’s probably going to be better for your sanity, your friends’ advance planning, and your friendships, and possibly even pet outcomes, if you don’t end up explaining this to them when they’re already panicking about their pet and their usual vet has had them on hold for twenty minutes.

    Better people know in advance that you CANNOT be Plan B (or L, or T) right now.

    1. Vet Spouse*

      What you were asking for in that example was actually free service, and even without pandemic burnout vets don’t like being asked questions like that. Your comment seems to blame adverse pet outcomes on an off duty vet declining a phone call? If someone is “panicking” about their pet they need to head to an ER. Their responsibility alone. Friends who are “advance planning” on a dialing their off work vet cousin/friend/acquaintance are not good stewards of their pets.

  177. Donna*

    Hello. I am the LW. Thank you all for your incredibly thoughtful and kind suggestions. I so appreciate it! I just drafted a personalized statement combining many of your ideas. I cannot say how much better I feel just having some understanding and commiseration. I think having permission and encouragement to set these boundaries is key and I plan to pass this on to my colleagues.

    1. Jessica*

      Hi there LW! I use for night/weekend vet questions and can’t recommend it enough. It usually costs me about $20 with tip to text a vet through the website to ask if what my dog is doing is an emergency or not a big deal or if they are on some sort of medicine and still seem to be in pain if I can increase dosage, etc. You can text them pictures and they’ll tell you what you can do at home, what to look out for or at what point to take them to the emergency vet. I would point those asking questions that way and it’s helping fellow veterinarians with more bandwidth make some extra cash!

  178. etcetera-cat*

    Hi LW,

    First off: I’m not a vet, but I am head nurse at a combination first opinion/referral practice in the UK so extreme fist-bump of solidarity because the feeling that time has lost all meaning beyond a sort of background mental soundtrack of “aaaaaaaAAAAAAAAH!” is real and you need to be kind to yourself so that you can be kind (and effective) to your patients.

    Secondly – and this is coming from someone who has been workibg in this industry since, uh, 2001ish – don’t feel bad about people trying to make you feel bad for *their* lack of care. It’s perfectly acceptable to lead with “I am not at work right now; for veterinary advice please contact me via -clinic name- at -clinic telephone/email- during -working hours as applicable-, and if said people (I’ll reserve the term friend away from repeat offenders) persist and/or do not have a professional relationship with you (themselves as a client plus at least one *currently living* animal linked to their account) then “I am not legally allowed to diagnose or comment professionally on the treatment of an animal that is not classed as under my care.” Occasionally, suffixing this with a rattle-off of the relevent legislature and an invitation to contact their local politician if they disagree can work with certain people (all I’m interested in is that they’re not bitching at *me* about the fact that the law is the law), but ymmv.

    With actual friends (although it seems that most of my *good* friends these days also work in some kind of animal care adjacent field, so there’s a lot less fishing for advice, or at least the fishing goes both ways and is balanced) I have mostly accidentally trained them that my advice out of work hours may not come with a monetary cost, but it sure as heck will come prefaced with a DETAILED description of whatever moderate-to-severely gross out thing has happened to me in the last week, sometimes with attached pictures if I’m feeling particularly spicy and someone is starting to tapdance on my last nerve.

    Finally, another thing that I just kinda do anyway, but have actually noticed is helpful is that *I* know that veterinary (particularly OOH/critical care) staff work stupidly long and weird shifts, *you* know that veterinary staff work stupidly long and weird shifts, so… embrace it. Make that FB post about eating your lunch of half a sad sandwich and an orange you split with a coworker at 3am whilst you vigourous debate which bodily fluid is worse to have, ah, “produced” all over your shoes. Tweet about the sweet salvation of caffeine when it’s 7am and you went to bed at 2am but your shift starts at 8am. Go on that blog post rant about That One IV Pump that ALWAYS KNOWS and will loudly alarm a downstream occlusion or air warning when you’ve finally decided to nip for a wee or suffer possible kidney failure. Respond to group chat messages at whatever darned time of the day/night you’re free to do so (not to answer free advice though!) and severely confuse the chat participants who are in whole different timezones to you with your presence. I promise you, your friends and family do theoretically know that you work the aforementioned long and weird shifts, but they don’t actually *know* if that makes sense? Merrily wobbling through my online life/electronic interactions with people on *my* timescale has done an awful lot to educate people about the realities of my job without me actually having to spend the time (and energy!) to actually sit them down and attempt to explain it to them, and has consequently drastically cut down-if not completely eliminated-the slew of “just a quick question”s. It’s blissful! Plus, y’know, there is something strangely therapeutic about exasperated FBing about that day’s airbourne poo incident and getting the combo sympathy/guess what happened to me comments from your fellow vetty people :)

  179. Night_crawler*

    As a fellow emergency vet (Dark side forever!) I can just rpt. adv that was already given: Set boundaries and set them tight. You wouldn’t expect a hydraulic or an architect to fix a leaking pipe or draw a garage extension project while on social meeting/other non-work situation.
    I have a strict policy: if I’m not at work – I don’t talk about work. No phones etc. Nothing. No exceptions unless literally, an animal is HBC in front of me.
    Your mental health is more important than anything else in this profession. You need to learn this and you need to learn it fast or you will leave the profession, or end up like one of so many our colleagues – dead due to suicide.

  180. EmmaX*

    Like several other people have said, a pre-drafted message can be helpful so you don’t need to think and reply to everything.

    However it sounds like you deeply want to help and the internet is a weird place to search for reliable information so maybe you would feel better if you also included a few links to some reliable websites for information. That would be useful info for some people and might make it feel like you did more than say “Sorry, too busy”

    To be perfectly clear there is nothing wrong with saying “Sorry too busy” and you should feel free to say that! I only suggest more info as I have found it helpful in similiar situations to a least give them something.

  181. DVM*

    I’ve been in this profession for 40 years (technician now veterinarian) and boundary-pushers have always been with us. It used to be avoiding those who wanted free recommendations at cocktail parties. Now it is so-called friends giving people your number to get free advice 24/7 via texts. I have severe PTSD from texts and have my phone set up not to accept them. There is nothing that says you need to answer any of these messages – block the number and forget them. Most of these are rooted in the desire to not spend money; a few are excessively needy pet owners who want more hand-holding than anyone can reasonably provide outside of a therapy appointment. Both will suck the life out of you and potentially take the joy out of practice. Agree that ER has been particularly bad this year- although it is only a side gig for me I’m also someplace that is usually on a service pause for most of the shift due to extreme staff shortages. In your situation consider getting a dedicated phone for your mom and caregivers, then remove texting ability from your service plan on the other phone. So far as socializing, my advice is to walk away from pet conversations. My true friends do not introduce me by my profession, rather my hobby, or how we met, or my volunteer work, etc., because we all got sick of the “vets, are money-grubbing” comments (we’re not- we could have been MD’s or MBA’s or investment bankers, and made much more money), or the patronizing comments about the cute little animals. It’s a long, difficult career, and strong boundaries are the only way you will continue to thrive. Hang in there!

  182. What*

    Tell people “I don’t work when I’m not at work”

    If they keep pushing “if I help everyone that asked, I would never get time off and you can imagine what working 24/7 would feel like. I deserve time away from pet talk”

    Any complaints about cost “this is a cost you signed on for when you got a pet. It’s your responsibility”

    And honestly anyone who gets mad, feel free to block their number. They aren’t good friends. I have friends that are doctors and vets and I have restraint not to reach out to them when I have questions. I would definitely also know the reality of asking someone to prescribe medications because we are friends!

    Seriously. You’re allowed to have a life. You’re allowed to keep your phone on. Just block these people! If anyone has hurt feelings it’s because you called them out for taking advantage of you.

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