Please Send My Cat Home: What Our Health Dept. Doesn’t Want You to Know
I feel compelled to post this, even though it’s not part of the typical focus of my blog, because the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) is trying to keep you–anyone–from reading it. Silencing people’s voices is a behavior I actively challenge, so I feel a need to make a record, here, that can’t be silenced. To my loyal readers: I promise this won’t be a focus of many, many posts. And, as always, feel free to not read anything that doesn’t interest you.
I left a letter/appeal to the NYSDOH on their Facebook Page on Thursday, February 27th; by Friday the 28th they had evidently received enough separate posts, as well as comments on my entry, that the NYSDOH staff turned off their “Posts by Others” pane (the one that allows you to see what people other than NYSDOH staff have posted).
What doesn’t the NYSDOH want you to know about?
Warning–This could be triggering to animal lovers: A public health policy that allows them to seize the head of my 15 year feline companion, Bear, for rabies testing, after we had to euthanize him when he became critically ill after a long battle with chronic pancreatitis. They did this because he bit me, in pain, as I was trying to get him to the vet. This, despite the fact that:
- Bear was an indoor cat who was up to date on rabies vaccines;
- I had received bites several times in the past 6 weeks as a result of pilling him, and he lived, disease free, well beyond the 10 day observation period. It’s only because we didn’t want him to suffer, given he had suddenly started to experience extreme pain, that he couldn’t be observed for the required 10-days post-bite;
- Bear had receiving, closely supervised, ongoing care from my vet who knew he did not have rabies
- In 2013, none of the 35 rabies cases identified in Erie County were in a cat or a dog, they were all in wild animals.
We were informed that the NYSDOH will not return Bear’s remains to us, so we can have all of his cremated remains with our family, when they are done testing — even when the results of the testing are negative for rabies.
So I wrote them about the impact of this policy, both on me and as how it could affect other people in my situation: it’s hard enough to lose a loved pet, but imagining his head now separated from his body, being tested, and then thrown in with biological waste is very painful. And while I’ll be getting the ashes of his body back, it doesn’t feel like full closure since some of him is missing. And I requested policy changes that could prevent these negative impacts in the future and still protect the public health. And they received many comments. And then they hid the post (and comments) on their Facebook page — you can’t see it now without this link. Based on their behavior so far, I’m wondering if they will next just decide to delete the post, the comments, and the other posts that have been logged on their site about this issue. I hope not, but just in case I will post it here, too, so you can see exactly what I wrote, in case the link stops working. And for the time being, they are still accepting comments on their page (although you probably have to “Like” their Facebook page to do so), although it’s possible to turn that function off, too.
What did I ask for?
- My cat’s remains back (when he tests negative). I will pay for any costs associated with return — just send them back to my vet.
- Change the policy/procedure to make it less harmful to responsible pet owners:
- Give veterinarians some option to use their professional judgment — they want to fight rabies, too. My vet knew this cat didn’t have rabies. I’ve been accidentally bitten when pilling him several times in the past couple of months and the cat lived beyond the 10 day observation period I didn’t become sick. While the current written policy indicates the vet and the health department should consult, my vet informs me that in our county (Erie), they always seize the animals remains even when the vet’s professional judgment is that there’s no rabies risk.
- Allow for some provision in the process to allow remains (when they are free of disease, of course) to be sent back to the vet, so the pet owner can have all of their pet’s remains with them. The owner can pay for the costs.
When Our Systems Hurt Us
I’ve written how the mental health system can inadvertently traumatize people while attempting to help. This whole situation is yet, another example, of systems that hurt, in this case, a public health system. I know that causing harm to pet owners and their families was not the intention of this policy. But it is, in fact, a result–I have lost many beloved pets over the years, but grieving Bear has been so much worse because of the images I have described and the knowledge I will never receive all his remains. I suspect there are many others who have been hurt — I’m just the person who is speaking up. In fact, one such person, C.R., commented on my post: “I am so sorry that you have to deal with this on top of your loss. I learned to never tell the vet about a cat bite due to a similar situation years ago.”
The way to keep systems from being hurtful is to use principles of trauma-informed care in creating and operating those systems. In this case, the concepts of collaboration and empowerment — actively seeking input and feedback from those affected by policies, as well as having mechanisms those people can use to have their voices heard are a good start. Hiding the feedback on the Facebook Page (and never responding, I might add) is an example of yet more harm. It hard for me to trust the judgments of professionals who behave this way.
Post to the Health Department
View of the “Post by Others” Section on the NYSDOH Page on March 1, 2014
The NYS Department of Health Finally Responds
Five days after my original post on their Facebook Page, the staff of the NYSDOH responded there with this comment:
My Response to Their Response
My response was in 3 parts, each making a different point:
And my final response, upon reflecting longer about the statistics they presented:
Each of these comments was tagged so the NYSDOH staff would be alerted that a comment was directed at them. As of today, 3/9/14, they have not responded further.
NYSDOH Decides to Reverse Their “Hide Negative Feedback” Stance
Related to the issue of covering up the protests, the NYSDOH staff decided to reopen the view-ability of their “Posts by Others.” I made a separate post congratulating them on this decision and noting that hiding posts is not considered the best practice in responding to negative feedback in social media.
Support From the Buffalo Blogosphere
In the interests of providing a complete record of this experience, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some support I received from a fellow Buffalonian. In addition to the 80+ comments on my post, the additional separate 15 posts of protest logged on NYSDOH Facebook Page, and many tweets, including some that that tagged the NYSDOH (@HealthyNYGov), a Buffalo blogger, Peter Reese, pick up my story and offered support through his influential Artvoice blog: When Government Attacks Us