Pet owners often consider their FurBabies’ vets heroes, but what do they know about these heroes they speak of?
In today’s story, Oyen had the opportunity to speak with one of Malaysia’s passionate vets, Dr Yee, to talk about her personal experience and stories as a veterinarian who has been working in this field for a decade.
Dr Yee: My name is Dr Yee, I graduated from UPM in 2013 and have been a veterinarian for ten years, August marked my tenth year. I worked in a private clinic for five years then decided to set up my own practice in 2018.
Oyen: You’ve been in this field for a decade?
Dr Yee: Yes, and honestly, I still can’t believe that it has been that long!
Oyen: You opened your own practice four years ago; can you perhaps tell us how Yee Veterinary Clinic was founded?
Dr Yee: I’ve actually always wanted to become a vet. I think since I was seven years old. I went to vet school and worked in a small animal clinic for about five years. At the time, there were two options available to me, either I further my studies or open my own practice. I decided to go for the latter and my practice is fairly close to where I live, in PJ. It’s about ten minutes from my house.
I had always wanted to have my own clinic where I can do things according to what is palatable for me. It’s going to be four years soon and I believe it has been quite an experience. Most importantly, I’m just beyond happy with where I stand today.
Oyen: I would assume that working as a veterinarian for a decade must have been a long and difficult journey for you. Can you talk about what this occupation means to you and maybe how it has affected your life?
Dr Yee: I would say that this job is one of the most important things in my life, I have never regretted being a vet. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this is a dream of mine and I’ve always cherished my encounters with animals like birds, stray cats and dogs. I remember thinking to myself that I want to do this for a long time, I want to help animals.
If I look back at my journey, I believe that if I didn’t become a vet, I wouldn’t be doing anything as great. I really don’t know what I would be doing. This purpose that I have as a vet gives a significant meaning in my life. At times I would tell myself that if I were given a chance to do this all over again, without a doubt, I would take every opportunity that comes my way. I am grateful to know that I am contributing to society as well as to animals and that means a lot to me.
Oyen: I think a huge part of it comes from love and compassion for animals. When you were younger, was there an event or something that inspired you to go on this path?
Dr Yee: When I was younger, I encountered a lot of pigeons that were hunted down and injured by cats or hit by vehicles. There were around seven to eight pigeons and I remember trying to treat them but obviously, some didn’t survive. I felt very upset and every time I found an injured pigeon, I would ask my parents if we could take it to a clinic. There was actually a nearby clinic but my parents said that we didn't have enough money.
One pigeon that I treated ended up surviving and I felt ecstatic when it was time to release it. It felt really good but seeing how some were unable to survive in front of me, I felt helpless. So, at that point, I was convinced that I wanted to become a vet.
When I told my parents about this dream of mine, they were not very keen because they considered it to be somewhat of a dirty and difficult job since I would be handling animals. It was in the early 2000s and that was when the industry was not as relevant as it is today. My mother suggested becoming a dentist or human doctor because people look up to those in such fields. I told her that she could send me to medical school but I would drop out in the end or in the process since I had zero interest. In the end, I think my mother saw that my passion for veterinary medicine was bigger than she could have imagined and she ended up supporting my dream. My dad, on the other hand, was already rooting for me.
Oyen: What would you consider the most rewarding experience for you throughout your ten-year journey as a vet?
Dr Yee: I’ve had many patients come in to receive treatments from me and when I think about heavy cases, some pets couldn’t make it after a treatment. Pets that do get better, when I see them again for a different treatment, I realise that they’ve grown so much. There are a few patients like this that stay in my mind and to be able to see their growth, I feel accomplished because I was able to give them another chance at life. It just feels so rewarding.
Oyen: I assume that you still keep in touch with previous pet owners?
Dr Yee: Yes. There are a few patients that I've seen from when they were babies to adults. Some of them were previously extremely ill and to see that they’ve grown to be much healthier puts my heart at such ease. Now they live a happier life, especially those I thought wouldn’t make it through. I want them to enjoy their lives with their owners.
Oyen: Is there any stressful event/experience that stays with you until today?
Dr Yee: Not particularly but I find it stressful when pet owners take their pets for treatment when they are already extremely ill. If the pets were brought earlier, so much could’ve been done and they’d have higher chances of surviving. Since this is not the case, my team and I would have to push our limits and inform the owners that this is what they can expect. It’s not right to scold the owners even if you think they could’ve prevented the illness from worsening and it’s also not the best way to get information across. So, I often just try to let them know the necessary procedures and what they can expect.
The second stress would be financial constraint. I think this is where insurance becomes necessary. Treatments can get very expensive for some patients. It depends on their illness and/or injury. We’ve had pet owners who cannot afford to pay for their pet's treatments. We look at the amount that they have and see what is the best treatment we can give to the pet. This is just another stressful thing vets often experience. We know that if we have the right resources, the outcome would be different.
Oyen: For the past ten years as a vet, is there a specific incident or event that left a huge impact on you?
Dr Yee: Around two to three years ago, an old man came into my practice with his ill dog. The only money he had was for his lunch and he wanted to use that for his dog’s treatment. He told me that he would not be able to pay in full but he was desperate. I suggested he seek assistance from another vet that could treat his dog for cheaper but then again because his dog suffered from late-stage kidney disease, the dog’s future didn’t seem too bright.
He became angry and started yelling at me, right next to my ear. I had to walk away due to how angry he progressively got but he kept following me around. I believe that he thought I was looking down on him for his financial constraint but that was not the case at all. After being yelled at for some time, I made up my mind and told him that my decision to refuse to provide treatment was not because he didn’t have enough money. At the time, no matter how much money he had, his sweetheart wouldn’t have survived. It was rather apparent that the dog was too ill to even make it out alive.
The old man took a step back when he heard what I said and it seemed as if he was lost. I told him again that it wasn’t because he didn’t have enough money but no amount of money would be able to save the dog. After he cooled down, he started apologizing, “I’m sorry… I suffer from anger management issues and I couldn’t control my emotions.” He proceeded to pick his dog up and walked out of the vet and I think that he wanted to spend his dog’s last moments together. It might have been a form of closure for him.
Oyen: That’s very heartbreaking.
Dr Yee: It really was but I was in a position where I either had to use his lunch money for his dog’s treatments or let him save the money for his meal. I didn’t want to take his money and let him go home with nothing, literally nothing. He didn’t seem like he had any relatives. This incident has been stuck in my head ever since and it’s a constant reminder that this is just how life is sometimes.
As vets, we always have to be realistic and decent at managing expectations. We have to let pet owners know the pros and cons of a decision that is made by us because we also don’t want their pets to suffer even more by letting their owners hold onto them for longer. This is specific to extremely ill pets.
I understand that one’s emotions are important and I’ve realised that being in this field, you’re bound to always receive negative responses from upset owners. However, our job as vets is to focus on the well-being of pets by giving them the best treatment. To some people, their pets might be the only thing that is keeping them sane and alive, their only purpose in life. Some pets might even be a memory of one’s partner or spouse, a memory of a late family member and this means that losing their pet would equate to breaking this connection and memory they have of someone.
Sometimes, I feel very sad on pet owners’ behalf but I always remind them that what we do at the vet is only ten per cent of the work and ninety per cent depends on how they care for and manage their pets at home.
Oyen: These days, pets are considered a baby to families, they are also important members of a family. This means that the responsibility of pet owners isn’t to merely care about one aspect but they have to be fully attentive and responsible in all aspects.
As we are reaching the end of the interview, do you perhaps have any message to convey to pet owners out there?
Dr Yee: I really do wish that people would do some research about a pet they wish to adopt or take in. It is a whole life commitment and it cannot be taken lightly. I also strongly recommend adopting as there are still countless cats and dogs looking for their forever home and we should adopt them instead of purchasing them. Other than that, I hope that people would stop taking in pets only for the sake of wanting to feel less lonely. Pets are family. They deserve just as much love as you do and they do not deserve to be loved only when you have time to spare. Having a pet means that there are things you have to sacrifice such as your time.
I remind myself that as humans we have multiple things that keep us busy. Humans have more than just one responsibility but for pets, their owners are their only reason.
Oyen would like to thank Dr Yee for spending her precious time with us to share her decade-long journey as a veterinarian. If you enjoyed Dr Yee’s heart-warming stories, reach out to us and let us know!