When I first opened Arms of Aloha (beginning, as I’m fond of pointing out in speeches and interviews, as just me and a Rubbermaid box of supplies) and people would ask me what I do, I’d say almost apologetically, “Well, you know, I’m a veterinarian, but I’m actually opening this animal hospice….” Over time, I’ve learned to hold my head up and declare with confidence, “I’m a hospice veterinarian.”
Animal lovers typically respond with some version of “I don’t know how you do it. That must be really tough.” This happens so often that I’ve advised everyone on our team to have a stock response. Mine goes something like: “It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to help grieving families and make it a bit easier.” This is true although incomplete because there are many reasons I enjoy end-of-life work, enough that I should save that subject for another day.
Other people express incredulity: “You do that full time?” or “You’re busy enough to have an office/staff/no second job?” Anyone who considers their pets members of the family, on equal footing with the humans, doesn’t question it. That certainly doesn’t describe all pet owners, let alone all people, and that’s ok – they’re just not our market. I am grateful we have enough here to support our work and keep us going, and I know there are many more that we could help if they knew we’re here.
We do face challenges. Animal hospice is so new that most people don’t know it’s an option or how to ask for help. A handful of colleagues refer cases to us. We continue working hard at getting the word out. At times, I’m plagued with imposter syndrome, convinced we will go under within the year.
I have to remind myself that we are meeting a need and yes, we will succeed. I am grateful for the many things that have made this possible. The financial resources allowing me to work without a steady income for a couple years. WordPress, which allowed me to build a strong web presence cheaply and early (and net neutrality, which continues to keep the playing field level for now). Online platforms such as Facebook and Yelp, which have allowed us to spread our message. Volunteer opportunities that strengthen my connections to the community. The generosity of friends when I secured an office and needed to furnish it. My accountant and bookkeeper who keep me on track. The internet itself, which has allowed me to train and connect with colleagues around the world so that I didn’t have to (completely) reinvent the wheel. The technology which automates routine tasks and maximizes my use of time.
Above all, I owe my gratitude to our community of families that we have helped. Word of mouth is the most powerful advertising anywhere, but it’s especially so on this tiny isolated Pacific island, where the impact of personal connections and relationships is magnified. Many of our clients return to their regular vets, neighbors, and family to sing our praises. Even better, some amplify their praise online with glowing reviews. This precious social capital is gold to me, and it has brought us to where we are today.
The kind words are not only good for business, they fill my heart. Yes, my work can be tough and it can be hard, but the gratitude and love I receive in return are more than enough to sustain me.