Meet Sheilah Robertson BVMS, DVM, member of the WSAVA Global Pain Council and Animal Wellness and Welfare Committee.
Q. Could you introduce yourself to WSAVA members?
A. I graduated from the Glasgow University School of Veterinary Medicine and spent time in mixed animal practice and as a surgery house officer at the University of Bristol, UK. I then pursued a PhD studying the effects of different anesthetics on the stress response to surgery in horses and began specialist training in anesthesia. I am a Diplomate of the European and American Colleges of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia. I have a passion for animal welfare and am a member of both the European and American Colleges of Animal Welfare. In 2014, I completed my graduate Certificate in Shelter Medicine and I am trained in small animal acupuncture. I have been on faculty at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Canada, and at Michigan State University and the University of Florida in the USA. I also spent two years as an assistant director in the animal welfare division of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Q. You have a strong interest in pain management - why are you so passionate about this area of veterinary medicine?
A. We do little on a daily basis that doesn’t require us to think about patient pain. It may be pain related to a medical disease, a diagnostic procedure, surgery and trauma - or chronic pain, such as osteoarthritis, that affects a large number of animals. My anesthesia training taught me that pain management is a critical component of a good post-operative outcome. Preventing and relieving pain is one of the things we promise to do when we take our veterinary oath and it is one of the things listed in the five freedoms that we owe to animals in our care. Quality of life is not just about pain but pain plays a major role and is a welfare issue. We have a duty to look for, recognize and treat pain in animals and none should be denied this.
Q. You have recently taken on new role with a company that employs veterinarians around the USA who deliver end of life care services and in-home euthanasia. How’s it going?
A. I am Senior Medical Director for Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice. We have more than 110 veterinarians in 64 locations around the USA and I support them and author articles on chronic pain, end of life issues and euthanasia for owners and veterinary professionals. Most of our work is in-home euthanasia but we also see dogs and cats with geriatric-related issues, especially mobility issues related to osteoarthritis, and those with end-of-life diseases including cancer, cardiac and renal failure. We work with the pet’s own veterinarian and, in fact, many of our referrals come from them. We are focused on the human-animal bond and the need for it to remain strong during this challenging time.
When it is time for euthanasia, we help the pet and family to be together, either at home or wherever they want to be - sometimes they prefer to be on the beach or at their favorite park. Our veterinarians also help with other difficult issues, including care of the pet’s remains and they support families with useful information relating to issues such as grief related to pet loss and coping with the reaction of other animals in the household. Hearing stories from grateful owners who have experienced our services and who tell me about the compassion in our team and how we helped them at such a sad time gives me a huge sense of pride.
Q. What advice would you give a fellow veterinarian who is interested in moving into this area?
A. They should consider whether they feel that euthanasia or end-of-life care could be improved where they are working. It is a very specific area and requires skill and training - but it can be very rewarding. Some practices and clinics already offer in-home euthanasia services but it is not yet common. Demand for the service is high, however, so it is clearly a service that clients value and is a potential additional revenue stream.