Veterinary vantage point: The reality of how cyberbullies tear us down


There are three things you never talk about online: politics, religion-and apparently pet food.

Several months ago I was given what I thought was a fun assignment to watch the Netflix documentary Pet Fooled and do a quick write-up with a veterinary nutritionist on how to respond to clients if they came in with questions after watching the film. (You can read the article here.) Easy enough, I thought. Watch the movie, write my impressions, consult with the nutritionist, write up his responses, no problem, right?

Little did I know.

After it was published, the article got trounced by a mob of angry raw-food feeders. People came out of the woodwork to leave nasty comments on my Facebook business page, the article itself and my website, and they stuffed my inbox with their hatred and ire. Having never experienced cyberattacks before, I was shocked.

Here's a small sampling of comments from my business Facebook page:

> You're nothing but an ignorant uninformed charlatan.

> Looks like you are the fool.

> Dear Dr: perhaps your time would be better served peddling the little bags of death nuggets you sold out to.

> You are a shill and should be ashamed of your ignorance.

> Shame on you Dr. Sarah Wooten. You are now part of the system that guilts pet owners into paying WAY too much of their hard earned money for your cheaply made garbage diets that only create more health issues- so you can cash in on their sick dogs. Shame on you!

> You call yourself a veterinarian? Do you even bother to do your research before you accuse other vets of lying?? YOU are the one who are a disgrace to the profession! God help your client's animals as my guess you've been bought off by these big pet food companies and probably push them down your clients throats! Shameful!

Shame. Shame. And more shame, heaped upon me, bruising my ego, and making me feel hurt, horrible, unworthy and small. I'm not afraid to admit that I cried for a couple of days as trolls would visit my pages, leave awful, mean-spirited comments, and then disappear-poof! I was completely naive as to just how hurtful people can be when they can hide behind their keyboards and shoot arrows of ill will at somebody they don't even know. It made me afraid to write, to speak, to be myself. What made me the saddest was that all those people who were attacking me are probably really nice in real life, but their fear, anger and passion coupled with the relative anonymity and safety of online attacks empowered them to say things that they would probably never say to my face in real life.

This experience has given me firsthand experience of what it feels like to be cyberbullied and it hurts ... a lot. If you've experienced a cyberattack, then my heart goes out to you. I understand what you're going through, and it is real.

If you've been cyberbullied and are experiencing emotional fallout from the experience, it's important to seek support. I found support from my friends and colleagues, like Dr. Andy Roark, who went out of his way at Fetch dvm360 in San Diego to give me words of support and encouragement. I found it in Dr. Robin Downing, who dances and sings “Haters gonna hate!” when she gets knocked down for sharing her powerful, profound opinions.

Get in on the healing from Drs. Downing and Wooten by clicking on this video in the link above.Surprisingly, I found the most support within myself. This experience developed strength and resilience within me that I would have never had otherwise. For that very reason, I am grateful (yes, I said grateful!) for the experience of being the victim of cyberbullying, because it helped me develop the courage that I need to stand my ground. Courage is never the absence of fear, my friends. Courage is the ability to act in the face of fear. I now realize that I will never make everybody happy, and if I make people-pleasing my goal, then I will not be authentic. And ain't nobody got time for that.

Fetch dvm360 educator Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, Dr. Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership and client communication, and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, scuba and participating in triathlons.

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