Hundreds of pet-lovers descended on the Lake Burley Griffin bridge-to-bridge walk on Sunday to have a serious discussion about mental health in the veterinary industry.
Flynn's Walk began in Melbourne in 2018 as a tribute to Dr Flynn Hargreaves who died by suicide while practicing as a vet in London.
His friends and family have turned the tragedy into a ray of hope, creating an annual event in multiple cities to raise awareness of vets' difficult working conditions.
"The whole premise is to walk it out and talk it out," Dr Hargreaves' mother Jackie Hosking said.
Carrie Traynor-Doble, a vet nurse at Greencross Vets, thought she would gather some colleagues to walk around the lake in solidarity with Flynn's Walk in Melbourne. Word got around to other Canberra clinics and the event was made public.
About 350 people came out to walk the loop and stay for a coffee, sweet treat and, most importantly, a conversation about mental health.
"It's just been amazing how much people have gotten behind it," Ms Traynor-Doble said.
She said there was much more to vets' work than looking after furry animals.
"There's a lot of routine desexings and vaccinations and you are meeting these beautiful new puppies and kittens and we love that.
But actually, that kind of adds to the emotional roller coaster because one minute you can be literally cuddling a kitten and then the next minute you're dealing with a seizuring dog and a crying owner and it's all hands on deck."
Long hours and high-levels of empathy can lead to burnout and compassion-fatigue, Ms Traynor-Doble said.
"You can't predict when an animal is going to get sick or eat chocolate or get hit by a car or those kind of emergencies ... the hours and the lack of routine can really take a toll on your health."
Flynn's Walk president Jack Levitt, a school friend of Dr Hargreaves, said the years of study followed by low wages in the first years of veterinary work contributed to financial stress.
Ms Hosking said her son was an intelligent, caring person who always kept his word. It was an incredible shock when he took his own life aged 27, but the Flynn's Walk charity has been able to raise funds for RUOK and Love Your Pet Love Your Vet in his memory.
"I'm convinced that since Flynn's Walk started in 2018, there's been a big shift in acknowledging the problem," she said.
Ms Traynor-Doble said she's seen improved access to counselling and better working conditions.
Mr Levitt said pet owners had an important role to play in supporting vets.
"You can be emotional and attached to your animal but we need to acknowledge that there's a person on the other side of the counter or the console table," he said.
- For support call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/
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