Beloved Veterinarian Commits Suicide, Leaving the Western Quebec Equine Community Shocked and Saddened
It was late in the evening of June 27 when things took an unexpected turn at the stables of Ferme Avant-Garde in Luskville, Quebec.
Arabian mare Essie foaled earlier than expected and co-owner Siri Ingebrigtsen was out of town on business.
Left to deal with the sudden turn of events, 19-year-old student Arianne Fournier was on duty just in case.
But she had the guidance and support of veterinarian Andrea Kelly, who through Facetime guided Fournier through the successful delivery of healthy twin foals.
“I don’t think I would have been so calm (without her),” recalls Fournier.
Kelly went out the next day and in the days and weeks that followed, to watch over – and cuddle – foals Star and Blaze.
July 28 was the last time people on the farm saw Kelly. The 36-year-old woman committed suicide three days later.
“A friend called me,” recalls Ingebrigtsen. “She said ‘maybe you should sit down’ and she told me what happened.”
“It was so surreal. You don’t expect these things…. You always think ‘what could we have done differently as a community to prevent this?’ and what can we do differently (to) not lose another vet like this?’” said Ingebrigtsen, who knew another vet who committed suicide.
Since Kelly’s passing, the equine community in the Pontiac and Ottawa has come together to celebrate her impact as a veterinarian, community member and friend.
Some customers wrote tributes online, others shared memories of their friendship with her.
A friend dedicated a field of sunflowers to Kelly. Another entered her horse at the Rideau-Carleton racetrack on August 11 and won the winning title in honor of Kelly and her family. The winning horse, Erica’s Shadow, even raced in a purple bib, Kelly’s favorite color.
Kelly’s sister, Erin, says she’s touched by all the tributes.
“I’ve heard so many stories over the past few weeks about how generous her time was. She was never too busy to take a call. She was never too busy to go out and see someone,” said Erin Kelly.
“She always followed when she said she was going to. I’ve heard stories of how sweet, tender and caring she was during an animal’s last minutes,” he said. she stated.
The community sharing their stories with Kelly’s family “has really helped us through this difficult time.”
Andrea Kelly was unusual in that she was an Ottawa-based veterinarian who was also licensed to practice in Quebec. She owned the Ottawa Valley Large Animal Clinic and served nearly 600 clients in the Pontiac and Ottawa area.
“A strong and determined person”
Erin Kelly remembers her younger sister as a “smiling, bright little kid” who fell in love with horses and was determined to become a veterinarian. She purchased the Ottawa Valley Large Animal Clinic in 2018.
Five years earlier, in 2013, she met Marc Alarie, who would become her fiancé.
Alarie has a vivid memory of running into Kelly in a grocery store shortly after their first date.
“She was wearing her overalls, she had stains on her, her hair was all over her and she smelled like barn, so she was a little shy,” Alarie said with a laugh. “But when I saw her, she was still beautiful and real.”
In the years that followed, Alarie and Kelly lived in a house in Kemptville and built a life with their horses, cats and dog.
Alarie recalls how Kelly did her job “seriously and with compassion”. He once came home to find a goat, kept there for special medical care.
Further, Quebec horse owners were happy to have Kelly as a resource.
“She quickly started coming to our area because she was allowed to come to Quebec, which a lot of vets in Ontario aren’t,” said Gatineau farm owner Stephanie Sitzberger. “We were able to develop a very nice relationship with her.”
She said Kelly was “always smiling no matter what kind of day she was having.”
But as Siri Ingebrigtsen looks back on all the patients under Kelly’s care in Quebec and Ontario, she says the vet’s job must have been stressful.
“I don’t know how any of them do it honestly, especially being alone because there’s no one to bounce back and help you out when you have all weekend on duty,” said Ingebrigtsen. “But she never really let it go when she came.”
Erin Kelly says her sister always put customers first and was not “one to leave animals without care”, although it may have affected her.
“Andrea was a strong, determined person…but being on call 24/7 is demanding,” she said.
Erin says a shortage of vets and the departure of two employees left her sister pretty much alone to handle a heavy load of clients.
“She ended up taking on a lot of it to keep the clinic going and having those 600 clients receive care,” Erin said.
Experts say the life of a veterinarian, with its particular stressors, is not easy and the profession has high suicide rates. However, suicide is rarely caused by a single factor, experts also say.
High suicide rate among veterinarians
After Kelly passed away, her family requested that donations be sent to Not another vet(NOMV) a US-based non-profit organization that aims to advance wellness, mental health, and suicide reduction among veterinary professionals.
Long work hours, client-vet boundaries and stress all play a role in high suicide rates among veterinarians, says NOMV Vice President Caitlin Furlong, who works at an equine veterinary clinic in New Jersey.
She said one in six veterinarians in the United States contemplate suicide at some point in their career and that “veterinary professionals are at higher risk than the general public.”
Here in Canada, the statistics are just as disturbing.
About 26% of Canadian veterinarians have had suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months, according to a study published in 2020 conducted by researchers at the Ontario Veterinary College.
The study, which was conducted by 1,403 Canadian veterinarians, found that the prevalence of suicidal thoughts was significantly higher than in the general population and that, compared to male veterinarians, female veterinarians experienced higher levels of stress and “significantly higher” exhaustion.
“We take this very seriously,” said Marie Archambault, vice-dean for academic and student affairs at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montreal in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.
Over the past two years, the orientation sessions for new students have changed to reflect this concern. Now, students are receiving wellness resources through a new course offered by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges.
“We really strongly encourage our students to do (this),” Archambault said. “And we know that veterinarians are more than twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts as Canadians.”
Equine and large animal veterinarians are particularly sensitive, says Aja Harvey, Furlong’s colleague and an equine veterinarian specializing in internal medicine.
“I think what really separates large animal veterinary medicine from small animal medicine (medicine) is how many hours we have to put in,” Harvey said.
While small animal vets typically work structured clinical hours with emergency clinics handling overflow, Harvey says equine vets often work 10-12 hour days and perform night and emergency duties. the weekend.
Andrea Goffart, a Kelly client who owns a property in Quyon, Que., says clients can also add a level of stress to vets.
“Horses are an interesting animal because they’re not really livestock and they’re not really pets,” Goffart said. “People love their horses very much and if something goes wrong there is a lot of anger directed at the vets.”
Goffart says not all clients understand the pressures vets feel, especially when they’re dedicated to their work and in high demand due to vet shortages.
“They don’t want to tell that owner ‘sorry, I can’t see your horse,'” Goffart said. “I think someone who gives and gives and gives, at some point they’re going to burn out. “
“If only she knew how many people she touched”
Kelly’s family held a memorial service at their veterinary clinic and her fiancé says around 250 people came to remember her.
Alarie was touched to see the impact she had on the community.
“The messages online and the people who came in yesterday, the cards, the flowers we got from clients, from friends… If only she knew how many people she touched and how many people loved her and cared about her. ‘her,” Alarie said.
“She meant a lot to us and we will make sure to remember her forever.”
As for Ingebrigtsen, every time she looks at the foals Kelly has helped deliver on Facetime, she feels a twinge in her heart.
“It’s been a tough few weeks, but at the same time, we’re kind of celebrating who she was, aren’t we. And these guys will always remind us of that,” Ingebrigtsen said.
If you or someone you know is having trouble, here’s where to get help: