Island veterinarian shortage leads to long wait times, frustrated pet owners
VICTORIA -- The increase in pet adoptions during the pandemic has island veterinarians struggling to keep up.
For many people on Vancouver Island, making the decision to adopt a pet during the pandemic has been easy. For veterinarians on the island, the influx in new pets is stressing an already strained system.
When Lise Matzke adopted her dog, Halo, she did not expect to struggle with booking vet appointments.
“There has been a two and a half month wait list to get her spayed,” said Matzke.
She says the wait is likely due to the lack of vets on Vancouver Island. But the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association says the problem is a provincial one. After completing a labor review study in 2019, the association predicts by 2023, B.C will be short 500 veterinarians.
Already, many vets are working hard because of the shortage. Now, the pandemic is making the crisis worse.
“I’m working ridiculously long hours and not really getting much time for myself,” said Dr. Joanna Piercy, a vet and co-owner of Oaklands Veterinary Hospital. The Victoria clinic started a waitlist for new patients after it became booked three weeks in advance. It is trying to accommodate new patients, while many clinics are turning people away.
“Getting Halo in to see her vet, for acute things, is nearly impossible,” says Matzke. When Halo got sick, Matzke says she had to resort to taking her to the emergency clinic, which has become a trend on the West Shore.
An internal medicine veterinary specialist at WAVES emergency clinic in Langford, Dr. Erinne Branter, says many pet owners are bringing their animals to the emergency clinic for non-emergent matters.
“People can’t get in to see their vet for a urinary tract infection, or split nail, so as those cases compound they end up having to wait three to five hours sometimes, because we have to triage.”
She adds that, similar to what has happened in coffee shops and grocery stores during the pandemic, some people have become frustrated and aggressive. Branter says the disrespectful behavior toward staff, who are already working hard, is not helpful.
The clinic, which takes overflow cases from local vet clinics, says it has become so busy that it had to hire an additional 20 staff members. WAVES public relations manager, Richelle Straith, says all positions have been hard to fill, but vets are particularly hard to find. Straith says the clinic has recently hired veterinarians from the U.S. due to the shortage in B.C.
Veterinarians across the island say they are doing their best to accommodate pets, and are asking everyone to be patient.