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Veterinarian shortage on Vancouver Island only expected to get worse

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Finding timely veterinary care in British Columbia has long been a frustration for many, and it's only getting worse as vets retire from the profession.

At the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, staff take care of a variety of different creatures, and getting them all the medical care they need has become a challenge over the years.

“We have donkeys, sheep, alpacas, pigs, ducks, chickens and finches,” said Lynda Koenders, owner of the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm.

“We actually have to use three vet companies in order to serve our animals.”

Many clinics have moved away from serving larger animals.

“It’s a challenge to find vets,” said Koenders.

These days, even dog and cat owners can have trouble finding a vet.

“Many veterinarians' clinics previously may have had four or five veterinarians working in the practice; now they may be down to one or two,” said Craig Daniell, CEO of the BC SPCA.

Daniell says that’s mainly because of retirements. Other vets have moved to places where the cost of living is lower, and some have just chosen to leave the profession altogether.

Now B.C. is in a position where it isn't able to catch up.

“There hasn’t been enough places at veterinarian schools in Canada to meet the growing demand of our population,” said Daniell.

The province is now doubling the number of subsidized vet school spots from 20 to 40 at a university in Saskatchewan. Currently, there is no veterinary college in B.C.

“Our goal is to make veterinary care more affordable to the masses, to everybody,” said Eyal Lichtman, the CEO of the Regional Animal Protection Society (RAPS).

RAPS is one of the largest animal rescue organizations in the province. It also runs its own not-for-profit animal hospital.

Lichtman says what is needed is more schools.

“I think there’s five schools in total in Canada,” said Litchman. “More vets are retiring than are graduating.”

Only a few hundred veterinary students graduate across the entire country each year.

B.C.'s minister of post-secondary education says a new veterinary school is not going to happen in the province anytime soon.

“That’s a significant undertaking that would be years in the making,” said Selina Robinson.

Back at the Children’s Farm, if one of the larger animals needs a major surgery, the owner isn’t sure where she can now take it for the procedure.

“The last time we needed surgery, it was up in Mill Bay at a vet, but they are no longer doing larger animals,” said Koenders.

That means B.C.'s vet shortage could be a matter of life or death on the farm.  

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