It took 24 hours for Campbell River resident Jessica Gordon to find a vet to treat her cat Ocean, pictured, that had suffered a broken leg so severe it required amputation. Photo courtesy Jessica Gordon.

It took 24 hours for Campbell River resident Jessica Gordon to find a vet to treat her cat Ocean, pictured, that had suffered a broken leg so severe it required amputation. Photo courtesy Jessica Gordon.

Veterinarian staff shortages leave pet owners searching in emergencies

Some pet owners have reported long waits or trips to find care for sick or injured pets

Some Campbell River residents are having trouble finding emergency veterinary care when their pets get sick or injured — making an already stressful situation even more distressing.

Several local pet owners have reported long waits or long trips — to Nanaimo or further — to get emergency vet care.

Seun Joubert tried to find a veterinarian over the Thanksgiving long weekend to treat his dog who was suffering from internal bleeding.

After calling around, the only available appointment in Campbell River was several days away, and a clinic in Courtenay said they only provide emergency care for customers, not new clients. His dog ultimately was seen by a vet the next day in Black Creek, but the experience left him shaken.

“We all have pets; it’s not just me,” said Joubert. “I see tons of people walking their dogs in front of my house. If they need help in an emergency, where do they go? If the vet in Nanaimo says they can’t handle you, that’s it — your pet will die.”

Jessica Gordon also had a trying experience when her kitten fell and broke its leg the same weekend.

Gordon called all the vet clinics in Campbell River and one in Courtenay. But she could only reach a call centre that directed her to an emergency vet hospital in Nanaimo. That clinic then told her it would be a 12-hour wait for treatment.

The next day, Gordon called the Nanaimo clinic again and was told to bring the cat in.

“They didn’t say anything about a wait or anything, so I quickly got gas and hauled down to Nanaimo,” she said. “But when I called them to let them know that I was in the parking lot, they told me there was a 10- to 12-hour wait.”

At that point, Gordon returned to Campbell River to drop off her boyfriend and pack a bag, then went back to Nanaimo. Upon arriving, the cat was treated right away — but 24 hours after the injury.

“It must have been tough on him, especially the pain — it’s not like you can give him Advil,” she said.

Local vet clinics are overworked and understaffed, making treating emergency or off-hour cases a constant challenge, said Sheila Morley, manager of both Campbell River Veterinary Hospital and Coastland Veterinary Hospital.

“It is impossible to keep up with the demand right now,” said Morley. “If you want a medical appointment, it’s often three weeks away.”

Between the two clinics Morley manages, there are three full-time and one-part time veterinarians. That number has shrunk as vets have retired or moved away.

“The emergency calls are very hard for the doctors, and some have moved to larger centres where they have more emergency hospitals,” she said. “I’ve had staff leave because of burnout and fatigue — they just can’t do it anymore.”

The clinics try to see as many emergency cases as possible, said Morley. During regular hours, nurses are trained to conduct triage to determine which cases are life-and-death emergencies.

But even so, some emergency cases have to be turned away.

“We try to get as many in as we can, but we also need to maintain the standards of medical care,” she said. “Unfortunately, sometimes we have to call around or refer them to Nanaimo. We don’t like saying no to people, but we don’t have a choice — if I drive out the doctors because we’ve overworked them, then the problem will get worse.”

Turning pets away takes its toll on staff.

“It’s horrific right now; the amount of fatigue and stress that staff are under right now is insane,” said Morley. “This is not anything that we want — we all have pets too.”

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