Several years ago, Penticton resident Karyn Walker had to rush her dog to Kelowna for emergency care at 10:30 p.m. after her pup was bitten by a black widow. With no after-hours animal care offered in Penticton, her only option was to make the one-hour drive to Kelowna’s Fairfield Animal Hospital — the only emergency hospital in the Okanagan.
The demanded for after-hours emergency vet care hasn’t changed since Walker’s incident, which is why Penticton residents are calling for a change.
However, a current provincial vet shortage means increasing after-hours care won’t be happening anytime soon, if ever, says the College of Veterinarians of B.C.
Animal lover Helen Valee wants to see 24/7 emergency veterinarian care offered in Penticton so people don’t have to travel an hour away to Kelowna in the middle of the night, under very stressful circumstances. Some locals have had their pet die on the drive there.
“I wish to adopt another furball, but I am in fear of the lack of compassion of our local 15 veterinaries who have no plan to provide a 24/7 plan for a call-out program for pets,” said Valee in a letter to the editor.
“A friend’s cat had an apparent stroke on Christmas Day. When she called her veterinary office she received a message that they would not be open until Jan. 4. So, the problem is not just after hours and weekends, it includes week closures over the Christmas break.”
Even Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki, who has pets himself, made a motion at a recent council meeting asking for Penticton veterinarians to offer emergency after-hours care.
But the situation in South Okanagan, and across B.C. is only going to get worse, not better, according to both the BC SPCA and the College of Veterinarians of B.C.
VETERINARIAN SHORTAGE AT CRISIS LEVELS
The current shortage is at such a crisis, Penticton could see a shortage in veterinary services after doctors retire or burn out, said the BC SPCA and the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia (CVBC).
“With the current shortage of veterinarians, the next step for Penticton could very well be having almost no veterinary service as practices cannot find veterinarians to hire to provide the service, cover vacations or personal injury time, or to eventually sell their practices to when they need to retire,” said Jane Pritchard, interim register for the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia (CVBC).
On April 22, the B.C. SPCA launched a pledge campaign asking the provincial government to provide funding for 20 additional spaces for B.C. students at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) – B.C.’s regional vet school in Saskatoon, Sask.
“The demand for veterinary services in B.C. already outstrips the number of vets available, and this situation is only going to get more urgent,” said Craig Daniell, chief executive officer of the BC SPCA. “Not only does this put our pets and other animals at risk, but the shortage has led to increasing levels of exhaustion, burn-out and, sadly, suicide, within the veterinary profession.”
With people adopting ‘COVID’ pets at a rate never seen before, this puts additional pressure on an already tapped-out system. The Western News contacted three different veterinarians in Penticton and none responded to a request for comment.
SHORT 100 VETS PER YEAR
A labour market study conducted by the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training in 2019 indicated that B.C. would be short 100 veterinarians per year for each of the subsequent five years, culminating in a shortage of 500 veterinarians by 2024.
“The shortage is particularly serious outside of urban areas, where access to veterinary care is already limited and in fields of specialization, such as large animal care.”
Daniell explained that B.C. has an opportunity to alleviate the growing vet shortage by providing government funding to support 20 additional spaces for B.C. veterinary students at Western College.
“B.C. currently has 20 designated spaces at the college, but in 2018 the province of Alberta, which has its own college, decided to relinquish the 20 spots it had at Western. The Society of B.C. Veterinarians have requested that these spots be made available for B.C. veterinary students,” said Daniell.
He went on to say the key issue is funding as veterinary students pay part of their tuition, with the balance of funding coming from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training.
“We are urging the provincial government to protect B.C. animals by providing funding for B.C. students to access the 20 open spaces at Western – a cost of approximately $8.3 million annually.”
SPCA RELIES ON VETS TO TREAT ABUSED, INJURED ANIMALS
Without action to address the increasing vet shortage, both animals and people are at risk.
“We are already seeing the negative impact on animals, as access to veterinary care diminishes,” said Danielle. “This includes both individual pet owners and rescue groups such as the BC SPCA, which rely heavily on support from veterinarians in saving the lives of abused and neglected animals.”
To sign the BC SPCA’s pledge to support training for B.C. veterinarians, visit spca.bc.ca/vet-shortage.
However, it should be known that veterinarians are independent business persons stated Pritchard.
“CVBC regulates that they are competent in what they offer to the public and ethical in their dealings with the public. We cannot force overworked veterinarians to work more hours. The provision of after hours care is a business decision made by each practice facility.”
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