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Veterinary staffing shortage creates problems for both pet owners and offices

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Posted at 2:47 PM, Oct 11, 2021

WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WKBW) — July 20, 2021 is a day Lauren Gauthier said she won’t soon forget. Her rescue dog, Tinker Bell, was experiencing a medical emergency. The dog had been previously diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

“She displayed shallow breathing, she was in respiratory distress. So, I got her into the car and started driving to the emergency room.”

The Akron pet owner said she called a nearby emergency clinic on the way to the office.

“They only had one veterinarian on staff and three critical cases and so the vet advised me that they wouldn’t be able to see me and that I needed to go to a different emergency clinic.”

Veterinary shortages are a problem nationwide.

The industry is experiencing an estimated shortage of 7,000 veterinarians, which is causing issues for pet-owners and veterinarian clinics across the country, and here at home.

Greater Buffalo Veterinary Emergency Clinic Executive Director Stephanie West said pet care problems are actually two-fold.

One issue is an increase in demand. West said in 2020, they saw a record 10,000 pets. “Some people have more animals, some people are home more, so they’re noticing things more, and also, regular vets are also short staffed so people are postponing preventative care,” she said.

They are also experiencing a staffing shortage. West said burnout and compassion fatigue has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Greater Buffalo Veterinary Emergency Clinic has half the veterinarians and two-thirds the support staff they had compared to last year. “Vets can go anywhere, we had some leave western New York. If you can go anywhere, we have some who would not pick WNY,” West explained.

The SPCA Serving Erie County is also experiencing a staffing shortage and as a result they’re no longer accepting new patients. “At one point we had surgery appointments booking out four and a half months. And, at that point we made the decision to stop accepting new patients because we couldn’t get to them in a timely manner,” explained S.P.C.A. Veterinary Services Vice President Melanie Rushforth.

Rushforth said the S.P.C.A. has had a job posting for a veterinarian since May and hasn’t received a single application. She said it could be months before they begin accepting new patients again.

So, what can you do as a pet owner? Experts recommend keeping up on preventative care, like routine vaccines. They also suggest knowing where several emergency clinics are in your area.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, things are projected to get better. It predicts a 17% increase in the amount of veterinarians entering the workforce in the next 10 years which is much faster than other industries.