The complex issues behind London’s emergency animal care cuts

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London’s emergency veterinary hospital is closing for nearly half a week due to an industry-wide shortage of vets, creating a worrying prospect for pet owners.

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The city’s veterinary clinics use the London Regional Veterinary Emergency and Referral Hospital for after-hours animal crises, sending fur patients there when their offices are closed at night and at weekends.

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It’s a common pattern for a city the size of London. But the Adelaide Street Hospital, which has already reduced its opening hours and used rotating closures, now closes from 7am Thursday until 7am Sunday, directing pet owners to other emergency services to Mississauga and Oakville.

The decision was made to have a truncated week where we offer the best medicine possible in this four days stretch. Unfortunately we do not havee the ability to cover the rest,” said Danny Joffe, Vice President of Medical Operations at VCA Canada, owner of the London Hospital.

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“IThis is a systemic problem, and we are doing our best to find ways to shorten the problem bUtah my instinct is that we watch a minimum six months, and maybe even longer only that.”

This all stems from a shortage of licensed veterinarians and veterinary technicians, both of which are crucial for emergency care and surgeries.

The veterinary industry is grappling with many of the same issues as human health care, with massive burnout and a loss of professionals each year that is not matched by the entry of new graduates into the profession, according to the experts.

This problem dates back to 2017, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to industry data, said Jeff Wichtel, dean of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

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We may not, as an industry, have do a good job in predicting the increase in drequest for veterinary services,” he said. “There is a new generation of enthusiastic young pet owners. They do a lot of to research before they have a pet, do a lot of to research their pet’s health, as they would for themselves, and if they have the income to do so, they tend to spend it on their pets.

It has also led to increased care and complex medical procedures to improve or extend pets’ lives, he said.

Veterinary schools are expanding classes to train more vets and ensure they have exposure and experience in emergency medicine. Most vets used to go to emergency hospitals after practicing on their own, but now some graduates are entering the field immediately, Wichtel said.

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Still, techs are leaving the field at the rate of about 15-16% per year, and many vets have cut their hours, stepped away from front-line work or left altogether amid the pandemic, he said. he adds.

Steve Ryall, executive director of the Humane Society London and Middlesex, said he was concerned about the number of additional people who would surrender their pets if they did not have access to proper care or had no cannot afford to travel long distances to obtain emergency treatment.

“It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m afraid that’s the next step,” he said. “Shorten itThe reduction in hours will affect the entire industry which is already at breaking point.

The Humane Society is at capacity with another 20 pets on the waiting list, despite adopting more than 100 pets last month, he said. He hopes a new building – the organization is raising funds for its new home – and the planned on-site veterinary clinic will help ease some of the pressures on the industry.

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Pet owners in London are panicking over the closure of the emergency hospital, wondering where they can access care should they need it immediately.

Amanda, who didn’t want her last name used, has two cats, one of which has asthma.

“WWhen he has a seizure, he goes into respiratory distress and can no longer breathe. He wouldn’t survive a drive to Waterloo, Oakville or Mississauga,” she said.

“I to know Everybody is shWhere-staff and everyone is tired but with the large number of vets in London and the surroundings, I don’t understand why no one is walk before we say, let’s share the load.

Joffe said it happened a long time ago. The emergency hospital operated with its own staff, but when staff shortages became a major issue, vets with their own clinics came in to take shifts to fill in the gaps.

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Even with that gallant effort by others veterinarianswere still just unable to maintain the workforce for the numbers we would need,” he said.

Cases like the one in London, where the 24-hour hospital is forced to scale back or close, are becoming more common, said Albert Wimmers, former president of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association.

“The wThe workload in small animal medicine has increased dramatically. I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve been practicing for over 30 years,” he said. On top of that, there’s a lot of stress, a lot of burnout, and a lot of compassion fatigue. You add to that the labor shortage, and it’s just the perfect storm.

Pet owners should ask their clinics about after-hours care options and investigate telemedicine, he said.

He also urged Londoners to be patient with vets and technicians, even in the face of stressful closures. “They care so much deeply and it’s hard for them to have to do these the decisions.”


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Benjamin M. Yerger