Pet owners stand outside Vet to Pet in Smithers waiting to be let in. (Marisca Bakker)

Vet shortage causes grief for vets, farmers and pet owners

Pet owners forced to travel, vet staff burnt out, farmers scramble for care

A current veterinary shortage is pushing vets to their limits and making people travel far to get care for their pets, specially in the northern half of the province.

“Vets are turning on each other because everyone is just pushed to the limit,” said Raili Vanderwiel, veterinary assistant and practice manager at Bulkley Valley Veterinary Services in Houston.

“We are a little clinic here, we started out two days a week. Dr. Katie Morton and myself worked for another vet and this was just a satellite office [For Vet to Pet] but we very quickly understood that Houston was under-serviced. So we talked to Dr. Kim Hunter about buying the Houston location and she would carry on with Smithers. So that is what we did and we doubled our days and doubled our staff and bought a lot and are in the process of building a new location.”

However, she said it is tough right now because they are working out of a very small building with only vet.

While they can do routine surgeries such as spay and neuters, they don’t have the money or the space for an X-ray machine or ultrasound equipment, which she says frustrates other animal hospitals in the region, such as Smithers, that end up with their clients when they need more specialized care.

“You see a lot of things that are hard on the heart, we got into this because we love animals,” Vanderwiel added. “We want to do what is best. On top of clients that don’t pay bills or are abusive, now we have other people in the industry attacking us. It is sad. We should be working together. But it is because everyone is tired, everyone is burnt out.”

She said they are overrun and have people with their pets coming from Prince Rupert, Vanderhoof and Fraser Lake for care.

Currently, the first available appointment for a spay or neuter at their clinic is in the middle of August.

The vet shortage also has local politicians calling on the provincial government for help.

There is currently no veterinary school in this province but seats are reserved for British Columbians at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) at the University of Saskatchewan.

Recently, B.C. announced it was investing nearly $10.7 million to double its provincial seat quota from 20 to 40 in the college’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program for the 2022-23 academic year.

The College of Veterinarians of British Columbia says this will help to alleviate the heavy workloads and veterinary shortages that have been identified as a critical issue in B.C.

However, Regional District of Bulkley Nechako Area A Director Mark Fisher says it isn’t enough.

“It is a huge issue,” Mark Fisher told Smithers town council last month. “For live animals, for larger animals, farm animals specifically, but it is also pets. The province has committed funding for some seats but we are looking for more.”

Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen echoed Fisher’s concerns and brought a resolution to the North Central Local Government Association earlier in May asking for the province to commit to funding a total of 40 veterinary students under the Inter-Provincial Agreement in each year for four years at the WCVM

He said it is the farmers and ranchers who will suffer and the region needs more large animal vets.

“We need access to the seats at the university, that is important,” he said. “They’ve doubled the seats but that is only for the first year, we need a longer, more consistent term agreement for students to feel they have the commitment to go there for a long time.”

He added ideally, the province needs its own veterinary program and suggested it be run through the University of Northern BC so that veterinarians may be more enticed to stay in rural, small areas if they are from the region or are trained in the northern part of the province.

Vanderwiel agreed that more seats in vet schools are important for the long run and finding ways to encourage more veterinarians to work in the region is equally important.

 

With two vet clinics, Smithers is a destination for pet owners from other towns as veterinarians are in short supply in the North. (Marisca Bakker photo)

With two vet clinics, Smithers is a destination for pet owners from other towns as veterinarians are in short supply in the North. (Marisca Bakker photo)