When Jessica DeSimone’s duck broke its beak, she was faced with a difficult choice: either take care of it herself or watch the bird bleed to death.

“It was a really scary situation; you hope that you can stop (the bleeding). So that would have been a situation where I would have gone straight to a vet to help her (the duck),” DeSimone said.

Without any avian veterinarians available in Smithville, DeSimone has learned how to treat wounds and serious injuries on her own, performing minor surgeries she never thought she would need to.

“Initially, I did have a veterinarian for my flock of birds,” She said. “And once she left her clinic, there was nobody to replace her.”

Since then, DeSimone has been learning from other people in the community, hoping she can deal with her birds’ health needs.

While one bird survived the injury, another two died because DeSimone couldn’t get them the care they needed.

“You don’t want to (perform these surgeries), but you do it because there’s no other option, right? There’s nothing else to do.”

DeSimone said many animal clinics she’s reached out to aren’t taking on new clients and aren’t offering wait-lists. She is not alone in the struggle to find a veterinarian.

Kim Cyopeck moved to Smithville a year ago and hasn’t been able to find a veterinarian for her dogs and cats.

“One said if your current vet was within an hour’s drive, no one would take you,” Cyopeck said. “We are coming up to checkup time, so I do feel the need to give it some thought again. I also have a fearful dog, so I don’t want just any vet; I need one that understands his issues and is willing to work with us.”

An increase in prices due to the lack of options has affected Nicole Fitzgerald, who said fewer veterinarians in the region are offering emergency services.

“This means instead of paying the rate you once thought you would get urgent help, you now pay $250 to walk in the door,” said Fitzgerald, who also lives in Smithville. “More people have animals that suffer through the night because they simply can not afford to pay that big increase in price.”

Paula Philips was almost too late to save her dog, who needed urgent care due to a urinary infection. The Smithville resident found someone only days later; it was either that or “nothing at all.”

“I did end up finding a vet but paid extra to be seen urgently, and I was desperate,” Philips said.

Fitzgerald said struggling to afford a veterinarian does not mean the pet or farm animal owner is being negligent.

According to Terra-Lee Kramer, manager at Village Centre Animal Hospital in Binbrook, the shortages became more noticeable during the COVID pandemic lockdowns and afterwards.

“We had really busy times back then. Vaccine appointments and regular health checkups were those types of things not allowed to be done during the COVID lockdown because they weren’t considered essential,” Kramer said.

The West Lincoln resident added most veterinarians didn’t return due to compassion fatigue, which can result from the stress of exposure to a traumatized individual.

“My clinic is taking new clients, but we have to be really picky about it because our veterinarian is on his own. We have to keep in mind how many patients he can handle in one day,” she said. 

The cause for the shortage? Dr. Tim Arthur, vice-president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, said more vets are leaving the business, and the remaining ones cannot keep up with the growing number of new pet owners.

“We just don’t have enough veterinarians in the country to service the needs of our population,” said Arthur.

Another part of the issue, explained Arthur, is that there aren’t enough veterinary graduates going into the workforce. According to him, to solve these issues, veterinary schools are increasing their class sizes, but the four-year program means a long wait until more vets start working.

“There’s no trouble finding people who want to get involved in the profession. The problem is getting enough of them educated,” Arthur said. “We have been in constant contact with the Government of Canada trying to speed up and make the ability to bring foreign trade veterinarians in the country.”

He also added the “major consequence” of the shortage is vets’ stress level, which has gone “through the roof.”

“Veterinarians go into the job because they’re caring, compassionate people, and they’re being pushed to do as much as they possibly can. So, the entire veterinary team is quite stressed, and the public is quite stressed.”

By Beatriz Baleeiro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 30, 2023 at 10:53

This item reprinted with permission from   Grimsby Lincoln News   Grimsby, Ontario
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