Millions of ‘pandemic pets’ adopted, shortage of vets to care for them

“We don’t have enough doctors seeing pets, and they are coming to full capacity,” she says. “So we have a lot of people who have walked through our doors and been turned away. One of our goals is to make sure that we are open and that we can see walk-in clients.”

Miller says Mission is a nonprofit, donor-dependent hospital.

Currently, she and her staff see about 30 to 40 walk-in people per day.

That includes Sage Engle-Laird of Minneapolis, who brought in her 2-year-old Aussiedoodle Caspian overdue for a rabies vaccine.

Engle-Laird says there was also an issue with Caspian’s left leg – but getting help was a problem.

“We have a vet across the street, but we couldn’t get in with him, and I’m pretty sure it was going to be expensive,” she says. “We were told to go to the emergency room. We were out all day, and they were probably going to fit it in, but we didn’t have time to sit all day. ”

As a staff member began examining Caspian’s leg, Engle-Laird explained how the Aussiedoodle moved into his home in April 2020.

“We couldn’t go to the dog parks because of the quarantine, so we decided to get a second dog and let them be entertained,” she smiled. “I was fortunate enough to have my partner with me in my forties, but I can’t imagine being alone, locked up at home for such a long time.”

Engle-Laird is not alone.

The ASPCA says 23 million American households – one in five – have adopted a pet since the start of the pandemic.

Vets like Dr. Eric Ruhland, owner of St. Paul Pet Hospitals, say it’s hard to keep pace.

He notes that in the past year, his pets have doubled in number, with wait times for non-urgent appointments of three to four weeks.

“You know, most practices, especially in the metro area, are overwhelmed right now,” he says. “It pushes back preventative care appointments, vaccines, the simple things, blood tests, are pushed back a long way. Appointments take longer.”

Ruhland says he also has a smaller staff: What was a group of 56 before the pandemic has now only 38.

The pressures are being felt.

Ruhland says members of his team can use the services of a selected mental health professional free of charge.

“I watched the staff break down emotionally between the number of cases,” he says. “You pick up a staff member and go from euthanasia to a new puppy date. You watch these staff members go through an emotional roller coaster.”

There are some encouraging signs.

The Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine says there are now 3,284 active licensed veterinarians to practice in the state.

The board indicates that in 2021, 198 new licenses were issued, 31 more than the previous year.

Still, Miller says there are veterinarians who are exhausted and leave the company because of stress.

“We call it the big resignation in all of society right now,” she said. “So when we see this animal after animal after animal, hour after hour throughout the day, of course, it can cause compassion fatigue, which we are trying to combat.”

That includes taking care of its staff, Miller says.

“Making sure they have access to mental health care, making sure we celebrate the good things that happen,” she says. “There’s a lot of great things going on here as well, but when you’re constantly dealing with sick animals it can be stressful. ”

Miller says Mission now provides health care benefits to staff members and encourages them to take mental health days when needed.

It is also planned to use a health and wellness coach for one-on-one meetings with staff.

The mission also plans to add social workers, who would be available to both clients and staff.

Miller and Ruhland say they want to expand, but finding new recruits is difficult.

Ruhland says his practice addresses another problem: positive cases of COVID-19 having a direct impact on his staff.

“To date, we have five staff members with close contact with COVID,” he notes. “And I have three staff members who are COVID positive, just within the last 24 hours.”

Ruhland says that with all of this happening, there might be opportunities for a new generation of people interested in veterinary medicine.

“If I could hire 25 more people, I would have done it yesterday,” he says. “If people are interested in a profession, there has never been a better time to look at veterinary medicine as a career, not only in the interim but as a long term career, it is extremely rewarding. . ”

What about the Caspian?

Turns out he has a broken hairline in his foot, nothing serious.

But Miller says that remedying this imbalance between pets and vets will take some time.

“I think it’s going to take a few years before we’re back to our new normal,” she said. “More patients doesn’t necessarily mean more vets, or more technicians, or more people in our industry. I think it will take a while to catch up, and for people to kind of have expectations. realigned to the service that is possible there. ”

You can find more information about Mission Animal Hospital here.

More information on St. Paul’s Pet Hospitals are here.

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