Atascadero couple Mark and Noreen Jewell knew they had to act fast when their beloved cat Ashley died of cancer in August. But with San Luis Obispo County’s pet hospitals filled to capacity, they had two tough choices: wait a month for Ashley to get emergency crossover service or pay the cost inflated by the pandemic. a walk-in appointment.
âIf you have kitten disease, six weeks is forever,â Mark said.
So, they paid $ 169 after a night visit to the hospital and Ashley was cremated.
Jewels are not alone in their struggle to find timely and friendly pet care services. COVID-19 closures in 2020 have impacted overbooked animal hospitals and veterinary services more than ever, and while the need for pet care continues to increase, there is also a staff shortage. statewide veterinarian.
Amid the ongoing impacts, vets are sensitive to the plight of pets and their owners.
“In more emergencies, we’re going to have customers who are on edge. They haven’t treated it and they’re also being asked for money. It’s a lot to put on people,” he said. said Aaron Schechter, the Jewels vet. at the Atascadero Pet Hospital and Emergency Center. “The shorter fuse is there too. It depends on how the world is right now.”
Schechter and her staff are part of a large group of animal care service providers who remain mentally and emotionally drained from the seemingly endless cases that pass through their doors. Medical staff are also unable to determine the exact reason for the new influx of pet patients. But they have clues.
âThere was definitely a feeling that adoptions were increasing and going like crazy across the country when COVID first started,â said Bonnie Markoff, founder / veterinarian of SLO’s Animal Care Clinic.
But after speaking with other veterinary organizations, Markoff found that the initial peak of adoption was diminishing rapidly. She said overall adoptions during the entire lockdown period had not increased.
“I think there was in the beginning when people were confined to the house and we saw this happen in Woods [Humane Society] â¦ I think they almost ran out of dogs at one point, âshe said.
Markoff also hypothesized that spending more time at home with their pets made people sit up and consider their pets’ needs better.
“They are at home, they bond, they want better care, they want better care, they ask for more services per visit, and each visit requires more work from our staff.” , said Markoff. . “Plus, we were seeing patients outside. It’s just harder for us to keep up with when we can’t interact with people and pets like we usually do.”
Schechter agreed that customer service took a hit. The two doctors said interior services should be replaced with exterior care “next to the car”. This resulted in rushed interactions with customers who ended up in a bad mood.
âPeople need to feel that you care about them and their issues. It’s hard to do over the phone,â Schechter said.
Another critical reason for the delay in pet care is the shortage of vets, which is not limited to SLO County. Schechter said it was a statewide problem.
Markoff noted that almost all of the county’s animal hospitals are trying to hire more medical staff. The downsizing has forced hospitals to turn away many clients.
“We never refused people [before], but for the sake of the sanity of our staff, we had to do it. Specialized clinics and emergency clinics are also overwhelmed. There has been no change in the number of vets or veterinary hospitals available, âsaid Markoff.
Tense meetings with clients and escalating cases have caused local veterinary staff to burn out. Team leaders like Schechter have offered incentives, including higher wages, to encourage staff to stay, which has also resulted in higher prices for services. Schechter said the mental health of staff caused his hospital to cut daily appointments in half and he recently hired three people to replace those who quit due to burnout. They always respond to emergencies on weekends.
Veterinary hospitals are also suffering from a shortage of supplies.
âBasic antibiotics, surgical gloves, the simple things you’d expect were scarce,â Schechter said.
The Jewels have faced this problem firsthand. When their other cat, MP, was diagnosed with diabetes, his vet said Noreen’s diabetes medication would work for him as well. The only difference was that Mr. P needed thicker needles than Noreen’s. Lucky for him, Noreen’s diabetes specialist had the right type and they could get them back the next day. The Jewels said it would have taken significantly longer to get the needles from a pet specialist.
Others like Meg S., who declined to give her full name, and her dog Teddy Bear were less fortunate. Crowded SLO County hospitals forced Meg to travel to Monterey for her German Shepherd to have eye surgery.
âThe Arroyo Grande specialist was booked for over a month just for a consultation, and his local vet here who had his second operation refused to do a third operation and referred me to an oncologist in Santa Barbara. When I called they told me they weren’t accepting new clients if they lived outside of Santa Barbara County, âshe said.
Meg said she made calls “all over California” to find a specialist before Monterey Animal Ophthalmology could bring her in. But getting there was not easy.
âBy the time he was seen, however, the tumors had pretty much crushed his right eye. The vet had wanted a scan before the operation, but the wait time and cost were even longer and more expensive, so it was never done. It was a long recovery; my dog ââalmost died, and although the surgery probably only brought him a few more months, he is now still alive and even thriving because of them ” , said Meg.
Pet owners like Meg and the Jewells have said they feel for overworked vets.
âThey take their jobs seriously, they love their animals,â Noreen said.
More than a year and a half after the start of the pandemic, doctors expressed hope that cases would stabilize soon and that feelings of burnout would ease. Schechter and Markoff believed the root of the problem was the way people treat each other and asked for empathy from both sides.
âEveryone in this profession cares,â Schechter said. âWe just wouldn’t do it any other way. “??
Contact Bulbul editor Rajagopal at [email protected]