Several years ago, Penticton resident Karyn Walker had to rush her dog to Kelowna for emergency care at 10:30 p.m. after her pup was bitten by a black widow.
With no after-hours animal care offered in Penticton, her only option was to make the one-hour drive to Kelowna’s Fairfield Animal Hospital – the only emergency hospital in the Okanagan.
The demand for after-hours emergency vet care hasn’t changed since Walker’s incident, which is why Penticton residents are calling for a change.
However, a current provincial vet shortage means increasing after-hours care won’t be happening anytime soon, if ever, says the College of Veterinarians of B.C.
Animal lover Helen Valee wants to see 24/7 emergency veterinarian care offered in Penticton so people don’t have to travel an hour away to Kelowna in the middle of the night, under very stressful circumstances. Some locals have had their pet die on the drive there.
“A friend’s cat had an apparent stroke on Christmas Day. When she called her veterinary office she received a message that they would not be open until Jan. 4. So, the problem is not just after hours and weekends, it includes week closures over the Christmas break.”
Even Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki, who has pets himself, made a motion at a recent council meeting asking for Penticton veterinarians to offer emergency after-hours care.
But the situation in South Okanagan, and across B.C. is only going to get worse, not better, according to both the BC SPCA and the College of Veterinarians of B.C.
Vet shortage at crisis levels
The current shortage is at such a crisis, Penticton could see a shortage in veterinary services after doctors retire or burn out, said the BC SPCA and the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia (CVBC).
“With the current shortage of veterinarians, the next step for Penticton could very well be having almost no veterinary service as practices cannot find veterinarians to hire to provide the service, cover vacations or personal injury time, or to eventually sell their practices to when they need to retire,” said Jane Pritchard, interim register for the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia (CVBC).
On April 22, the BC SPCA launched a pledge campaign asking the provincial government to provide funding for 20 additional spaces for B.C. students at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) – B.C.’s regional vet school in Saskatoon, Sask.
“The demand for veterinary services in B.C. already outstrips the number of vets available, and this situation is only going to get more urgent,” said Craig Daniell, chief executive officer of the BC SPCA. “Not only does this put our pets and other animals at risk, but the shortage has led to increasing levels of exhaustion, burn-out and, sadly, suicide, within the veterinary profession.”
With people adopting ‘COVID’ pets at a rate never seen before, this puts additional pressure on an already tapped-out system.
The Penticton Western News contacted three different veterinarians in Penticton and none responded to a request for comment.
vets per year
A labour market study conducted by the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training in 2019 indicated that B.C. would be short 100 veterinarians per year for each of the subsequent five years, culminating in a shortage of 500 veterinarians by 2024.