A Riverview veterinary clinic is closing its general practice to focus on emergency and referral care, resulting in thousands of pet owners needing to switch to another vet.
The Riverview Animal Hospital announced the change on its social media and in emails to clients Tuesday, saying an increase in pet ownership over the last two years made the hospital increasingly busy.
That made it difficult to balance its general practice services with being the only animal hospital in the region offering 24/7 emergency services.
"We have been in the community for 50 years," Kelli Cormier, Riverview Animal Hospital's practice manager, said in an interview Thursday.
"The relationships that we have built and the pets that we have seen from puppyhood to end-of-life care again has made this a really difficult decision."
The change means it will no longer offer vaccinations, regular exams, spay and neutering, and dental care. Emergency and referral services will continue. Cormier said the change won't impact staffing levels.
She didn't have an exact number of clients affected, but said it would be in the realm of thousands.
That's led to ringing phones at other veterinarian offices.
"We have had lots of calls and inquiries … as I'm sure all the local hospitals have," Margaret Dunnett, the owner of Coverdale Veterinary Hospital in Riverview, said Thursday.
In the last two years, there's just been an unprecedented growth in pet ownership. - Margaret Dunnett, owner of Coverdale Veterinary Hospital
At least one veterinarian's office that declined an interview said it was already too busy to accept new clients.
Dunnett said Coverdale is increasing its hours in response to the expected rise in the number of people looking for exam and surgery appointments for their pets.
Dunnett was thankful the Riverview Animal Hospital gave vets in the area a few days' advance notice of its announcement.
An expected increase in clients comes on top of what's already been a busy time adjusting to the pandemic and growth in pet ownership.
"In the last two years, there's just been an unprecedented growth in pet ownership, and all general practices have had to make accommodations to to be able to handle this," Dunnett said.
Workforce challenges across the country
Nicole Jewett is registrar of the New Brunswick Veterinary Medical Association. She's aware of the Riverview Animal Hospital's decision, saying it was related to a workforce shortage.
Jewett said there's a national workforce shortage, mainly with licensed veterinarians and registered veterinary technicians. Some clinics are also having trouble finding support staff.
While there were workforce issues pre-dating the pandemic, Jewett said it made the situation worse. In part, that's tied to not enough graduates from the country's five veterinary colleges.
"What wasn't foreseen was the sudden increase in the pet population," Jewett said.
Some people decided to adopt because they were at home more, or weren't travelling and had more disposable income.
A survey of 2,000 Canadians in November 2021, by Narrative Research for Pet Valu and released in February, suggests about one third of pet owners added a pet to their household during the pandemic.
A survey by Abacus Data of 1,500 Canadians in June 2021 suggests three per cent of the population, or about 900,000 people, got a pet for the first time during the pandemic.
That increase happened as some staff were leaving the industry from burnout and compassion fatigue, Jewett said.
"It became a bit of a perfect storm," Jewett said, saying there are more people with pets looking for services while clinics face staffing issues.
Cormier and Jewett urged those affected by the Riverview Animal Hospital change to have patience and be kind to staff as they try to accommodate everyone.