A Regina woman whose cat needed emergency medical care had to drive all the way to Saskatoon, because her local 24-hour clinic was closed due to veterinary shortages across then country.
Joelle Hydaman said her cat Chanel went from being perfectly healthy to the complete opposite within seconds on the evening of May 16.
"There was no lead up," Hydaman said. "I went downstairs I found her rolling around in pain and crying.… She was completely paralyzed in her back legs and in excruciating pain."
Hydaman began calling vet clinics across the city. Most were already closed and directed her to 24 HR Animal Care Centre, Regina's only 24 hour veterinary clinic, but she found it was also closed.
Since Oct. 3, 2022, 24 HR Animal Care Centre has had a notice on its website stating there would be service disruptions due to staff shortages.
"It was a split second thing that happened that required emergency care and they weren't there," said Hydaman
After many more phone calls, she found that the best option for care was in Saskatoon.
"It was very hard to believe that my closest option was two and a half hours away, but I got in the car and I started driving because I wanted to at least be on the road. I didn't want to sit around and wait any longer," said Hydaman.
"[Chanel] was crying out the entire time and it was torture. It was torture for both of us."
After they arrived at the University of Saskatchewan's Veterinary Medical Centre, Chanel was diagnosed with thrombosis — a blood clot had blocked a main artery, restricting blood flow to her back legs and leaving her paralyzed. Hydaman was also told that Chanel had begun to go into heart failure, most likely because of the long drive.
"I had a pretty good understanding that this wasn't going to end well for her," she said.
The vets told Hydaman they could try surgery, but there was a good chance Chanel would relapse and may not have had the same quality of life.
Hydaman opted for euthanasia to end Chanel's suffering.
"When they brought her in and gave me a chance to kind of say goodbye, she was purring," said Hydaman.
The future of 24-hour vet clinics
A severe shortage of veterinary professionals is negatively impacting the health and well-being of the veterinary workforce and placing pressure on the care they can provide for their clients, according to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
This issue has been ongoing.
Dr. Gillian Muir, dean of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) at the University of Saskatchewan, said there are several factors causing the shortage of vets.
One of them is an increase in pet ownership since the pandemic, she said.
Muir said most vet clinics are small private companies.
"It's becoming more and more difficult to provide [24-hour service] in individual practices or in smaller areas, where there's few veterinarians that can run the practice. Of course they can't work 24 hours a day," Muir said.
"So the shortage is just putting pressure on the ability of those veterinarians to really be there all the time for their patients."
WCVM has increased its class sizes from 78 to 88 seats to try to produce more veterinarians. It also has a program that allows veterinarians certified in other countries to take a proficiency exam to be certified here, which Muir said places 55 qualified veterinarians into the workforce each year.
Hydaman said she understands health-care shortages.
"I work for the health authority, so I have a pretty good understanding of the current situation of our health-care system, but I had no idea that that was also the case for veterinarian care."
She said she would love to see more 24-hour clinics open so no one else has to experience this.
She said that it would have been helpful to have options such as pain medication to make Chanel comfortable during the trip to Saskatoon, or the option to euthanize her closer to home.
"I think that if the clinic is having difficulty filling that position for coverage, another clinic should be required to step up and take on that 24-hour care," she said.
The 24 Hour Animal Care Centre declined to be interviewed.
Hydaman said some people have been surprised that she drove all the way to Saskatoon for a cat.
"My response was that I was given no other option," she said.
"When I rescued her, I knew that I was taking on her care as a responsible pet owner."
She spoke about why she decided to add Chanel to the family 11 years ago.
"I had a Saint Bernard and I felt like he was lonely, so I decided to get him a cat. The two of them got along very well."
Hydaman said that although their home is a bit quieter new, she is happy Chanel is no longer suffering.
"She loved her people, she loved her family," Hydaman said.
"She lived a good life."