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Local veterinarians limit emergency care in aftermath of pandemic pet boom

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Erin Gottsacker
/
WXPR

In the aftermath of the pandemic pet boom, local veterinarians are swamped. Many aren’t accepting new patients. Others are limiting emergency care.

Inside the Eagle River Animal Hospital, a veterinary assistant coaxes an anxious dog to an exam room. Dogs and cats and Northwoods pets rotate through that room all day.

The animal hospital is completely booked.

“This afternoon we have eight doctor appointments,” says Practice Manager Amber Plautz, studying the schedule.

It’s been busy nonstop for the past two years.

“When COVID happened, a lot of people were home and they adopted pets or got more pets because they were home to take care of them,” Plautz says. “And another thing that happened during COVID is a lot of people moved up north. They turned their summer homes into their all-the-time homes, so Eagle River and the entire Northwoods grew hugely.”

Plautz says the Eagle River area suddenly had double to triple the number of pets.

“We got stretched real thin,” she says. “It wasn’t uncommon where we were triple booking ourselves, so it was high stress and high anxiety.”

The clinic’s veterinarians were overworked and exhausted. The staff started adjusting hours and changing the way they held appointments to squeeze in more animals.

But without more staff members, their options are limited.

“Some days, like today, we only have one veterinarian and she’s in surgery in the morning,” Plautz says. “So, if an emergency calls, there’s just not much we can do. If our surgeon is gowned up and in surgery, we can’t pull her out.”

The Eagle River Animal Hospital has been searching for an additional daytime vet for two years.

But like the rest of the labor pool, veterinarians and certified vet techs are in short supply and are highly sought after.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary jobs are expected to increase by 17 percent in the next decade. The average growth rate across all occupations is 8 percent.

There currently are not enough vets to fill those positions, especially in rural areas, where the shortage is expected to get even worse.

Without the extra help, the Eagle River Animal Hospital cut back their services. At the beginning of April, they stopped providing after-hours emergency care.

“It was just too much,” Plautz says. “The vets were working twice as hard during the day and then not getting the sleep they needed at night and then that affects the daytime patient care.”

It was a difficult step, Plautz says, but one they felt was necessary as their busy schedule gets even tighter with the coming of summer.

Now, they urge pet-owners to try to avoid after-hours pet emergencies. Keep your dog on a leash in the evening, Plautz suggests, and have bandages on hand if something does happen.

Then, call first thing in the morning because those daytime appointments go fast too.

Erin Gottsacker joined WXPR in December 2020. As a morning edition host and reporter, Erin reports on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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