Healthy complement of veterinarians would be the cat’s whiskers

Nadine Robinson and Reese had a “good experience” with the emergency vet on call. SuppliedNadine Robinson and Reese had a “good experience” with the emergency vet on call.

“We’re not taking new patients,” is something I’ve heard friends facing when dealing with trying to get a family doctor, but didn’t realize it was a pet issue until this last month. I know that humans are supposed to be a priority, but lately, I like pets more than people. I can see my vote supporting a candidate that also considers pets as constituents. (Yes, this may be one step closer to everyone calling me the single, crazy, cat lady.)

Having written for the Northern Ontario Medical Journal for years, I knew that family doctors (or the lack thereof) was a problem for us less hairy animals, but I was dropped into the deep end of the pool with my furry friends when I fostered a couple of kittens, one who turned out to be terminally ill, and then my own cat’s health declined rapidly.

It was hard to navigate the rules, who was there to help, whose role was what, and why this was all so difficult.

With humans, if we don’t have our own family doctor, we at least have the emergency department at the hospital, and we have Telehealth Ontario. We know where to go.

Not so for pets. We have an on-call vet, but do not have an animal hospital here, nor can we place a free call to ask a pressing health question. I felt like I was the Titanic navigating the pet-care system through waters full of icebergs.

On Friday, my cat had not eaten or drank in days and was barely moving. No vets were taking on new patients. My only option was the emergency vet on call, though I had heard horror stories of using that service and had tried to avoid it. I had a good experience and am thankful for the professional care I received at the Black Road Veterinary Services.

Here are some of the icebergs that I do know:

– Sault Ste. Marie does not have a veterinarian on city staff, to ensure that spay and neuter clinics happen, affordably and reliably.

– We do not have a spay and neuter mobile.

– The Sault does not have city programs to ensure low-income citizens can access spay and neuter services.

– We have a combination of cat and dog foster organizations who don’t seem to play nicely together. Some are too fast to euthanize. Some are hard to call organizations.

– Fostering kittens is a thing, not just a dream, but it can also turn into a nightmare. Know the risks before you sign up to foster little lovies.

– Just outside Sault Ste. Marie, there are no bylaws around cats, it is the wild west (and east).

– No local vets are taking on new fur patients right now. The inn is full.

– We do not have an animal hospital for emergencies. We have a vet on call, but there is no regulation on the prices for those services, and I have been told they vary wildly.

– Many veterinary services are cheaper in the U.S.

– One organization told me that crossing the border to go to the vet in the U.S. is not considered an essential service.

– Some animal owners who had the U.S. vet, say that Canadian vets are begrudgingly treating their pets during COVID.

– There is a “new” Provincial Animal Welfare Service that no one seems to know about.

– One vet has been trying to hire another vet for two years, with no luck.

– Another vet locally is currently looking to sell his practice and retire.

What this shows me is that we have room to improve, clarify, and understand the landscape better. I worry that with recruitment issues and pending retirements, if we don’t want to end up with a stray pet problem, we should prioritize this now. We have physician recruitment for people, perhaps it is time for the city to also get involved in recruiting for another important doctor or two that we need in our community: veterinarians.

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