British Columbia

Burnt-out vets put end to overnight emergency care in northern B.C.

Veterinarians in Prince George say after-hour services will be reduced due to staffing shortages. 

Pet owners with an emergency after 10 p.m. will have to use telemedicine, or travel more than 700 km

Pet lovers in Prince George and surrounding communities are facing a future without overnight emergeny care for their animals. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Veterinarians in Prince George, B.C., say services will be reduced due to staffing shortages, leaving a large portion of the province without after-hours care.

The city, which acts as a service centre for much of northern and central B.C., does not have a 24-hour emergency facility; a number of vet clinics had worked together to provide after-hours urgent-care service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Starting July 1 however, there will be no veterinarians available after 10 p.m. until 8 or 8:30 a.m., when regular service hours resume.

Pet owners with an emergency after 10 p.m. have been told they will have to use telemedicine or seek 24-hour emergency care in another community. However, the closest 24-hour facility is in Kelowna, more than 600 kilometres away, followed by Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary, all of which are more than 700 kilometres away.

It also means other communities to the west and east are now even further removed from 24-hour veterinary care.

Kate Peebles of the Murdoch Veterinary Clinic said they have tried their best to fill a need in the community but it's coming at the expense of veterinarians. 

"If we don't put up any boundaries, the situation we know is going to get worse," she said.

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Calling it a difficult but necessary decision, Peebles said they hope the move will help them retain staff, as well as attract new staff. 

She and other vets also hope the move will lead to more action from the government on increasing the number of veterinarians being trained and hired across the province.

LISTEN | Veterinarians in Prince George forced to end 24-hour emergency animal care

Veterinarians in Prince George are sounding the alarm over burnout and are having to cease 24-hour emergency animal care in the community

Casey Bockus of Prince George Veterinary Hospital estimates the city has lost about a quarter of its vets over the last year. 

Vets' schedules are busier than ever, he said.

"It is causing burnout among some to the point that they're either leaving the industry altogether or they're leaving the area and seeking an area where they can have a better work-life balance," he said.

B.C. residents train to become vets at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon. There are only five veterinary schools in all of Canada. 

Casey Bockus says adding after-hours calls to vets' full work schedule was not sustainable. (Kate Partridge/CBC)

In April, the B.C. government said it is paying $10.68 million to double the number of seats it will subsidize for first-year veterinary college students from the province to attend Western College in an attempt to address a shortage of animal doctors.

Bockus said he is glad to hear about the expansion, but it will be years before the new students will be able to help. 

"I don't see this, unfortunately, being a quick fix," he said. 

Bockus said he would like to see a college for veterinarians in B.C. to serve only British Columbians. 

Bockus said he would also like to see it become easier for foreign-trained vets to work in Canada.

With files from Kate Partridge and The Canadian Press

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