Pet pooches may wait up to five weeks to see a veterinarian in Prince Rupert due to a crisis level shortage of animal health care providers. (Photo by: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Veterinarian shortage creates pet predicaments in Prince Rupert

Veterinarian shortage creates problems for pets and owners

Longstanding health care concerns in rural B.C. communities are now reaching the pet population.

In late December, NDP Advance Education Minister Melanie Mark refused to fund 20 additional veterinary school spaces for British Columbia students. Critics say this extends the serious shortage of veterinarians in the province and could leave Prince Rupert pets at risk of not having access to health services when needed.

Despite a feral cat problem in the city, and with only one veterinary practice in town, the demand for spay and neutering is far out of reach to keep climbing cat numbers under control. As well, concern is mounting for furry family members.

Dr. Paul Kennedy, a board member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the Society for B.C. Veterinarians (CVMA), was Prince Rupert’s full-time veterinarian until he retired from his practice more than a year-and-a-half ago.

He said there hasn’t been a permanent veterinarian hired yet to replace him because of the dire shortage of qualified vets. The local veterinarian clinic is using locum doctors to provide much-needed services to the city’s pet owners.

READ MORE: Heart of Our City: Four-legged care

Kennedy said the current crisis leaves a four-to-five week delay for Prince Rupert pets to be seen for regular appointments. As well, there is no emergency clinic in Prince Rupert for pet emergencies.

“The shortage will not subside unless they increase numbers,” Kennedy said. “The current numbers are not satisfactory and the opportunity may not be here for ever.”

The opportunity for more B.C. students to attend veterinarian school came about when the province of Alberta forfeited 20 of the annual limited placement seats available at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatchewan.

However, the Province of B.C. declined the opportunity. Kennedy said he hopes the NDP government will reconsider the decision adding that there are other options.

Those options include hiring foreign-trained candidates or for the college to offer student places without government funding.

However, the second option may make veterinary school costs prohibitive as fees would increase from approximately $14,000 up to $50,000 per year. Kennedy fears students would graduate with huge debt loads.

Corey Van’t Haff, executive director of CVMA, said frustrated and overworked veterinarians, as well as the concerned public often call the CVMA expressing concern over the shortage of qualified vets.

Van’t Haff said the CVMA made recommendations over a year ago to the Ministry of Agriculture, who was also the Minister for Veterinarians. That minister provided full support for the acquisition of the 20 seats. CVMA then provided reports to the minister’s executive directors and government analysts.

“They unanimously backed it and recommended she take all 20 seats,” Van’t Haff explained, referring to Mark. “The minister has said, ‘no’, and that veterinary medicine is not a funding priority for B.C.”

The B.C. Liberals are also calling on the NDP to reconsider.

“As British Columbia’s population continues to grow, the demand for professional services is only bound to increase, yet there is already a serious shortage of trained veterinarians through out the province,” B.C. Liberal advanced education critic Simon Gibson said. “B.C. veterinarian students depend on the NDP government to send funding to Saskatchewan for veterinary college seats, yet when the minister had the opportunity to fund an additional 20 seats, she chose to take a pass.

According to CVMA statistics, approximately 8.3 million cats and 8.2 million dogs live with their humans nationally. For the 12,517 vets in Canada, this is an average of 687 dogs and cats per vet, but doesn’t take into account farm animals and wildlife.

There are 1,546 veterinarians in B.C. to look after the pet and animal population of the province.

CVMA and Kennedy encourage people to contact their MLA and send letters to Melanie Mark.

READ AND WATCH MORE: Vets lobby to expand medical cannabis laws to include dogs, cats

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