Niskayuna Animal Hospital recently put out a Facebook post asking for pet owners’ patience and understanding dealing with the deluge of demand the industry is facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last year and a half has been tough on all of us,” the post read, explaining short staffing in emergency clinics. “It has impacted the veterinary community especially hard due to an overabundance of adoptions and a national staffing shortage.”
Another veterinary, VCA Animal Health Center of Clifton Park, has also seen an unprecedented level of backlog, according to Dr. Genevieve Morse-Ozols.
“We’re booked out for wellness appointments for at least a month,” Dr. Morse-Ozols said. “Sickness appointments are booked out at least two weeks, if not more, depending on what we have going on.”
Spaying, neutering and dental surgeries are booked until January, “and I’ve never, ever been booked out anywhere close to that in the past,” Dr. Morse-Ozols said.
The reasons have been well-documented: that many people adopted pets during the pandemic. By some estimates, one in three people adopted pets during the pandemic.
Also, a lot of people are spending more time at home, and as a byproduct, more time with their pets.
“That sort of human-animal bond is stronger, so they’re wanting to get better care,” Dr. Morse-Ozols said. “They’re maybe noticing things that weren’t noticed before, and maybe wanting to do especially some more of those preventative care stuff that had been recommended in the past.”
Dr. Morse-Ozols said she suspected vets would be busy, if only to catch up with requests from pet owners after the state exited lockdown mode during the onset of the pandemic.
As the pandemic receded, “we felt like we were going to get caught up and then everything’s going to go back to normal — and that’s just not happened,” she said. “If anything it’s getting worse. So, absolutely I don’t think it could have been anticipated.”
Compounding the issue are industry work shortages that span from vets to technicians and assistants.
Across the VCA hospital network, the organization has hired more than 5,400 hospital-based positions so far this year, from veterinarians to technicians and other support roles -– more people than it hired for similar positions in all of 2020. But, it still has hundreds more positions to fill.
In New York, the VCA hospital network hired more than 250 hospital-based roles so far this year. In all of 2020, it hired just over 200 people in New York state, the agency said.
In the larger Schenectady area, the VCA hospital network has three hospitals and about 30 job openings as of late last week.
It asks anyone interested in a career in veterinary medicine to visit VCAcareers.com for positions such as customer service representatives that don’t require a deep medical background.
Optimally, the Clifton Park hospital would have five vets. But it’s been working with four vets and stands to lose another one next month, bringing it to three.
Because of that, the seven-day-a-week business will close on Sundays in November and reduce its evening hours a bit to accommodate its shortage of doctors, said Dr. Morse-Ozols, who would only confirm that she’s working more than 40 hours a week.
“It’s a passion profession. We’re here because we love animals and we want to be able to take care of them. So, really trying to fit in as many things as we can throughout the day, every day,” she said.
Pet owners can do some things to lessen the load for animal hospitals.
Dr. Morse-Ozols recommended that owners establish relationships with a primary care veterinarian. This would decrease the number of new patients, as many institutions are admitting new pets.
Owners can also anticipate pet wellness needs and get updated on vaccinations.
Owners should also anticipate the financial needs for a sick pet.
“I think pet insurance is a really great thing that everyone should look into getting, or at least having emergency funds available for their needs.”
Across VCA’s hospital network, it has seen more than 3.3 million animal patients this year while it’s tracking close to the 4.1 million pets it saw last year.
In 2020, the VCA hospital network saw more new patients than in any of the three prior years.