CHICO — Lack of emergency veterinary care is a huge problem not only in Chico but nationwide.
Tim Lynch knows this all too well. Lynch was at his home in Chico on May 20 working on a home improvement project with his fiancée. His two dogs — a 1-year-old basset hound named Maggie Lynn, and his fiancée’s sheepdog — were getting in the way of the project, so he put them in the shaded backyard with plenty of water.
His fiancée, Kelli Remington, took a short break and went to check on the dogs. She found Maggie Lynn lying down and unresponsive. Maggie Lynn had pooped everywhere and had bloodshot eyes and was drooling. Lynch and Remington tried to call her name, but she didn’t respond. They picked the dog up and set her on her feet. She was hunched over and began vomiting and had bloody stools.
Lynch and Remington rushed Maggie Lynn to VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center. Lynch had called ahead but couldn’t get an appointment as the hospital was closed. They decided to drive to VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center anyway to see if she could be treated. They also called a facility in Redding and places in Sacramento, Red Bluff and Oroville but were told there was no emergency care for the rest of the night.
“It was frustrating and scary on top of her experiencing medical distress,” Lynch said.
Lynch knew he had to find some treatment for his dog.
“My dog dying wasn’t an option,” Lynch said. “We went to Valley Oak because I knew if they looked me in the eyes and heard my story they wouldn’t turn me away.”
The VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center receptionist came out and looked at Maggie Lynn. She gave Lynch and Remington some advice and told them to monitor the dog at home.
Lynch said that she was told not many people study veterinary medicine anymore and it is difficult to hire registered veterinary techs, plus veterinary clinics are short-staffed and there are housing issues in Chico.
“It’s not a highly desirable field and over time fewer people are going to vet school,” said Tracy Mohr, Chico Animal Shelter animal services manager..
Mohr also said many more people have pets now.
“Twenty to 30 years ago, people didn’t take their pets to see veterinarians as much as they do today. Pets are part of the family now. The level of care is higher and there are more demands for it.”
Mohr has worked in the industry for 40 years and said her parents did not take their pets in for dental exams and such when she was growing up. ,
“People view pets differently then 20 years ago,” Mohr said. “Pets are part of the family now. Before, people didn’t spay or neuter their pets. Routine care was not thought of back then. The level of care now is higher and puts more demands on services.”
Mohr also said 20 years ago veterinarians provided emergency care. If the pet had an emergency at night the veterinarian would come out to treat but clinics no longer this.
“There are not enough vets and it’s creating a gap in services,” Mohr said.
Mohr said besides VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Care, which provides some emergency care on a limited basis, the closest emergency care is in Rocklin. There is also a 24-hour veterinary hospital at UC Davis.
Mohr said veterinarians would graduate from veterinary school years ago and open up their own clinics. It is very expensive now to open a business.
She said vet hospitals have become corporate.
Mohr said there is a struggle at Chico Animal Shelter where veterinary care is needed.
“Our animals have to be spayed and neutered, and it’s a struggle getting appointments to have them spayed or neutered. Usually shelters are nonprofit and can’t pay as much as at veterinary clinics, so it’s a huge problem,” Mohr said. “Shelters all over the country are seeing the same thing. I don’t think it will get better anytime soon.”
Erin Portillo, co-medical director of VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center, said the center will be open from 7 am to 8:30 pm every day beginning June 5.
“We can’t handle overnight care,” Portillo said. “With the critical things like pets hit by cars, trauma, etc. we have to refer people to Sacramento. It’s so sad.”
Portillo said if the center gets more veterinarians and registered veterinary techs it would have “every intention” of opening back up. She also agrees the lack of emergency care is a nationwide problem.
“Over the weekend my sister said there is no emergency care in Lake County or the Santa Rosa area,” she said.
VCA Asher Animal Hospital in Redding offers 24-hour veterinary care Friday through Monday. The hospital’s normal hours are 7 am to 6 pm during the week. It is located at 2505 Hilltop Dr.
Portillo said that VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center is trying to attract more veterinarians and RVTs to the area. “We encourage you to complete RVT training. A lot of doctors were born and raised in this area and want to live and work here, including myself,” Portillo said.
Veterinarians go to school for four years and RVTs are in school for two years.
Portillo said Valley Oak is flying people out and offering signing bonuses and moving bonuses to attract veterinarians and are advertising on websites such as avma.org.
“The competition is fierce and there is need everywhere,” she said. “We have multiple lists that we advertise on and we have recruiters who go to vet and RVT schools and recruit. When they come here we help train them and offer mentorships to get them up to speed and encourage them to come to the area.”
Portillo said one of the issues is that unlike doctors who treat humans, vet hospitals don’t have nurse practitioners or assistants.
Portillo said many people adopted pets during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there was more breeding, so there are many more people who have animals and there is a greater need for veterinarians and RVTs.
“It just hurts my heart not to see 24 hour care,” Portillo said. “We want to bring back what we had before.”
Valley Oak offered 24/7 veterinary care until last year.
“We didn’t have the ability to stay open,” Portillo said. “We also lost vets to retirement and because of the fires or they moved for whatever reason.”
Lynch decided to create a Facebook page called North Valley Animal Services Advocacy to rally the community around the problem of lack of emergency care for animals.
“I had to do something,” he said. “I wanted to use this experience to promote solutions. I don’t blame veterinarians or vet technicians. This is more of a compassionate approach.”
After Lynch posted the page, a lot of people have commented and reached out.
Lynch also wishes to encourage people who have experience with nonprofits and fundraising to speak up.
To find Lynch’s Facebook page, type in North Valley Animal Services Advocacy-Chico. Remington and Lynch think Maggie Lynn may have eaten a toxic plant. She has since recovered.