TUCSON (KVOA) – If you are a pet owner, rely on your veterinarian to keep your animals healthy. However, a shortage in Tucson and across the country means millions of pets could do without medical care.
“They had to let us go because there was a lack of veterinary care at their facility,” said Susan Krase. “They had lost a vet and could no longer carry out a rescue.”
She is the President and Medical Director of Southwest Oasis Labrador Rescue. The dogs that ingest them often have conditions such as ringworm and parvosis that require veterinary care.
Care that is harder to come by now.
“Sometimes we have to tell them to go to the emergency clinic and the emergency clinics get overrun too,” said Dr. Suzie Maki, a veterinarian at the Briarcrest Veterinary Clinic.
Maki said her practice was down for a veterinarian. You and other vets across Tucson need to send existing clients to emergency clinics and turn away new clients.
“We have had to do this for the past nine months to accommodate the customers who work with us,” she said. “We struggled to keep up with demand for patients and surgeries.”
Maki is booked five weeks in advance for the operation. Pet owners have to wait months to see a specialist like oncologist.
Julie Funk, dean of the University of Arizona School of Veterinary Medicine, said the veterinarian shortage was a supply and demand problem.
Funk said baby boomer vets are retiring and more Americans are owning pets.
“With this ongoing scarcity, it becomes an animal health crisis,” said Funk, “the demand is simply beyond our ability to keep up with qualified veterinarians.”
There are only 32 veterinary schools in North America. The University of Arizona opened last year with 110 students and offers an accelerated three-year program to bring veterinarians into the community.
This helps them get paid jobs faster and they have less interest on student loan repayments.
There is also a lack of certified veterinarians. It’s a two-year program to get certified, and it’s not cheap.
The shortage of vets existed before the pandemic.
But “the pandemic has brought us over the edge of something that was already smoldering,” Maki said. She said that mostly women work at her clinic, and she has seen some veterinary women have to make difficult decisions about staying home or working during the pandemic.
The pandemic has also brought out the worst for some people by yelling at vets when they couldn’t get appointments or go in with their animals.
Funk said there was no quick fix to the state’s veterinarian shortage.
“Right now, there really isn’t a part of Arizona that isn’t underserved in veterinary care,” said Funk.