Too many animals, not enough veterinarians

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When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world into quarantine and social distancing, many people decided to adopt new furry friends to keep them company. Additionally, people who have already owned pets spent more time with their pets at home than usual, which can be good for the spirit but also provides more opportunities to notice that Fido may not be behaving quite like herself.

As the pandemic continued, pet owners soon learned that veterinary care for their animals was going to be more difficult than ever due to a number of challenges facing the veterinary sector across the country that the pandemic only hastened, according to Homer Vets Drs. Jennifer Bando and Christine Marlowe.

Bando of Homer Veterinary Clinic explained in a telephone interview how the country is currently experiencing a shortage of veterinarians, with only 3,000-5,000 college graduates joining the industry each year and a large number of senior veterinarians leaving the profession. Adding a low income to a high student debt ratio, she said, makes the problem worse.

“Before COVID started, there was already a shortage of national veterinary and veterinary support staff,” Bando said. “There are several reasons for this: The baby boomers are retiring; it is a very high field of tension; and there is also a very high income / debt ratio. There is also a really high burnout in the industry. To top it off, COVID came along and it has really affected the entire veterinary industry in ways we weren’t expecting. ”

While the lack of veterinarians and technicians has hampered how many animals they can help, Bando said the increased adoption rate of animals due to the pandemic has already made tight schedules even more difficult.

“Since the arrival of COVID, the number and demand for patient care has increased significantly so that we can no longer meet the requests,” Bando said. “We go into this industry to help people and their pets, and it’s the hardest part when we can’t physically provide that.”

Emprise Veterinary Services’ Marlowe said while working with mostly large animals, she has also seen an increase in patient needs since the pandemic began. Marlowe is a mobile vet who oversees the area between Homer, Sterling and Cooper Landing. Marlowe also offers veterinary services in Seldovia once a month.

“I was very busy and had to turn people away quite often,” said Marlowe. “It’s not that I don’t want to see or help the animal – the day just doesn’t have enough hours.”

Since there is no emergency room for animals on the Kenai Peninsula, this is also leading to increased demand for clinics in the region, according to Marlowe. Her patients had to travel to Anchorage to be seen if, for that reason, she was not with them on time.

“We are certainly seeing this high demand here in Homer until we book several weeks in advance and are physically unable to see all of the pets who need help on a given day,” Bando said. “Many Anchorage clinics are not accepting new clients, and waiting times to get to an emergency clinic can be hours. Some clinics even turn away sick patients. With longer waiting times and the difficulty of getting appointments, we understand customer frustrations, but do our best to triage – see the most seriously ill patients first. “

While the Alaska Mindful Paws Animal Shelter didn’t see a huge increase in adoption rates during the pandemic because it only welcomed animals in emergencies, they are now seeing an influx of animals, especially kittens, as elective surgeries such as spayed and neutered were nationwide during the pandemic put on hold.

“Throughout 2020, our adoption numbers stayed roughly the same,” said Jillian Rogers, director of the shelter. “We saw a large number of kittens. The kitten season usually happens in autumn and spring, so we saw a large number of kitten litters in autumn. I think that’s because the vet has so few staff and they were closed and then open so limited that they didn’t do castrations and neuterings. ”

Alaska Mindful Paws currently has 13 cats available for foster care or adoption, over half of which are kittens.

While this crisis continues, Homer’s vets say they are doing their best and are here to care for your animals’ medical needs. With emergency appointments at the curb and walk-in, the Homer Veterinary Clinic looks after as many patients as possible during their consultation hours.

The vets have also hosted vaccine and spay / neuter clinics for those who need these services. Coming soon, Homer Animal Friends is hosting a spay and neuter clinic on July 28th at the Homer Veterinary Clinic. The clinic costs $ 30. Call 907-235-8960 to schedule an appointment.

“We thought it was very important to let the community know that we are still there for everyone and that they understand the situation,” said Bando. “We are trying our best to provide the necessary care for the pets and the Homer community. By training our customers, they will have a better understanding of what is going on in the industry. ”

Homer Veterinary Clinic is not currently accepting new patients for wellness exams and routine checkups, but if your pet has a medical emergency the clinic will see them if possible. The clinic will be accepting new patients from September.

Emprise Veterinary Services is also not currently accepting new small animal customers. Bando and Marlowe encouraged pet owners to look for other veterinary options in Soldotna and Kenai if their pet cannot be seen by their services as soon as necessary.

In addition, the clinic will soon implement a telemedicine program that will allow a licensed veterinarian to help pet owners identify their pet’s medical needs at home when they cannot get an appointment.

The Homer Veterinary Clinic is located on Woodside Ave. 326 in Homer and is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Alaska Mindful Paws is located at 3575 Heath St. in Homer and is open Tuesdays from 12:00 PM to 7:00 PM. 5:00 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Closed on Monday. The Emprise Veterinary Service can be reached at 660-342-2095.

For more information, contact Homer Veterinary Clinic at 907-235-8960 or Alaska Mindful Paws at 907-235-3141.

You can reach Sarah Knapp at

The Homer Veterinary Clinic is located at 326 Woodside Avenue in Homer. The clinic will be accepting new patients from September.