ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The number of furry family members added to American households grew during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Americans seized the opportunity to be home, choosing to adopt or purchase a pet while they had the extra time to spend with them.
One in five households added a cat or dog—dubbed “pandemic pets”—according to a survey done by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The good news is that 90% of dogs and 85% of cats entering homes since the start of the pandemic have stayed in those homes, the ASPCA said.
The bad news is that veterinary hospitals are having a difficult time juggling the influx of new pets. They’re also trying to manage other factors, as the local Brunswick Veterinary Hospital spoke candidly about in a Facebook post on Wednesday:
They asked clients to be understanding about long wait times for appointments and returned phone calls, as they try to manage new appointments, burnout, and the exit of veterinary staff from the field. “This field is no stranger to long hours, crippling education debt, low pay, compassion fatigue, and burnout, but the challenges of the past year have added to the stress in an already-struggling industry, and has led to a mass exodus of veterinary staff from the field itself. Because of this, WE ARE DROWNING,” the clinic said.
The practice is currently not accepting any new clients and said it can take up to 48 hours for medication refills, and up to 72 hours for return calls from veterinarians. Because it takes time away from pet care, the clinic said they’ve tacked on an additional fee for medication refills that need to be filled in less than 24 hours to encourage clients to call a week ahead for refills.
“If you’ve called to speak with a staff member regarding a medical concern, rest assured we have seen the message. We have to triage return calls, which means the more urgent cases will be followed up with first. If your situation is deemed non-urgent by the medical staff, it may take up to 72 hours for a return call. Please do not be upset if you fall into this category -it means your pet is stable, whereas other pet owners may not be so lucky.”
Understandably, some pet parents may get frustrated with the inability to get an appointment, especially if their pet is ill or injured, leaving them with no option but to seek out medical assistance at an emergency clinic. Brunswick Veterinary Hospital addressed this in its Facebook post, too:
“If we refer you and your pet to the ER, it’s not because we don’t care and don’t want to help. It’s because we do not have the staffing available to handle your pet’s critical care, and we feel it is in your pet’s best interests to be seen more urgently.”
The post includes a picture of the acronym NOMV. It stands for Not One More Vet, an organization that supports the mental health of veterinary staff. They said the need in veterinary medicine for mental health support drove them to expand last year, in its 2020 annual report.
“Facing a veterinary profession inundated with the effects of the pandemic, dealing with staff shortages, clients unhappy with safety protocols, and overworked employees, NOMV has had to grow quickly to meet the needs of those we serve,” President, Carrie Jurney said.
In its post, Brunswick Veterinary Clinic describes the effects of working in a high-stress environment focused on the health and well-being of pets as well as the inability to “turn off the worry” that comes with caring for them.
“We work through lunch breaks almost daily, stay hours after closing, call owners on our days off for patient updates, and miss countless hours of family time because this job is NOT just a job -it’s a way of life. We can’t go home and turn off the worry that your pet still isn’t eating, or his cough isn’t improving. We take every loss home with us every night and show up every morning in the hopes that, for at least one pet, we ARE making a difference.”
Banfield Pet Hospital operates within Petsmart stores throughout New York and is the largest preventative pet medicine provider in the U.S., they said. The provider said they saw the biggest increase of young dogs and cats they have in 10 years.
“Banfield Pet Hospital, the nation’s largest provider of preventive veterinary medicine, confirms a huge boom in U.S. pet ownership, sharing that 9.2% more juvenile dogs and 12.4% more juvenile cats were brought in to Banfield for veterinary visits in 2020 compared to 2019,” they said in a January press release.
According to their statistics, Banfield says pet owners also saw an opportunity to catch up on routine and/or preventative appointments for their pets. They said appointments were up half a million in 2020, compared to 2019. “Owners prioritized preventive care for their pets in 2020, showing the human-animal bond is stronger than ever,” said Brian Garish, Banfield Pet Hospital President.
In its social media post, Brunswick Veterinary Hospital pleads with its clients to be patient and show kindness to its staff saying anything less is unacceptable. The post makes it clear aggressive behavior won’t be tolerated.
“We love our patients and our clients, but we are struggling so we are begging you -please be kind, please be patient. We are doing the best we can with the resources we have. We understand that your time is valuable and we don’t like to be late to appointment times either.”