Surge in pet ownership increases demand for veterinarians

View Photo Gallery
  • Thunder, a 14-year-old Beagle, looks out at his owner, Jack Forde of Leverett, while waiting to be seen at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in South Deerfield on July 28. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Monroe, an 8-year-old Labrador owned by Joe Ross of Northampton, gets a checkup from Florence Animal Clinic owner and veterinarian Dr. Danielle Lorenzo, left, and assistant Nicole LaFortune on July 30. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Polly Rocray of Vermont greets her 11-year-old cat, Moses, after he finished his visit at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in South Deerfield on July 28. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Veterinarian Dr. Danielle Lorenzo, owner of Florence Animal Clinic, prepares to check on Monroe, an 8-year-old Labrador owned by Joe Ross of Northampton, on July 30. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Client liaison Lauri Rice works in the front reception area of the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in South Deerfield on July 28. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Scott Defelice of Holyoke talks about his cat, Toby, while waiting outside the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in South Deerfield where Toby was being seen July 28. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Polly Rocray of Vermont talks about her cat, Moses, while waiting outside the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in South Deerfield where Moses was being seen on July 28. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Monroe, an 8-year-old Labrador owned by Joe Ross of Northampton, gets a check up from Florence Animal Clinic owner and veterinarian Dr. Danielle Lorenzo, right, and assistant Nicole LaFortune on July 30. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Monroe, an 8-year-old Labrador owned by Joe Ross, top, of Northampton, gets a checkup from Florence Animal Clinic owner and veterinarian Dr. Danielle Lorenzo, left, and assistant Nicole LaFortune on July 30. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Client liaison Lauri Rice works in the front reception area of the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in South Deerfield on July 28. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2021 5:15:07 PM

A surge in pet ownerships over the past year has raised demand on veterinarians, a profession already under strain from burnout and emotional stress.

More than 11 million U.S. households took in a new pet during the COVID-19 pandemic as of last September, according to the American Pet Products Association. A hospital administrator at a local pet hospital said the effects will be lasting for the industry, as the increase in demand will be seen for the average lifespan of pets ranging from 10 to 16 years.

There has been a “domino effect” in the veterinary industry due to the staffing shortages and increase in demand, according to Dr. Danielle Lorenzo, a veterinarian and owner of Florence Animal Clinic on Locust Street.

“We aren’t taking new clients and the backlog is overwhelming,” Lorenzo said.

With their urgent care virtually constantly at capacity, they often have to refer pet owners to pet hospitals, where wait times can be as long as 24 hours, according to Lorenzo.

“No one is taking new clients,” Lorenzo said, noting Florence Animal Clinic has had a waitlist since January and only a few have gotten off it since. “We’re booked out for three months.”

The Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association released a statement in late July explaining some of the factors contributing to long wait-times at veterinarian offices.

“During the pandemic pet ownership surged, resulting in an unprecedented demand for veterinary care,” the association’s statement reads. “This, coupled with an existing shortage of veterinary professionals, have resulted in significant pressures on veterinary teams, especially for emergency care. For pet owners this means much longer wait times than usual, and possibly being bounced from hospital to hospital since some locations are above capacity and cannot see additional patients.”

“There definitely has been an increase in pet ownership — it’s been fairly widely reported — during the pandemic,” Lorenzo said. “A lot of people were home, bored and if not thinking about repairs before lumber shot through the roof, people thought about a new puppy and kitten.”

Lorenzo said it will become hard for some of those pets to adjust to their owner’s schedules as they begin returning to the office from remote work.

As the pandemic forced many businesses to shut down last spring, Lorenzo said there was a lack of guidance for veterinary officers, and they were often rolling out new protocols in real time trying to make the office safe for staff and patients.

“We didn’t shut down,” she said. “Eventually there was guidance from state and national veterinarian associations, and everyone was scrambling, figuring out how to run a business without people in the building.

“A lot of people want to come in with their pet. They’re reluctant to separate from their animal,” she continued. “Sitting in the parking lot didn’t go down real well. Couple that with a staff shortage, with people who needed to stay home to take care of a family member, lots of staff members that didn’t want to come in, and others who were working from home for weeks — veterinarian medicine is not a business where working from home works particularly well.”

She described her workers as “overworked” after a year of heightened stress and demand from pet owners.

The domino effect of veterinarian offices not being able to take in new clients has added demands on pet hospitals, such as the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital on Greenfield Road in South Deerfield.

“There has been a large spike in demand for veterinary care since March 2020,” said Keri Gardent, hospital administrator at Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital. “The significant increase in pet ownership has impacted all lines of veterinary medicine, from emergency, to wellness and preventative care, to specialty services. We have seen a 154% increase in caseload over pre-pandemic years.”

Gardent said the hospital has added more than 35 staff members during the last 16 months. Staff increases include additional technicians, liaisons and doctors. In addition, the hospital has added “runners” to aid in bringing pets back and forth from the parking lot to clerical staff to help process visits.

On a recent afternoon in July, Scott Defelice of Holyoke was visiting Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital for his cat Toby, a Maine Coon breed, who was “under the weather and appeared lethargic.” Defelice got Toby last year and said being home more often made him more inclined to accept a cat when his niece showed up with a litter one day.

Defelice said his regular veterinarian could not accept him on this late July day and he had to go to the pet hospital to have the cat seen.

“Veterinarian business is booming, no doubt, and it will be a 10-year surge in opportunity,” he said.

Another pet owner, Polly Rocray of Vermont, had driven down to have her cat Moses get treatment for stomach cancer. She said being home more often has made her realize how much more time and attention pets need.

While facilities across Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire have had to close their ER or scale back hours, as a 24/7 emergency and specialty facility, Gardent said Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital is proud to have never once had to shut its doors.

“That credit is owed to our dedicated staff,” she said. “Veterinary staff and the industry as a whole is under a great amount of strain with the spike in caseload, leading to increasing staff burnout. We are doing all we can to help support our staff through these difficult times.”

As an emergency and critical care facility, Gardent said the pet hospital is able to hospitalize between 20 and 25 patients. “For outpatient emergencies, we are typically seeing 60 to 80 cases per day. Similar to your human ER, cases are seen based on severity of medical condition,” she said.

“In fact, due to the significant demand for more pet emergency care, we’re planning to build a second location in West Springfield next year,” Gardent said. “We’re very excited to continue expanding our services to provide more medical care to pets in need.”

Lorenzo wants to remind pet owners that her staff is under immense pressure and to treat them courteously.

“We range from days that are anywhere from relatively sane to triple booked, and it’s not good,” Lorenzo said. “It’s not good for the mental health for vets, not good for vets who feel burnout and underappreciated. They’re not being treated kindly and they are taking the brunt from pet owners. They deliver news they don’t want to hear, about availability and what they need to do to get seen. People can be great, but they can also be argumentative and selfish. Most of our clients err on the side of being great, but not 100 percent of them.

“I’ve fired more clients in the past year than in the entire past 10 years,” Lorenzo continued. “If you are not going to treat our staff with respect, that will get you fired more than anything else.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy