Triangle woman cautions vet tech shortage means plan ahead for emergencies

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- We know a lot of pets have been adopted during the pandemic, and that's keeping veterinarians busy.

We also know some veterinarians say they believe people who have been working from home and spending more time with their pets are noticing more medical issues with their animals.

Combine all that with a shortage of vet technicians during the pandemic, and you may understand why one Triangle woman had a hard time recently finding help when her dog had a medical emergency.

"I couldn't believe this was happening because I've taken animals to the emergency room before and never have I been, you know, turned away," Allison Hayes told ABC11.

Hayes' fur baby is 13-year-old Ernie, a basset hound/retriever mix.

Ten days ago, when he couldn't stand and was drooling, she went to an emergency vet clinic near her Durham home and got him in.

But when Ernie wasn't better the next day, she called the emergency clinic and got that unwelcome surprise.

"They said, 'Well, we're sorry. We're just overwhelmed right now,'" she recalled.

She did manage to find a vet that day, but two days later, when Ernie still wasn't better, she decided to try the North Carolina State University vet school.

Ernie had been successfully treated there in the past for allergies and the NCSU facility has an emergency clinic.

"I was told they will be redirecting patients. They weren't taking any patients at this time," Hayes said.

And that's when she realized the problem wasn't isolated.

Steven Marks, the Director of Veterinary Medical Services for the school explained, saying, "Our primary shortages are in staffing. So veterinary technicians, which are really analogous to nurses in human medicine, that's where we're lacking staffing."

Marks added that the problem is widespread locally and nationally for a number of reasons that have been magnified by the pandemic, noting again the increase in pet adoptions, owners working from home and spending more time with their pets and noticing more medical issues, and then finding workers, which seems to be a universal problem.

But the vet school would never turn away or divert a gravely ill pet to another hospital, according to Marks.

"We would not put a patient at risk by saying, 'You cannot come in.'" he said.

That's a relief to Hayes, who eventually got Ernie admitted and treated at the vet school.

But she still wanted to get the word out to pet owners to check with their vet now to plan for any emergency.

"So that they're not, you know, in a time of need, you know, struggling to figure out what the next steps should be," Hayes said.
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