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Okanagan pet advocate joins calls for expanded post-secondary training to address vet shortage

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An Okanagan pet advocate is joining a chorus of calls asking the provincial government to fund more spaces in training college to address the animal doctor shortage in B.C.

Keith Boswell, the spokesperson for the grassroots group South Okanagan After-Hours Pet Care, has been raising awareness about the lack of emergency veterinary services in Penticton, B.C., on evenings and weekends.

He agrees with the Society of B.C. Veterinarians that B.C. should double its spaces at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, B.C.’s regional vet school in Saskatoon.

Read more: Vet shortage to blame for lack of emergency animal care in Penticton, B.C., veterinarians say

“I would be supportive of additional seats at the college. I would like to think that it would help relieve the problems in the future from a chronic perspective. We still have short-term issues where we do not have after-hours veterinary care in the South Okanagan,” Boswell said.

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Dr. Al Longair, president of the Society of BC Veterinarians, said the vet shortage problem has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic as more people get pets and public health restrictions double the length of appointment times.

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Longair is among eight society executives who signed an open letter to members of B.C.’s legislative assembly saying the minister of advanced education won’t meet with them about increasing seats at the training college.

“On behalf of a beleaguered profession, exasperated animal owners and farmers, and suffering animals who cannot speak for themselves, we are asking for your help,” reads the letter dated April 21.

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The letter explains that Alberta is no longer sending its students to the Saskatoon-based college, leaving another 20 seats that could be taken over by aspiring vets in B.C.

“It is also of note that B.C. had more than 145 qualified applicants for its 20 B.C. seats. There was no shortage of qualified applicants and B.C. would have no problem filling 40 B.C. seats,” the letter says.

The society characterizes the situation as a “crisis,” describing it as the worst in Canada and saying it has myriad implications for the province’s animals.

Read more: The Animal Food Bank reports record demand in Okanagan amid coronavirus pandemic

The letter says animal food security is at risk, rescue groups are limited to which animals they can save, owners have had to euthanize their horses for preventable illnesses and residents with companion animals face long waits for care.

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Boswell said additional measures may be needed to solve the issue.

“Whether or not that it is the total fix, I really don’t know. Perhaps we need to look at a scaling of vet health care so that not everybody needs to go see a veterinary doctor; perhaps there is another level of care to reduce the workload on the veterinary doctors in British Columbia,” he said.

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The BC SPCA is also calling for action on the growing veterinarian shortage in B.C.

The non-profit animal welfare society has launched a pledge campaign asking the provincial government to provide funding for 20 additional spaces for B.C. students at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

“The demand for veterinary services in B.C. already outstrips the number of vets available, and this situation is only going to get more urgent,” said Craig Daniell, chief executive officer of the BC SPCA.

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“Not only does this put our pets and other animals at risk, but the shortage has led to increasing levels of exhaustion, burn-out and, sadly, suicide, within the veterinary profession.”

A labour market study conducted by the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training in 2019 indicated that B.C. would be short 100 veterinarians per year for each of the subsequent five years, culminating in a shortage of 500 veterinarians by 2024. 

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“The shortage is particularly serious outside of urban areas, where access to veterinary care is already limited and in fields of specialization, such as large animal care.”

A statement issued by a ministry spokesperson said the government supports 80 B.C. students every year spread over the four-year degree to study at the college.

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It said solutions cannot stop at expanding post-secondary training and explore other opportunities to attract more veterinarians.

“B.C.’s recruitment efforts go beyond new grads, and we are fortunate to attract many foreign-trained veterinarians and vets from across Canada,” the statement said.

Funding the extra 20 seats at the veterinary college would cost about $8 million a year, the society said.

—With files from The Canadian Press 

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