Dr. Sonya Zehle, a veterinarian at River Cove Animal Hospital in Williston, conducts a physical exam on Winter the husky on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. Photo by Jenny Koppang
WILLISTON — Pandemic-induced isolation triggered a surge in the adoption of furry companions. Today, Vermont’s understaffed and emotionally taxed veterinarians say they struggle to accommodate the influx of pet owners seeking animal care.
River Cove Animal Hospital in Williston recently stopped accepting new clients to keep up with increasing demands, according to Dr. Sonya Zehle, one of its six veterinarians.
“The number of people that we see in a day has increased significantly. A busy day three years ago looks like every single day now,” Zehle said. “And a larger volume of pets brings a larger volume of problems and emergencies.”
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the practice often would refer patients to specialists for more individualized care, but the specialized sector is also buckling under the number of animals in need of medical attention.
Similarly, Zehle said, local emergency veterinary services are facing a tidal wave of issues among household pets while the providers strain under shortages of staff and supplies. General practices have had to adjust to support the patients that bounce back to them.
“In addition to the daily things that we take on in terms of preventative health care, we’re also having to manage a lot more emergencies and clients which previously we would have recommended to a cardiologist or internal medicine specialist,” Zehle said.
Burlington Emergency and Veterinary Specialists, or BEVS, in Williston has recently shifted to “full diversion” protocol. This means that they will only accept patients in extremely critical condition. The office is down 50% of its staff compared with two years ago, said Cam Fisher, a technician’s assistant at BEVS.
“In order to accommodate this huge surge of patients while still providing a high-quality, consistent level of care, we are being forced to make hard decisions about who to accept coming into the emergency hospital,” Fisher said.
BEVS implemented a system of tiers ranging from Levels 1-5 to assess the urgency of a given situation. Level 1 cases apply to animals who will not survive without immediate medical attention, while Level 5 involves casual care such as nail trims and vaccines.
But in light of the recent onslaught of cases, Fisher said BEVS struggled to juggle even the most urgent cases, leading them to adopt an additional level of “full diversion,” which means they are treating …….