Pet rescues feel effects of vet shortage

Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

The veterinarian shortage being felt by clinicians and pet owners is having a subsequent effect on pet rescues, which are filled to capacity with animals that cannot be adopted out.

Part of the criteria for the adoption process requires the new pet owner to have secured a veterinarian to provide health care for the animal. Currently, no local veterinarian clinics appear to be taking new patients.

Kim Tamminen, the owner of Paws4Love dog rescue, says the problem is magnified by capacity issues where they cannot take in any more rescues due to lack of space and fostering resources.

“Somehow we just keep moving forward,” Tamminen said. “ We do have a very limited amount of fosters because people are too busy. There are just not enough people that want to help and if we don’t have fosters we can’t bring any more dogs in.”

She added that it’s hard in the summertime when everybody wants to take vacations or do other things and doesn’t have time.

“It’s just, it’s really rough,” she said.

Terry Nostland, who runs Save a Stray cat rescue, says it’s difficult to adopt cats because if someone doesn’t have a veterinarian in place, they simply “can’t get a cat.”

The rule is set in place by the rescue operators for the animal’s best interest.

Nostland, who shelters almost 50 mostly feral cats in a large outdoor caged area, says his shelter is at capacity.

“I will take in severe emergencies, but that’s it,” he said.

“I can still get into the veterinarian clinic because I’m a rescue operation. It used to be you could call and get in within a day but now they’re booking two months away.”

To add to the crisis, pet food costs have doubled.

“At the start of the pandemic, a case of food was $15.99 and now that same case is $28.99,” he said. “Right now just food and litter is about  $1,800 a month.”

Nostland is not subsidized by any municipal or government programs and relies on the generous support he gets from the community.

“The biggest challenge is just getting timely care and . . . it’s not the vet’s fault. There are shortages and we live where it’s not easy to attract new people to the community,” he said. “We need an emergency veterinarian hospital like they have in larger centres where anyone can use it. You don’t have to be a client there. It’s for everyone that has an emergency.”

Robin Ratz runs Murillo Mutts Respite Refuge and takes in all animals with a mandate to reunite people with their animals when they can. Like all rescues, Ratz is also filled to capacity.

“I have absolutely no space available. We’re at a standstill. We have one extra dog and nine extra cats living in my house. I have four dogs living in my outdoor heated and air-conditioned kennel, I have three potbelly pigs, two horned, Dorset sheep and two mini horses,” she said.

“We’ve taken in exotics, reptiles, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits and one year we even took in baby skunks whose mother was killed.”

Ratz’s rescue works with the Thunder Bay Veterinary Hospital and is happy to get in quickly with emergencies.

“Where it becomes a challenge is if it’s just a dog that requires vaccinations,” she said. “We do all our own vaccinations except for rabies, which we can’t do, and we don’t adopt out a dog without a rabies shot and a vet check.”

Ratz says the number one solution is to acquire more veterinarians and she hopes the new Guelph and Lakehead University collaborative vet school will help make a difference in Thunder Bay to provide more access to pet health care.

“By having access to more of that, animals will get spayed and neutered quicker and will have fewer puppies,” she said. “Part of that though, is individual communities having to set bylaws where your puppy has to be neutered and microchipped, then that would make a huge difference in the number of animals we’re seeing coming into rescue.”