By Hannah Scott-Talib
France Turcott remembers when she could book a veterinarian appointment and have it scheduled within the same week. Now, this is nowhere near the case, she said.
“I just called yesterday and I’m looking at October,” said Turcott, founder of the Mastiff Valley Rescue, a non-profit animal rescue organization. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years — I’ve been dealing with the same clinics for 30 years and I have never waited two months for an appointment,” she added. When people call her clinic asking for help finding a new vet, she said she’s had to tell them that there is nothing she can do, since no clinics are accepting new clients.
In an interview with the Low Down, president of the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec (OMVQ) Dr. Gaston Rioux explained that many factors are contributing to a province-wide veterinarian shortage.
Rioux stated that an increase in the number of pets in Quebec since the start of the pandemic is one of the main reasons for this shortage. Additionally, he explained that the province is seeing a lack of large-animal veterinarians, as many of them are reaching the end of their careers, and less and less new veterinarians are willing to take that path.
“It’s a job that can sometimes be seen as less attractive to some [vets], given that it’s more physically demanding, [and] requires a lot of moving around,” explained Rioux about large-animal specification. He mentioned that the practice of equine veterinarians in particular is very different from that of other domestic animal veterinarians, and in regions like the Outaouais, where farmland is more prevalent, the lack of farm animal vets is becoming more and more apparent.
Dr. Mark Froimovitch, a veterinarian at the Wakefield clinic who has practiced in the Outaouais region for almost 50 years and who recently retired this summer, stated that the region’s unfamiliarity could also play a role in the area’s shortage. Vets who study in the city, he said, might not know the benefits of living and practicing here in the Gatineau Hills.
“Not everyone knows about this region,” said Froimovitch. “If they come from Quebec City, they don’t even really know the Outaouais.” In general, he added, most veterinarians prefer to work in or near big cities, such as Montreal or Quebec City.
According to a survey conducted by the OMVQ within the last two years, more than 50 per cent of veterinarians quit or thought about quitting their jobs and transferring into different sectors of the workforce after between five to 15 years in the veterinary business. Rioux said that this “alarming” change is in large part due to the intense work overload that vets have faced as a result of this shortage and all the factors contributing to it.
Language politics also play into the vet shortage in the Hills. Last year the Low Down reported that local vet Dr. Mel Jowett was banned from practicing in Quebec because her French was not up to the provincial standard. In a statement, Jowett spoke of “burnout” from the immense workload that comes with being a rural large animal vet.
Besides vets, in the past few years, dog breeders and sellers have also experienced new challenges. In the first week of August, Hills resident Craig Stewart sold a litter of 10 Labrador puppies for $500 each. Prices of Labrador puppies can reach up to thousands of dollars each, but Stewart explained the reason for his low prices: “It’s a pandemic thing,” he said.
He said that there was what he describes as a “glut of puppies” after the pandemic — animal shelters jammed with dogs as a result of people dropping them off once they could go back to work normally and no longer felt they needed them.
As the founder of the Mastiff Valley Rescue program, Turcott attested to this situation.
“During COVID, dogs came and filled this void with people who were suffering from separation anxiety,” said Turcott. She added that now the dogs are suffering from separation anxiety, having been abandoned by their owners, who have no time for them in their regular lives anymore.
The post-pandemic lack of interest in getting dogs is what Stewart said has caused the price of puppies to go down. And since he is not a dog breeder himself, his puppies came dewormed, but the vaccinations and neutering he left up to the owners, which, according to Turcott, are additional procedures can be pricey.
“You’re looking at [at least] a few hundred dollars to get the vaccines done, and the deworming and the anti-parasites,” said Turcott. She further explained that pet owners can face “easily between $500 and $1,000 dollars” within the first year of owning a domestic animal when it comes to getting these shots as well as spaying.
With the immense veterinarian shortage in the region right now, along with the decreasing interest in taking home dogs and the fact that shelters are being overloaded, owning a pet right now might prove to be a challenging feat for Hills’ residents.