Crisis in Vet Care—And Solutions
B.C. vet hospital beats staff shortages, high costs and inflation with a not-for-profit model.
There is a crisis in veterinary care. A shortage of trained professionals, an increase in demand, and the impacts of inflation on already costly procedures combine to put the lives of animals at risk.
Every year, more veterinarians retire than graduate from Canada’s five vet colleges. As a result, by 2024, B.C. will have a shortage of 500 veterinarians. Already, clients in parts of the province are being asked to drive hours for care or wait weeks for an appointment.
The critical shortage of veterinarians comes as demand is increasing. Well over half of Canadian households have pets—and that number only increased during the pandemic. The number of dogs visiting veterinarians, for example, increased 40 percent over the decade ending 2018.
“With a majority of Canadian households just a few hundred dollars from insolvency, an unexpected vet bill can be devastating,” says Eyal Lichtmann, CEO of the Regional Animal Protection Society (RAPS). “More devastating still is the tragedy of ‘economic euthanasia,’ the situation where an animal with a treatable condition is put down because the family, or the rescue agency, cannot afford the medical bills.”
All of these issues will only be aggravated by the sudden spike in inflation.
RAPS, located in Metro Vancouver and one of Canada’s fastest-growing and most innovative no-kill animal-serving agencies, is developing a new model of community-owned, not-for-profit vet care to make animal healthcare more affordable.
“Eliminating the profit motive…makes the community-owned hospital an enviable place to work, which means RAPS is able to attract the talent that other clinics struggle to recruit in a time of desperate staffing shortages.”
The RAPS Animal Hospital opened in 2018 with the goal of eliminating the profit motive from vet care. Since then, the hospital has provided more than $3 million in partially or fully subsidized veterinary care to households with low incomes or facing other challenges. The hospital offers B.C.’s only 100 percent interest-free payment plan.
While other veterinarians are shortening their hours due to capacity limitations, RAPS Animal Hospital has continually added hours and anticipates becoming a 24/7 hospital this year or next. This is because eliminating the profit motive and the pressure on veterinarians to upsell expensive procedures make the community-owned hospital an enviable place to work, which means RAPS is able to attract the talent that other clinics struggle to recruit in a time of desperate staffing shortages.
The promise of the community-owned hospital is evident in thousands of happy endings. One story is Samantha’s. She was rescued by a Good Samaritan from a life of gross neglect and abuse and brought to the RAPS Animal Hospital.
During surgery to remove a tumour on Samantha’s head and to spay her, doctors discovered an infection of the uterus. If surgery had been delayed by days or possibly even hours, Samantha would have died.
Instead, the surgery saved her life. Because RAPS has Canada’s only hyperbaric oxygen therapy facility for pets—a cutting-edge modality long used in human healthcare and now available at the most advanced vet facilities in the United States—Samantha’s skin condition and other issues improved dramatically. She was brought up to a healthy weight.
Samantha was adopted by a family in Comox, where she is living the island life surrounded by all the love every dog deserves. Hers is just one of many stories in which the not-for-profit RAPS Animal Hospital saved the life of an animal who might have faced euthanasia elsewhere.
“Nobody likes to pay bills, especially unexpected vet expenses,” Lichtmann says. “But our clients say that, in addition to the affordability of our not-for-profit hospital, knowing that funds go to save and improve the lives of other animals, like Samantha, gives them a really good feeling.”