Overwhelmed veterinarians seeing rise in aggressive owners during pandemic

Oct 4 2021, 5:10 pm

Canadian veterinarians say they are seeing a rise in aggressive clients during the pandemic, while many staff are overwhelmed with animals in need of medical care, and scared they’ll have to turn away patients.

Veterinarian and co-owner of Guelph Animal Hospital, Dr. Renee Fleming, told Daily Hive in an interview they saw a large influx of new pets in the past year and half, after people working from home chose to adopt cats and dogs.

In addition, Fleming said because owners are home more with their pets, they may notice things they may not have noticed before, and bring the little ones in.

“With the clinics being closed to in-person traffic, everything is just taking longer,” Fleming said.

This is because staff are on and off the phone with people, taking pets in and out of the clinic, and talking to owners outside, she said, “that all makes it so that our schedules are quite full.”

“In the emergency world, they’re seeing a lot more referrals for things that regular clinics typically would deal with but they are not able to do because their appointment schedule is so full, so it’s kind of trickling all the way through from regular clinics, to emergency, to referral centres as well,” Fleming said.

One of the biggest challenges vets are seeing during the pandemic, Fleming said, is clients posting negative comments on social media about a possible bad experience they had or a high bill they weren’t expecting, in which she herself would reply to, explaining what animal hospitals are experiencing.

“It’s just very hurtful because I think we all are just really trying our best,” Fleming said.

(Dr. Renee Fleming, photo courtesy Rachel Sentes)

“It’s hard when an owner calls and their pet has a pressing issue but we just literally can not accommodate them that day,” she said. “People get upset because, of course, they’re worried about their pet and they want them seen.”

Fleming also works at two emergency after-hours hospitals, and she said it’s hard speaking with other clinics trying to refer cases they can’t manage — but there’s no space for these new pets to come in because all the kennels are full.

“It’s getting to a point where I’m just worried that there’s pets out there that really need urgent care and there’s just not going to be a place where they can receive it,” Fleming said.

“It’s really stressful,” Fleming said, “I know other colleagues, especially those of us that  work in the emergency field, it hurts to have to say that you can’t see them.”

Fleming said they are all working longer shifts, staff aren’t taking breaks, “and that’s really hard on them as well, so it does trickle down from the veterinarians to the technicians to the front desk team.”

Fleming said they are also getting pushback from clients because they don’t understand why they can’t come into the building like they can in some businesses that have reopened — but it’s because if a staff member gets COVID-19, it’s most likely the hospital would have to close.

If that happened, “we’re not able to service our patients, which then puts a burden on neighbouring practices to serve our patients, so we really have to be as careful as we can right now,” she said.

“We’re just really trying to keep our team safe so that they can continue doing the job that they need to help our clients and our patients.”

(Dr. Renee Fleming, photo courtesy Rachel Sentes)

Fleming said a lot of people don’t realize the emotional toll the job takes on veterinarians, explaining each day can be so varied.

“I can literally be helping a family say goodbye to a beloved pet that I’ve been taking care of for the last 10 years, and then knowing that I have an emergency in the back that needs me, or a new puppy, it’s first visit here, and it’s family is so happy,” Fleming said.

“I have to mentally go through all of these steps, it can be a bit of a whirlwind, and sometimes you do have to almost disconnect from the situation you’re in,” Fleming said, adding in emergency, they are constantly moving one to case to the next.

Fleming said patience, compassion, and planning ahead with appointments for your pet can go a long way to help veterinarians, you, and the animal.

If you need to speak with a veterinarian, but can not get in to see one right away, Fleming said there’s telemedicine options where vets are available now because of the pandemic, adding she works with the online platform Vetster.

Fleming also recommends speaking with your veterinarian about pet insurance so you can afford the animal’s care, “it is very hard on us when we’re in an emergency situation and we’re able to help the pet and families just aren’t sure if they can make it work with the budget and that’s stressful for everybody.”

There’s not going to be any ‘big fixes’ for this situation right now because there’s so many veterinarians graduating at once, Fleming said, “so we all have to work together.”

Michelle MortonMichelle Morton

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