A pet emergency happens to even the most diligent and caring owners. One minute your dog is sleeping on the couch and a second later he sees a squirrel through the back door, jumps down and in the process somehow tears his thumb-like dew claw right off.
Finding a vet for an urgent matter like this can be tough if it’s not pressing enough to wait hours at a pet emergency hospital but not mild enough to wait weeks to see your veterinarian.
The veterinary industry has been hit lately with multiple issues that are affecting availability, including burnout and an increase in pet owners seeking care. Locally, pet owners needing urgent veterinary services may have more of an option when Springfield’s Emergency Veterinary Hospital opens a new and expanded facility, planned for this fall.
The opportunity to design the emergency hospital is “like Christmas,” says Max Rinaldi, Emergency Veterinary Hospital medical director. Designing a hospital and its services is something that no one tells you is a possibility while in veterinary school. The construction of the hospital will cost around $4 million, which the hospital’s owner, Washington state-based Lakefield Company, is paying for.
The current hospital on Q Street was built in 1994, Rinaldi says. “It was originally built for nights only, but it’s grown 10-fold in that time,” he adds. “We’ve long since outgrown it.”
In 2021, the emergency hospital had 12,000 cases, he says, and veterinary professionals in the current hospital are working shoulder-to-shoulder. The hospital is limited to 25 cases at a time, but the new hospital has four times the space as the old building, he says.
Like other veterinary hospitals and practices, Rinaldi says the emergency hospital has seen a recent increase in clients. The pandemic brought new pet owners, and he says his hospital saw a 50 percent increase in cases.
Rinaldi and the Emergency Veterinary Hospital aren’t the only ones who are facing an increased demand for care. Daytime veterinarians are often booked for weeks or even a month ahead.
And it’s a problem that veterinarians are seeing nationwide and in other countries, says Sue Tornquist, dean of Oregon State University’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine.
It’s a shortage that has several reasons, she says. During the pandemic, not only did more people become pet owners, which has created a bigger demand for veterinary services, but that is compounded as some people have more money to spend on care after staying at home for most of the past years.
And it takes time to train new veterinary professionals, she says. A DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine) degree takes four years — usually on top of a four-year undergraduate degree. OSU is one of 33 schools that offer the degree. Pursuing the degree means taking on student loan debt from $165,000 to $300,000, she adds.
Working upward of 80 hours a week isn’t unheard of for veterinarians, Tornquist says. But because of the investments needed to become a veterinarian — education, money and training — burnout doesn’t always lead to leaving the industry but instead to moving around for better salaries and opportunities.
As a medical director, Rinaldi says one of his jobs is to keep his staff happy and healthy and given the tools to do their job.
The new hospital, he says, already has a second phase planned to be completed in 2023, which he hopes will attract veterinarian professionals there to expand its offerings.
He says the hospital will have a CT scan when it opens, which can help medical professionals see inside a pet’s body. When phase two is complete, he says he hopes to hire more veterinarians, such as surgeons, internal medicine specialists and neurologists.
With a CT scan and specialists, he says he’d love to work on pets suffering with back issues, a common injury that dachshunds develop, for example, and something that local pets currently have to travel far for.
“We’d love to see our back dogs,” he adds. “I would love to say we don’t have to send you to Bend. We can deal with these things here in the ER, which we have to send people to Bend now.”
The vision for the new Emergency Veterinary Hospital, he says, is a place that will become a place that can provide two types of services for pet owners: intensive care unit for pets who are in unstable condition and an emergency room for the urgent cases.
“The core of our business is to be an ER, that’s who we are and what we do,” Rinaldi says. “But there’s potential to do more than that by bringing in some really skilled specialists who can really help us be more than what we are.”
The Emergency Veterinary Hospital is at 103 West Q Street in Springfield. Its new location will be around the corner at 2023 Pioneer Parkway. Visit EmergencyVetHosp.com/for more information.