Anchorage

Anchorage veterinarians are inundated with patients, and there are no signs of a slowdown

College Village Animal Clinic practice manager Taylor Diorec said the phone “doesn’t stop ringing” at their Anchorage office.

They add callers to a waitlist for appointments, which she said works well internally — but not always from the client’s perspective.

“When they have a sick pet and they need to get in, it’s frustrating for them,” Diorec said.

Her team isn’t alone. Veterinarian offices and pet emergency rooms in Anchorage say they are overwhelmed by residents looking to have their pets seen by a specialist — an issue that is being felt on a national level, according to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Some people are booking appointments for their pets weeks or even months in advance, for everything from annual exams to routine cleanings.

“It’s just one of those juggling acts that we keep on doing,” Diorec said.

Dianne Haddox brought her 7-year-old basset hound-Lab mix, Archie, to his annual exam at College Village on Friday, which she booked more than four weeks ago.

Archie “is a terrible trash hound. He has to go to the vet a lot and they usually can’t get him in,” Haddox said. “I usually wind up at the emergency clinic or a different vet if it’s something fast. That being said, last time they wait-listed me and called and squeezed me in.”

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There are several factors that have contributed to what Diorec calls a “big storm” around the lack of availability in clinic schedules. Clinics were busy pre-pandemic, but clients could still get in — although it was difficult to find staff due to a national shortage of veterinarians, she said.

Then the pandemic began, and clinics started offering curbside appointments, making staffing more difficult because that process takes longer.

Many people adopted pets at the same time in a “COVID-19 pet boom,” which only exacerbated the problem. Diorec said appointments for annual exams are booked through August.

“We’ve got great clients who understand how hard and difficult it is right now,” Diorec said. “But then, you also have other people who are desperately trying to get in, and they’ve called six clinics and nobody can see them and they’re at their ends ... and they’re not so nice.”

Pet emergency rooms are usually pricier than clinics, placing additional stress on pet owners.

Dr. Ashley Harmon of PET Emergency Treatment in Anchorage wrote in a recent opinion piece in the Daily News that veterinarians were ordered to halt all elective procedures early in the pandemic, including neuters, spays, dental cleaning and mass removals. That created a waitlist, she said, and the pet ER’s caseload has gone up “exponentially,” increasing the stress level for the people who work there as well.

“We are skipping lunches, staying late, and doing the best we possibly can to try to accommodate every pet’s needs,” Harmon wrote.

James Schmidt, the practice manager at Veterinary Specialists of Alaska in Anchorage, said they get calls from people trying to schedule appointments for services they don’t offer. Their office specializes in animal dermatology and surgeries for conditions like tibia fractures.

“The surgical crew, the front staff, the dermatology staff ... are doing 14 or more hour days now. They’ll stick with it — and they’re exhausted — but they do it for the animals,” Schmidt said. “It sounds like a movie line, but I’m not kidding.”

Similar to clinics around town, surgeries are booked out until early August, Schmidt said. Before COVID-19, clients could get in within two weeks.

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“It’s hard,” Schmidt said. “This crew genuinely wants to help, and they can’t. It’s really hard.”

Some Anchorage residents have resorted to getting help for their animals outside town. It takes Misha Daniels about 45 minutes to drive from her home to Palmer Veterinary, where she has been taking her 8-year-old bulldog, Otto, since April 2020.

Still, she said, it beats sitting in her car at a veterinarian’s office in Anchorage, not knowing when she can see a doctor.

Daniels was told last year that there would be a six-hour wait for her dog to be seen at her normal veterinary office in Anchorage, where she’s been going for over 20 years. At the time, Daniels had a 3-week-old baby and was recovering from a cesarean section.

“I was kind of taken aback. ... I called all over the place, a lot of vets were just closed,” Daniels said. “A lot of them were only taking known patients.”

Finally, she was able to get an appointment with Palmer Veterinary.

“They’re just so sweet and great with my poor, anxious, itchy bulldog,” Daniels said.

But Dr. Kelly Campbell, owner and head veterinarian at Palmer Veterinary, said clinics in the Valley are just as stretched as those in Anchorage, and it’s a balancing act to try and make everyone happy.

“If you end up waiting sometimes, it’s not because we don’t care — it’s because there could be another pet dying somewhere in the building that needs priority,” Campbell said.

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