Animal Humane Society responds to surge in demand for veterinary services

AHS vet staff with dog following amputation surgery

Our Veterinary Centers are helping more pets than ever before

A shortage of veterinary services in the Twin Cities, increased need for low-cost pet care, and Minnesota’s ban on elective surgeries this spring have created a surge in patients at Animal Humane Society’s veterinary centers.

When the COVID-19 pandemic led to Minnesota’s shelter-in-place order this spring, AHS temporarily closed its facilities to the public and suspended non-essential programs and services.

Although our veterinary centers continued to provide essential wellness services, another executive order limited the types of procedures we could offer.

To conserve personal protective equipment for front-line medical workers, Governor Tim Walz suspended all non-essential surgeries. When that ban was lifted in May, our veterinary centers were flooded with requests for surgical appointments. This created a huge backlog and long waiting list of customers with animals needing spay/neuter surgery. AHS continues to power through the backlog, completing as many as 40 spay/neuter surgeries per day in its public clinics.

AHS vet staff with cat

A growing need

The demand for affordable veterinary care has only grown with the pandemic’s social and economic impacts. People have more time for pets and are paying more attention to their care. In an often-isolating year, animal adoptions have increased. Less active social lives have also created room in our schedules for vet visits. And more time with their animals means pet parents are far more observant of their animals’ behavior.

“We’ll have clients who say, ‘My cat has been sleeping a lot. I don’t think that’s normal. Please check them out,’" says Dr. Angelica Dimock, managing veterinarian at AHS. "What they don’t realize is that it’s not unusual for a cat to sleep 20 hours a day.”

AHS vet staff anticipate the demand for low-cost veterinary services will persist as COVID-19 continues to impact employment rates, income levels, and housing security. We're working to manage the barrage of appointment requests through temporary changes to our scheduling process. “We’re doing our best to meet the demand,” says Dr. Dimock. “It’s hard to keep up when the need is so great.” 

Meeting this demand is made even more challenging by the need to practice physical distancing in tight spaces like exam rooms and surgical suites. To protect staff and visitors, AHS vet centers currently offer curbside service only. Pet parents wait in the car during the appointment and talk with our vet team by phone as their animal is examined. This process has worked very well to limit face-to-face contact, but it also means we can see fewer clients each day.

Fortunately, AHS was already planning a September 1 opening for our new veterinary center on University Avenue in St. Paul. The timing couldn’t have been better, with demand for services continuing to surge. Both the Golden Valley and St. Paul locations are already operating near capacity.

Two AHS veterinarians performing surgery

Compassion in a crisis

The increased demand for veterinary services hasn’t just impacted AHS. A recent WCCO report revealed that veterinarians across the Twin Cities are suffering from burnout and depression due to the elevated workload they’re facing with the pandemic. Dr. Dimock and Dr. Graham Brayshaw, AHS Director of Animal Services, have both heard similar firsthand accounts from their private-practice counterparts.

Providing veterinary care requires compassion for people as well as animals, says Dr. Dimock. That’s especially true now. Many vet center clients express concerns about where they and their pet will live if they can no longer afford to pay rent due to the ongoing crisis. “On top of that, we know that many of our clients could not afford veterinary care if it weren’t for us.”

AHS staff continue to rise to the occasion. “We serve a special clientele and feel a special obligation to help as many people and animals as possible,” she adds. As we work through the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, our compassionate veterinary team will keep serving our community of pets and the people who love them.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

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