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Pet owners face longer than normal wait times at veterinary clinics in Washington

Veterinarians say an increase in pet ownership during the pandemic coupled with a staff shortage at veterinary hospitals has left many pet owners on the wait list.

SEATTLE — Pet owners across western Washington say they're having a hard time scheduling appointments for their four-legged friends. 

Numerous posts on social media have highlighted the frustration of pet owners, who are wondering why getting their pet in front of a veterinarian is now so difficult. 

Liz Colson, a licensed veterinary technician at Jet City Animal Clinic in Capitol Hill, said her office is currently experiencing a shortage of veterinarians. 

"There's only two doctors that are seeing patients here and we have almost 7,000 clients, '' said Colson. "We get like one hundred new patient requests a month, so we're trying to accommodate as many people as we can."

Dr. Gary Marshall, a veterinarian on Mercer Island, said the way veterinarian's offices operate has also changed dramatically. 

"If you've had pets for a long time, and you're used to calling up and saying, 'you know, I'm just gonna pop by tomorrow, because I'm not sure what's going on and I'd like you to take a look.' And we were bending over backwards to say, 'we'll figure out a way to see you and get you in.' We just can't do that right now," said Marshall. 

Marshall said there are three reasons why it's tough to get into a vet's office right now. 

"From pre-pandemic, to the end of 2020, there are 20% more pets in King County," said Marshall, who it to the increase of pet adoptions during the pandemic. He also mentioned that many offices are understaffed, a problem which started well before the pandemic began.

"We feel like we're maybe 25% less than we'd like to have, as far as being full staff. And, because of just the pandemic and the way we have to kind of do things to keep everybody safe, it takes about 25% longer to do everything," Marshall said.

"We do not want you to wait weeks to get your pet to the veterinary clinic. We're doing the best that we can. We still care tremendously,” explained Marshall. “We're trying to figure out ways to, to see everybody and sometimes that might look different than you're used to seeing."

Marshall advised all pet owners to plan ahead. 

"If it's something small, try to get an appointment. And if it gets better on its own, animals are good at doing that a lot of times, then, you know, no big deal, you cancel that appointment,” said Marshall. “But if it starts getting worse over a few days, you'll be glad that you had that appointment."

If pet owners have an emergency, they now have a new resource that will help them access nearby veterinary hospitals. An Instagram page called "ER Vets of Western Washington" updates the wait times at facilities in the area.