SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — It’s not a secret that many in the Lake Tahoe Basin have at least one pet. Dogs and cats are the most popular, but what many owners have come to find is that there are no 24-hour care services for their pets.
Judi Sado, a pet owner, has lived in Lake Tahoe for over 30 years. It wasn’t until her pet was in an emergency that she realized the difficulty of having no emergency services for animals in the area.
“My dog had gotten into the tulips, and she was pretty young,” said Sado. “Within an hour or so she started vomiting. It was after hours, so I called my vet and I got a message that said to call Reno because they don’t offer after hours services. So then I tried to call other places and I got the same thing.
After spending hours on the phone trying to find a place to bring her dog, it became clear that her furry friend would be okay, but the bigger dilemma remained, the lack of emergency vet services.
“It was my first awakening that there were no emergency caregivers,” Sado said.
Sado has since experienced the loss of her good friend’s cat, who died of an allergic reaction that sparked an asthma attack. The cat was not responding to medicine at a local South Lake Tahoe veterinary office, Sado brought it to Reno, where it was eventually put down.
“So that cat lost his life because we didn’t have emergency care,” said Sado.
Sado has expressed these concerns to a local vet multiple times. While there is confusion within the issue, according to Sado, she is aware that the problem is much greater than a lack of desire to have emergency services in the area.
“I’d like to understand why they [haven’t been able to] do it,” said Sado. “Cause then I’d like to help in whatever way I can to resolve it.”
The vets in the basin are aware of the concerns about the lack of emergency services in the area. Alpine Animal Hospital, Blue Lake Animal Care Center, and Sierra Veterinary Hospital provided a collaborative response in a letter addressed to the community.
The vets addressed many of the reasons why they haven’t started offering emergency services in this statement.
“We understand how stressful it can be to have an urgent medical issue come up for your beloved pets after hours,” said the statement. “We agree that it would be ideal to have some sort of emergency care available closer to home. However, for 24 hour services to be viable in a community, many factors must be considered, such as population, overnight case load, and ability to hire staff.
Just like the rest of the country, the veterinary services industry is experiencing employee understaffing leaving many vets feeling overwhelmed with the workload. This strain has caused some of them to leave the industry.
Vets and vet techs are in high demand and have been for the past 4-5 years, according to the statement.
The statement said, “The stresses have been magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic due to many factors. All over the country, veterinary hospitals have been stretched to their limits, working long hours to accommodate as many appointments as we can during the day.
With a small population and the low caseload, it would be difficult to staff a 24 hour service facility and still be profitable.
The burnout of veterinarians around the country affects the animals of the basin, but also affects every worker in the field.
“Everyone we know who is in veterinary medicine is in it because they love animals. None of us want animals to suffer, and none of us want our clients to experience the stress and worry of an after-hours emergency,” the statement said.
In Nevada, the Pet Network Humane Society has been working to find the answers to these problems, and recently began working on a new animal hospital located at their center in Incline Village.
“We’re partially open now,” said Director of Community Medicine Nicholas Robl. “What we’re trying to do is offer as much as we can as soon as we can. In order to do that, we have to go through some remodeling and that sort of thing.”
Currently, the space is open for dental procedures since there is currently a fully functional dental suite on site, as well as an exam room good for consultations and conversations about suspected needs of the pets. In a few weeks, they will begin to offer vaccine appointments, which can be held in exam rooms.
Robl said they are waiting for a full treatment center to be built in order to move towards more specialty surgical procedures as well as urgent procedures.
“In order to offer those services and to do a good job, we really need a treatment area in the facility, which we don’t currently have,” said Robl.
After building a treatment center and surgical suite, which is currently in the works, the PNHS will open up to these emergencies pet owners face in the basin.
“People need those services the most,” said Robl. “What happens a lot of times is people go to work and their pets are home, and they come back to find out that the dog has gotten into something they shouldn’t have and they need a vet facility, but most places end up closing in the evening.”
Robl said another factor that made the transition into more services of care offered was the ability to remodel, along with the hire of new employees like a veterinary technician, and are hoping to be able to open up more positions soon.
“We’re going to try to cover the hours of 5-8 pm for urgent care and we’ll be shifting to some weekend coverage as well,” said Robl. “That’s another common time that people need urgent care for their pets, so we’re going to try to fill that gap.”
While they’re not totally to the finish line yet, PNHS is on the path of solving a real problem for animal owners in the basin.
“I don’t want this to happen anymore to anybody else in this town,” said Sado. “We love our animals.”