24-hour pet care solution sought

Solution in works for after-hours pet care

Solution in works for after-hours pet care

May 28, 2006|by CANDICE BOSLEY

HAGERSTOWN - It was on a Sunday a few years ago that one of Angie Harsh's dogs' stomach twisted, requiring emergency surgery. She made a phone call and then drove to a local veterinarian's office, where a team of surgeons performed the procedure on her Rottweiler.

When just a couple of months ago around 8 p.m. another of Harsh's dogs, Abby, was showing signs of the same life-threatening condition, called bloat, Harsh again called her veterinarian's office.

This time she was told, essentially: Sorry, you'll have to take your dog to the emergency animal hospital in Frederick, Md.

She called another veterinarian's office and was told the same thing: Take your dog to Frederick.

"That terrifies me," Harsh said. "When you have an emergency, time is absolutely of the essence."

As Harsh scrambled to log onto the Internet and scribble directions to the emergency clinic, her dog vomited, meaning it simply had gas and was not suffering from bloat.


Harsh's frustration with the after-hours veterinarian service situation in Hagerstown was not so easily quelled.

"Someone needs to do something," Harsh said. "I'm not condemning any of the vets for not (offering 24-hour emergency services), I'm just saying here, this is a shortfall, and we need to correct this. And the very ones who could correct this are the vets."

Those veterinarians are aware of the situation, and hope to remedy it by opening an emergency hospital in Hagerstown.

Dr. Virginia Scrivener, owner of Animal Health Clinic of Funkstown, is president of a group of area veterinarians that plans to open such a hospital by the end of the summer.

24-hour vets a rarity

These days, among small-animal veterinarians, house calls are rare, and vanishing are the days when such veterinarians were on call and willing to treat animals 24 hours a day and on weekends.

Several Washington County veterinarians interviewed for this story have implemented different policies when it comes to treating animals after-hours, but all of the policies incorporate, in some fashion, referring clients to Frederick Emergency Animal Hospital, which on Monday through Friday opens each day at 7 p.m. and closes in the morning at 8 a.m. It is open 24 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday and is open on holidays, said Angie Napoli, who works at the animal hospital as a veterinary technician and receptionist.

All of the veterinarians interviewed said they were not aware of any local veterinarian's office seeing pets around-the-clock.

Better care is a main reason veterinarians decided to refer clients to the emergency hospital at nights and on weekends, said Dr. Tracy Barlup, who owns Longmeadow Animal Hospital in Hagerstown.

A staff of receptionists, technicians and veterinarians at the Frederick facility is ready and waiting to provide emergency services, she said.

Conversely, an on-call system with local veterinarians would involve possibly waking up a veterinarian who would need to get ready, trade phone calls with the pet owner and drive to a clinic. That process could sometimes end up taking as long or longer than it takes for some to drive to Frederick, Barlup said.

That's not the sole reason, however, for an increasing reliance on emergency hospitals, she said. Other factors are less tangible.

"Some vets are getting burnt out, and it's harder and harder to find associates who are willing" to work on call overnight and on weekends, Barlup said.

'Want to have a life'

Barlup gave two possible reasons for the reluctance.

First, she said, many veterinarian schools are in cities, where emergency hospitals usually are in place. As a result, the students basically are taught to rely on such hospitals, she said.

Second, more and more veterinary school students - and therefore, veterinarians - are women.

"I think because of that, I think there's more of a focus on life outside of work," Barlup said.

Scrivener agreed that finding new veterinarians willing to work on call nights and weekends is difficult.

"They want to have a life," she said.

Scrivener knows - when she works on call, she has to stay within a half-hour of her practice, meaning she cannot visit her sister in Frostburg, Md., or head to Washington to see a play.

When Scrivener interviews potential new veterinarians, they first talk on the phone. When candidates find out that working on call is possible, many cut the interview short and say they're not interested.

That's happened "on more than one occasion," Scrivener said.

Barlup's office has a veterinarian on call until 8 p.m. on weeknights and 5 p.m. on weekends. People who call with an emergency at other hours usually are referred to Frederick, she said.

Nikki Bowers, a receptionist at Park Circle Animal Hospital in Hagerstown, said that clinic usually has a veterinarian on call every day except Sundays until 11 p.m. who can handle emergency calls.

After 11 p.m. and on Sundays, people are referred to the emergency clinic in Frederick, she said.

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