Pet owners are facing delays due to clinic closures and a severe shortage of vets in the capital

A Wellington vet said hundreds of sick or injured animals in the city may lack treatment due to clinic closures and lack of staff.

Jody Sharratt needs regular veterinary care for the cats Feral Nation rescue service in Wellington.
Photo: Supplied / Savage Nation

It comes amid a nationwide shortage of vets as pandemic border restrictions have discouraged foreign workers from coming here who normally take jobs in the sector.

Each week, Jody Sharratt takes dozens of cats and kittens to the vet to be neutered, microchipped and vaccinated.

She also seeks care for neglected animals that are malnourished, seriously ill or injured.

She runs Feral Nation, a non-profit cat rescue service in Wellington, and when RNZ spoke to her today she had already called five clinics before finding one that could help with a litter of sick kittens – and it required a 50km round trip.

“I’m lucky, if they had all said ‘no’ to me, I know enough that I could have kept these kittens alive for a few days without treatment.

“But if it was someone’s pet, he wouldn’t be going to the vet today, maybe not tomorrow, and he wouldn’t have the knowledge, the drops for the eyes or things at hand to make the kittens healthy.

“[The kittens] might have lost eyes.”

There is a severe shortage of vets in the country – the Veterinary Association estimates that Aotearoa is short of around 100 clinicians – with the manpower issue described by veterinary recruitment agency Vetstaff as at the point of crisis.

The closure of a few key clinics has exacerbated this problem in the capital – forcing pet owners to scramble to get appointments for their furry friends.

Last week, the popular Wellington SPCA veterinary clinic – which has around 1,500 people on its books – stopped treating pets and will now focus solely on abused, neglected and vulnerable animals in its care.

And last year Tasman Street Vet Centre, which has a similar capacity, closed.

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Dog owners RNZ spoke to are concerned about the lack of veterinary options in the capital.
Photo: RNZ / Hamish Cardwell

The clinic refuses the owners

Island Bay Veterinary Clinic head nurse Jade Blackbourn said most veterinary clinics in the area were now full and her center had to turn away sick animals on a daily basis.

“It’s really hard because you feel for the [owners].

“We are there to help the animals, but when you have to refuse them, it is painful. Not only for the owner, but for us too.”

Blackbourn said capacity in central Wellington and nearby suburbs could be cut by more than a third.

On Wellington’s south coast, Paul walks his dogs, Chloe and Nala.

He was on the SPCA books and had trouble finding another option.

“One of our dogs is a little older and has arthritis so he usually has a regular appointment, but now it’s been a whole month because we couldn’t adjust to a new vet for at least least a month, which is a bit of a problem..

“And we don’t really have an answer for an urgent vet at the moment either, which is a little concerning.”

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Paul’s dogs at the beach.
Photo: RNZ / Hamish Cardwell

Around a third of New Zealand’s registered vets come from overseas, and changes to border and visa rules last year to enter more into the country have failed to attract many applicants – put off by the input delays to the MIQ.

Feral Nation’s Jody Sharratt said the shortage of foreign workers is taking its toll on the vets at the clinics she uses.

“I haven’t seen any new faces in the last few years, they’re the same faces and they’re pretty tired faces.

“They’re doing the best they can, but I know they’re going through a lot of abuse too.

“Everyone phones the same day and wants their cat seen ‘now’ and they get abused if they can’t book them by ‘tomorrow’ or ‘Monday’.

“They just need more staff, more vets.”

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Photo: Supplied / Nicole Mahon

Staff shortages appear to be widespread.

Lower Hutt resident Nicole Mahon said she had trouble getting an appointment with her local vet last week – with the clinic blaming it on a lack of staff.

“My dog ​​was really lethargic and had an upset stomach, he slept a lot and generally looked quite sad.

“And so I was a bit concerned – he’s 12, so he’s a bit older – and I called the vet and they just didn’t have an appointment until someone cancel, then I got this place.”

It is hoped that when the borders are fully open again, there will be an influx of foreign vets who will ease the pressure.

Lower Hutt Woman Nicole Mahon and her dog

Nicole Mahon and her dog.
Photo: Supplied / Nicole Mahon