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SOUTH JORDAN — Veterinarian clinics around the Salt Lake Valley say so many staff members are calling out sick from COVID-19 that they're scrambling to keep up with animal patients.
Some have cut down hours or services and can be booked out for weeks. Others have stopped seeing new patients or suspended urgent care visits.
Meanwhile, the patient demand only continues to rise.
At Animal Care Daybreak, a litter of three 8-week-old puppies came in Tuesday, as their owners made sure the four-legged babies got their shots and nail trims.
While the visit was routine, a normal vet appointment like that may be hard to nail down in some places.
"Multiple times we've had clients calling and saying, you know, 'I can't get into my vet for three weeks because they're so busy and so booked out,'" said Lauren Michaud, associate veterinarian at Animal Care Daybreak.
Michaud and the clinic's development manager, Jordan Wolf, explained that clinics in Salt Lake County were already short-staffed to begin with. Wolf said that even before the pandemic, many in the veterinarian industry were already leaving because of compassion fatigue and burnout.
At the same time, people began adopting pets during the pandemic — leading to an increase in appointments and vet visits.
This last month, as the COVID-19 omicron variant swept through, the sick callouts have only added stress to the system.
Several vet clinics told KSL-TV Tuesday that they've had to shorten their hours because of a lack of staff and no longer take new clients. Some say they stopped offering walk-in or emergency care, and instead have to refer pet owners somewhere else.
Others say they are completely booked for anywhere from three to six weeks out.
Many explained that they are referring animal owners who need immediate help to one of the few area pet ER clinics.
"The emergency clinics have been overloaded," Wolf said. "It was not unheard over the last year or two to really hear of nine-, 12,- 15-hour waits for emergency care."
Animal Care Daybreak has had to think outside the box in an effort to give the best care possible.
"We've done a few different things to try to accommodate the really high case load that we've seen recently," Michaud said.
For example, they began to offer telemedicine — just like what you'd find for humans.
"They can help you triage your pet," Wolf said. "They can work with the owner to find out what's going on and come up with a plan. 'Do you need to go to the emergency clinic for immediate treatment? Can this wait a week? Can we call in some pain relief?'"
And instead of owners accompanying their patient to the vet, Animal Care Daybreak started a drop-off clinic, which allows them to take in more urgent cases as they need throughout the day.
"Between the drop-off system and telemedicine, it's been changes for both us and the clients," Michaud expressed. "And most of our clients have been very understanding."
In addition to understanding, they ask for patience as clinics work through the challenges.
They said clinics will often refer pet patients to other places if they can't take them in to make sure all fur babies are taken care of.
"It's just the veterinary community pulling together and doing what we can," Wolf said.