Nationwide veterinarian shortage triggers debate over proposed solutions

Jessica Chiu is one of the growing number of pet owners who adopted a pet during the pandemic.

"Grew up always loving dogs, never had a dog, wanted a dog," said Chiu.

Chiu's dream came true while working from home full time. Finding Twila a veterinarian in San Francisco was more difficult.

"I ended up having to go and find a vet in Oakland," said Chiu.

ABC7 News first told you about the nationwide vet shortage earlier this month. Now advocates for change are speaking up.

Mark Cushing is the founder and CEO of the Animal Policy Group and the author of Pet Nation.

"We're at a crisis stage on the veterinary shortage which was coming and in process, but COVID put it on steroids," said Cushing.

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Cushing is a proponent of telemedicine for pets.

The California Veterinary Medical Association or CVMA tells ABC7 News it supports veterinary telehealth, but a veterinarian-client-patient-relationship cannot be established solely by telephone or other electronic means.

That's where Cushing's opinion differs. He believes new pet owners or those without a vet should be able to use telemedicine to get started and get basic advice.

"The access to care issue is acute for people who don't have a vet," said Cushing.

Dr. Karl Jandrey is the Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Programs at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

"If that veterinary patient-client relationship does not exist I don't think telemedicine can work," said Jandrey.

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Dr. Jandrey also disagrees with Cushing's two other suggestions for unclogging the system, increasing veterinary school class sizes and giving more responsibility to vet techs.

"It would require a whole new school, a whole new licensing, and a whole new think of the veterinary profession," said Jandrey.

It's these differences of opinion which may have kept the veterinarian population from growing at the same pace as pet ownership.

"What a good problem to have for a profession, there's demand for what we do we just need to have enough of us to take care of the needs," said Cushing.

In the meantime, pets and the people who love them wait for a solution that can't come soon enough.

"You just don't sleep when you don't know what's wrong with your pup," said Chiu.

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