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After-hours vet service dogged by complaints

Cathy Dobson A Sarnia woman says her dog suffered for seven hours before dying in her arms because she couldn’t find local emergency vet care.
Marg Allen and her late Shih Tzu Bernie (Submitted photo).

Cathy Dobson

A Sarnia woman says her dog suffered for seven hours before dying in her arms because she couldn’t find local emergency vet care.

Since her shih tzu died, Marg Allen has written every vet clinic in Sarnia Lambton and has started a petition pleading for an after-hours vet service that is easy to access.

“Our vets do a wonderful job 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I am not bashing them,” she said.  “But they hardly provide anything after hours.

“My little guy suffered like you wouldn’t believe. I am doing this in memory of  Bernie so perhaps other pets don’t have to suffer like that,” said Allen.

Bernie was 15 years old and collapsed after 5 p.m. on Dec. 22. Allen called her own vet but the office was closed and a recorded message directed her to a virtual pet care service called Smart Vet. 

Marg and her dog, Bernie.

When Allen dialed Smart Vet, she was told the closest emergency clinic open that night was three hours away in Mississauga. London has an emergency after-hours clinic but its hours are limited and it was closed that night, Allen said.

“My hands were tied,” she said. “Helplessly, I cradled and comforted Bernie from 8 p.m. to 2:45 a.m. when his heart finally quit.

“It was a tortuous death of strokes, seizures and laboured breathing,” she wrote in her letter to the vets.  “Had a local Sarnia emergency vet been available, he or she could have ended his misery in minutes.”

Allen has since learned that Dr. Vasant Barot of Discovery Animal Hospital in Petrolia frequently works after hours and may have been available to help.

“But I didn’t know about him,” she said.  “I was shocked when the woman at Smart Vet said Sarnia has no after hours care.

“People are regularly told to take their pets to London or Windsor.  I was told I had to go even farther.”

The Sarnia Journal called 11 local veterinarian clinics on a Sunday and Dr. Barot was the only one who answered the phone. 

The majority of The Journal’s calls immediately transferred to Smart Vet, although a few vets had phone messages that provided cell phone numbers and said their own clients could contact them in an emergency after hours.

A call to Smart Vet confirmed that the closest emergency clinic to Sarnia is in London.  Otherwise callers are referred to clinics in Brantford, Waterloo, Windsor and the Toronto area.

Dr. Barot said he understands why most local vets don’t answer emergency calls after hours but he’d like to see more co-operation among them so that fewer pet owners are directed to take their animals out of town.

“I am trying my level best,” Dr. Barot said. “I try to be available to my own clients and I will help others if I’m not busy.

“The problem is that everyone has their own private life. I already work morning to evening. But, for me, it’s a noble profession where I want to help people.

“After all, these animals are family members,” he said.

Sarnian Jennifer McAvity is another pet owner who says Sarnia is in dire need of vets who are more accessible after hours.  She has called Dr. Melanie Moore of Bright’s Grove Animal Hospital for after hours emergency help before.

“But Dr. Mel can’t be the only one who does this,” McAvity said.  “There are a lot of times emergencies crop up and help is required.

“There is nothing worse than having a very sick pet and being told, ‘Too bad, we don’t work after hours.’”

Jimmy Bacon, a Plympton Wyoming resident, was desperate for after-hours vet care on Friday, Dec. 16 when his sick yellow lab named Lucy suddenly lost mobility and he knew he had to put her down.

“My vet was away and I was told by the telecare service to take Lucy to London,” Bacon said.  “I was really surprised no one could help here.”

He called numerous vets and found one that agreed to euthanize Lucy the following week. 

“I didn’t want to see Lucy suffer through the weekend. We were left high and dry.I was considering a trip to London even though the weather wasn’t good,” said Bacon.  Fortunately, he spoke to a friend of a friend who knew Dr. Moore and she provided emergency service.

“But I just got lucky,” said Bacon. “I just happened to find someone.  There’s got to be a better system.”

A online petition started by Miranda Sauve is asking for a better after-hours vet service in Sarnia-Lambton and has 1,874 signatures to date.

“This petition is a call out to all vets in the area to develop some sort of rotation schedule from 6pm on a Friday to 9am on a Monday to come together and see our fur babies,” wrote Sauve.

Marg Allen has a separate petition circulating in the Sarnia community that has more than 365 signatures. It asks city council to do something to help.

“I’ve been told it’s not really up to city council, but I don’t know what else to do,” Allen said.  “I always thought veterinary medicine was a calling, but I don’t think it is anymore.

“I’m disgusted by what happened to my boy Bernie and I know pet owners in Sarnia need help.  And they need it now.”

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