Fac­ing a short­age

An­i­mal shel­ters hav­ing trou­ble fill­ing open vet­eri­nar­ian po­si­tions

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Lois K. Solomon

South Florida’s an­i­mal shel­ters, un­der pres­sure to stop eu­th­a­niz­ing cats and dogs, are fac­ing a new chal­lenge as they save grow­ing num­bers of an­i­mals: a short­age of vet­eri­nar­i­ans.

Palm Beach County has been un­able to fill three vet po­si­tions at its An­i­mal Care and Con­trol, the main pub­lic shel­ter in West Palm Beach, for the past three years. Peggy Adams An­i­mal Res­cue League in West Palm Beach has two vets on staff but has been look­ing for a third for the past year.

Broward An­i­mal Care and Adop­tion in Fort Laud­erdale, which has two vets on staff, has open­ings for two more, one full­time and one part-time.

The Hu­mane So­ci­ety in Broward also had trou­ble fill­ing a po­si­tion and de­cided to cre­ate a ro­tat­ing sys­tem of vets who get paid on a per diem ba­sis.

All are try­ing to adapt to a new re­al­ity: Many vet­eri­nar­i­ans are choos­ing pri­vate prac­tice over the stresses and odd hours of work in a shel­ter, where they must per­form as many as 30 spayneuters in a day, man­age dis­ease out­breaks on limited bud­gets and take care of so­ci­ety’s most abused and ne­glected an­i­mals.

“It’s a trend, and it’s a dire one,” said Dr. Julie Levy, Univer­sity of Florida pro­fes­sor of shel­ter medicine. “Shel­ters try­ing to ex­pand their ser­vices are be­ing held back by not be­ing able to re­cruit. The po­si­tions are stay­ing va­cant for pro­longed pe­ri­ods.”

The ef­fects of the short­age are trick­ling down to the pub­lic: Palm Beach County had to close its spay-neuter clinic for the month of De­cem­ber and is now only open on se­lect days each month. In Broward, the Hu­mane So­ci­ety had to shut­ter its spay-neuter clinic six times last year and can­cel days when it of­fers low-cost vac­cines.

“Thirty years ago, there wasn’t as much of an ef­fort to save the an­i­mals,” said Dr. Beth Keser, di­rec­tor of med­i­cal ser­vices at Peggy Adams. “Now, the num­ber you res­cue be­comes a point of pride.”

In 2012, the Broward County Com­mis­sion man­dated that the county be­come a no-kill com­mu­nity, which meant that an­i­mals that were healthy or had treat­able con­di­tions were never killed, even when the shel­ter was full.

The man­date added pres­sures not only on vets but on the for­mer shel­ter di­rec­tor, who an au­dit found started al­ter­ing records to show progress to­ward the goal.

Still, the au­dit showed

Many vet­eri­nar­i­ans are choos­ing pri­vate prac­tice over the stresses and odd hours of work in a shel­ter, where they must per­form as many as 30 spay-neuters in a day as well as man­age dis­ease out­breaks on limited bud­gets. Broward has sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced the num­ber of dogs and cats killed at the fa­cil­ity. In 2017, there were 3,333 killed, down from 10,709 in


An­i­mals con­tinue to stream in, with 6,108 adopted in 2017, the most re­cent year avail­able, up from 5,715 the pre­vi­ous year.

In 2014, Palm Beach County also launched a nokill plan, Count­down2Zero, to save ev­ery adopt­able an­i­mal by 2024. The county has made progress: 62 per­cent of aban­doned cats get adopted, up from 29 per­cent in 2014, and 87 per­cent of dogs find a home, up from

73 per­cent five years ago. The rest have to be eu­th­a­nized due to their in­juries or po­ten­tial dan­ger to the pub­lic.

Still, the shel­ter takes in

40 to 60 new cats and dogs a day, all of which have to get a thor­ough med­i­cal checkup by a vet who is also per­form­ing lots of other du­ties.

“The in­creased in­ter­est in get­ting to no-kill means tremen­dous pres­sure to spay and neuter as many as pos­si­ble,” said Dr. Vir­ginia Sayre, a Palm Beach County shel­ter vet­eri­nar­ian for 21 years.

While the stresses are high, start­ing salaries are

gen­er­ous. Palm Beach County is of­fer­ing newly grad­u­ated vets $80,000 a year plus ben­e­fits, while ex­pe­ri­enced vets can earn al­most $100,000. In Broward, start­ing salaries are

$89,000, go­ing as high as

$142,000 for the more ex­pe­ri­enced vets.

But the pro­fes­sion, al­though well-pay­ing and pres­ti­gious, is fac­ing a men­tal health cri­sis. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion re­ported in Jan­uary that vet­eri­nar­i­ans have a sui­cide rate more than twice that of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

The study of­fered sev­eral pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions, in­clud­ing vet schools’ se­lec­tion of stu­dents with per­fec­tion­ist per­son­al­ity traits, which are as­so­ci­ated with anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion; easy ac­cess to lethal drugs, and a view of eu­thana­sia as an ac­cept­able method of end­ing suf­fer­ing.

Vets say there are ad­di­tional stres­sors, in­clud­ing debts from their ed­u­ca­tions (more than $143,000 on aver­age), the pres­sure to save enor­mous num­bers of an­i­mals, and the dif­fi­culty of deal­ing with emo­tional pet own­ers.

“These are good-pay­ing jobs that vets are not suf­fi­ciently prepped for,” Levy said. “That’s what we’re try­ing to solve.”

Shel­ters are try­ing to come up with short- and

long-term so­lu­tions as the an­i­mals keep ar­riv­ing. Dianne Sauve, Palm Beach County’s an­i­mal con­trol di­rec­tor, said her shel­ter is look­ing at con­tract­ing with pri­vate vets for night-time emer­gency ser­vice as it searches for full-time em­ploy­ees.

Know­ing the com­pe­ti­tion is fierce, she said she of­fered a job to a Univer­sity of Florida vet­eri­nary stu­dent be­fore she even grad­u­ated. The stu­dent fin­ishes school in May and will start in June.

Un­til then, the shel­ter con­tin­ues to limit its ser­vices, keep­ing its spay clinic open only on se­lect days in Fe­bru­ary, a con­cern for an­i­mal ad­vo­cates.

“Any plans to close or re­duce spay-neuter clinic ser­vices at the county shel­ter will mean fewer dogs and cats will be timely ster­il­ized,” said Acreage res­i­dent Deb­bie Lewis, who takes care of home­less cats in her neigh­bor­hood. “This will re­sult in more un­wanted births and owner sur­ren­ders and in­creased dog and cat shel­ter pop­u­la­tion and in­creased com­mu­nity cat pop­u­la­tion. This, in turn, will re­sult in higher death rates and un­nec­es­sary con­tin­u­ing and pro­long­ing of the tragic and costly cy­cle of pet over­pop­u­la­tion in our com­mu­nity.”

10:30 a.m.-noon, Feb.

12. Sup­port­ing those who have lost a loved one. Con­gre­ga­tion L'Dor Va-Dor, 9804 S. Mil­i­tary Trail, Boyn­ton Beach. 561-328-2095. Free.


Farm­ers Mar­ket: 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Feb. 13. Foun­tain Plaza at The Shops at Pem­broke Gar­dens, 527 SW 145th Ter­race, Pem­broke Pines.


Vet­eri­nar­ian Vir­ginia Sayre neuters a 5 month old puppy at the Palm Beach County An­i­mal Care and Con­trol in West Palm Beach. The shel­ter has three open­ings for vets and has been un­able to fill them.


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