Lack of shelter veterinarians across Hampton Roads raises concerns

NORFOLK, Va. – On Wednesday afternoon, the only full-time veterinarian at the Norfolk SPCA Adoption Center on Ballentine Road performed one of her last surgeries there.

"Spaying and neutering cuts down on the number of animals coming in to shelters,” Norfolk SPCA Executive Director Kimberly Sherlaw explained.

But, overcrowding could soon be an issue.

With the current vet leaving next month, the SPCA said it's being met with a current trend facing many Hampton Roads facilities: A lack of vets and licensed veterinary technicians involved with shelter medicine.

“The program is growing by leaps and bounds, but we are not seeing the influx of those professionals here in the Hampton Roads area,” Sherlaw said.

Part of the reason could be that vets are choosing to go into the private sector or the lack of supply for the demand.

One of the concerns with a shortage is not being able to move pets in and out of the shelter. What that does is limit the space the SPCA has to bring in pets that need to be treated.

“If they are staying here longer because vet care is not available to be provided to them, then we can’t take more animals in, which is less lives we can save,” Melissa Heard, the shelter's operations director, said.

The Norfolk SPCA is looking for two full-time veterinarians.

The Virginia Beach SPCA is also looking for a full-time vet.

"The Virginia Beach SPCA, like many other shelters in the area, are also looking for a full time veterinarian," their Communication and Marketing Manager, Mike Lawson, said in a statement. "This shortage has cut down on the number of public clinic appointments we can offer and is ultimately affecting our ability to meet the increasing demand of the public. While we have been short staffed for months, we do have a great team of four full-time vets and are working to support the other shelters in our area. Collaboration between shelters is the best way to ensure that public patients are receiving the care they need. We are also in search of a Licensed Veterinary Technician to add to our staff. An LVT is an essential position in any veterinary practice because it impacts the number of animals that can be treated. We are hoping to see some relief soon."

Shelter staff told us the industry provide highly competitive wages.

“I think one of the things that we have to do is bring about awareness of how competitive it is in terms of salary we are offering,” Sherlaw said. The national average salary for a veterinarian is $92,125. Current salary ranges for open positions in Hampton Roads fall between $75,000 and $120,000.

The SPCA said the shortage can be overwhelming.

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Sherlaw told News 3 the industry “is a very emotional, very physically draining field where we can give our staff time off, so when we're able to suppliant with a technician, we can increase services but we can provide that work-life balance.”

Luckily, many of the facilities have relief staff who fill in when current employees aren’t available.

However, they say nothing compares to the connections built by protecting and helping our four-legged friends find forever homes.

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