VET 911: Local pet owners desperate for emergency care

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ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – There is a lack of 24-hour emergency veterinary care surrounding the Elmira area, and pet owners are concerned.

When Tosha Purvis’ cat got very sick, she got very worried. Particularly, because it was a weekend. As an emergency telephone operator, she knew there were no after-hour veterinary hospitals open nearby because she fields such calls all the time.

“We get calls pretty much every day from people who are looking for emergency hours vet care, I have literally had nightmares, after taking some of these calls,” said Purvis, Chemung County Emergency Telephone Operator. 

Within a 30-mile radius of the City of Elmira, there are approximately 30 veterinary clinics, and the closest 24-hour emergency vet hospital is at Cornell University. Which is at least a 45-minute drive away, for most residents in the Elmira area.

For some, like Purvis, the 45-50 minute drive even costs them their pet’s lives.

“I had no way to get my cat there and my cat did die,” said Purvis.

But, vets across the nation feel burned out. Even Cornell University Companion Animal Hospital is understaffed.

“We’re facing huge staffing shortages…I have personally been yelled at over the phone, ‘How dare you not be able to see my pet!’…We don’t like turning people away,” said Rhea Adams, Licensed Veterinary Technician at Cornell University Companion Animal Hospital.

Lake Road Animal Hospital in Horseheads sent 18 News an email, saying vets are leaving the profession because of high stress and poor pay.

“For the job we’re doing, I think we are grossly underpaid…That’s probably the number one reason for [veterinary] technicians leaving the field,” said Adams.

Lake Road Animal Hospital also mentioned that area practices are avidly advertising to hire veterinarians and technicians to help take care of pets, but there are very few applicants.

“Smaller local hospitals… they just don’t have the staff to be there 24/7,” said Adams.

But pet owners say, most of the time they just want a hotline to call for guidance. Is it an emergency that needs immediate attention, or can it wait?

“It’s hard for us to dictate what is an emergency and what isn’t an emergency…If anything happens to my baby [her dog], oh I am freaking out,” said Brittany Girardi, pet owner, and Horseheads resident.

“Just having a vet may be on-call locally, instead of always having to go to Cornell, that would really be a savior for all of us,” said Traci Bowman, pet owner, and City of Elmira resident.

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