Lack of resident veterinary care a problem on West Coast

The lack of emergency veterinarian services in Port Alberni made a desperate situation all the more traumatic for a local pet owner who lost her dog this month.

Glenda Bertolucci realized the value of overnight pet care when she came home from work on July 31 to find her dog Wendy in a bad state. The Labrador retriever/cocker spaniel mix breed appeared to be in agony, dragging her back leg and urinating frequently. The 12-year-old animal had previously been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, a condition caused by a benign tumor in the pituitary gland. She had received medication for the condition after a visit to a local veterinarian this summer.

“It was an intermittent limp that

she had, so they figured it was related to the Cushing’s, arthritis and her age,” Glenda said, noting that Wendy had a swollen tummy by the end of July. “There had been a dramatic change so that she couldn’t walk at all. As the evening wore on she started to moan and kind of whine, which was something that she never did. She couldn’t seem to lay still.”

By midnight Glenda’s concern led her to seek emergency care. All calls to local vets referred the pet owner to the Central Vancouver Island Veterinary Emergency Hospital in Nanaimo. At 1 a.m. she took Wendy in the car with husband Carlo for the hour-plus trip. “All the way down there she was in the back seat moaning and whimpering because she was in so much pain,” recalled Glenda.

A vet at the Nanaimo hospital determined Wendy was suffering

from a blood clot blocking passage to her back legs, a medical issue that eventually took the dog’s life the morning after being taken into care. Although Glenda expects her beloved pet would have passed if emergency care were available in Port Alberni, she found the lack of overnight services alarming.

“For us to be going through the night distraught, trying to comfort your dog -it’s just like an accident waiting to happen on the highway,” Glenda said. “I would like to have a dog again, but it is a concern if you end up having a situation.”

Two weeks later, Port Alberni cat owner Creg Calderwood found himself in a similar situation when he noticed Honey, his 12-year-old Sphynx, continually going into the litter box with very little coming out.

“I went for a bike ride for a few

hours, and when I came back she was in her box non-stop, in and out,” recalled Calderwood. “She’s meowing like a wild cat.”

Some quick online research led the pet owner to suspect Honey had an infection of the kidney or bladder, a condition that can kill a cat within hours. After calling the Nanaimo hospital early in the evening Calderwood put Honey in the car immediately.

“We thought that the cat was being poisoned and we’d have to wait for another hour with the drive,” he said. “We were quite alarmed, it’s our little baby.”

The Sphynx was given medication for a bladder infection, and her condition has improved since the Aug. 13 scare. But the thought of the emergency drive on Highway 4 concerns Calderwood. “I love my cat to death, like a lot of people do, like a child,” he said.

Emergency care is even less accessible for pet lovers on Vancouver Island’s West Coast. Ucluelet and Tofino do not have resident certified veterinarians, which led Lee-Ann Unger to form the Coastal Animal Rescue and Education Network in 2011. Since then the group of volunteers have tended to over 1,000 animals, providing spaying, neutering, temporary foster care and transportation in emergency situations. The lack of local care means a three-hour drive to the Nanaimo animal hospital if a pet needs overnight medical attention.

“I know many folks out here with dogs and cats or other pets who have at times ended up in a difficult situation, including myself,” said Unger. “We have basic first aid, but outside of that, a veterinarian is needed. It can be very challenging after hours.”