West Coast communities to discuss lack of vet services

Despite pleas from Tofino’s municipal council, the College of BC Veterinarians isn’t budging on its refusal to allow Dr. Jane Hunt to treat the West Coast’s pet population.

The West Coast has been without fulltime veterinary services since Hunt was ordered to stop providing care to local animals last year.

Hunt opened Ucluelet’s only veterinary clinic in 1988 but was forced to surrender her veterinary license in 2004 when new regulations mandated equipment she could not afford.

She continued providing care to the West Coast’s pet population who had no one else to turn to but was ordered to stop when the College of BC Veterinarians caught wind of her unlicensed services.

Hunt, who was recently nominated for the Order of BC, received a letter from a Vancouver based law firm representing the college on Oct. 25 that threatened her with legal action if she did not immediately stop treating animals.

The threat was an unpopular action in the eyes of many West Coast residents and both Tofino and Ucluelet’s municipal councils sent letters to the CBCV expressing their communities’ concerns. Tofino’s municipal council sent their letter in January urging the College to create new conditions or bylaws to allow qualified people, like Dr. Hunt, to pro–vide medical services to animals in rural communities.

The college’s president Nicholas Shaw wrote back and Tofino’s municipal council reviewed his response during Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Shaw declined to speak specifically to Hunt’s case citing “privacy constraints” but said it is the college’s responsibility to uphold the Veterinarians Act and ensure practicing veterinarians are held accountable.

“Individuals who carry on the unauthorized practise of veterinary medicine are not accountable to anyone,” he stated through the letter. “Asking this regulatory body to condone the unauthorized practise of veterinary medicine is akin to asking that unauthorized persons provide human health or dental care in your community. Surely you would agree that that would neither be safe for the public nor in the best interest of your community.”

Shaw said he understood council’s “frustration at the lack of available veterinary services” and cited economics as the reason a veterinarian has not set up shop on the West Coast.

“The cost of establishing and maintaining a veterinary facility are considerable and if the veterinarian is unsure of the economic viability of a practice and concerned that they may be unable to sustain a professional income in a given community they are unlikely to establish or maintain a practice in that community,” he said.

He suggested Tofino and Ucluelet work together to lure a licensed vet to the West Coast.

“With respect, a solution to your problem with lack of veterinary care might be for you, in concert with (Ucluelet) to own and provide a facility for veterinary practice,” he said. “It would then be possible for you to contract a veterinarian to operate it at a reduced rent.”

Tofino’s council received the letter without discussion but Mayor Josie Osborne provided comments during the meeting’s public question period when she was asked if it was realistic to expect local governments to set up a veterinary clinic.

“It’s a little difficult to interpret exactly what (the college) is suggesting but I think they are suggesting that there are tools local government can do to encourage the establishment of a local veterinary practice,” she said.

“The letter writer also suggested that we directly contact veterinary clinics and see what they say and I’ve done that and the response would seem to reinforce what the letter writer said in that, yes, economics are the reason why people have not established a practice out here yet.”

She said she has discussed the issue with Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving and further conversations are in the works.

“There are certain rules for what municipalities can and can’t do to encourage different kinds of businesses and it’s something that (Irving) and I have had a conversation about,” she said. “There’s a larger conversation to have there…I plan to continue discussing it with the Mayor of Ucluelet and I hope that we will both be discussing this further with our councils in due time.”

reporter@westerlynews.ca