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Rochester's only 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital cuts hours due to staff shortage

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Keller's Kats, Inc.
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Rosie, a cat rescued by Keller's Kats, suffered blunt force trauma and required surgeries to both hips and a pin inserted in her spine.

Karla Barkley, founder of Keller's Kats Rescue Inc., said her organization brings critically sick and injured cats to Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services (VSES) in Brighton for treatment several times a month.

But starting on Monday, if any animals need emergency care after 10 p.m., volunteers will have to drive to Buffalo, Syracuse or maybe even farther.

VSES, Rochester's only 24-hour emergency veterinary practice, said a staff shortage will force it to close during the overnight hours until further notice.

The hospital will remain open Monday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"I have to be honest with you; I'm not sure what we're gonna do,” Barkley said.

Worker shortages have been an ongoing crisis in veterinary medicine, and the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the problem. Workers, especially those in emergency veterinary care, have reported compassion fatigue, long hours and low pay.

VSES workers will learn on Friday whether their efforts to join a union were successful. They began the effort this year in their quest for higher compensation and better working conditions.

In a written statement Thursday, pro-union VSES workers said in a written statement Thursday that they aim to address "factors that contribute to employee burnout to keep more veterinary professionals on the job."

Pet owners and rescue groups are already familiar with long wait times for veterinary care. Barkley said the reduced hours at VSES will make an already difficult situation even more stressful.

She said there have been many times when an animal in her group's care was so seriously hurt or sick that they weren't sure if they'd survive a 15-minute car ride to get the care they needed.

"And then you add on another hour, two hours. It's very heartbreaking for somebody that does foster care to have to hold an animal and watch them suffering like that with no options," she said.

Barkley expects to encounter difficulties accessing emergency veterinary care outside of Rochester due to the already high demand for services combined with the additional needs caused by reduced hours at VSES.

A spokesperson for Thrive Pet HealthCare, the parent company of VSES, said they are actively hiring in the hope of returning to 24-hour service.

In the meantime, Keller's Kats is making lists of nearby emergency veterinary clinics in upstate New York and hopes to recruit volunteers who are willing to drive several hours at night for an animal in need.