May 22—The world of veterinary medicine can be stressful for those working in animal care clinics. The patients cannot say what ails them and are not even all of the same species.
Most veterinary clinics are open during the day and usually by appointment only. Several factors, including a surge of pet adoptions during COVID, have clinics nationwide booked for weeks at a time.
But what happens if your pet has an emergency ? Where do you go when Fluffy gets hit by a car at midnight or the dogs decide to fight over a bone at 3 a.m.? What if they just seem lethargic and sick, but your vet can't see them for days ?
In the Morgantown area, the doctors and staff at Cheat Lake Animal Hospital (CLAH) are there around the clock to help. Cheat Lake is the only 24-hour, 7-day a week, emergency veterinary clinic within a 60-mile radius of Morgantown.
"We get folks that come from southwestern Pa., from western Maryland, from all the way west to Ohio who are looking for an emergency vet, " said Dr. Jesse Fallon, co-owner of CLAH.
"Other practices in the area are very busy with their scheduled appointments, " he said. "And so we help fill that need of pets that have a problem, need help urgently and can't wait until Monday morning to be seen."
Dr. Maddi Webb, one of the emergency vets at CLAH, said the summer is a particularly busy time for vet emergencies with increases in pets getting hit by cars, getting into dogfights and heat strokes, along with respiratory distress and blocked cats.
"We see a lot of limping dogs, " Webb said. "We see lyme disease like crazy."
"It's kind of a surprise what walks through that door, " she said. "I would probably say 50 % of the pets that come in are not true emergencies, but then with COVID things got a little backed up with all vets around the area.
"But then you get that 50 % that you know actively need some help, " Webb said. "So it's definitely a high-stress job and you need to be willing to think pretty quickly on your feet and get a thorough history [of the patient ]."
Unlike human emergency rooms where doctors specializing in specific areas can assist in treatment, emergency veterinarians must know a little of everything for a variety of animal species.
One moment they might be taking a sample for bloodwork, the next an X-ray and then straight into a surgery.
"I personally like it. I feel like it keeps me on my toes. I mean there is never a dull moment — like literally ever. I've worked general practice before this and it can get monotonous, whereas here you will never see the same thing, " said Dr. Kristen Hughes. "It definitely has its challenges, though, because you're a jack-of-all-trades, but that does not mean that you excel in every specialty."
Over a dozen doctors can collaborate at CLAH and are supported by a team of registered veterinary technicians (RVT) and veterinary assistants.
Fallon compared RVTs to nurses but of veterinary medicine and said there is a need for them in the state as there are actually fewer of them in West Virginia than veterinarians.
The combination of more patients and a shortage of RVT's, along with vets and vet assistants, leaves the growing hospital stretched a little thin at times. Even with a full staff, wait times to be seen can be six or more hours.
"Our emergency service has grown quite a lot over the past several years, " said Fallon. "Pre-COVID to after COVID to where we are now, it's probably been at least a 40 % increase in overall patient intakes and exams."
While the reason for the increase hasn't officially been sorted out by experts, Fallon said the increase in pet ownership along with people being home more to notice problems they may not see while working a 9-5 job, and pets increasingly being viewed as members of the family are likely causes.
"I think it's likely a combination of factors that have coalesced to bring us to where we are today, which is a busy ER veterinary hospital, " he said. "It's not just here in Morgantown, it's a nationwide phenomenon. But we're happy to be able to offer the service, it's a great community service for folks that have the need for emergency care."
To help make an emergency visit to CLAH easier for all involved, it is important to give the staff as much information as possible, including any previous vet records you may have for your pet and anything you know about what might have happened.
Even if Fido got into those "special brownies " you made, the vet staff needs to know.
"If something comes in and the owners aren't giving us much to work with, we don't really know how to treat them, " Webb said. "We're not judging them ; we just want to know what we can do to help their pet."
And of course the dreaded cost of emergency service can seem high at times because there is no insurance to factor in.
"We work without insurance, so we're doing things with what we can based on financial limitations, " said Hughes. "Nobody wants that to be a topic, but it has to be, because we don't have government funding, we don't have insurance companies that can back us."
If you need emergency services for you pet at any time you can call CLAH at 304-594-1124.
"If you're not sure if you have an emergency or not, you can always call and talk to one of our trained receptionists that can help you make those initial decisions about whether you need to rush in or not, " Fallon said. "But most importantly if you're worried about your pet, you can come in, we're open all the time, and we'll do our best to take care of you."