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'We're just doing the best we can': West Michigan veterinarians experiencing schedule backlogs because of the pandemic

Local veterinarians say they're backed up for weeks and months because they have to catch up on routine appointments that were delayed, on top of regular business.

Many pet owners didn't or couldn't take their animals to the veterinarian during the pandemic, and now West Michigan vets say they're seeing their busiest schedules ever. 

"It's been a bit of a roller coaster," Dr. Lynn Happel, owner of Eastown Veterinary Clinic, says. 

Practices have been forced to make plenty of adjustments in the last year and a half, moving to curbside-only service and limiting procedures at the start of the pandemic. Now, pet parents are allowed back in the offices, but Dr. Happel says that doesn't mean challenges are over.

"We definitely are booking out several weeks in advance for appointments," she says. 

The clinic is booked out for about a month. Before the pandemic, they could normally get patients in within a week or two. 

Dr. Happel says she's the rush in appointments may be due to an increase of new pet owners and more owners spending more time with their dogs and cats.

"They may notice scratching, licking, head shaking, not eating as much -- things they might not have noticed as much if they were at work," she says. 

Dr. Doug Clarke at Pet Veterinary Clinic says they're backed up until next February because they have to catch up on routine appointments that were delayed on top of regular business.

"Everybody is frustrated because they're worried about their sick family member, their pet, and they just don't understand that were seeing up to 30 to 40 appointments a day, some clinics a lot more than that," he says. "We're just doing the best we can."

Both veterinarians say a shortage of workers is something that is impacting the industry and their businesses.

"There's multiple businesses out looking for employees, and a lot of larger companies that can offer significantly higher wages and probably great benefits and things, while we as a privately-owned small business don't have the bandwidth to do that, so it's been a challenge," Dr. Happel says.

Right now, both she and Dr. Clarke say patience can go a long way.

"Trust me, your clinic has heroes that work at it so please keep that in mind and please show them gratitude for what they've been through," Dr. Clarke says.

"Our veterinarians and staff love what they do and love taking care of your animals," Dr. Happel says. "That's truly what they're good for."

Their advice for pet owners right now is to plan ahead for your pet by making appointments well in advance.

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