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Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario residents are struggling to book veterinarian appointments

Anoir Chafik

Pet owners in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario are struggling to get their animals seen by a veterinarian and become new patients.

"I’ve been trying to get a vet since April," wrote Melissa Slivinsky in The Animal Assistance Group Facebook group comments section. The organization is run by Cheryl Alberta of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Alberta told WCMU the mission of the group is to help low-income people gain access to care for their pets and offers transportation services and shares resources with patrons.

"I’m on two waiting lists," Slivinsky continued in her Facebook comment. "But was told by one vet that they have not taken a new patient from [a] waiting list in 4 years. I’ve called everywhere from here to Sudbury multiple times. Most don’t even respond or have wait lists. It’s wild there’s such a need but no solution in the horizon."

Increased pet ownership during the lockdown era of the pandemic has created even more demand for pet care and put extra stress on the system. Many pet owners have resorted to driving across the border to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to receive care.

"They're not turning away Canadians," said Alberta in reference to veterinarian clients in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. "They may if it's just spayed and neutered, they might not because they're booked solid but at least you're getting them within three weeks."

However, depending on the dog or cat's vaccination status, crossing the border successfully is not a given.

U.S. and Canadian law requires cats and dogs to have proof of a rabies vaccination, signed by a vet, in order to cross the border. Tags are not sufficient.

Alberta said she’s heard from young dog owners who have gone two years without getting their pets their first vaccinations.

"I have two cats, haven't been able to get them into a vet the entire time I've had them (four years)," wrote Shaiyela Hornung Nisbett in The Animal Assistance Facebook group. "One saw an emergency vet when she had an abscess, but they wouldn't continue seeing her (wouldn't even return my follow up calls). I would be able to go across the river within days if absolutely needed though, don't even have to be a regular client," wrote Nisbett.

According to Alberta, getting across the bridge can come down to luck if your pet doesn't have an updated rabies vaccination.

"You might get a good security guard that's gonna let you run through and that's what it comes down to a good security guard right to let you run through," said Alberta.

Several Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario veterinarians and the College of Veterinarians of Ontario did not respond to our requests for comment.

Rick joined WCMU as a general assignment reporter in March 2022.