Amber Westby hears it every day in her role as hospital manager at Payson Pet Care.

“I have been there for about six and a half years and over the last several months, the veterinary community has been continuously bashed for its lack of doctors and services,” she said.

Yes, judging by the many comments to a post on the Roundup’s Facebook page asking for feelings about pet care services in Payson, frustration fueled the responses as pet parents talked about the lack of 24-hour emergency services, as well as the long wait times to get an appointment for their pets.

“We desperately need a 24/7 emergency vet,” wrote Tammy Miller Minnich. “As it stands now, you have to go all the way down to Mesa and that means the difference of life or death for our fur babies.”

“If there’s an emergency, you have to drive down to the Valley,” wrote Laura Robinson Medill. “How stressful on both owners and pets. And some die on the trip.

“Appointments are usually for the following week for routine exams. Sometimes you can pay extra for an ‘emergency visit.’ It’s pitiful with a town the size of Payson and the number of pets that live here to have such limited access to pet care.”

But does Payson offer enough business to keep a 24-hour 7-day-a-week emergency clinic or even a weekend-only clinic?

No, say some like David Bolla.

“I do not believe it is possible to operate an emergency vet clinic in Payson because of the cost of the business model and smaller size of the town,” Bolla wrote.

Star Valley Veterinary Clinic vet Alan Hallman said 24-hour services simply aren’t currently an option for Payson.

“There is not enough business in Payson and the surrounding area to support an emergency clinic as well as to staff it and provide today’s standard of care,” Hallman said.

Payson Pet Care formerly offered seven-day-a-week emergency hours for several years but stopped three years ago for several reasons, including staff fatigue.

Mental and physical fatigue is a growing concern among veterinarians and staff.

Pet adoptions dramatically increased in Rim Country and across the country, with many people stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The unprecedented demand on veterinary services, because of increasing pet ownership and growth of the Payson area, has put a heavy strain on the staff and doctors at our practice,” Hallman said.

“We strive to get clients and patients in on a timely basis, but this is not always possible. Referrals to emergency/24 hour clinics in the Valley (are) recommended if we are fully booked. We do our best to stay abreast of this increasing demand, but we also have to guard against doctor and staff burnout and compassion fatigue.

“At Star Valley Veterinary Clinic, we do our absolute best, but we also realize that we are not able to please all the people all the time. The number one profession for suicide is now veterinarians, and we must assure that our staff and doctors can stay mentally and physically healthy. We are also operating under staff shortages, as are many businesses in the Payson area.”

Area veterinarians and staff are aware of the frustrations many pet parents are feeling.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about our field, and we want (people) to know that we hear the community,” Westby said. “We hear their need, and we want to help.”

She said they’ve tried to add relief veterinarians but haven’t been able to.

“We can’t find help to help (our clients), just like many businesses in town,” she said. “We are trying very hard and have several DVM ads out all over the country trying to solicit more doctors for the town, and we have for many months, if not years. Many people do not realize veterinary medicine is very similar to human medicine. I’m sure everyone is aware of the doctor shortages on the human side, but doctors of veterinary medicine are no different.”

Payson Pet Care Medical Director Adrianna Allen is currently the only veterinarian at Payson Pet Care.

“I arrive at the clinic at 8 a.m. and have 16 appointment slots each day,” Allen said. “Every appointment is different, from surgeries, to sick animals, to wellness exams and vaccines. Our technicians and customer service representatives work hard each day and care about the clients and their pets. Most days, we work in one to six additional appointments, so I see at least 20 patients daily.

“Our clinic is actively trying to recruit relief doctors to keep up with the community needs and demand. Throughout the day and into the evening, when I am not with patients, I return phone calls regarding laboratory results, approve medication refills, and write my notes in patient files. I normally leave the clinic between 7-8:30 p.m. each night. I wish I could do more, but to provide the best quality care pets need, it is often necessary for me to refer them to the Valley.”

Trisha Gustafson is a customer service representative at Payson Pet Care.

“We get many calls throughout the day asking for us to see their pets because they’re sick and need to see a vet,” Gustafson said. “It hurts my soul turning clients away, because we just don’t have the capacity in our schedule to see them, especially when they ask, ‘Can’t they take just a few minutes to look at my pet?’

“So, let me shed a little light on this. We schedule appointments throughout a doctor’s day from 8 a.m. until her last appointment at 4:30 p.m. Our doctors’ appointments can look (like) anything from four surgeries in the morning or 10 appointments, ranging from the simplest of vaccine appointments to the most difficult medical cases that require a bit more of the doctor’s attention and time. The afternoon schedule is much the same without surgery, and again another six appointments scheduled that a lot of times wind up being double booked, going from the six appointments to 10, sometimes 13 or 14 appointments. Then (she) is here until 8:30 at night.

“We do wish to see every Fifi and Fido that doesn’t feel well and needs immediate care. However, sometimes for their best care, that means referring to other clinics in the area, down in the Valley, or any of the other outlying areas.”

Gustafson has a request.

“Please be kind to the local veterinarians and staff,” she said. “We are all doing our best to give your pets the best care.”

Marilyn Blevins has been a customer service representative at Payson Pet Care for six years and says some people have become rude and demanding since the pandemic started.

“Each day I have to turn sick or injured animals away and have owners upset with me because we have no appointments available and I tell them they need to go to the Valley,” Blevins said.

“I know this is frustrating for the owners, but they don’t realize it is also frustrating to me. I have worked in this field for over 30 years and love helping the clients and their furry friends. It is hard to tell them we don’t have any appointments open until next week.

“Our doctors and technicians work hard each day to provide the utmost care for our patients. People expect us to be an emergency clinic and we are not. I know from talking with the other clinics, they are having the same issue. It is very hard being a CSR at this time. People need to realize we are a small town and can only do so much.”

Rim Country lost a provider who offered relatively low-cost services compared to others in the area when Kim Berglund closed her Happy Tails Mobile Vet on Sept. 3. She opened in March 2019, offering morning surgeries and afternoon walk-up services each Wednesday in Payson, Thursday in Tonto Basin and Friday in Pine.

A large population allows many Valley clinics to provide 24/7 services. A Google search lists several 24/7 Valley pet care facilities. But there are only three within 80 miles of Payson.

The closest is VCA Animal Referral and Emergency Center of Arizona, at 1648 N. Country Club Dr. in Mesa, which is about a 74-mile drive from Payson. Call them at 480-898-0001.

Also, 24-Hour Emergency Vet at 7311 E. Thomas in Scottsdale (480-945-8484) is about 77 miles from Payson.

Phoenix Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center is about 79 miles away at 4015 E. Cactus Road in Phoenix (602-765-3700).

First Pet Veterinary Centers-North Valley in Phoenix (623-849-0700) is about 85 miles away.

Other options for Rim Country residents include Yavapai Emergency Animal Hospital (928-460-7282) at 7876 Florentine Road in Prescott Valley, about 90 miles from Payson, and Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center of Northern Arizona is located approximately 95 miles from Payson at 1110 E. Route 66 in Flagstaff (928-779-5522). It is open 24 hours Friday through Monday; from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.

Another facility in Flagstaff, Canyon Pet Hospital (928-774-5197), is about 94 miles away at 1054 E. Old Canyon Ct. in Flagstaff. Its urgent care hours are Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Sunday, 8 a.m. to midnight. Its website says emergency care is always available.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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