Nationwide veterinarian shortage causing strain on Greater Birmingham Humane Society

Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 8:42 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2023 at 4:56 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The Greater Birmingham Humane Society is at risk of increasing humane euthanasia because of a nationwide veterinarian shortage. The shelter needs at least three vets on staff, but only has one right now.

“There is a nationwide veterinarian shortage,” GBHS CEO Allison Black Cornelius said. “It’s especially hitting shelters because veterinarians are not graduating and going into shelter medicine. It’s really hurting us.”

Cornelius says the GBHS is one of the largest shelters in the United States and most shelters their size have around eight vets on staff.

“There are roughly 33 vet schools in the U.S., compared to hundreds of medical schools, and we haven’t seen a lot of progressive policy change for animals,” Cornelius said.

Shelter veterinarians spend a majority of the day on spay neuter surgeries, abuse cases, and inspecting all dogs before transport.

“It’s really impacting our ability to deliver spay neuter surgeries, to do our work with our rescue partners. We offer them highly discounted services so they can transport their animals out of state. A veterinarian has to sign a certificate, a veterinary inspection for us to be able to do transports, and for the rescues as well. If we don’t have enough veterinarians, our vet can have to stop doing the spay neuter surgery to give CBI’s, and then only a veterinarian can give a rabies shot. So, that same veterinarian has to drive down to the impoundment facility, every single day, for reclaiming animals.”

Cornelius said the number of spay neuter surgeries they administer has gone down by 50%.

“We used to do 30 to 40 spay/neuter surgeries a day, we’re probably now down to half that,” she said. “Southern states, rural shelters, you’re having higher euthanasia rates because they don’t have enough room to hold dogs waiting to do spay neuter surgery.”

Cornelius said you can’t transport dogs to other shelters without the surgery. Last year, GBHS transported thousands.

“We transported 1,600 to 2,000 animals up north last year,” she said. “If you can’t spay neuter them, you can’t transport them, because the destination shelter, they don’t have vets. They don’t want to receive an unaltered animal and back up their surgery.”

“There is physically not the space in most shelters to hold dogs for months and months while they’re waiting to go through surgery, so when you don’t have access to high quality, fast vets, it’s going to impact your live release rate,” Cornelius said. “We get blamed for not saving more animals, but we can’t adopt animals out that have not been altered. We can’t adopt animals out that are injured and they haven’t been healed.”

It’s not just shelters struggling to hire. Cornelius said many pet owners can’t get in to their local clinics.

“Even right now, if you talk to people in our community, they can’t get a veterinary appointment,” she said. “It is weeks. If it’s a specialty like cancer or surgery, it could be months. Folks are feeling the pain of it.”

The humane society has also seen less pets being adopted and Cornelius said she thinks it’s because of inflation rates and many families trying to budget right now.

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