NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — There’s a new problem facing local animal shelters. It’s not overcrowding, but a shortage of veterinarians to handle the animals’ needs.
“Pets are part of our families now,” said Norfolk SPCA Director Kimberly Sherlaw.
The Norfolk SPCA is seeing more of those family members than ever.
“They weren’t necessarily as much a part of our family 10-20 years ago,” Sherlaw added.
The number of dogs and cats coming into the shelter is up 150%.
“The pet industry is booming,” Sherlaw said.
This year alone the shelter will service more than 1,500 animals.
“All those animals need care,” Sherlaw added. “They all need vaccinations. They all need to be spayed and neutered. They all need examinations.”
The increase in pet numbers means an increase in veterinarians and vet technicians. There are job openings, but the issue is the list of qualified candidates simply isn’t there.
“There is a shortage, really of applicants available to spread out across Hampton Roads,” Sherlaw said.
Shelter staff say the boom has been caused by pet owners expecting more care than ever for their pets. They are also seeing younger people waiting to have children, but instead bringing home a furry friend.
“The pets used to be in the backyard, and all the sudden dogs were allowed to come in the house, and now they sleep in the bed with us,” said Dr. Megan Taliaferro, Director of TCC Veterinary Services.
Taliaferro saw the need more help in the area. She started a vet tech program at Tidewater Community College last fall.
“There’s lot of desire for people to get in to this field, but we are the first new program in Virginia in 39 years, so there just haven’t been enough programs to train these professionals,” she added.
More help is coming for the shelters, but for the shelters, it can’t come soon enough.
The national average salary for a veterinarian is $92,125. Current salary ranges for open positions in Hampton Roads fall between $75,000-$120,000.