Having arrived from Australia approximately a year-and-half ago, Heidi Alfred was in unfamiliar territory when one of her dogs was sprayed by a skunk and suffered from eye irritation.

“We don’t have skunks [in Australia] and I didn’t know what to do,” she recalled.

Her first call was to a London emergency vet clinic and she was surprised by the response.

“They told us we would just have to wait until Monday when our normal vet opens or to find another emergency vet,” she said.

Two things happened during the COVID-19 pandemic that dramatically affected veterinary care: Many more people acquired pets, and many older veterinarians that were coming near the end of their career decided to end their practice.

That affected access to hall veterinary services, but it hit after-hour, emergent care particularly hard.

Heidi Alfred and daughter Adelaide take their dogs for a walk through Greenway Park in London, Ont. on Nov. 14, 2023. (Gerry Dewan/CTV News London) Now a group 13 people, consisting of veterinarians and support staff, have come together to start the Southwest Veterinary Hospital, providing weekend emergency care from 6 p.m. on Friday until 6 a.m. on Monday.

There was a soft launch at the end of September, but word spread fast.

Melina Hearn is practice manager for the vet hospital.

“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to see a lot of patients from even outside the London area, Sarnia, Strathroy,” she said.

Local pet owners had reported having to travel to Guelph, Hamilton or even Toronto for weekend emergency care.

Hearn said the Southwest Veterinary Hospital can treat most serious injuries or illnesses, or at least stabilize the animal to improve their chances.

“Some cases may still need to be transferred to a facility for more intensive care but at least we’ll be able to bridge that gap for owners who are in that immediate distress,” she explained.

Dog walker Angela Wiens takes a stroll with four pups, including 10-year-old Mona in a stroller, in London, Ont. on Nov. 14, 2023. (Gerry Dewan/CTV News London) Dog walker Angela Wiens was out for stroll Tuesday afternoon with four pug-mix pups, including 10-year-old Mona who was getting a ride in a covered stroller.

Wiens said she’s never had to use emergency vet care but said it’s nice to know it’s there.

“Just to know that if something happened, I’d be able to get in somewhere and not have to be waiting or sitting there wondering,” she said.

Dog owner Bill Gosnell agreed and told CTV News London, “Absolutely, it’s not something you can do at home. You need professional service.”

For the time being, the Southwest Veterinary Hospital spends weekends at 95 Wharncliffe Rd. S, while another clinic operates at that location during the weekdays.

The Southwest Hospital operators find their own, permanent space sometime in the near future. 

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