BY CHARLIE BERMANT

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Humans in Clallam and Jefferson Counties have several emergency health care options, but the region’s dogs and cats aren’t so lucky.

The Pet Emergency Group, a volunteer-driven organization, is looking to change that future with the establishment of a pet emergency clinic, meant to operate after most veterinarians close down after 5 p.m.

“There is a tremendous amount of support for this,” said Pet Emergency Group Board Chair Sally Rodgers. “When the bridge is closed people with sick pets can lose their animals. It’s tragic that people on the Olympic Peninsula don’t have access to urgent care for their pets.”

Exact dates, location and funding requirements for the new clinic are uncertain, but there are several best guesses. It would most likely be located in Sequim or East Port Angeles. The clinic would retrofit an existing facility. About $500,000 is needed for initial startup and operation.

If everything falls into place the facility could be operating sometime in 2024, but there are no promises. It would employ four veterinarians plus staff. Rodgers said she is in touch with several vets in the projected service area who are interested in working the late shift.

Initial hours would be from 5 in the afternoon to 7 or 8 in the morning, with a 24/7 schedule possible eventually.

Rodgers estimates there are 55,000 dogs and cats on the Olympic Peninsula, with one in three requiring emergency care at one time or another. The initial service will be for cats and dogs. It’s possible it would eventually treat pets like rabbits and reptiles, depending on the vets’ training and experience.

Currently, any Jefferson County pet in distress needs transportation to Poulsbo, the home of the newly constructed but already-stressed Animal Emergency and Specialty Center. If the pet can’t be accommodated they are routed to Seattle or Tacoma.

Dr. Ginny Johnson,  a Port Hadlock veterinarian with an independent practice, said an emergency clinic would benefit local vets by decreasing their load and increasing their options.

“The biggest challenge for pet owners living on the Olympic Peninsula is the (Hood Canal) Bridge,” Johnson said. “I’ve known people who have tried to get to Poulsbo and the bridge closes, so they are sitting in their car for hours with a dying dog.”

Johnson said the proposed Sequim location for a pet emergency clinic is ideal due to its centralized location. Port Townsend residents can get there faster with no bridge in the way.

Jim Sherwood, who operated a pet clinic in Port Townsend for 45 years before closing due to COVID, sees the necessity of an emergency clinic but acknowledges several obstacles. There is the staffing cost, as vets expect to earn a $100,000 salary out of college. Emergency vets are a different breed than the average practitioner. And even with a Sequim clinic in operation, he feels that many people will still opt for Poulsbo at first.

“If you are at the Route 104 intersection and the roads are clear are you going left to Poulsbo, where there is a proven facility, or right to Sequim to a place that is just establishing itself?” he said. “You are trying to save a family member, and want to get the best available care.”

Sherwood recalls the time when veterinary clinics could trade on-call duties and handle emergencies as they occur. Until recently this practice was common in Port Angeles, and he suspects that the discontinuation provided some of the impetus behind the effort to open a new clinic.

The severe backups at Poulsbo are to be expected, he said, adding “Every emergency clinic in the state is jammed up.”

“A lot of retirees who move to this area aren’t aware of the lack of pet emergency services,” said Steve Carpenter of Sequim, who lost Homer, a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix after having to make the 60-minute drive to Poulsbo. “These are people who are unable to drive long distances at night.”

Carpenter said that local veterinarians are so overwhelmed that it can be difficult to address an emergency even in the daytime. A round-the-clock emergency clinic would help alleviate that bottleneck.

Rodgers said the high number of local retirees makes the need especially critical. They are willing to spend the money—or even go into debt—because a pet is a family member. And for many retirees, their pet can be the only reason they get out of bed in the morning.

An animal with a skin rash can wait, but there are several conditions that require immediate attention. Among those listed on the Poulsbo clinic’s website are a potential broken bone, a seizure, or severe trauma from being hit by a car.  For more information go to aesccares.com.

Queries on two local social networking sites, Port Townsend Life and Port Townsend Community, resulted in an overwhelming response, with people posting pet horror stories while voicing support for the project. Along with some skepticism.  

It’s not just about the need or want for a facility here,” wrote Mary-Ashley Medeiros, a former veterinary technician. “There is a massive shortage of qualified support staff in this area and we cannot offer competitive enough wages to attract people from the larger cities: that’s assuming they could even find housing.”

Several local veterinarians and the Poulsbo clinic were not available for further comment.

The Pet Emergency Group is holding its first major fundraiser from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. this Sunday, Oct. 29 at Le Petit Maison Blanche, 2134 East Washington St. in Sequim. The event includes a pet costume contest at 1:30 p.m. as well as a silent auction. There are no concrete goals for the fundraiser, but all proceeds help to move the project along.

Rogers welcomes any volunteers and is especially looking for a Port Townsend resident to become an event coordinator.

For more information or to donate go to petemergencygroup.org.


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