Amid veterinarian shortage, pet docs seeing flurry of furry patients
OGDEN — When Oreo the cat goes to the vet, he prefers to sit on the windowsill and watch the traffic go by on Wall Avenue. That’s OK with Dr. Eleanor Jenson, who likes to accommodate her patients, examining them where they’re most comfortable.
During another recent appointment, the Brookside Animal Hospital veterinarian sat on the floor eye-to-eye with a black Labrador mix, feeding him cheese for being such a cooperative patient.
Such interactions with pets, meeting them where they’re most at ease, are one way Jenson tries to inject calm into the busy and often stressful environment for her furry patients and their owners.
“No day is the same,” Jenson said. “Even if it’s a routine vaccination appointment or a routine surgery, it’s a different animal with its own unique health concern. We also have emergencies come in where the animal needs surgery right away, and we’ll need to fit them in or juggle appointments to make that happen.”
On a recent Tuesday, Jenson saw several patients. Bogey, a dog named after Humphrey Bogart, was getting a routine check up and follow-up exam stemming from a prior injury. Another dog, named Belle, was being treated for lack of appetite which turned out to be a bacterial infection, easily treatable with a round of antibiotics. Buddy, an orange cat, was diagnosed with diabetes and ear mites.
Several other animals were in the back of the clinic getting blood work and X-rays done. Technicians were clipping claws, walking dogs, brushing cats and assisting in surgical procedures. Three resident cats, Harvey, Stratus and Nimbus, were walking in and out of rooms, watching the action from above cages and casually interacting with staff and clients. Nobody in the office seemed to be concerned about eating lunch or taking a break. Instead, the focus on the animals was at the forefront.
“There’s never a lull,” Jenson said.
The busy pace seen at Brookside and other animal clinics these days is expected to intensify due to a looming shortage of vets in the country.
In 2022, Mars Veterinary Health conducted research on the future of veterinary care. It found that based on expected needs, by 2030, there will have to be at least 41,000 additional veterinarians in the workforce. However, a shortage of around 15,000 is expected. That’s due in part to more veterinarians retiring and not enough people going into the profession.
In addition, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found that approximately 31 million households adopted a dog or cat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, in the past 40 years, more and more people have been spending more money on health care for their pets and are more willing to take them to the vet for checkups and other treatments.
“We do have a waiting period to get in for routine appointments and surgeries and that has increased since the pandemic,” Jenson said. “Right now we have a waiting period of about two months. Annual exams are critical, not only for vaccines, but there are so many diseases and illnesses that can be prevented with routine exams and that would save a lot of time and money in the long run.”
Jenson grew up on a dairy farm in Idaho, helping to raise cats, dogs, horses, pigs, sheep and poultry. It was an ongoing learning process for her and the animals provided a great deal of emotional support and stability in her life. She said she wanted to help animals and people in a way that would provide that same benefit to their lives in the same way she had experienced, so she decided to go to veterinary school.
“The animal-human bond always interested me,” Jenson said. “Each species is social in a different way and they all interact with others in their species and humans differently. But in general, we all have the ability to connect with them and they have the ability to connect with us, and that connection is what I consider to be the bond and to see that bond in action is very rewarding.”
Jenson co-owns Brookside along with veterinary doctors Stacey Henderson and Kathryn Penrod. Dr. Rachel Painter joined the team in 2021.
In addition to working at the clinic, Jenson, along with North Ogden resident Mary Beus, founded Furever Friends Animal Oasis in Harrisville in 2017. The rescue is a large facility where animals can comfortably live until they are adopted.
“We have cats at the rescue and we foster our dogs,” Jenson said. “We have several volunteers who help us with everything from cleaning litter boxes, feeding and brushing the cats, just coming in to spend time socializing with them and taking appointments for potential adopters.”
Jenson and Beus work at the rescue every evening, administering medication and vaccinations; performing spaying, neutering and dental exams; feeding the animals and putting them to bed for the evening.
“Dr. Jenson is an amazing vet,” said Plain City resident Debbie Papageorge. “She cares so much about her patients at Brookside and her rescue cats. The animals are always her top priority. She has a heart of gold and helps so many animals each day. We need more people like Dr. Jenson.”
On Sept. 30, from 1-4 p.m., the rescue, located at 1755 N. 750 West, will hold an open house for the public to come and meet the animals. While adoptions will not be done that day, people can come in and fill out an application.
“We typically like to have people come in and meet the animals and then come back two or three more times to spend time with them,” Jenson said. “We want to make sure the potential owners will be committed to the life of the animal as well as being a good fit with their personalities. We had one man come into the rescue and when he walked in, he said, ‘Woah. I feel like I just walked into heaven.’ It was pretty neat to see that response.”
Not only does Jenson work long hours at Brookside and tend the rescue animals, sometimes late into the evening, she has several animals of her own, including dogs, cats, horses and a goat. Her own animals, the rescue pets and the daily variety of animals coming into the clinic help her deal with sometimes sad and tragic situations.
“When an animal has been abused or neglected, that’s the hardest for me, but what carries me through the most when a pet has to be euthanized is if they have received a lot of love and it’s obvious the human bond has been strong. That actually gives me a lot of comfort,” Jenson said. “The support of the other vets and techs and receptionists is really helpful, and spending time with my own animals is strengthening for me. It’s a challenging job, but a rewarding one as well.”