Vet shortage hobbles farming communities — and families with pets
Tashi Farmilo and Fred Ryan
Animal owners in the Outaouais are grappling with a critical shortage of veterinarians, worsened by language laws, escalating travel costs, and a general shortage of vets.
One example, faced by horse-owner Katharine Fletcher, north of Quyon, Municipality of Pontiac, who found her 31 year-old mare in crisis, with no vet available; one she did manage to reach advised that the 31 year old mare likely required euthanasia. Their option: Fletcher's husband had to shoot Crescent himself.
This area lost one of its last vets when Dr. Andrea Kelly took her own life in July, 2022, underlining the pressures and demands made upon these professionals. Like all health-care workers, vets, too, need attention to their own well-being, said Fletcher.
Quebec's language laws impose an additional barrier -- for non-French-speaking veterinarians. Pontiac's MNA, André Fortin, sees this as one consequence of Bill 96, overhauling the province's language laws. Fortin says the new legislation encourages professional orders to revoke licenses of members lacking fluency in French. He has supported the vets' request for exemption from the Office de la langue française.
Bill 96 requires businesses to communicate and provide service in French. Vets and clinics must provide all services and documentation in French, or face losing their licenses. English can be an add-on, not an alternative. For linguistically diverse regions this can leave animal owners the losers, and raises questions about balancing language requirements with humanitarian concerns for animal well-being.
The consequences can also be dire for Quebec's farms, already struggling. Besides inflicting pain, this lack of preventive care and vaccinations increases risks of disease outbreaks and the spread of zoonotic infections, posing a threat to public health. Without professional guidance, owners may mis-identify health issues in their animals, potentially worsening their condition. Good news for the lower Pontiac, one new vet from Navan (Ontario) Veterinary Services is being licensed to practice in Quebec.
This crisis is complex; there is a widespread shortage of vets, like other health-care professionals; rural areas like Pontiac have a limited number of farms and great distances for a vet to travel, one farm to the next, increasing travel expenses and limiting the clients she/he can see in a day; and these regions often have many types of vet clientele -- each requiring a different sort of vet: small animals (dogs, cats, etc); hobby farms (horses, lamas, goats) and commercial farms (cattle, dairy & beef; a few sheep, commercial horses). Adding language requirements to this mix appears to have sent what vets there are ... elsewhere.