WEST BEND — Sylvester the black cat is under anesthesia, sprawled on his back and completely unaware of the procedure being performed on him.
"It's like threading a needle," says Dr. Amanda Carriveau, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) at Heart & Soul Pet Clinic in West Bend.
Dr. Carriveau is inserting a catheter into Sylvester to relieve a blockage.
He's one of between 20 and 30 patients she may see that day - and that's a lot at a small-town vet clinic. But it's become normal at their shop.
Before the pandemic, too few doctors and technicians graduated from veterinarian schools to meet demand at clinics and emergency rooms.
That demand only increased during the pandemic, as more people adopted or bought pets.
According to the American Pet Products Association, pet ownership reached 70% of households in 2020 (an annual record according to the association), and total pet industry expenditures grew by $6 billion to $109.6 billion.
The Wisconsin Human Society told TMJ4 News that between March of last year and this July, they had nearly 13,000 adoptions at their five locations across the state.
"Everybody's short-staffed. And we're all doing the best we can," said Trisha Stahl, Heart & Seoul practice manager and co-owner.
Stahl says their daily appointment calendar fills up shortly after they open every day.
And at times, they have to turn down walk-ins who have already tried to visit other clinics, or even pet emergency clinics.
"People are getting very angry at us. We had two calls even today on that. Somebody that we couldn't get in for an hour, saying we'll what do we want, for their pet to die? And obviously we don't want that," said Stahl.
She said 12-plus hour days have been standard, and two employees recently left from burnout and fatigue.
Dr. Carriveau said it's important the community knows they're trying to bring in every animal they can.
"Everybody needs to be patient with their vet clinic," said Carriveau.