Southeast Alaska Animal Medical Center is closing after nurturing Juneau’s pets through routine care and emergencies for the past 60 years, with the owners stating the strain of too few veterinarians doing too much work during the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic is too much of a burden to continue.
Veterinarians in Juneau and across the country are struggling with shortages of staff and supplies, while at the same time seeing increases in demand for services as people stuck at home are seemingly spending more time with pets, according to widespread reports. SAAMC, the oldest of Juneau’s three animal clinics, also cites the recent retirement of two longtime doctors as a factor in the upcoming closure.
“What was once a seven to eight doctor practice has been operating with two and a half doctors despite an increase in the demand for veterinary services,” an announcement posted at the clinic’s website states. “As many frontline workers feel across the country, those of us that remain are physically and emotionally exhausted.”
SAAMC is planning to wind down operations during the next few months. The clinic plans to begin processing records requests for pet owners May 1, making them available electronically via email and on paper by calling to arrange pickup or mailing.
“We will continue to follow up on current and active cases as long as we can, but will not be accepting new appointments/patients,” the website announcement notes. “Appointments currently on the books will be honored. We will continue to provide limited emergency/urgent care as long as we are able. Know that we are aware of the impact of this decision on our community and hope to have some alternative options available soon.”
A post with the same announcement on SAAMC’s Facebook page Saturday attracted nearly 60 comments within two days, virtually all offering thanks to the staff, sharing memories of their experiences bringing pets to the clinic and sympathizing with the dilemmas caused by the pandemic.
Among them was Debbie McBride, who said in an interview she’s been bringing her “four-legged kids” – about a dozen animals, mostly cats – to SAAMC since moving here in 1981.
“All of my experiences with the vets have been positive,” she said. “They’ve just been amazing.”
But the clinic’s struggles due to the pandemic are obvious since it’s been difficult to schedule appointments, especially for nonemergency situations, so “I have been hesitant to get an appointment for even minor things,” McBride said.
That wasn’t an option when her now 13-year-old golden retriever developed cancer in 2020. McBride said SAAMC has been able to treat her dog, but “it’s a pretty frightening concept” to have a pet with such an ailment with the ongoing shortage of veterinary care.
The clinic was founded as the Southeast Alaska Veterinary Clinic in 1962 by Cliff Lobaugh in the former milk house of Mendenhall Dairy, according to the clinic’s website. The original building was remodeled and enlarged many times, but in 2005 the clinic moved to its current location at 8231 Glacier Highway and was renamed Southeast Alaska Animal Medical Center.
• Contact Reporter Mark Sabbatini at Mark.Sabbatini@juneauempire.com.