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Vets Are Facing Burnout Amid Pandemic Pet Adoption Boom

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Many American households welcomed new pets over the course of this pandemic. You might see the evidence on your own block, even in your own kitchen. One industry group says that more than 12 million pets have been adopted over the last year, and that strains the pet health care system. Hunter Finn is an associate at Richter Animal Hospital in Arlington, Texas, and joins us now. Dr. Finn, thanks so much for being with us.

HUNTER FINN: Thank you. I really appreciate you having me.

SIMON: Lots of new patients?

FINN: More than I can even count.

SIMON: Oh, mercy. And this has strained resources, I'm going to guess.

FINN: I mean, not just the resources, but the personnel. And it has been just an unexpected ride, I will say, at the least.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

SIMON: I think I hear some patients behind you, as a matter of fact.

FINN: Yeah, sorry (laughter).

SIMON: No, no. It's all right. It's good to hear from them. Obviously, a lot of appointments must have been conducted by Zoom call over the past year. How does that change the nature of your relationship with the patients that you see and the people who are in their lives?

FINN: So I'm looking at it from the perspective of a new pet parent, who may be going through financial struggles, maybe their family members are sick and now their pet's sick. And they're coming to us, and they're looking for help. And they may be a little bit worried about, you know, what's going on back there and how their pet is handling the environment, new people. And it's pretty stressful, to say the least (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah.

FINN: You know, it's really hard to go from, hey, I can show you what these X-rays look like in the exam room, you know, I can show you where your dog's painful, to, hey, can you just take my word for it? Your dog's painful here. We need to run these tests, and now your bills a few hundred dollars versus we we're just coming in for a checkup.

SIMON: You worry about your staff getting burned out? Do you worry about you getting burned out?

FINN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we're seeing so many patients a day that sometimes we have to turn away patients. And that's never really been an issue. And sometimes these people are coming from other hospitals that they're just too full. They can't see someone for two weeks. And sometimes things are really serious, and that stresses people out. And when they come to you for the third time and they're getting denied, it takes a toll on you.

SIMON: Have you encountered people who've adopted pets during this period who now have second thoughts?

FINN: Oh, absolutely. You know, it doesn't happen all the time, but there are lots of new pet owners who - they wanted a companion during this lonesome time, and they got one. But a lot of times it was more of an impulse decision, and now they're like, well, doc, what did I get myself into? This dog or this cat is chewing everything up. They won't let me rest. I can't leave. I feel guilty. So there are some that are questioning their decision, but with a little bit of help from us and some proper guidance, they're doing really well.

SIMON: Any word you'd have for pet owners who are tuned in this morning?

FINN: I would say if you're a pet owner and, you know, you've been spending a lot more time with your pets, you know, people are noticing more and more things that maybe they would have missed if they weren't at home with them so long. But if you ever have a question about your pet or you're concerned in any way, feel free to call your vet. You know, we're super busy, but we're happy to talk to you on the phone, give you some advice, and then if we think you need to come in, we're happy to see you.

SIMON: We have done stories about veterinarians, and - who, as a group of people, impress and move me a lot. And I have had the impression that they (laughter) sometimes they're psychiatrists for the humans who come in with their animals. And that's in part because of the close animal-human bond, isn't it?

FINN: I make jokes sometimes that people will schedule physical exams just to talk to me. Some people will dump their whole life story on you. And it's - you don't want to leave them because you want to be there for them. But it's a whole nother part of the job that in vet school they did not teach or prepare me for (laughter). So I'm kind of learning that on the fly.

SIMON: Dr. Hunter Finn, veterinarian in Arlington, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.