VANCOUVER -- The Society of BC Veterinarians says the pandemic has increased the demand for vet services so dramatically, the industry has now hit a crisis point.

In 2019, the society looked into predicted labour shortages, finding that, at the current rate of growth, there would be a shortage of 500 veterinarians in B.C. by 2024.

The pandemic has sped things up.

Dr. Hatley McMicking, general manager of veterinary services for the B.C. SPCA, says the province has “completely accelerated into that shortage now” because of the high number of people getting pets in the past year.

“We have faced this beauty of many people bringing animals into their homes,” McMicking said. “(But) there aren’t enough veterinarians and technical staff to care for these animals.”

Dog owner Kevin Erickson was one of the many people who got a puppy in 2020.

“A year ago, I did not know I’d have a dog, but I had to get one, because you know it keeps you busy,” he said. “Something to do while you’re stuck at home.”

What he also didn’t expect was how long it would take to see a vet.

“We had to get the shots and all that stuff, we had to get him fixed,” Erickson said. “We thought it was going to be a call and come in the next week but it was like a two-and-a-half-month wait.”

Jacob and Emily Jackson found the same thing when they got their puppy Banjo at the start of the pandemic. Jacob says they found it difficult to find a clinic that would take them on.

“They were pretty quick to say, ‘We’re not taking any new patients,’” he said. “Most of them said no.”

Dr. Rob Ashburner owns West King Edward Animal Clinic on Cambie Street and has been a practicing veterinarian for more than 30 years.

“We have been very, very busy since COVID started,” Ashburner said. “We ran behind in our surgeries this week because we couldn’t physically fit everyone in.”

He says the shortage of both veterinarians and veterinary technicians is putting a strain on the whole industry, but it’s especially difficult in more remote areas of the province.

“Where there’s only one veterinarian, we’ve heard horror stories of horses dying waiting for ferries to cross the channel to see the only available vet,” he said.

British Columbians who want to become veterinarians have to travel to Saskatoon to train at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. Every year, the province provides funding for 20 seats for British Columbians to train in the four-year program, a total of 80 seats in all. Other spots are available, but the tuition is not subsidised.

Ashburner says there are currently 33 students from B.C. in their first year of study. Twenty of those are through the government program, the rest are paying full fare.

“So those 13 students are paying $70,000 as opposed to $10,000 or $12,000,” he said.

The Society of BC Veterinarians says it’s been lobbying for years to double the number of subsidised seats to 40, saying it’s “part of the solution.”

CTV News reached out to the Ministry of Advanced Education to ask if there are plans to fund more spots for B.C. students.

While the ministry did not answer the question directly, an emailed statement said, in part: “This year, B.C. provided the WCVM with $8.458 million to support the education of 80 B.C. students. We will continue to work with key partners such as the WCVM and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries to support the practice of veterinary medicine, the economic sectors that rely on veterinarians, and access to education in veterinary medicine.”