An Okanagan woman is leading a petition to encourage the provincial government to expand post-secondary funding subsidies for B.C. students at Western Canada's veterinary college in Saskatchewan. (Contributed)

Okanagan woman starts petition to address B.C. veterinarian shortage

Oliver woman advocates for more veterinary college tuition funding

An Oliver woman has started an online petition to address a critical shortage of veterinarians in B.C.

Chris Dolbec is petitioning Advanced Education and Skills Training Minister Anne Kang to fund more seats for B.C. students at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatchewan, which trains students from Western Canada.

Through an interprovincial agreement, seats at the college are subsidized by each of the western provinces, and a certain number of seats are set aside for each province.

Twenty of those seats are reserved for B.C. students. In 2019, Alberta withdrew funding for its 20 seats in favour of investing in its own veterinary school at the University of Calgary.

Dolbec says B.C. badly needs those extra seats, but so far the provincial government has not agreed to expand from 20 to 40 seats, which her petition is drawing attention to.

As of Friday (Feb. 11), she had more than 400 signatures since the petition last week and she hopes to “triple, quadruple” that prior to delivering her message to the minister in the next few weeks.

Dolbec says funded seats have an $11,000 annual tuition cost for students in the four-year veterinary training program, whereas nonfunded seats have a tuition cost of $68,000.

“This is a financial barrier for many, a slap in the face to students who academically did not score high enough in undergrad studies to secure a (funded) seat,” reads the petition outline.

“These are bright, devoted, compassionate students that have chosen a career with an extremely high suicide rate. The stress is near-constant, the verbal abuse is frequent and the criticism for services or fees is a daily occurrence. They are given little acknowledgement for the work they do and now add insult to injury with staggering loans.”

The college funding scenario hits home for Dolbec as her daughter is a first-year student at the college in a non-subsidized seat.

“I am grateful she was accepted into the program but she shouldn’t be assuming six times the debt for the same degree at the end of the day,” she said.

Dolbec says that the work vets do is in short supply across the province, a shortage that is being felt right across Canada.

Following along similar lines with the shortage of family physicians, the vet shortage is felt most critically in rural communities, not only for treating pets but also for farm livestock.

“If people have to drive a couple of hours to see a vet…they may not have the funds to do that so their animals and the people suffer for it,” she said.

Dolbec’s passion for this cause was ingrained in her at a young age growing up in Valemount, a small community on the Yellowhead Highway between Kamloops and Jasper, from her parents.

“Both of my parents were animal lovers and they taught me to have compassion and empathy as a child,” said Dolbec.

As an adult, rescuing and fostering animals and working at animal shelters became a big part of her life, leading her to become a bylaw animal control officer, a role she most recently served for the Town of Oliver.

In 2019, the Paws for Hope Animal Foundation said there were nearly 1,600 veterinarians employed across the province, and it was estimated if demand continues to grow, B.C. will need more than 100 new vets each year to keep up.

The foundation called that predicament alarming, and the COVID-19 pandemic in the last two years has further complicated the problem.

Dolbec says supporting more B.C. students at the veterinary college is one tangible way to address the problem.

“The veterinarian shortage affects everyone on some level, whether you have a pet or not,” she said.

READ MORE: A call for after-hour vet care in Penticton can’t be met with crisis level vet shortages

READ MORE: Too many new pet owners, not enough vets make getting animal care a problem

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