A decade ago, through a series of circumstances I don’t recall, I inherited a pet degu, which I grew quite fond of. 

A degu is like a cross between a rat and a squirrel and they are extremely charismatic creatures. Hours of entertainment, really. Mine used to sit on my shoulder, eating frozen peas while we watched TV. 

This degu was rather old, though, and at one point, I noticed that one of the little dude’s lower incisors was growing quite long. In fact, it was growing so long that it was threatening to puncture his eyeball, which is rather a harrowing thought. 

Ol’ Goo was in obvious discomfort so I called Dr. Stephen Kinney over in Auburn, whom I hadn’t seen in a few years. 

“Got a degu with an overgrown tooth about to pierce its eyeball,” I told the good doctor’s receptionist. “Thing can barely eat and he won’t watch TV with me anymore.” 

“Can you bring him in at 2 this afternoon?” she asked. 


A couple hours later, I was in Kinney’s office, watching that master of all creatures trim Goo’s tooth back down to normal size. It took him about one minute to get it done and then we spent a minute or two talking about the enigmatic nature of degus. I thanked him, paid my bill and took Goo back home to watch some tube. 

The next time I saw Dr. Kinney, it was for a different cat who was kind of walking funny. 

“Cat’s kinda walking funny,” I told the receptionist. “She wobbles like she’s drunk and won’t eat anything.” 

“Can you bring her in at 3?” the receptionist asked. 

Those were the days, all right. 

Today, I have two stories for you, or rather, I have one story but told from opposite ends. 


On the one end, we have a fellow named Tim, an oil heat technician from Oakland who almost lost his pet Pomeranian over the weekend because he couldn’t get proper medical treatment no matter how far he drove or how long he waited. 

Last winter, Tim took his dog to the Animal Emergency Clinic of Mid-Maine on Strawberry Avenue in Lewiston, but after hours of waiting, he was told he would have to wait even longer because a dog had come in in worse condition than his own. Because of that, when his dog got sick again this past Sunday, Tim decided he would take his pet to another of the few clinics open on a Sunday, this one in Brewer. 

After calling the clinic, he set off for Brewer at about 9 a.m., arriving an hour later. As soon as he drove up, Tim realized he might be in for another round of waiting. 

“I am a little apprehensive,” he says, “when I notice that the parking lot is full and almost every car has a person in it fiddling with a smart phone.” 

An hour after he arrived, a young lady came out of the clinic and took Phoebe inside. Not so bad, Tim thought. That was fairly quick compared to some horror stories you hear these days about visits to the vets. 

“Little did I know at this time that this was just to put her in a cage in the ‘cat room,’ waiting to be seen for the better part of a lovely Sunday in August,” Tim says. “I called from the parking lot about every two hours from then on for the better part of the day to check on her status. Each time I was told she’s ‘resting comfortably’ and she hadn’t been evaluated yet as they were very busy with more critical cases. “ 


Around 2 p.m., Tim went into the business to ask if Phoebe had been looked at yet. The dog, who suffers from pancreatitis, had not taken food or water in two days. He was worried that she might be badly dehydrated, which is not a good situation for an animal with pancreatitis. 

Phoebe, a Pomeranian with pancreatitis, owned by Tim Hosea, of Oakland. Hosea waited 12 hours outside an emergency animal clinic over the weekend to get treatment for the dog. Submitted photo

The vets at the clinic agreed that the dog should be looked at sooner than later. But not in Brewer. Clinic workers suggested that maybe Tim should take his dog to a different clinic, one in Warren which, possibly, was not as busy. 

Tim and his dog had already been waiting for hours. He did not want to start the process over, so he stuck it out in Brewer a little longer. Finally, as it was getting dark, the vet took a look at Phoebe. After spending about 10 hours and $700, Tim and Phoebe were sent home with some meds. 

If Tim felt any relief at all, it was short-lived.  

“I checked on her this morning,” Tim said on Monday. “She was worse off. Couldn’t stand up or bark even, she was so weak. She threw up her meds as soon as we gave them to her!”

Because it was a weekday, Tim called his regular veterinarian who agreed to see Phoebe. The dog was given IV fluids and closely monitored, which probably saved her life. 


All that time and money spent in the crowded parking lot in Brewer? Pretty much for nothing. 

Tim’s story is frustrating, but relatively speaking, his has had a somewhat happy ending. I hear from pet owners just about every day who have even worse luck. 

I got a message on Facebook just a few days ago, in fact, from a woman who was in great distress because she couldn’t find a vet to help save her dog, a pug named Lily. 

“I called around to the vets in the Lewiston-Auburn area and not one single one — not even the Strawberry Avenue — would take her,” Kristine Moore, of Lewiston, told me. “Every vet that I got through to told me I need to take her to Portland or Scarborough.” 

A pug named Lily, owned by Kristine Moore, of Lewiston, has been sick and Moore has been unable to find a veterinarian to treat her. Submitted photo

Scan social media any time of day and you will find a whole lot of stories like this. A lot of these sad scenes play out at the emergency clinic on Strawberry Avenue in Lewiston, a place that for many years has been salvation for people with pet emergencies in the middle of the night or on weekends. These days, the clinic seems to be more a target of wrath than of gratitude. Passions run high when you have to tell a pet owner in crisis that there’s no way to get that ailing dog, cat or degu looked at any time soon. By and large, people love their pets as much as they love their human kin — more so in some cases. 

Frustration and fear have caused a great deal of misguided hostility for people who work in the veterinary service. There’s been a lot of fist shaking, hand-wringing and name calling and on the receiving end of all that are the men and women who go to work every day hoping to see as many animals as they can and knowing it won’t be enough. 


“Both clients and non-clients have no qualms about yelling and swearing at us, or hanging up the phone in disgust,” says a veterinarian assistant named Denise, who has years of experience working at a Lewiston veterinarian office. “Some people are borderline bullies or abusive. Every day, we go to work to a full schedule, knowing full well that we will have to turn away and refer out every single phone call of a pet in need. And there are so many. The emotional toll over the course of the day, the week, month after month is really starting to affect us. We go into work every day, ready to face the day, only to be verbally trashed, or faced with angry pet parents, who really, are reacting because they are genuinely concerned for their pet.” 

The majority of people who get into veterinary medicine do so because they love animals. Because of that, turning people and their pets away, no matter what the reason, is a clinic in heartbreak, one they endure by necessity, because there just aren’t enough veterinarians or hours in the day to tend to all of the sick and injured animals. 

“The volume of calls that we receive from non clients has hugely increased,” says Denise. “These people have called 5, 8, 10, 15 vet hospitals only to be turned away by all of them. They are BEGGING to have their pets seen. And I’m not talking about small things like a broken toe nail — things that NEED to be seen; urgent medical conditions. Broken legs, breathing difficulties, seizures, elder patients that stop eating, cats with urinary blockages.” 

Months ago, a frantic dog owner called in after the animal ran into farm machinery and got badly cut up. The dog owner was driving from two hours away, desperately trying to stop the bleeding and hoping that THIS vet would see him. But they couldn’t. The volume of animal patients was already too heavy at the vet’s office and more more could be taken on. 

In the field of veterinary medicine the past few years, most days are like that, Denise says.  

“Answering the phones is now an emotional job and it is heartbreaking for us to turn away case after case after case,” she says. “I think the calls I dread the most are the ones by clients and non-clients alike, who say that it is time for their pet to be euthanized. We do not want the pets to suffer, and will recommend Vet at Your Door or At Home Veterinary Care, but even these places are booking out. Some days, we just cannot fit those into our schedule and we have to send them to the animal emergency clinic.” 


A kind of perfect storm of events has caused this veterinary crisis, she explains. There are more people with pets than usual, thanks to COVID lockdowns, at a time when there are fewer veterinarians than ever before. 

This unbalanced way of things has resulted in changes in the way veterinarians do business — if you haven’t seen your regular vet in the past few years, you may no longer be listed as a client. And if you’re not listed as a client, brother, you and your cocker spaniel are in trouble. If you’re not listed as a current client, it very likely means the professionals can’t see your pet for several months — up to a year in some cases. And it doesn’t matter how grim the emergency. 

“It is so dire,” says Denise. 

A lot of people, she says, believe that it is pure greed causing the crisis — that veterinarians are in it mainly for the money. 

“We do genuinely care about saving lives,” Denise says. “We care about helping your pet. We would not be in this field if we did not.” 

So, we have a crisis in pet care to go with all of the other turmoil that has come upon us in recent years. COVID, sky-high fuel costs, food shortages, worker shortages, whispers of a recession . . . why not throw Spot, Daisy and Muffin to the wolves to add to the fun? 


It’s nobody’s fault, really. Perfect storms happen, and in fact they seem to happen a lot lately. I think the bigger problem we face right now is in the way we deal with these issues, which is mainly by yelling at each other in our Quixotic search for someone to blame. 

In chatting with Denise and Tim this week, I felt bad for both in equal measure. Here were two people on opposite ends of a really crummy situation.  

In some circumstances, Tim might see Denise as an enemy— a clearly heartless animal doc turning away a man and his dying dog. 

To Denise, Tim might seem like a cruel and hateful fellow who screams insults and utters threats over things that are beyond her control. 

The fact is, they are victims of the very same thing: a system that once worked well but which now barely works at all. There seems to be a lot of that kind of thing in the world these days. It’s just too bad that now we’ve gotten to a place where our pets need to suffer right along with the rest of us. 

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