Pet Care Priority

Katherine Black, 7, jumps up and down with a dog inside the

Officials now looking into an animal trauma center to provide
24-hour pet care in San Martin
Morgan Hill – Six months after they tried to cut hours at the South County Animal Shelter, county officials are considering an after-hours trauma center to provide around-the-clock pet care in San Martin.

“What I’m trying to do is get emergency services in there on the weekends,” Supervisor Don Gage said. “It’s something that’s really needed. If you have an emergency, you have to go to San Jose. And it’s a money maker besides.”

There are no concrete plans for an emergency clinic, but County Executive Pete Kutras said his staff is examining the economics of a clinic that would be open every night and on the weekends, when local veterinarian hospitals are closed.

“We’re not trying to use public money to compete with services that already exist,” Kutras said. “Most people can find veterinarian services during the daytime hours. We are looking at models of other facilities.”

Kutras said the clinic would likely be in the form of public-private partnership, with the county leasing some type of modular facility to a for-profit operator. A clinic would have to break even or promise to recover its costs in a short period of time.

If approved by county supervisors, a clinic could be built later this year.

But the administrator of the Emergency Animal Clinic in San Jose, said her company looked into opening a clinic in San Martin last year and decided against it, despite seeing a large number of patients from South County.

“You need quite a few veterinarian clinics to be referring to an emergency clinic,” Denis Shirey said. “We did a study last year and the answer is no. We will look at San Martin again, but if we go there it will be to help the county. We are looking at opening a clinic further south, but not that far south”

Still, the idea has the support of local veterinarians, who say the community has suffered from a lack of emergency care since South County animal doctors dissolved an after-hours care cooperative a few years ago. The San Martin shelter only accepts animals from unincorporated lands and does not provide trauma services.

“I’m really supportive of it, said veterinarian Dennis Harrigan, who owns Gilroy Veterinary Hospital with his partner, Greg Martinez. “I think we need that. I feel really guilty about not being able to provide a good service to people locally.”

Currently, people as far south as Hollister must drive their pets to Monterey, Campbell or south San Jose.

“There is a travel issue and time issue at night,” Harrigan said. “Time with trauma is very important. It would be huge if we had a facility here.”

And the veterinarians say a trauma clinic could make the county money, perhaps enough to build the much-needed new shelter in San Martin. Basic trauma care for dogs costs at least a few hundred dollars, and it’s not unusual for emergency rooms visits to cost in excess of $2,000.

To be profitable, a clinic will have to have X-ray capabilities, an oxygen cage, anesthesia and a full complement of lab equipment, said Pete Keesling, who runs the San Martin Veterinarian Hospital.

“There’s no sense in starting it unless they can do complete service,” he said. “If it isn’t very-well equipped, it’s almost self-defeating.”

Keesling said a similar project was discussed about 10 years ago, but at the time, veterinarians were not certain there were enough people and animals in South County for a clinic to succeed.

“But this area has grown so much since then,” he said. “We are all rooting for it because we want what’s best for our clients.”

A 2004 county study that recommended expanding the current shelter or building a new facility, predicted that South County’s population could climb as high as 150,000 by 2025, with more than 24,000 cats and dogs.

That report put the cost of a new shelter at $7.2 million. The county is under pressure from a volunteer group, Friends of the San Martin Animal Shelter, or FOSMAS, to move forward with the new shelter, and it may soon have no choice. A proposal to expand the South County Airport includes a new runway paved over where the shelter now sits.

“When that’s done then we’ll know more about the fate of the animal shelter,” Gage said. “We’re going to have to move it. Then it becomes, do we build a new shelter or move the existing one over to the Lion’s Club. There are a whole lot of options that will come into play.”

Kim Messina, president of FOSMAS, said the emergency clinic would be a good addition to South County.

“It would be great to have that option because people don’t know where to go when their animals are injured,” Messina said. “It would be a great way to finance a new shelter.”

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