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Thousands back fight against ‘heart-breaking’ decision to force Moray families to travel to Aberdeen or Inverness with critically ill pets

Pet owners fear they will have now have to take their animals on long and potentially painful journeys due to the removal of out-of-hours care.

Jo Keown pictured centre with arms round dog on either side of her.
Jo Keown fears the decision could harm her pets Arlo, left, and Chester. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Pet owners in Moray fear the welfare of their beloved animals are being put at risk by plans to remove out-of-hours vet care.

Global firm IVC Evidensia has pulled overnight and holiday care from the Wards practice in Elgin, Speyside Vets in Aberlour and Fochabers and Seafield Veterinary Group, which has surgeries in Keith, Buckie and Banff.

Instead, pet owners have been told they must face A96 journeys to either Aberdeen or Inverness with their critically ill and potentially dying dogs and cats.

Families have criticised the move as putting money and profit over animal welfare.

However, the practice management says retaining the service is impossible due to the nationwide shortage of vets – adding that families will instead see an “improved” service.

Family wants out-of-hours vet care to ease agony for animals

Family and pet photographer Jo Keown launched a petition to press IVC Evidensia to reverse its decision, arguing the needs of animals were being ignored.

Within three days more than 2,000 people backed the campaign with the decision being described as “disgraceful”, “unbelievable” and “life-threatening”.

Mosstodloch-based Jo currently has two dogs, Chester and Arlo, while her daughter Molly lovingly looks after her own hamster Nobby.

And the mother knows from painful experience how valued out-of-hours care can be for pet owners.

Jo Keown looking at her pet dog who has hands on her shoulders.
Jo Keown believes pets could suffer without access to out-of-hours vet care in Moray. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

She said: “Six years ago I had a dog and he became very unwell. He was 14 and he was really struggling.

“You could see he was in a lot of pain. He couldn’t lie down, he was very uncomfortable.

“This all happened on a weekend and at that time Fochabers still had an on-call service and they said I had to get him to Aberlour, which I did.

“The vet was superb but unfortunately our dog didn’t come home with us, which was very difficult for us.

“It was difficult enough driving the 20 minutes or so to Aberlour with our poor dog.

“I can’t imagine putting him through that sort of agony for the 1hr 15mins or goodness knows how long it would take to get to Inverness.

“It would be incredibly difficult to leave them that far away if they need overnight attention, I can’t imagine doing that.”

Why will families have to travel to vets in Inverness or Aberdeen?

IVC Evidensia says it is no longer sustainable for it to run out-of-hours cover at its vet practices in the Moray area.

Instead, it has created new “hubs” at Highland Vet Referrals in Inverness and Vets Now in Aberdeen.

The firms says both emergency centres will be staffed through the night and during holidays for treatment and observations with video consultations also availiable to reduce travel concerns.

Jo Keown on green chair with arms round her two dogs.
Jo Keown is fearful about what the decision means for her pets Arlo, left, and Chester. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

However, Jo believes the new arrangements will lead to increased anxiety for pet owners facing journeys of more than an hour to get help.

She said: “The local vets here are superb. They do an amazing job, I don’t believe this decision has been taken by them.

“I can’t imagine leaving one of our dogs that far away overnight if they are unwell. It would break my heart.”

What can Moray pet owners do instead?

Some who have backed the online petition say they have been left with no other choice but to change vets to avoid the risk of long journeys.

Deborah Taylor wrote: “We literally couldn’t imagine having to drive 48 miles away to get emergency car.

“In winter it’d be even worse, more so for pet owners who don’t drive or have a car.

“I can’t even believe we’re having to petition this.

“Surely common sense should show that this has been a dreadful decision and one that could actually cause unnecessary death and suffering of our pets.”

Denise Miller posted: “We need to keep it in Moray.

“I don’t drive and have two cats so the idea that one of them becomes ill during the night scares me as I will have to depend on a lift to Inverness.”

Alternative options for pet owners include Moray Coast Vet Group, which has practices in Forres, Nairn, Lossiemouth and Balloch.

There is also the Miller and Swann Veterinary Clinic in Elgin.

‘No other sustainable option for out-of-hours vet care’

The UK is currently suffering from a declining number of vets, which has been blamed on a combination of increasing ownership during Covid and the impact of Brexit.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has warned of a workforce crisis with MPs warning of worsening situation this month. 

Speyside Vets told the Press and Journal the current recruitment situation makes retaining local out-of-hours services in Moray “unsustainable”.

Woman kneeling on ground with dog up on its back legs.
A rise in pet ownership during Covid has reportedly increased the shortage of vets in the UK. Image: Shutterstock

A spokeswoman said: “Depending on where they live, pet owners can access a new out of hours hub, Highland Vet Emergencies, which is based at Highland Vet Referrals in Inverness or the Vets Now emergency pet care clinic in Aberdeen.

“Both emergency centres are staffed throughout the night, on weekends and bank holiday by teams of vets and nurses who are on hand to give necessary treatment and observations, providing an improved service to animals and their owners in the Highlands and Moray.

“We are sorry to say this may mean a longer drive for some pet owners, however we believe the dedicated service we’ll be able to offer at Highland Vet Referrals and Vets Now is the only sustainable option to help ensure the welfare of the animals we treat”