Only 24/7 Rochester-area animal ER forced to turn pets away

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: July 23, 2020 11:22 PM
Created: July 23, 2020 03:12 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — If your dog or cat finds itself in an emergency, help is limited. The only 24/7 veterinary hospital in the Rochester/Finger Lakes Region is so overwhelmed, it’s being forced to turn people and pets away.

7-year-old black lab Colby is normally very healthy and energetic, but last week he ate a sock and the obstruction caused a serious health issue.


Colby’s owner, Mark Colgan, brought him to their regular vet who said he needed emergency surgery and referred them to Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services (VSES) on White Spruce Boulevard in Brighton, the area’s only 24/7 animal ER.  

“I called, even gave them a heads-up ahead of time saying I was on my way,” Colgan recalled.  

When he arrived, someone came out and got Colby from the truck and brought him inside.

“They said no problem, we'll admit him and will call you within an hour and let you know what the plan is,  I said perfect they said you can go home so I did,” he told News10NBC.  

A few minutes after Colgan got him, the phone rang.

“They were pretty direct and suggested that they needed me to come pick up the dog because they didn't have time in their schedule for him,” he said.  

The only suggestion they gave Colgan was to drive Colby to a different pet ER in Syracuse, which is what he did.

“It is what it is, it's a numbers thing... I'm not suggesting that they did anything bad necessarily as much as the situation itself is obviously a crisis,” Colgan said as a warning to others.  

Dr. Simon Kirk is the Medical Director at Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services.

“We have been as busy as we have ever been since March and then every month is just a little bit worse and it has gotten to the point where it is nonstop 24 hours a day,” he told News10NBC.  

Dr. Kirk says they have 13 ER vets, 170 support staff and a handful of specialists.

“This is by no means a small operation, we are designed to see all of the cases in Western New York that need to come from Rochester or the surrounding area. We’ve got the only MRI, the only CAT scan but the volume of cases that were seeing is beyond what we are able to handle,” Dr. Kirk explained.

Jennifer Lewke, News10NBC: "How often are you turning people away?"

Dr. Kirk: "We started out not turning anybody away and then starting in June, the end of June we needed to start turning away some of the very simple things, like a dog that broke its toenail needed to go back to a general practice… now, unfortunately, it's daily that we need to assess which patients we can handle."

VSES says it triages cases just like a human ER would do but in some cases, like Colby’s, they still, at times have to send pets away in a life or death situation.

“Occasionally, we have very sick animals who might need surgery and if we don't have the ability to either do surgery or take care of them to the best of our ability postoperatively we may have to send them to Buffalo or Syracuse,” Dr. Kirk said.

But they always call ahead to make sure those centers have time and space available.  

Dr. Kirk says the animals they're seeing all have different problems so, he's not sure what's contributing to the surge of patients right now but if you find yourself needing emergency pet care, call ahead first.

Colby had the emergency surgery in Syracuse. The same night he was sent away from VSES and is now doing great. 

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