Toronto couple’s dog with cancer may be denied life-saving care due to vet shortage

“I adopted her five years ago, and for me, she is the centre of our life,” Fen Hsu told Global News.

She is talking about her dog, Nugget, who she says quickly became an irreplaceable part of her and her partner, Eric Correia’s, life. But time with their beloved pup could soon run out.

“We were working from home in Montreal, and Fen was touching Nugget’s neck and she felt some lumps,” said Correia, reflecting on when the couple knew something was wrong.

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A trip to the vet confirmed the worst: lymphoma. Nugget was given only one month to live without chemotherapy.

“Right away, we started calling around to oncologists,” said Correia. “Our vet sent us a list of the six different oncologists in the GTA. We called every single one.”

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But no luck.

“We were getting wait times of like two months back, but [Nugget] would be dead by the time we were able to see an oncologist,” said Correia.

Hsu and Correia were told a province-wide vet shortage was leading to massive backlogs and months-long wait times for specialists — time Nugget doesn’t have.

“It was really devastating because, you know, her tumours are growing in her throat and we can clearly see her suffocating, but we cannot really do too much about it,” said Hsu.

Dr. Jory Bocknek, a veterinarian at Abbotsford Animal Hospital, told Global News the problem plaguing Ontario is that there are simply “not enough medical providers” to go around.

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The pandemic pet craze had many rushing out to pick up a furry companion, and vets say it only exacerbated existing staffing shortages.

“And unfortunately, given the recent variant, a lot of clinics are having to close for several weeks due to in-clinic infections,” said Dr. Bocknek.

“We’ve had a lot of veterinarians leave the field in the last two years, generally because of burnout because of COVID. And so we had this huge outflow of vets and no influx of new vets.”

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“The [latest] statistics I’ve heard from our colleges is that the shortage of veterinarians will likely be in place for the next 18 years. That’s a shocking number to me,” said Dr. Bocknek.

As for Correia and Hsu, their plea is more immediate: hire more veterinarian oncologists, and specialists in general, to prevent more families from having to endure what they’ve been going through.

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“We’d love for there to be more oncologists,” said Correia.

Correia and Hsu’s vet managed to secure Nugget a spot with an oncologist through an emergency hospital for late next month. But there are still more hurdles ahead.

“Its going to cost us between $12,000 and $20,000 to treat her,” Correia told Global News.

It’s a huge financial burden to take on, with no promises the treatment will work. Still, Correia and Hsu have set up a GoFundMe campaign and website to raise money for her treatment, and are willing to do whatever it takes to keep their beloved Nugget alive.

“We’re going to keep trying to raise as much as we can so that we can keep her alive as long as possible and give her the best life that we can,” said Correia.

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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