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Bemidji residents say need for emergency veterinary care is at a critical level

Two yellow labs, one full grown and one a younger puppy, sit on a hardwood floor with sunshine streaming in.
Sarah Bignall
Sarah Bignall's dogs Neville and Russell enjoy a spot of sunshine.

Megan Fitzpatrick and Charlotte Roy have started a petition at with a goal to demonstrate a need for after-hours emergency care for pets in the Bemidji area. Veterinary clinics are facing staff shortages, especially in rural areas.

BEMIDJI — A late night emergency with a pet means a long drive for many families in Northern Minnesota.

“The pandemic really impacted after-hours veterinary care in our area for over a year now. No veterinary offices in Bemidji have been offering after hours emergency vet care,” Megan Fitzpatrick said during a recent conversation on the KAXE Morning Show with Heidi Holtan and John Bauer.

"We've actually had some people comment that they won't get pets anymore when they live in this area because the care can be so far away in an emergency," she said.

A long-haired tan and gray cat sits on a quilt with a Christmas tree in the background.
Heidi Holtan
Aiko, Heidi Holtan's cat, hangs out on a recent evening.

Fitzpatrick, along with Charlotte Roy, are two concerned citizens who want to be part of the solution to the complex problem affecting their pet's health.

“Emergencies don’t just happen during business hours,” Roy said. "Staffing shortages are hard on everyone. We certainly don’t expect the individual vets to work around the clock to their personal detriment, but we’re trying to find solutions that will ensure that community members have access to after-hours care for their pets.”

Fitzpatrick and Roy have started a petition at with a goal to demonstrate a need for after hours emergency care for pets. The petition is open until March 10, with a goal of 500 signatures.

"We certainly don't expect the individual vets to work around the clock to their personal detriment, but we're trying to find solutions that will ensure that community members have access to after hours emergency care for their pets."
Charlotte Roy

Need for services

When a beloved pet suddenly faces an emergency health problem, most people would call their local vet. Now, it might be impossible to get your animal help. Especially if it's nighttime or a weekend, there may be an hours-long drive to the nearest emergency veterinarian services, most likely in Duluth or Fargo.

According to Fitzpatrick, "We've had responses on the petition from people whose pets have died because they couldn't get to emergency care and time on that long drive. We've had people who have just had very stressful rides."

Roy talked about her own 18-month-old Gordon setter puppy named Jack. She described him as a determined bird dog, but in the short time he has been in their lives, they have already faced potentially life-threatening bowel obstructions after the puppy ate something he shouldn’t have.

“We had to make a decision about whether to start driving to Fargo on a Saturday afternoon or risk things escalating,” she said, saying icy roads made them make a judgment call to stay home. “It turned out to be the right decision at this time, but we might not be so lucky next time.”

Finding solutions

"Our vets work so hard," Roy said, noting she began talking with veterinarians and staff in 2022 about the problem. “They were very kind to give me their time to talk about this.”

A common thread, according to Roy, was inadequate staffing for nights and weekends, while still providing daytime service.

Some possible solutions include a rotating schedule between area veterinary clinics or convincing a regional veterinary corporation to open a location in the area.

Has your pet been affected?

Mary from Bemidji texted during the KAXE Morning Show conversation about her cat Dash who had an acute medical issue at 2 p.m. on a Friday. She said there were no local openings for care, and she had to drive to an emergency clinic in Fargo. Everything turned out well for Dash, but it made Mary realize the barriers pet owners face.

Have you faced a difficult situation with your pet? Was it easy to get the care you needed? Email us!

Listen to the full conversation from the KAXE Morning Show above.

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Jennifer has worked at Northern Community Radio since 2006 and spent 17 years as Membership Manager. She shifted to a host/producer position in 2023. She hosts the Monday Morning Show and is the local host of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" a few days a week. She also writes public services announcements and creates web stories.
Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.