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San José Boosts Salary for Shelter Veterinarians, Amid Nationwide Shortage

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A medium-sized dog with short red-brown fur, and white stripes around his neck and down his forehead gives a kiss on the ear to a man sitting on a stair step. The dog has his white-tipped paws on the man's legs. The man has pale pinkish skin and a buzz cut. He's wearing black jeans, a navy short-sleeved staff shirt and a bright blue face mask.
Anthony Segura, a staff member at Animal Care and Services, gets a kiss from Kramer. Kramer and Segura attended the San José City Council meeting Tuesday, where the council gave a commendation to Animal Care and Services for their 'extraordinary work' supporting animals during the pandemic. (Erin Cizan/Animal Care and Services)

San José is increasing the salary range for veterinarians for the second time this year, hoping to fill two months-long vacancies at its Animal Care and Services shelter.

To fill the gap, shelter staff have been working with regional partners, such as a mobile spay and neuter service called SNIP Bus, as well as volunteer vets from the Humane Society of Silicon Valley.

The City Council passed the resolution last week, boosting the pay range for full-time vets by 12.36% and for part-time vets by 4.5%, effective September 4. New full-time hires also will receive a hiring incentive of $20,000, distributed across the span of a year.

Both of the city’s two full-time veterinarian positions have been open and unfilled since February. Despite a substantial pay boost that month plus recruitment efforts, there are still no qualified candidates, the city said in a memo.

Erin Cizan, spokesperson for the city’s Animal Care and Services Division, says the shortage of vets is rough.

“The way this has affected us is that we are prioritizing the care and the welfare of the animals in our care,” she said, “so it’s resulted in us not being able to offer community services such as low-cost spay and neuter.”

A large white dog with ears pointed up and a big smile sits on the lap of a man wearing gray denim pants, a gray short-sleeved staff t-shirt with a white circle logo for San Jose Animal Care & Services, and a blue surgical mask. The man has a hand on the dog's shoulder.
Edward Robinson, a staff member with Animal Care and Services, with Ghost, at San José City Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. (Erin Cizan/Animal Care and Services)

The center relies for medical services on many part-time veterinarians, in addition to the two full-time employees. With them the shelter has also cut back on its other services, such as the trap-neuter-release program for cats and its spay and neuter surgeries to prepare cats and dogs for adoption. Turnaround time for these services has slowed without full-time vets.

The problem extends beyond San José. According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, there’s a nationwide shortage of vets at a time when they’re in high demand.

“It's being driven by multiple factors,” Cizan said. “One of them has to do with older veterinarians. The baby boomer generation is retiring out of the practice.”

She also says there aren’t enough veterinary schools in the country and there are a limited number of seats in each school.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are 33 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine in the country. Two are located in California, at UC Davis and Western University of Health Sciences.

In February, San José increased salaries by 25% for full-time vets and 18.22% for part-time vets. Still, the only qualified candidate to submit an application then turned down the job because the pay was too low.

With the latest wage hike, the salary range for full-time vets in San José hired after September 4 moves from $123,926.40 to $150,966.40, up to $139,235.50 to $169,624. That puts the bottom of the salary range above what full-time vets typically make in private practice in San Benito and Santa Clara counties.

The new salary range for part-time vets will be $122,491.20 to $169.624.

“Choosing to increase it again since the February increase one more time to make it more enticing is to get a quality candidate into that position,” Cizan said.

The city settled on the amount for the wage increases after conducting internal salary surveys across the city’s job classifications and talking to shelters around the state.

Cizan says she hopes increasing the salary of full-time vets this time around will attract more qualified candidates for the Animal Care and Services center’s vacant positions.

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