AFTER more than 50 years in operation, Capilano Pet Hospital will be closing this fall - to the chagrin of both local pet owners and unionized employees.
The vet clinic, which currently serves around 8,000 North Shore households, will officially close its doors Sept. 6 after its parent company, Associate Veterinary Clinics, a subsidiary of the American corporation VCA Antech, sent notification that it would be shutting it down.
"It was a very tough decision for us to reach," said Michael Neumann, regional operations director in B.C. for Associate Veterinary Clinics. He said the clinic is losing money and the building lease is up in the fall. "You add to that the fact that our facility is in poor condition, we don't own the facility and we cannot continue to provide our high standard of care going forward in that building."
The information provided by the company does not add up according to Heather Lee, vice-
president of combined units at the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union local 378, the union representing the hospital staff, said the information.
"We've only known about it for a couple of months," said Lee. "There is no reason in terms of profitability or efficiency of the operation that would suggest that the business should close."
Workers at the pet hospital unionized in September 2012 and signed a collective agreement in May, before the closure was announced.
Pet owners were also surprised by the news the clinic will be closing. West Vancouver resident Peggy Rowlett learned of the closure from an advertisement by the union in the Sunday edition of the North Shore News.
"I was stunned, absolutely stunned," said Rowlett, who has been bringing her cat Charlie to Capilano Pet Hospital for more than five years. "This is the second time that we have been blindsided by this company."
Rowlett said her cat was a patient at the Cat Hospital in West Vancouver until Associate Veterinary Clinics shut it down in 2008.
"I'm furious," she said. "This is an American company. They just shut down places that they feel aren't profitable and that's unfair."
Andrew Irving, a North Vancouver resident, has been boarding his cat at the hospital twice a year for the past five years and was also shocked by the news. "I find that kind of corporate mentality beyond reproach," said Irving. "It's a good hospital, it serves a lot of people. It makes absolutely no sense to remove a valuable resource."
Associate Veterinary Clinics bought Capilano Pet Hospital in 2007, after merging the Cottage Cat Clinic on lower Lonsdale and the Cat Hospital on Marine Drive in West Vancouver, both owned by the same company.
Neumann said his company operates 49 vet clinics across Canada.
"We're not in the business of buying clinics and closing them," he said. "We're in the business of providing excellent care for pets and we want to have the highest standard of care in the industry and we want to run facilities where we can do that."
According to Lee, prices at Capilano increased after the new owners took over. Lee said that prior to the new ownership, staff "were able to use their judgment and their discretion" and would adjust prices for clients who had recurring visits, but have not been able to since then.
The College of Veterinarians of British Columbia, an organization that regulates the veterinary profession in the province, does provide a "fee guide" to its members but the fees are not mandatory.
When asked if fees at Capilano had increased with his company's ownership, Neumann said, "I'll give you a provisional no."
"There may have been some increases to the fee guide but we certainly weren't over and above any of our local competition."
Lee said the 39 staff at the clinic are still upset about the news and are unsure about what will happen next. "The staff is actually quite devastated by this," she said.
For now, Lee is hoping to gain community support through a petition the union has created.
"We do hope they reconsider the closure," Lee said. "It's almost a landmark in the community it's been in business so long."
Neumann said the company's decision is final.
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