St. John’s hires staff vet

Full-time position will save city money, provide better animal care

Dave Bartlett
Published on January 6, 2012
Dr. Heather Hillier, the new veterinarian for the city of St. John’s humane services, holds one of the cats being held at the facility. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

For the first time, the City of St. John’s has a full-time veterinarian on staff.

Dr. Heather Hillier started working for the city in December, and was officially welcomed at this week’s city council meeting by Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary, chairwoman of the city’s animal care and control committee.

Hillier is now based at the city’s humane services shelter on Higgins Line after more than eight years in private practice.

“It’s been really exciting, and it kind of gets down to the core reasons why you go into veterinary medicine in the first place,” she told The Telegram Thursday.

“We go in for the passion of (working with) animals and animal health.”

She said in private practice you are also running a business, but at a shelter her sole focus is the care of animals.

“I knew that this shelter had a really positive momentum,” Hillier added. “The things they have done over the last number of years and their philosophy on pet care and treatment of stray animals was right in line with everything I already believed in.”

Cindy McGrath, the supervisor of the city’s humane services, said having Hillier on staff is “a huge deal,” and something every animal shelter wishes it could have.

McGrath did a lot of research on how a full-time vet would improve the shelter’s services as well as what it would cost.

“We were taking animals out to local veterinarians if they required medical attention, and contracting out other services and to be honest with you the cost was going through the roof and it looked like it was going to continue that trend,” she said.

“Putting it all together, it was actually cheaper for the city to hire a veterinarian and an assistant.”

McGrath said it would be hard to estimate exactly how much a staff vet and assistant will save the city because it’s a new program.

“But I would say, at minimum, $20,000 to $30,000 a year,” she said.

McGrath also noted that having a vet is also good for those looking to adopt because now the city has someone who will make sure all animals at the shelter are examined, vaccinated and tested for diseases like feline lukemia.

Before, if a stray came in with a health problem and wasn’t claimed by it’s owner, it would only be sent to a vet for emergencies, as that’s all that the city could afford. So an animal who was sick with a minor problem sometimes would be euthanized.

That will change.

“We can (now) fix kitty up and maybe find him a good home,” McGrath said.

And animals who are only at the shelter waiting to be picked up by their owners can also be assured their pets are getting top notch care while there.

Hillier will also help with the city’s education campaigns, to make sure people in the city are properly taking care of their pets and are responsible pet owners.

That’s only one of the reasons why O’Leary views a city vet as a win-win situation for all, as she is a firm believer in such public education programs.

“I was completely supportive. I thought it was great and I think it’s just an advancement in the right direction,” O’Leary said of the new veterinarian position.

She said she had lots of support from council, especially when it was shown that the move would save the city’s taxpayers’ money.