Why the abrupt closure of a Bay Area vet clinic was seen as ‘slap-in-the-face treatment’ for staff and pet owners

Bonnie Candell has to spoon-feed Beastie, her 12-year-old Chihuahua-terrier mix, because he has a dental infection and broken tooth. Late last week, she finally got results of an echocardiogram giving her dog clearance to get dental surgery with her vet, Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland.

She was shocked to learn on Friday evening that the vet practice had shut down abruptly with no advance notice to its hundreds of clients or its 19-person staff.

“It will be a week before I can see another vet and get a refill for his antibiotics,” Candell said. “All that infection might come flooding back, and he could be in more pain and stop eating.”

Scores of other Montclair patients expressed similar concerns in interviews with The Chronicle and posts on social media, with emotions ranging from disbelief to anger as they scrambled to find care for their pets.

Bonnie Candell walks with her senior dog outside her Oakland home. She is among hundreds of pet owners left in limbo to find pet care after an abrupt closure at Montclair Veterinary Hospital.

Bronte Wittpenn/The Chronicle

“This decision was not made lightly or without consideration for our pet parent community,” said an email most Montclair clients received Friday evening, which said that the hospital was closing immediately.

Although the email was signed by “The Team at Montclair Veterinary Hospital,” staffers said they had no idea this was coming.

“We were all completely blindsided and flabbergasted,” said Dr. Rachel Moulton, Montclair’s medical director. “I’m devastated for my clients. So many lives got upended by this: the staff, the clients, the animals.”

Montclair was closed by its owner, Thrive Pet Healthcare, a Texas company with about 340 vet practices nationwide that bought the Oakland clinic four years ago.

“Continuing to operate the practice was no longer sustainable,” it said in a statement, adding that Montclair had experienced staff shortages like the rest of the industry.

Most vets used to be locally owned, but corporate consolidation has ramped up to the point where between 25% and 30% of US veterinary clinics are owned by big companies, said Karen Felsted, a veterinarian and CPA whose Texas company PantheraT consults for vet practices .

Vet visits and pet ownership both increased during the pandemic, making vet practices even more attractive for corporate acquisitions. Pet owners spent a record $123.6 billion last year with vet care and medical products accounting for $34.3 billion of that, according to the American Pet Product Association.

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