Emergency vet facility set to open 24/7

Veterinarian Karen Karsten plans to open a new 24-hoiur, emergency veterinary hospital. - TOBY GORMAN/The News Bulletin
Veterinarian Karen Karsten plans to open a new 24-hoiur, emergency veterinary hospital.
— image credit: TOBY GORMAN/The News Bulletin

Pets don’t always get sick during business hours. In fact, chances are Fluffy will eat something totally gross and get sick on Christmas Day, or Fido will hurt himself chasing Fluffy well after most vets have gone home for the evening, tired from a busy day of scheduled appointments

As a pet owner, not having access to veterinary care after hours can be stressful.

Answering questions like ‘how sick or injured does a pet need to be to have a vet paged late at night?’ and ‘how much will it cost for emergency services?’ have kept many pet owners enduring a sleepless night worrying about their pet’s health.

By establishing the Central Island Veterinary Emergency Hospital, the first 24-7 emergency veterinary service north of the Malahat, Karen Karsten is putting an end to all the anxiety for pet owners.

She is building a 4,000-square-foot emergency vet service at 6550 Metral Dr. (the old Valhalla Outfitters location) that will be staffed day and night with at least three people to help Nanaimo pet owners if an emergency situation strikes.

While still finishing the renovations for the facility and signing on the last of the 20 staff, the hospital is expected to open in mid-June.

“This is all about accessibility,” said Karsten. “The goal is to give back to the community and provide a service for pet owners and take the load off other vets who work hard during the day.”

Currently, options for owners whose pets become sick or injured is to wait until their vet opens or have them paged after hours if it’s serious enough.

“For some vets, a page at 3 a.m. means they have to get out of bed, go to their practice and turn all the lights on and fire up all the equipment, and then treat the animal, go home, and be at work first thing in the morning. I’ve been there and it’s exhausting.”

The facility will work more like a hospital emergency room. It won’t take new clients (Karsten’s current regular clients from Harbour City Veterinary Services will remain as regular clientele), taking in only animals in need of immediate medical attention, or when other local vets are too busy to see them.

Once the pet goes home, medical records will be forwarded to the animal’s regular doctor so files are kept up to date. Because the building will be staffed overnight, it can also serve as a consultant for other vets who have been called in the middle of the night to make a difficult diagnosis.

Staff will also include a dentist, radiologist and internal medicine specialist.

But the care won’t stop inside the emergency clinic’s walls.

Karsten said once the operation is up and running smoothly, efforts will be made to accommodate both the pets and owners to keep all parties comfortable as possible during a difficult time.

“Down the road, we want to establish programs that go beyond medicine like working with hotels for people who have to stay in town overnight, or nearby restaurants so people can go and relax while their animal is being tended to.”

Once the facility is financially sound, Karsten also hopes to establish a reserve fund to help financially strapped customers pay for their pets’ medical costs.

“Sometimes people’s financial conditions change. They lose a job or have children after getting a pet. They love the pet but simply can’t afford an expensive medical treatment. We want to be able to help everybody so we’ll find a way.”

Staff also hope to work closely with local animal groups like the B.C. SPCA, local agility groups, kennel clubs, and rescue groups to ensure events are held safely and animals get the care they need.

“I’m not starting this to make money,” said Karsten. “I don’t need four cars and three houses to be happy. What makes me happy is being able to provide a service like this. This is what I want to do. I have a dream, I believe in it and I would hate myself if I didn’t try.”

For more information on hospital and its services, please visit

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