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Big specialty hospital in Utah closes
Salt Lake City - Just short of six months after it opened, the Utah Pet Center - billed as the nation's largest - closed.
Salt Lake City — Just short of six months after it opened, the Utah Pet Center — a veterinary specialty hospital that was one of the nation's largest in terms of floor space — closed its doors Oct. 24, reportedly with little or no advance notice to many of its 60-plus employees.
The center opened about May 1, occupying 160,000 square feet in a twin-towered building just off Interstate 15 in suburban Murray, Utah, offering several veterinary specialties along with general-practice care, grooming and boarding. It even announced plans to quadruple its staff in the next few years.
Lawrence Kates, a Canadian resident with commercial real-estate interests in several western states, owns the building and was the chief financier of the reported $50 million venture. The reason for the closure wasn't announced, but persons close to the situation cited the weak economy.
A veterinarian and a technician who worked at the center spoke to DVM Newsmagazine about the operation and circumstances surrounding its sudden closing, on condition their names not be used.
The veterinarian, who was still at the center the following week helping with the shutdown, says a few of his colleagues attempted to work out a new sublease agreement to keep the operation going, but failed. "Economic problems" was the reason given for the failure, he says.
At the time of closing, the center had 16 veterinarians, many of them specialists, about 40 technicians and eight receptionists, the veterinarian says, adding that about half of the specialists had moved their families to the area from out of state.
"We had just hired a few new vet techs the day before," the technician recalls.
Some of the DVMs and other employees found jobs with other practices in the area, but many had not as of press time, according to the technician, who now works at another clinic.
After just five hours on the job Friday, Oct. 24, she says she received a message on her cell phone about 1 p.m. from the Utah Pet Center telling her that her pet's surgery the next week was cancelled, with no reason and no reschedule date given.
Uncertain about what was happening, she says she spoke to equally confused co-workers, after which a DVM told her "that by 6 p.m. that day I no longer had a job" because the owner had decided to close the center "for economic reasons."
Initially, workers were told that "we had to have every animal out of Utah Pet Center by 6 p.m. that night," the technician says.
There were many boarded animals, some in the intensive-care unit recovering from surgery or in isolation for illnesses, and people coming to drop off pets for boarding were being turned away, she says.
"Owners (were) asking questions as to why we were closing and where they could take their animals. Some had planes to catch and nowhere to board their animals.
"... All of us had our computer privileges taken away at that point, so clients who needed to pay their invoices couldn't. Who knows if they'll be getting a bill later or what will happen? ... One can only imagine the chaos we went through."
As it turned out, one worker was kept on duty several more days to take care of animals until all were picked up by owners or transferred to other clinics, the technician says.
"The plan is to sell all the equipment to surrounding vet clinics and send back what they can to manufacturers," she adds.
"They did tell the doctors in a professional manner that they no longer had jobs. Then they sent out a memo. These animals, clients and employees didn't deserve this. A month's warning would have been nice and professional," the technician says.
The pet center was the last of several incarnations for the building, which previously housed a miniature golf center, a galleria shopping mall, a community college and a buffet restaurant.
The region continues to be served by another large specialty referral hospital, Veterinary Specialty Center of Utah, and the associated Eye Care for Animals