After 61 years in business, the new owners of Montclair Veterinary Hospital closed the clinic, giving just a few days notice to staff and customers. Credit: Ricky Rodas

When Oakland resident Louisa Waldner heard the news last Friday that Montclair Veterinary Hospital would be closing after 61 years in business, she was distressed.

Like other customers, Waldner received an email around 5 p.m. from the hospital stating the business was permanently closed. Waldner had an appointment booked for the following Monday for her dog Murphy, a black and white Tibetan Terrier, who has some health issues. 

“It is with sincere regret that we inform you that Montclair Veterinary Hospital will be permanently closed as of April 22, 2022,” the email stated. “This decision was not made lightly or without consideration for our pet parent community.”

Notices of the closure were also posted on the Montclair Veterinary Hospital’s windows. 

The week before, Waldner had a conversation with a staff doctor about her dog’s situation and what tests she’d like to be conducted during the appointment. “So at first, I was shocked because I thought it was some sort of prank,” Waldner said. “I called them on Sunday, and the recorded message just said, ‘This is so-and-so corporation and we are announcing, effective immediately, that we’re closed permanently.’” 

But it wasn’t just the abrupt closure that concerned people. Other customers said the pet hospital instituted strange new requirements shortly before it closed. Erik Zwerling, who has been taking his pets to Montclair Veterinary Hospital for the past decade, said when he recently tried to book a dental surgery for his cat, the hospital requested he pay half the cost upfront.

“They had never asked for deposits before, but for my cat’s procedure they asked for 50% upfront deposit to book a reservation with the dentist,” Zwerling said. “It took multiple calls to their finance person to get authorization to do my cat’s dental procedure without a deposit.” 

A worker at the pet hospital who posted on a Nextdoor thread about the closure wrote that all 19 staff also only found out on Friday that they were being laid off by the business’s owner, Thrive Pet Healthcare. 

Throughout the pandemic, veterinarians have been subjected to significant amounts of stress and long work hours partly brought on by the surge in pet adoptions. Longtime customers of Montclair Veterinary Hospital who spoke with The Oaklandside said they had noticed a significant amount of turnover and staffing shortages in the last couple of years, though they assumed it was pandemic related. 

A sign outside Montclair Veterinary Hospital thanks pet health care workers. The 19 staff of the hospital were laid off last Friday. Credit: Ricky Rodas

The previous owners, Dr. Gary Richter and his wife Lee Richter, ran Montclair Veterinary Hospital from 2001 to 2018, when they sold it to Thrive Pet Health Care

Richter said he found out that his former business was closed at the same time as everyone else.

“It’s shocking because this business has been a staple in the Montclair and East Bay for over 60 years, and it’s a business that my wife and I ran for over 16 years with love and care,” Richter said.

Thrive Pet Healthcare is a privately owned company based in Austin, Texas with over 400 locations in dozens of states. Previously known as Pathway Vet Alliance, Thrive is owned by the San Francisco-based private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners.

Bridget Rollins, Thrive’s VP of operations for the company’s west region, provided the following statement to The Oaklandside: “Despite our efforts to support the practice through the investment in people, training, and technology for the last several years, continuing to operate the practice was no longer sustainable. The decision to close Montclair was not made lightly or without consideration for our team and pet parent community alike.”

The company has recommended that pet parents reach out to one of the hospitals within Thrive’s network in the area,” which includes Kensington Veterinary Hospital, and Park Animal Hospital and Cats Veterinary Hospital in San Francisco.

Longtime patrons like Andrea Daniel  were frustrated that Thrive would refer them to providers far away from where they live.

“Where do I go now because I don’t want to go too far, my cat gets carsick,” Daniel said, who lives in the area. “I went because the location was convenient, but also because of the love and care the staff gave to my cat.”

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.