For years, the population in the area was not large enough to make providing after-hours care a financially viable option for veterinarians. But that is changing, as the economics finally are beginning to make sense for some clinics.
"We agree that the population size can make it difficult, but we're looking at alternatives to make it happen," Prior said. "It has been our longtime goal to provide emergency, after-hours care on a continual, 24-hour basis."
Prior said that the Park City Animal Clinic, 1725 Sidewinder Drive, plans to bring on another vet with a specialty in emergency care within the next six to eight months, at which point Prior will begin staffing the clinic around the clock.
Until then, Prior is on-call for after-hours emergencies, something local pet owners have not hesitated to utilize. He said he gets several after-hours calls a week, such as last Sunday, when he treated five emergency cases.
"A lot of that is because people aren't able to see their routine veterinarian, and they're calling around and getting my cell phone number," he said.
Though being on-call can become taxing -- Prior said it's only possible because he has two other qualified doctors on staff and an understanding family at home -- it's worth it.
"It can be frustrating," Prior said of having to drive to Salt Lake City with a pet that needs urgent care. "Sometimes you get into Parley's (Canyon) and the freeway is shut down. And usually by the time they call the clinic, it takes owners 10 or 15 minutes to get here. I'm eight minutes away, so I'm usually here before the emergency is here."
But Prior's clinic isn't the only local option for after-hours care. Silver Creek Animal Clinic, 6443 N. Business Park Loop Road, has been providing the service since January, when its hours shifted to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, said co-owner Dr. Lisa Pasquarello.
"We were seeing a lot of emergencies until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.," Pasquarello said. "Rather than be called in, we decided to have a structured shift to see after-hours appointments. It makes it easier for us and the patients."
Pasquarello said the clinic -- which previously provided on-call after-hours support -- explored the feasibility of staying open 24 hours a day, but there aren't enough emergencies after about 10 p.m. to warrant it.
"That's what it comes down to -- there's a critical number of county residents," Pasquarello said. "You've got to be able to pay an ER staff. A lot of people have looked at and crunched the numbers of a 24/7 service."
For other local veterinarians, the numbers still don't add up to make after-hours service a viable option. Dr. David McDonald, owner of White Pine Veterinary Clinic, 2100 W. Rasmussen Road, has been a practicing vet in Park City since 1991 and said he still refers pet owners to Salt Lake City after his clinic closes. He has yet to hear of an instance where the length of the drive to Salt Lake has made a difference in a pet emergency.
"The economics of the size of Park City doesn't allow for a fully-staffed emergency clinic," said McDonald, adding that he does provide after-hours phone consultations.