Alarmed pet owners fear their pets could suffer in a life-or-death situation after a town’s only veterinary surgery announced it would close.
The Cinque Ports in Lydd, Romney Marsh, revealed “industry-wide” staff shortages meant there was “no other option” but to shut in an email to customers this month.
It is thought that Westgate-on-Sea, in Thanet, is the only other town in Kent without a vets.
When the Lydd branch ceases to practice on January 1, those needing a vet will have to travel about four miles to neighbouring New Romney, which some say could be detrimental to their animal’s health.
Cinque Ports, which also has branches in Rye and Ashford, says it hopes to reopen the Lydd practice when staffing issues are resolved but will remain closed “for the foreseeable future”.
Meanwhile, members of the company’s subscription service will travel to its other branches for checkups and routine medicine - flea and worming tablets, for example.
Describing how her elderly cat George becomes stressed during car journeys, Liz Williams said her “heart sank” on receiving the email.
“He just gets so stressed out in the car. He was under investigation for some things a while ago and they said he might have to go to Ashford for an x-ray,” she explained.
“We thought ‘Oh god’, dreading the journey.
“We started to take him on a short trip and we didn’t even get five minutes down the road before he was screaming his head off. It got to the point that I was shaking behind the wheel - I couldn’t take it.
“He threw up too, and we had all the screaming on the way back.
“When I read the email, my heart just sank and I was filled with dread.”
Mrs Williams, who lives close to the veterinary hospital in Lydd, usually transports George to appointments on foot in a carrier.
But now with a car journey to face, she does not know what she will do in an emergency.
“He had an allergic reaction a few months ago and he was really unwell - it was frightening,” she said.
“He wasn't breathing properly and was having some kind of fit at three in the morning.
“From my point of view, we have been spoilt having the vets on our doorstep.
“Now, if that happens again, is he going to make it there?
“The car journey would have tipped him over the edge last time.”
The mum says many elderly Lydd residents do not drive and will need to rely on public transport.
Cinque Ports advised people to take their animals to their other locations, rather than changing vets. But their other branches are in Rye, Ashford, Hawkhurst and Tenterden.
“Fuming” Sallie Henry, who also uses the Lydd practice, said she has been left reeling after the shock announcement and “annoying inconvenience”.
“It’s like doctors, you don’t like to change,” the 67-year-old explained.
“I was fuming – it was such a sudden thing. I had no warning from the actual vet when I went in.
“It’s really annoying, especially for my daughter who lives just around the corner from the practice.”
She added that the drive to Rye is a “nightmare” as the veterinary centre is down a narrow lane with a lack of parking.
Rather than staying with Cinque Ports, Mrs Henry - who owns a labradoodle called Betty - will be looking to change companies.
A spokesman for Cinque Ports said: “Our dedicated team is committed to providing the best possible care and treatment to our patients and clients.
“The veterinary industry across the UK has faced a challenging time in recruiting new team members and we are not immune to this.
“The closure of our Lydd branch is a temporary measure until our recruitment process is complete.
“We have explored all possible options to keep our Lydd clinic open and this decision has not been taken lightly.
“We understand that our valued clients may find this update disappointing, but we are working hard to recruit more staff and are committed to re-opening the Lydd site as soon as possible.
“We will continue to go above and beyond to deliver the excellent care for which we are known, across our other branches in Ashford, Hawkhurst, Rye, Wye Cat Clinic and Tenterden.
“Our clinic in Rye is 20 minutes from Lydd, and we will still offer 24/7 emergency cover at our Ashford Kingsnorth hospital, which is also nearby.”