Getting medical coverage for pets on the Island could become harder as one of the few remaining Vineyard veterinarians is planning to close their practice and another’s lease is going back out to bid.

Dr. Constance Breese, a Vineyard Haven veterinarian of 40 years, told her clients last week that she will be closing her Sea Breeze Veterinary Service in April, the second veterinary practice on the Island that has closed in the past year. Only four Island-based practices are left.

“I want to give my thanks for your support and trust over my years of practice,” Ms. Breese wrote in an email to a customer that was shared with the Gazette. “This year marks 40 for me as a veterinarian and I have decided to step away from daily clinical practice.” 

Animal Health Care Associates' lease at the airport will end this year. — Ray Ewing

Ms. Breese said the decision to retire was difficult, given fellow veterinarian Kirsten Sauter’s retirement last year and several failed attempts to find new veterinarians. 

“The people of Martha’s Vineyard should know that we have worked tirelessly but unsuccessfully to find veterinarians to take over the reins and move here to work,” she said.

One of the largest Island practices is also on uncertain ground. Animal Health Care Associates will have its 40-year lease at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport property end this year. Under state and Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the airport must now put the property out to bid again, giving both veterinarian Dr. Steven Atwood or another business a chance to operate on the property. 

Mr. Atwood fears that he could be outbid by larger commercial enterprises, potentially eroding the already dwindling number of veterinarians on the Vineyard. 

“We will make the best bid we can, which we already know will involve a huge increase in rent, but we could be facing competing bids from others with greater resources seeking different uses for our animal hospital, perhaps even a tear-down and construction of a commercial building,” Mr. Atwood wrote in a letter to his clients in late February. “We simply don’t know.”

A request for proposals for the property was sent out on Feb. 12 and proposals are due back on March 29. The FAA requires the property be bid at its fair market value, which according to a recent appraisal, means the minimum rent for the land is $12,000 a month, or about $144,000 a year. 

“We can not subsidize non-aviation type businesses,” airport director Geoff Freeman said. “We’re required to follow a very stringent process.” 

Mr. Atwood asked people to send letters of support to Animal Health Care Associates that could be included in the clinic’s application to the airport commission, but declined to be interviewed due to the ongoing request for proposals.

“We value our relationship with each of you and the animal members of your family, look forward to continue serving you for many more years, and thank you for your essential support at this key moment in our history,” Mr. Atwood wrote to clients.

Mr. Freeman also said he couldn’t talk more about the businesses that could be vying for the lease before the submission period ends. The airport commission is expected to decide on the lease on April 11.

Mr. Freeman did say the highest bid doesn’t always necessarily win. The commission considers a proposal’s contributions to the airport and the community. He pointed to Star Propane, which recently had a winning bid even though the company wasn’t the highest bidder. 

Animal Health Care Associates hopes to renew its lease and has asked for clients to voice their support. — Ray Ewing

“[They] had a direct benefit to the community as a whole,” Mr. Freeman said. 

The lease can be up to 15 years with another 15-year extension. 

The loss of two veterinary practices in quick succession could be disastrous, said Vickie Thuber, a pet owner who has brought her dogs, cats and horses to Mr. Atwood’s for decades. 

“It’s essential for them to be there,” Ms. Thuber said. “It’s a dire situation.”

Animal Health Care Associates has provided aid to smaller practices like Sea Breeze, making its future important for the remaining clinics, Ms. Breese said. 

“On numerous occasions over multiple decades, I have needed additional radiological, surgical, laboratory or emergency care for my patients,” Ms. Breese said. “AHCA and the staff have been an invaluable and always willing resource. Their potential loss of lease puts veterinary care in a precarious situation.”

While Sea Breeze closes and Animal Health Care Associates looks to retain its spot, other entities have tried to pick up the slack. All Pets Medical Center, a veterinary practice in Bourne, has started to visit the Vineyard regularly to provide pet care at the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard.

The Martha’s Vineyard Horse Council has also been holding first aid trainings for large animal owners, secured an X-ray machine for local use and attained a below-market rate home that is designed to be specifically rented to a local veterinarian. 

Attracting veterinarians to the Island is hard because new veterinarians often are saddled with thousands of dollars from school debt and the high cost of living on the Island can be a barrier, said Laura Plunkett, a member of the horse council’s large animal emergency response committee. 

But these steps will hopefully make it slightly easier.

“As a committee, we are working really hard to secure housing and other benefits for veterinarians so that they will come and build a life here on the Vineyard,” Ms. Plunkett said.