Quarantine, COVID-19 and Veterinary Services
March 14, 2021
Hi Future Vets! My name is Nadia, and I am a first year student in Biological Sciences. Last summer, I had the rare opportunity to work at a vet clinic during a global pandemic! Never in a million years would I have ever dreamt I would experience something as unexpected as this and I can’t wait to share my experiences…
Oh COVID-19! How you have impacted us in so many ways…It is strange to imagine that around the same time last year our lives were normal and we were oblivious to how a virus would soon change our lives. However, under the circumstances, we have all adapted to living in this new COVID-19 infiltrated world and developed a new ‘normal’. These adjustments came with many new protocols that affected our society — veterinary clinics were no exception. As an employed veterinary assistant, I personally experienced the impacts of the pandemic through the way our clinic was run, the effects on our clients, the pets, and us — the staff.
Before I begin to recount my experiences, let me elaborate on how the clinic I work at changed their policies in respect to COVID-19. The clinic established a curb-side rule where only pets were permitted into the clinic. Clients would come to the parking lot, call in, and a staff member would go out to retrieve the pet. The main challenge was the greater influx of clients we received as many of these clients were working from home, spending more time with their pets and were in tune with their pets’ behaviours and needs. In addition, the lockdown hit right at the peak of heartworm season which even in a regular environment, is one of the clinic’s busiest times.
Another downside was the fact that we had to refrain from taking in volunteers. The summers are usually a perfect opportunity for clinics to accept volunteers especially because most volunteers are students looking to gain some experience while on their break. Unfortunately, given the circumstances we had to do all we could in the effort to minimize risk and exposure to COVID-19. If you are someone who might be struggling to find volunteer experience amidst the pandemic, my advice would be to still approach different clinics and ask if they are accepting volunteers — it never hurts to ask! Many clinics might love an extra helping hand.
Additionally, due to staffing issues and laboratory delays, many services were backlogged. Hence, blood sample results, fecal results or other samples were often delayed. At times there was a delay in receiving medications as well. Some clients took this in stride but for others it was frustrating. Even though we strive for excellent customer service, these issues were beyond our control and we had to bear the brunt of the occasional irritated customer.
By far the worst moments in which our staff and clients felt the COVID-19 blow was when we had to euthanize an animal. For any pet owner, putting their pet down is a painful experience as they are letting go of a part of their family. At a time like this, families heavily rely on each other for support and compassion to get through the grief and to say goodbye to their pet. However, due to social distancing mandates and other protocols, our clinic had to put in place safety measures in which a small group of maximum three family members were allowed in the room at one time, standing six feet apart, and wearing gloves and masks. After the procedure, the rooms were properly and regularly sanitized, and each staff member was well equipped with PPE. Our clients for the most part were very understanding. However, at times I have had to turn away family members of bigger groups which caused much pain and frustration.
On a much happier note, COVID gave rise to people adopting many new puppies and kittens. I guess many people at home decided their lives would be a lot more enjoyable with a four-legged companion — and I can’t say that I disagree! These new puppies and kittens that our clinic calls ‘COVID puppies/kittens’ always put a smile on our faces. The best part was that since the clients were not allowed in the clinic, we got extra cuddle time with these adorable animals!
So far, I have focused on the impact the pandemic has had on humans, but there are also significant emotional impacts on the pets themselves. Pets are spending extra quality time with their owners and lapping up all the attention. Even though that is a great by-product of the pandemic, the downside is that when these pets come to the vet clinic and need to be separated from their owners, they may get separation anxiety or if they are predisposed to aggressive behavior, they can get more aggressive. We try to calm these animals but sometimes despite our best efforts, these pets can be difficult. To overcome these concerns, some dogs required medication prior to coming to an exam to calm them, while other dogs were taken to the backyard and examined with the owner present to comfort them. This strategy works with dogs, but we cannot take cats out into the fenced backyard. In the case of a cat, we often just resort to a lot more restraint.
As the saying goes… ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ and in this case the pandemic brought out the best teamwork skills within our staff. We learned to rely on each other and communicate effectively in a time-pressured environment outside of our comfort zone. In general, the new arrangements of curbside pick-and-drop worked quite well. Clients were understanding, patient and accepting of the changes. However, we did occasionally run into some hiccups such as people leaving their pets inside the appointment room and driving away to run errands. At times it was a challenge to balance emergency cases with scheduled appointments. Our poor doctors were constantly bombarded with cases in which they had to stay past clinic hours to accommodate all clients.
In short, I am particularly proud to be a part of a team in which each member puts the needs of the animals before themselves, working tirelessly (and often past closing) to treat the pets to the best of our abilities. Overall, as busy and overwhelming as times got, I have to say that I am so fortunate that the group of people I work with kept the laughter and smiles going throughout and I would not trade that experience for the world!
First Year Biological Sciences Major
University of Guelph