By Francesca Sacco
The changes created by the coronavirus have touched every aspect of daily life, including the lives of our pets.
With people quarantined at home and spending more time with their nuclear families and pets, local animal hospitals see an increase in visits.
“We’ve definitely been busier, especially with people home all the time. They are noticing things a lot faster and getting their pets in quicker,” Dr. Lisa Lusk, of Monongahela Animal Hospital, in Hazelkirk, Carroll Township, said. “On a busy Monday, we’re seeing 50 patients easily.”
Other local animal hospitals are experiencing a similar trend, and larger animal hospitals see upwards of 70 patients a day. Wellness exams and vaccination appointments have taken a back seat to accommodate emergency-related appointments.
“We’re booking out three to four weeks for our annual exams and vaccinations unless there are exceptions. Things that we can’t put off for a month or so,” Debbie Maloy, hospital manager for the Meadowlands Veterinary Hospital in North Strabane Township. “People are sitting at home watching their pets and saying ‘I didn’t notice that before.’”
In addition to juggling emergency and wellness needs, the staff at Pleasant Valley Veterinary Clinic, in Peters Township, said they’ve seen an uptick in appointments for new additions.
“In the beginning, we had to cancel a lot of our appointments because we could only do essential appointments. We had to save onto equipment in case hospitals needed them,” Shelly Free, office manager, said. “As things have relaxed, our case load is increasing. We’re seeing a lot of new puppies because people have the time to devout to a new addition.”
Before the pandemic, Free said people could call and secure an appointment on the same day to have their pets seen. Now, that’s no longer the case.
“We’ve never had a problem getting people in and now it’s been such a struggle,” she said. “We’ve never been in this situation before. We’ve got big hearts and we want to accommodate everyone. This is hard on us too. We’re working overtime and working through lunches. We’re seeing more patients that we ever have in the past.”
To continue to provide care while limiting the spread of the coronavirus, and keeping clients and employees safe, local animal hospitals have implemented a wide range of operational strategies and precautionary measures.
The most common approach has been asking clients to wait in their vehicles during animal exams and treatment. Other changes include contactless payment processing, taking patient history by phone or virtually and drive-thru pick-up and drop-offs.
“Our appointments are taking twice as long now,” Free said. “With curbside, we have to walk them through the parking lot to the exam rooms. Our office doesn’t have enough room to social distance, and we’re doing more cleaning between appointments than we did in the past.”
While telemedicine appointments can be difficult, Pleasant Valley Veterinary Clinic is trying it.
“It is up to our clients what they are comfortable with. We are doing curbside, but we have a lot of clients that want to be in with their pets, so we are just asking that one client comes with a pet,” Free said. “We’re wearing masks and we’re asking our clients to wear masks.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association reported that over 30% of practices were using telemedicine nationally, and close to 20% were only seeing emergency-related cases according to an extensive survey conducted in April.
As the pandemic continues, Lusk said she’s thankful that her practice can continue to assist their patients.
“I’m thankful that we were considered essential so that we could be there for our clients,” she said. “Most people have been very understanding. There have been some people who have been frustrated, but I think everybody in general is a little frustrated these days.”