Kingstonist’s Wizard of Paws: Maintaining kindness during the pandemic

Dr. Ryan Llera (right) and Natasha DeHoop, lead receptionist at Kingston Veterinary Clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic, tend to Maxi, a dog from Sheba’s Haven Rescue being treated for glaucoma. Photo via Dr. Ryan Llera.

We’re just over a month and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic. Things are going okay in our region of Ontario and we’ve done a great job as a community to limit the spread, keeping cases down.

As part of that initiative and in part due to government stay-at-home orders, veterinary clinics have been adapting to continue to provide urgent care to your pets. In most cases, local vet clinics are strictly seeing sick pets for emergency visits, and maybe puppies and kittens who have never been vaccinated.

Yep, that’s about it. And even though many clinics aren’t performing annual exams and vaccines, we’re still quite busy taking care of the most vulnerable or sick of pets. The decision on the cases we’re currently addressing is based on guidelines from the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) and our licensing body, the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO). This leaves many pets who are typically coming into the vet clinics at this time of year for their annual checks up and vaccines in limbo. Understandably, many people have been frustrated about not being able to visit their family veterinarian for preventative care as a part of keeping their pets healthy. What’s not understandable is the nature of staff members being verbally abused by pet owners who are venting their frustrations. Several of my colleagues have reported these incidents, and I have witnessed some myself.

We, as veterinarians, and our teams completely understand how important your pets are to you and are working hard to help you and them through this time. But our front line staff members who are answering the phones or coming outside to interact with clients are getting yelled and sworn at (or called horrific names I won’t repeat here) over not scheduling for vaccines, not fulfilling requests for medications, or for doing their jobs to keep themselves and their co-workers safe. Some of them have been physically threatened.

Everyone is stressed and we’re doing our best to address pet health concerns. The suggestions of not doing vaccine appointments was handed down from our regulatory and governing bodies as a means of encouraging people to stay home. Why? Aside from encouraging people to stay home, many clinics are running on skeleton staffs and have had to lay off staff members. This has resulted in most clinics just trying to manage the sick or emergency patients, which seem to happen at an alarming rate. Even though a pet is “due” for their annual exam or vaccine, there is a little bit of wiggle room, so many clinics are postponing for a bit provided that pet owners are able to reasonably keep their pets safe from risky environments or situations.

We also know people are concerned about costs and not being able to find a veterinarian to help your pets. Many clinics are offering telemedicine appointments for their clients to try now, which can also help keep the caseload at the clinic manageable for those truly sick pets. They may also have advice or suggestions on how you can help your pets at home without a heavy cost investment at this time. This service doesn’t mean that your pet won’t necessarily need to visit a clinic, and telemedicine is not for every situation. This is one reason it’s important to have an established relationship with a veterinary clinic before you have an emergency.

Things may start to improve soon and vet clinics are adjusting almost weekly, if not daily, to try and meet your pet’s needs. Eventually, some sense of normalcy will return to pet care, and the trusted relationship between pet owner and veterinary team will remain intact.

As a veterinary community, we will continue to show up to work each day, even though exposure to the outside world means putting ourselves and families at risk. In the meantime, please remember that kindness matters and is free to give.

If there’s something you’ve often wondered or questions you have about regarding pets, let us know by email at [email protected].

*Please note that specific medical questions about your pet cannot be addressed and you should speak with your personal veterinarian.

Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with a cat, three dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can see what else he is up to on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.

Disclaimer: All columns are personally written and my opinion, and may not necessarily reflect those of current or former employers.

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