Story updated: Rita Harrell pulled into the Avondale Veterinary Hospital parking lot last week with her 8-week-old chocolate Labrador retriever, Tally, in tow.
A vet technician, dressed in full protective gear, came out to Harrell’s car to get the puppy for her routine shots.
Next, Harrell had a phone consultation with the veterinarian, and soon Tally was bounding back out for the ride home.
Like several other veterinarian clinics and hospitals in metro Atlanta, Avondale is taking precautions to protect staffers and their human clients from the coronavirus by doing parking lot drop-offs and pickups and phone consultations.
“This was very different, but I felt the precautions were needed and I still got her taken care of, which is important,” said Harrell, who lives in Decatur. “I just appreciate that they were still willing to stay open.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the best way to limit getting sick with COVID-19 is to avoid coming in contact with people who might have the virus. They advise people to practice social distancing, which advocates a 6-foot space from each other, and frequent hand washing.
“We’re trying to strike the balance between helping animals and being good citizens to keep this virus from spreading,” said Dr. Stacy Stacy with the Avondale Veterinary Hospital, which usually sees between 30 and 50 pets a day.
Currently, the clinic is not doing some procedures like nail trims or anal gland expressions. And next week, there are plans to stop elective procedures like spaying or neutering, although they will still do vaccines.
“Honestly, people are just super thankful we’re open,” she said.
Stacy also works in an emergency hospital in Gwinnett County. She said they were slammed this past weekend because some clinics are limiting hours or closing for now.
Animal health organizations and health officials say there’s no evidence at this point to indicate pets can get sick with the coronavirus, or that it can be transmitted from pets to humans or vice versa.
When an owner comes into a clinic, though, it can put the staff and other owners at risk.
Vet clinics and hospitals are busy places.
Some vets may consider rescheduling elective veterinary procedures or doing telemedicine conferences or phone consultations with owners, with whom they already have a relationship.
If nonessential businesses here are ordered to close as they have been in some other states, the state and national veterinary medical associations are advocating that veterinary practices be designated as essential and allowed to remain open.
Dr. C. Kirk Underwood, of Kennesaw Mountain Veterinary Services in Marietta, said the clinic has reduced hours and is also doing curbside service with phone consultations.
Typically, the clinic would see between 80 and 120 patients a day. They have cut it back to between 30 to 50 clients and minimized the staff to do only essential needs.
“We are telling our clients to call the office when they arrive and then we are directing them in one of nine parking spaces which will tactfully put them to one of the doors where our technician will receive the dog or cat and then we will call the owner from inside,” he said.
Before owners arrive, they are asked whether any members of the household who might be showing signs of a cold or flu, if they have been in direct contact with someone who has tested positive of COVID-19 or been out of the country in the last two weeks.
If so, they are asked to reschedule.
Dr. Will Draper, owner of the Village Vets, which has three locations, has focused heavily on telemedicine since the outbreak. The practice is using social media and email to spread the word.
The practices are open and doing curbside service, but Draper, his wife, Dr. Francoise Tyler, and some of the other vets are doing consultations from home for previous clients.
Draper had a case this week, where he used video conferencing to consult with a client whose pet had itchy skin. He could see the dog online.
“I’m 53 and healthy but I have asthma,” Draper said. “I’m staying at home. This limits the exposure between clients and team members.”
BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Sandy Springs is also doing curbside check-in and discharge. Owners wait in their cars while pets are treated and as doctors communicate by telephone.
“The pets still need to be seen, so our doors will remain open, but we are taking protective measures to make sure everyone is safe,” said Barbara L. Schick, director of field operations for the Southeast region.
At times, the situation may call for a face-to-face conversation. When that happens, doctors and staffers make sure to follow social distancing guidelines — in the parking lot.
Unfortunately, even a pandemic can’t stop some necessary — and dreaded — procedures such as euthanasia.
Stacy has done euthanasia in a person’s car or if they want to come inside, the office is letting one pet parent accompany the pet.
Dr. Lauren Cassady is the owner of Heron’s Crossing In-Home Pet Euthanasia.
Today, with the spread of COVID-19, Cassady takes extra precautions, including donning shoe covers, a surgical mask and gloves and changing clothes between each appointment. She also takes payments over the phone. She no longer carries her “favorite doctor’s bag,” opting instead to use a hardcover plastic pencil case that can be easily sanitized.
Perhaps the most difficult change is that Cassady can no longer offer a warm hug to pet parents.
“This just breaks my heart,” she said between sobs. “I really want to continue to bring a loving energy into a family’s home. If I can’t give you physical reassurance, I want to reassure you with my words, love and energy. It’s incredibly difficult.”
Ben Gray contributed to this article.
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