The Transylvania Times -

Veterinarians Face Struggles In Helping Pets


Last updated 3/25/2020 at 5:40pm

Times photo by Matt McGregor

Dr. Julie McCormick (left) points to an anesthetic delivery machine as a veterinary technician looks on. The machine could be converted into a ventilator for human use.

Though pets are considered family members for many, the response to coronavirus could marginalize animal care as businesses and services transition into the new territory of federal classifications: "essential," or "nonessential."

Julie McCormick, vete-rinarian at Pisgah Pet Care Animal Hospital on Asheville Highway, said the hospital is conserving supplies in order to possibly have to provide the trillion-dollar human health care industry resources for its own depleting resources, based on guidelines given by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Masks, gloves and even anesthesia equipment, which can be converted into human ventilators, are in high demand, which McCormick said would be a problem for sick or injured dogs.

Based on those guide-lines, the animal hospital now has stopped performing elective surgeries, proce-dures and basic wellness exams.

McCormick said she wasn't sure how long animal hospitals could remain open.

"The AVMA is fighting right now in D.C., lobbying that we are an essential business, but there are people out there saying now that we are nonessential, and as soon as we become nonessential, we have to totally close our doors," she said.

On Friday, she said the office ordered extra eutha-nasia solution because during times of crisis pet owners consider this an option.

"We see this in bad times anyhow, like in the 2008 financial crisis when people had to make decisions about what their money would be spent on," she said. "Is it food for my family or medical care for my pets? And so we had an increase in euthanasia. I have concerns that we are going to see that in the veterinary field."

Though the AVMA's guidelines regarding resources could be considered a slippery slope, at the same time the organization is advocating for all veterinary hospitals and ambulatory practices to be considered essential "in any situation in which nonessential businesses are asked to close for COVID-19 risk mitigation."

"Veterinarians and our teams provide important animal and public health surveillance, deliver essential medical care for ill animals, and ensure that only healthy animals enter the food supply," an AVMA press release said. "Veterinary practices can and should defer elective procedures to preserve medical supplies when circumstances call for that. However, veterinarians must also be able to continue to provide medically necessary care for our animal patients, especially during this time when Americans are spending increased time at home with their pets and ensuring the integrity of our food supply is critical. In doing so, and as needed, veterinarians can adapt our approach to ensure an appropriate level of biosecurity that safeguards the health of our animal patients and their owners."

In an email, Michael San Filippo, senior media relations specialist for the AVMA, said, "I'm not aware of clinics being forced to close. We have seen places such as San Francisco and Maryland and Pennsylvania all formally recognizing veterinary practices as 'essential businesses,' recog-nizing that the services veterinary teams provide are critical to animal and public health. We urge all authorities to similarly desig-nate veterinary practices as essential businesses and also ensure their ability to obtain necessary medical supplies."

Regarding converting anesthesia machines to ventilators, President Trump asked car companies like General Motors and Tesla to begin the production of facemasks and ventilators, though it wasn't an executive order that he could enact through the Defense Production Act.

Currently, like all veterinarians in Transyl-vania County, Pisgah Pet Care is offering curbside service, which involves keeping owners in the parking lot and in their cars while staff members bring the animals in for treatment.

All clinics are finding a shortage of surgical masks and gloves, though some had ordered enough before the quarantine began.

Riversong Veterinary Clinic

At Riversong Veterinary Clinic on Market Street, staff is not scheduling wellness appointments based on AVMA's guidelines.

"We are just seeing sick and injured pets, and we are having people call from the parking lot, and they come out and get the pet," said a vet technician at Riversong. "We use our leash so that we don't even take the leash from the people," she said. "We take the dog or cat inside, and then we call them and get information about like what's going on with the pet, and then we examine the pet in here and treat them, and then we have them call and pay over the phone so that we are not touching their credit cards or anything and then we take the pet back out to them."

She said staff is trying to keep everyone from interacting and touching the door.

"As far as people picking up medications, we are trying to encourage them to use the online pharmacy, but if they want to come pick up meds here, we are having them pay on the phone and putting them in a box out front," she said.

Supplies have become a challenge, she said, though they are stocked up.

"You can't get anything to clean or facemasks," she said. "When this first started happening, we ordered a lot of cleaning stuff. We actually had a children's hospital call and ask to buy the masks we have. When you go on the website to order stuff, there are usually like 10 different brands you can buy alcohol from, and when you look now there is one that still has it, and it's the most expensive one."

Changes to Riversong's hours will be posted on its Facebook page.

Brevard Animal Hospital

At Brevard Animal Hospital on Asheville Highway, staff members are keeping people out of the lobby, asking that they call first in order to stay out of the lobby and stay in the parking lot.

"When they check in, the technician comes out and we bring them in the side door to keep the large group of people away from each other," an associate said.

She said staff is sanitizing everything about once an hour all over the building, and that the only supplies they've had trouble getting from its distributor is hand sanitizer, though she said the office had already ordered what they need.

On its Facebook page, staff said, "We are continuously monitoring the local and global situation, and are receiving updates from the CDC and the AVMA."

REACH Veterinary Specialists

Similarly, REACH, an emergency veterinary center in Asheville on Brevard Road, is limiting the amount of people in the building by setting up a curbside triage, with outside treatment, though the process is "generally the same" for all patients.

"It would be helpful to call before hand, or when they get here we will be able to have a technician give them an actual triage in person, and then we will evaluate the pet from there," an associate said.

REACH's cleaning supplies have been "completely back ordered."

"So we are only using what we have and we are limited in masks, gloves and gowns and stuff like that for our surgical team, so we are using everything very sparingly since no one can get them anywhere," the associate said.

Transylvania County Animal Services

Kevin Shook, emer-gency management and Animal Shelter director, said the Transylvania County Animal Services is currently monitoring the situation.

"We are working with citizens that may want to surrender their animals due to the inability to feed them as a result of not being able to afford it at this time," he said. "We are working to get the day-to-day supplies necessary for the normal operations of the shelter.

"Animal Control officers are asking basic health questions of citizens that they are interacting with when response to a residence or business is necessary. We are asking the public if they are sick at this time, not to visit the shelter. We continue to work with the volunteers that assist in the exercising of animals at the shelter, making sure they understand not to come in if they are sick. All staff is pitching in to ensure the care of the animals in our custody at this time whether they are shelter staff or control officers."

Despite the national spike in euthanasia and surrenders, Shook said the facility is "operating as normal," and even taking donations of food and supplies for the shelter to distribute to people who may not be able to feed their cats and dogs.

"Shelter staff will organize the supplies and then route those supplies to the citizens in need," Shook said. "We will push out information through the Facebook site that the Animal Services operates once we have supplies to offer."

He said the shelter has developed "alternate opera-tional models for both the shelter and animal control.

"That is part of the county-wide continuity of operations plan and identifying essential services," he said. "It may be necessary to alter our operations due to the COVID-19 crisis."

The Grateful Dog

Many people get their pet food at The Grateful Dog, and the question has been asked if there is the possibility of pet owners not being able to get food for their dog if such stores are classified nonessential.

Tipanay Flagg said she discovered that she is classified as an essential business on a federal level.

"PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) sent an open letter to state and local governments asking that we be classified as an essential business," Flagg said. "From what I'm hearing, it is most likely state-by-state. For example, I believe Maine is safe to keep operating but I heard another state has been shut down. In that event, we would begin delivery and continue our curbside if possible. We have certain foods and supplements that cannot be purchased at regular big box stores or grocery chains that are essential to some pets."

In addition, Flagg said she's been "diligent" about cleaning, while providing curbside service and limiting the amount of people in the store to five people at a time.

"If anyone is put into jeopardy with taking care of their pets, if this gets worse, I'll do my best to make sure everyone is fed," Flagg said.

Animals Of Eden

Glenn McPherson, doctor of veterinary medicine at Animals of Eden on Cassell Road in Brevard, said he's been following the AVMA's work to keep veterinary practices essential.

On his White Squirrel Radio Show segment, he said callers have been asking how one would be able to care for his or her pet during this time.

"It's been a topic I'm glad people are asking about because the more we talk about it, the more we can rule out the garbage and the fear that goes along with it," he said.

When the coronavirus began to become more of a presence in the U.S., many began to take their dogs to local animal shelters to have them euthanized because the owners were afraid that their dog would give them the virus.

The AVMA had asked veterinarians to explain to their clients that their pets weren't carriers.

"That's fear-based, with no proof," he said. "They wanted us to calm people down."

McPherson said Animals of Eden has been following, like the other clinics, recommendations of the Center for Disease Control and the AVMA, which includes curbside treatment.

"I don't like not being able to look at my clients face-to-face, but this will get us through, and what I see happening is I think we are going to be better off for it down the road because the way we are being very clean and monitoring the washing of hands, I think we took it for granted before," he said. "We are going to do our part, and hopefully we will only have to do this for maybe a month, and we can get back to the way it was."


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