Veterinarians and Their Teams Prove Heroic During Coronavirus Pandemic

Jen Reeder

When my Lab mix, Rio, suffered gastric distress in March of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic had already led to the shutdown of “non-essential” businesses. Everything was changing fast. There also happened to be a freak Colorado snowstorm, so I called the emergency room at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital to see if they were open.

Relief flooded me when I heard, “Oh yes, bring him in. Just pull up to the entrance wearing a mask and someone will come out to your car for intake.”

Sure enough, a tech in scrubs and a mask braved the frigid weather to hand me a clipboard and a number to put in the window of my car so she’d know where my car was parked when it was time to bring Rio inside. As I looked out at rows of other cars with laminated pink numbers in their windows, I was so grateful that the team had found a way to stay open as safely as possible, and that my dog and so many others could get the care they desperately needed.

That was just the first instance of the heroism of veterinary teams I’ve witnessed or heard about during the pandemic. For instance, when lockdowns led to a spike in unemployment, my Poodle’s cardiologist at Petcardia Veterinary Cardiology hosted a virtual “Hunger Hero” food drive – and matched all donations to our local food bank.

Across the country, animal hospitals have stepped up in a big way. The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University donated thousands of personal protective equipment, thermometers, and ventilators to hospitals across Massachusetts.

The Michigan State University Veterinary Medical Center donated PPE to local hospitals, and its researchers worked to learn more about COVID-19’s prevalence in companion animals.

When stay-at-home orders led to shortages at the UC Davis veterinary blood bank – and the school couldn’t accept new donors from the community – nearly 40 faculty members, staff and students from the School of Veterinary Medicine registered to have their dogs screened as donors within hours of an internal call for help.

In Illinois, hundreds of veterinarians signed up to join the COVID-19 Support Network of Illinois Veterinarians in March. The pledge: to donate equipment as well as expertise – to help doctors treat COVID-19 patients if the hospital system became overwhelmed.

Stephanie Keating, DVM, DVSc, DACVAA and clinical assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the veterinarian who sent that call to action to referring veterinarians and clinics for the university’s veterinary teaching hospital.

“The outpouring of support was incredible,” she says. “People in the profession were willing to do essentially whatever it took, it seemed. We have a wide range of skills that can be applied laterally and while we recognize that we are not experts in human respiratory physiology and respiratory therapy, there is at least some fundamental skill or supplies that we could potentially offer if needed.”

Though thankfully it hasn’t come to that yet, Dr. Keating says the willingness of veterinarians to go above and beyond during the crisis – both in Illinois and nationwide – is not surprising.

“I’ve always had faith and pride in the profession, and I think this was just a beautiful demonstration of that – of everyone’s willingness and hard work,” she says. “There are a lot of veterinarians putting in really long hours with the stress of this going on and still doing it. I think that also speaks highly to the profession: that people care. We’re not just going to close up shop, because there are still animals that need medical care. … Our profession is finding ways to continue caring for animals in the middle of all this.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Award-winning journalist Jen Reeder is former president of the Dog Writers Association of America.

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