Q: Dr. Habermann, How has practicing veterinary medicine during this pandemic affected the clinic, your employees, patients and clients?
Now that restrictions and recommendations are starting to be relaxed and people seem more comfortable moving around, this is a frequent question. The best answer I have is practicing veterinary medicine and managing a veterinary practice through the pandemic has been “interesting.”
Though it has been more difficult and, at times, trying, there are other industries more adversely affected than veterinary medicine. We were able to minimize the ill effects of the pandemic by maintaining in-person visits with our clients/patients and having a mask-optional policy for employees as well as clients. If owners chose to limit exposure by staying in their car and have us get the pet, bring it into the building for veterinary services, and return the pet to the car, we were happy to do that. If clients preferred, we wore masks in the building to accommodate that request. We only had a few “curbside” requests during the entire year-plus, and about 25% of folks asked if we could mask up. We've seen a dramatic reduction in mask requests since the vaccine has been available.
During the pandemic, many shelters were emptied out with people adopting pets in numbers never before seen. This was a nice positive to the otherwise bad situation; however, I recently read shelters now are seeing “returned” animals in droves. As people go back to work, school and normal life, they're thinking they made a mistake in adopting during a crisis. I hope this turns out to be a blip on the radar but, knowing how shallow many folks can be when it comes to caring for their pets, I fear it's going to get worse before it gets better.
We made some changes in the clinic's organization, like keeping people who normally came in through our exit from doing so in order to keep a steady flow of traffic through the building per infectious disease recommendations. This was a nice positive as people who came through our exit side often created traffic jams—which we haven't seen since February 2020.
The veterinary medicine part of the clinic has been busier than a cat burying a turd on a frozen pond. As mentioned above, more pets were adopted and, because people were home more than normal, they noticed things sooner and more frequently, leading to more visits. The boarding part of the clinic, well, let's just say that was abysmal. On weekends, holidays, times of the year when we'd typically have 35 or 40 boarders, we'd have one, maybe two, if that many, because folks weren't traveling. Thankfully, we've seen an uptick in that area, and we have many booked boarding appointments for later in the summer.
Overall, while there's been some disruptions and some changes, we haven't suffered as much as many other types of businesses during this disaster. My wife and I laughed because a few friends who “holed up” during the pandemic are coming back into society and asking what we've been up to the past year. The answer: “The same things we've been doing in previous years, just not with you folks.”
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