COVID-19: Veterinarian Offices Implement New Pandemic Policies and Practices

Heart + Paw team members wear masks when caring for animals. (Photo courtesy Killian Lenahen)

Many veterinary offices have had to alter practices due to COVID-19, and Heart + Paw’s East Market location has been offering curbside service since its official opening in March. Aside from euthanizations, clients have never stepped foot in this facility. 

“We haven’t actually ever really let clients in through our doors,” Killian Lenahen, partner doctor at Heart + Paw’s East Market location, said. “For our veterinary appointments, grooming and day care, it’s all drop off.”

This socially distanced service keeps staff and petowners safe but also requires more communication. 

“The owners are welcome to wait along the curbside or in their cars,” Lenahen said. “Then, we give them a call to discuss any findings, especially on the veterinary side, and they pick the pet up.” 

Dr. Killian Lenahen of Heart + Paw. (Photo courtesy Killian Lenahen.)

While a lot of attention has been paid to social distancing protocols at medical facilities that primarily treat people, services for pets have also taken the spread of COVID-19 into account. 

Lauren Palmer owns two dogs and one cat and takes her animals to Penn Veterinary Hospital in University City, which also uses a curbside service. 

“They called me on the phone to chat about the dogs, and they actually just had us pull up to the vet office and they came out,” Palmer said. “I didn’t even get out of the car. Then they did everything and then brought [the dogs] back outside to me.”

Palmer is pleased with the curbside service.

“It was so different than any other time that I’ve gone, which is great,” Palmer said. “I feel like they had a lot of measures in place to keep us and themselves and the general public safe and healthy while also providing care to the dogs.”

Curbside service, though, presents its own set of challenges for some. Jacqueline Passaro owns a 4-month-old puppy and a 5-and-a-half year old bunny and said trips to the office require more planning than in the past.

“Instead of, like, being in person and thinking of something like, ‘Oh by the way. You know, I have this question or that question,’ you have to kind of write it down because you’re talking on the phone with [the veterinarian] for five minutes,” Passaro said. “You only get a chance to talk [in person] to a [vet] tech.” 

Despite communication requiring more attention, Passaro has been happy with the service provided by her regular veterinary office, Companion Pet Hospital. Although she hasn’t been able to accompany her new puppy for any shots, she is thankful to have been allowed inside of the office for her previous dog’s euthanization back in May.

“I was surprised that I was allowed to go in when my dog was euthanized,” Passaro said. “It is literally the only reason why they were letting people in.” 

The same is true at Heart + Paw’s East Market location, where euthanizations are strictly the only reason a client can accompany their pet inside the building. 

“We’re really diligent in terms of our cleaning protocols if we, you know, do have to have any owners come inside the building [for euthanizations],” Lenahen said.

Though many clients and practices have gotten used to minimal contact and curbside veterinary services, some veterinary offices are slowly starting to lessen restrictions. 

Dr. Nathan Foley, a doctor of veterinary medicine at the Pet Mechanic on South Street, performed curbside services until Philadelphia entered the yellow phase. Once that happened, he and other employees felt confident loosening their restrictions. 

Pet Mechanic safety precautions. (Photos courtesy Nathan Foley.)

The Pet Mechanic only allows four clients in the lobby at a time, with mandatory face masks or coverings worn by the clients and staff members. Plexiglass barriers separate clients and staff in the front lobby. Cleaning occurs more frequently, and the credit card reader at the reception desk gets cleaned after every transaction.

Some owners find certain offices may not be taking client safety as seriously as they may have several months ago, though. Mink Lin of Point Breeze was not pleased with her most recent visit to the Philadelphia Animal Hospital, though the practice had been much more careful about the spread of COVID-19 earlier in the summer.  

“[I] really, really liked the first two times [there] because I felt a lot safer,” Lin said. “The third time I went, which was with my new puppy, everybody was sitting in the waiting room. There was like, I think there were like 10 of us.”

When approached for comment about their COVID-19 protocols, the Philadelphia Animal Hospital did not reply to a phone call or email.

Though regulations at veterinary offices throughout the city may vary, doctors remain consistent in their dedication to the well-being of the animals.

“Animals are what we chose to do with our life and it’s what we get joy from,” Foley said. “And so that’s why we’re here. That’s why we do our job. Nothing’s gonna really prevent us from doing that — global pandemics or anything else.”

Lenahen understands, curbside drop-off or not, being away from their animal for any amount of time can make some owners anxious. It’s the reason Heart + Paw makes a consistent effort to help calm their nerves.

Heart + Paw team members wear masks when with animals. (Photos courtesy Killian Lenahen)

“We’ll even send [clients] pictures and videos through our online platform to make sure [they] feel really safe,” Lenahen said. “ [We’re] doing our best to ease everyone’s stress during this really stressful time.” 

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