It’s been a year since the Covid-19 lockdowns began. I am reminded of how powerful our memories can be when faced with epic tragedy or loss. Virtually every adult remembers exactly where they were when the news broke on September 11, 2001. (I was driving to my job in Downtown LA). Same for the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. (I was in Algebra II class in 9th grade.) And of course, who doesn’t remember receiving the horrifying news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. (I was…an unformed concept.)

Get ready, set, lockdown!

On March 13, 2020, I vividly recall dropping off my oldest daughter and her carpool early that morning at their school, Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA). I joked with them that if the whole world would just stay home for a few weeks we could beat this virus. My comment was met by the typical teenager derision. Later that day, we got word that we would have to shelter-in-place for two weeks to flatten the curve. It was one of the first times I didn’t gloat about being right after all.

Since that day, thousands of businesses have permanently closed their doors. Twelve months later, thousands of students like my daughter are just now returning to school. And the list of devastating effects from the lockdowns such as unemployment rates soaring and increased rates of depression and anxiety goes on and on.

A pet adoption pandemic is born

But there is a silver lining to what we’ve endured across the globe and particularly in the United States. Alongside the Covid pandemic has been a pet adoption pandemic! So many of us have adopted cats and dogs in the last year. And no matter the reason, they have enriched our lives in countless ways.

We all appreciate that our dedicated physicians and nurses and other healthcare professionals have worked tirelessly to keep us humans healthy. But the unsung heroes of the pandemic are veterinarians, veterinarian technicians, and pet clinics. Their hard work and care of our pets also deserves our attention, gratitude, and praise.

Meet the pet adoption pandemic heroes

Club Cat asked seasoned veterinarians, Drs. Celine Hayek and Kristen Negvesky of Tustin Legacy Animal Hospital and Dr. Robert Furman of Veterinary Dental Specialties & Oral Surgery to share their Covid pet adoption pandemic experiences and insights with us.

CC: How has the Covid pandemic impacted you as a veterinarian the most in terms of being able to provide the highest quality of medical care to our beloved pets?

TLAH: The biggest impact related to Covid-19 has been the challenge of accommodating our clients like we used to.  Since we only do curbside drop-offs and no humans are allowed inside, it was difficult at first for some people to adjust. The good news is that now pretty much everyone has gotten used to it. Even though we are now in higher demand, we are making sure the quality of our medical care doesn’t decline. We do this by having longer exam time slots in our schedule, scheduling regular wellness visits away from high demand times, and just reminding ourselves every day that we are here to do good and make sure our pet patients are in tip top shape.  We also added more staff as another way to help keep up our high quality of care.

RF: We are definitely much busier since this pandemic has started. In order to continue providing care to our patients and keep both staff and clients safe, we are currently curbside only.  This means no clients in building and just the pets come inside.Talking to clients is either done by phone or outside, wearing masks and 6 feet apart.With general practitioners overwhelmed, we are also performing more pre-anesthetic tests, such as bloodwork and ECGs. I feel very fortunate that despite all that is going on, we are still able to practice at the same high level of care and keep up with the higher demand.

CC: Has there been a silver lining to the pandemic in terms of pet care?

TLAH: Yes! There has been such a high demand for veterinarians lately since so many people are staying home more. This has had two major effects that have impacted the veterinary world. First, is that many people who did not have pets before now have a need for companionship, and what could be better than a dog or cat companion?  As a result, we have been seeing more kittens and puppies lately, as well as, just more clients in general.  Second, people who are already pet owners are spending more time with their pets and getting them outside and exercising more. Also, the additional time with their pets has made owners more aware of any medical issues their little pals may have and are getting them taken care of. In short, there are more happy and healthy pets out there today than before!

Additionally, the veterinary community has been able to develop methods for virtual visits. Virtual exams are becoming very common, which is a whole new way to practice animal care. There are some limitations, of course, but overall now and in the post-Covid future, more pets will be treated virtually when possible.

Lastly we have been able to double our full-time staff numbers from 4 to 8! Yay!

RF: With owners being home with their pets all day, they notice more health problems sooner.  Prevention and early detection are very important for the overall oral health of our pets.  Bad breath in dogs and cats is not normal and can be an indication of dental disease.  Catching this sooner rather than later will result in a preventative dental cleaning rather than needing extractions.

One other benefit of the pandemic is that some pets pick up on anxiety from their owners and actually do better with owners not coming into the building.  They are more relaxed and less prone to show signs of aggression.

CC: So many of us have adopted pets since last March who have enriched our stay-at-home lives. These pets are accustomed to us being around all the time. As we get more and more back to our “normal” lives hopefully sometime this year, what advice would you give to pet parents who won’t be around the house as much?

TLAH: First of all, I would try to find out if their profession can accept their pets in the workplace, so then there won’t be much of a change for their pet.  I believe doggy day care is going to be even bigger and more important for socializing and enrichment for these pets, especially the young ones coming out from this.  As far as cats go, some cats are probably going to be even happier when we go back to work.  So they will be fine all alone, as long as they are not left alone for more than a full day.

RF: This is going to be a challenge to both the pets and the owners.  I would recommend starting with leaving their pets alone for small periods to start and gradually increasing the time away.  Start this process before you need to return to work full time.  Going from being home all the time to leaving the pet for long periods can be very stressful.  Find different ways of stimulating your pet while you are away, eg. Different toys, hide treats around the house, use technology to interact with pet.  When owners are with their pets, give them plenty of exercise.