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Veterinarians forced to adjust procedures during pandemic

  • Katrina Boucher and June Sailor O'Day treat Tela the dog at Peterborough Veterinary Clinic. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/12/2020 2:02:11 PM

When it became clear the coronavirus was going to change the way Chuck DeVinne operated his Animal Care Clinic in Peterborough, the longtime Peterborough veterinarian made some sweeping adjustments to the practice.

With two doctors on staff, DeVinne decided to essentially split his staff in half to not only limit the number of people inside the building at one time, but to have a contingency plan in the event a staff member contracted COVID-19.

That means fewer hours for employees and less availability for clients. But due to the coronavirus, DeVinne decided to curtail what the clinic would offer in terms of services.

At first, he only saw sick and injured animals, but has since opened it up to include rabies vaccinations and other vaccines that are time-sensitive for young animals. All other treatments and visits are taken on a case-by-case basis.

“It depends on the situation,” DeVinne said.

To limit those who enter Animal Care Clinic, DeVinne established a procedure where clients call from the parking lot for a member of the staff to come outside wearing personal protective equipment to get the animal. What DeVinne found is that many pet owners are now writing down any concerns or questions – since they can’t meet face to face during the visit – which helps to address things that can often be forgotten during the course of an exam.

Devinne will then call the owner from the office to discuss what he observed or found. He said part of the fun of being in his line of work is the interactions with people, which he is missing, but has discovered it cuts down on the amount of time he spends with each appointment.

“It’s very unusual,” DeVinne said. “A lot gets done by telephone right now and one thing we’ve noticed it’s very efficient.”

And Animal Care Clinic is not alone. Great Brook Veterinary Clinic in Antrim has reduced their hours and days of operation to care for only sick and injured animals. They are still dispensing prescription refills, prescription foods, and flea and tick prevention, leaving for owners on the clinic’s porch.

As of Monday, Wilton Animal Hospital returned to its regular business hours, but will continue to follow its curbside protocol until further notice. Jaffrey-Rindge Veterinary Hospital is asking pet owners to call once they arrive and a member of the hospital’s staff will retrieve a client’s pet. Findings will be discussed over the phone along with payment. Fieldstone Animal Hospital in Rindge has a similar protocol for visits.

Peterborough Veterinary Clinic is one of the few local clinics still allowing pet owners inside their doors along with their pets. Dr. June Sailor O’Day said that she finds it necessary to communicate directly with pet owners about their pets’ ailments, rather than try to describe the situation and determine treatment options over the phone. 

The reduction is office visits to only necessary appointments has meant “a massive hit to our financial state,” DeVinne said.

“We started bleeding pretty badly financially,” he said.

But even with the loss in revenue, DeVinne is making sure his staff doesn’t feel the financial squeeze.

“It’s my intention to take care of the staff,” he said. “This is more of a family practice as far as I’m concerned.”

In order to pay his employees what they would be making for a normal work week, DeVinne is not paying his own salary. While he didn’t get in for the first round of the Payroll Protection Program, he said it looks good for the latest government program, which would help pay for two months of salary.

“I definitely think it’s going to help us, but I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem,” he said.

He also was approved for a government program that forgives payroll taxes. He said that all of that has shown the clinic is not far off from breaking even.

“And that’s all I can ask for,” Devinne said.

DeVinne said he is unsure when things might get back to business as usual and that he is just taking it a day at a time until there is more direction as to when the office can fully reopen. One thing is clear, once Animal Care Clinic does open up for regular appointments, there will be a lot of catch-up to be played.

“It’s going to be a massive problem,” he said. “Luckily my staff is pretty good at figuring this kind of stuff out.”

While geared toward animals, DeVinne has studied a lot of epidemiology and fully expects another surge of coronavirus at some point. So far, he hasn’t seen any animals infected with the virus and gotten any calls with concerns, but “do I expect it to happen? Yes,” he said.

“Almost any transmissible virus is going to show up in another species,” DeVinne said.

While DeVinne said the chance that a person would contract coronavirus from an animal is possible, he sees it as unlikely. But regardless, he cautions from touching animals that aren’t yours.


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