Dr. Ruiz provides answers to some of the questions being asked by our area’s pet lovers during the health crisis.

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    Since the start of quarantine there has been a huge influx of people adopting pets. How has this affected Big Easy and your own day-to-day activities as a general practitioner and hospital owner?

    We continue to offer walk-in appointments to all pet owners during the morning hours four days a week; weekday afternoons and evenings are blocked off for existing clientele to make appointments. Saturday is our Technician Day, which consists of mostly bloodwork, vaccinations, and follow-ups from the weekday appointments. Being one of the few practices to offer services to pets outside our existing client base has kept things busy but has let us meet with many new pet owners in the community. The industry as a whole is overloaded—we’ve seen over nine hours’ wait times at other clinics and frustrated clients who only see a small window of our daily routine and case load. Impatience and selfishness and frustration seem to be a big side effect of the pandemic; we get it—everyone wants “normal” back and so do we. In the meantime, we just try to help as many pets as we can and keep everybody calm in the process.

    Given the new obstacles being faced by pet owners when it comes to travel, how far ahead of time should they start researching and booking a boarding facility?

    The kennel-boarding and daycare levels have been some of the lowest since the early days when we started that side of the business. The pandemic stopped travel flat and with people working from home it’s been well below average attendance. Recently we’ve been seeing a small increase in attendance and have begun plans to ramp up staffing levels to prepare for more pets. I would suggest that people give as much notice as possible but at least make arrangements five days ahead. With the uncertainty in everything, planning is difficult and budgets are tight. That being said, we are still able to accommodate last-minute bookings if necessary, thanks to a dedicated and caring staff.

    What can pet owners do to keep themselves, their animals, and animal caretakers safe when preparing for overnight boarding? How has COVID changed the precautions people should be taking?

    The best thing a pet owner can do is know their pet and convey as much information to the boarding facility as possible—feeding times, likes, dislikes, personality quirks, any nontypical behaviors. The more knowledge the staff members have, the better prepared they will be and the more enjoyable stay your pet will have. Don’t hold back on letting us know dislikes or if the pet shows aggression towards anything. Preparedness is key for the pet handlers and your pet’s wellbeing.

    Can you tell us about the process for boarding pets? Do animals need to come in ahead of time? How has the meet-and-greet process changed over the last year?

    Existing clientele will have current records in-house. New boarders are required to provide proof of current vaccinations from their existing veterinary clinic. Usually, a call to your vet will get the information emailed to the boarding facility, but make sure to call the boarding facility to confirm what is required. Accompanying pets on medication should be instructions on administering the meds and with enough provided for the entire stay (plus extra in case the stay is extended). Also, ask what is allowed as far as personal items. Some pets travel and board better with their favorite things; ask what’s permitted to bring and what’s not. We can’t speak for all boarding facilities, but we will give tours before scheduling boarding if asked. Social distancing and masks are required.

    What does a day at the Big Easy Animal Hospital look like for the animals staying there? What kind of effect has quarantine had on the way the hospital operates on a daily basis?

    We initially had some concerns about the facemasks and how the animals would react to everyone wearing them, but the pets don’t seem to mind much anymore—a good sign that everyone is doing their part mitigating the spread. We require owners to check in with reception and remain in their vehicles until called for their appointment. Once called, one owner will be allowed to accompany the pet into the exam room. Social distancing and a mask are absolutely required. Most clinics are not allowing owners into the hospitals, but we feel to best understand the pet’s condition or their issues and make an accurate diagnosis a responsible, socially distanced face-to-face meeting is required with the ones who know the pets best. All rooms and exam areas are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after each client’s visit, and the same for all other areas many times throughout the day. It’s definitely a team effort and an added expense to the business, but worth all the time and money for us to be responsible and play our part in stopping this. Boarders are given their own kennel or share one with a sibling pet with beds properly sized for them. We provide blankets and water and food bowls, and toys to play with and plenty of treats to keep everyone happy. Food is provided if requested—otherwise, we suggest bringing more than enough of your pet’s favorites for the entire stay. Pets are given morning, noon, afternoon, and evening time in the outdoor fenced runs (or indoor runs if the weather is not cooperating). Like-tempered pets are allowed to play together while supervised to get out energy and just plain have fun.

    While there have undoubtedly been many obstacles to overcome and a lot of loss over the last year, do you have any stories or anecdotes about humorous or unexpected situations that you or your clients have experienced since being in
    quarantine?

    Too many to list … it’s been a hell of a trip so far.

    Aileen Ruiz, DVM, is veterinarian/owner of the Big Easy Animal Hospital / Dog Daze & Café in Lawrenceville (12 McCandless Ave.; 412-908-9301; tbeah.com). Additional thanks to writer Julianna Bagwell for her help in preparing the questions for this article.