Veterinarians are Heroes Too


How These Unsung Heroes Have Dealt with COVID-19

Reprinted from Finding Sanctuary Issue #1, published in Summer-Fall 2020 by The Crossings Animal Society

When everything was tightly closed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania during the height of the pandemic, only those employed by essential businesses and front-line medical personnel were reporting to work as usual. Many of us didn’t think of veterinarians, techs, and administrative staff at veterinary practices and animal hospitals as front-line.

Yet they were. They were caring for our pets just as they would during normal times, albeit with different procedures and operations to keep both pet parents and staff safe.

In our series Veterinarians are heroes Too!, we will bring you the stories of people in the veterinary field who held down (and continue to man) the fort during the pandemic. Here is our first story – one vet who, even as COVID-19 barreled over our area, continued to do his job, caring for our pets and, in many ways, us pet parents as well.

Daniel Stobie, DVM, MS, is the Chief of Staff at NorthStar VETS, an emergency, trauma, and specialty veterinary hospital located in Robbinsville, NJ. Dr. Stobie told CAS when the pandemic hit in mid-March, the hospital had to institute curbside service to keep everyone safe. Pet parents would call the hospital when they were outside in their car with their pet. Parking spots were numbered for ease of finding the right pet. A staff member would come to the car and take only the pet inside for an examination. Parents and vets would have a conversation over the phone about exam results and treatment.

On June 8th, the hospital had a “soft” reopening – now a masked person can come inside with their pet. Payments and paperwork are done online to cut down on in-person interaction.

Due to the newly implemented COVID-19 protocol, parents are not allowed to visit their pet in the hospital; however in those instances when euthanasia is required, NorthStar is allowing families to be with their pets. That was true even when the pandemic was at its height. For safety reasons, families leave the hospital directly from the euthanasia room.

These requirements can certainly be a hardship for pet families, but for the hospital staff, the pandemic itself has caused quite a bit of difficulty, both logistically and emotionally. “I would say in my 30 years of practice, it’s probably been one of the hardest, if not the hardest or most challenging time to be working,” Dr. Stobie says. As an emergency facility, NorthStar is open 24/7. They are generally busy, but during the pandemic, it was even busier, as regular vets’ offices were closed or had limited hours.

At one point during the lockdown months of COVID-19, the hospital had 72 staff members out, either because they were being quarantined or they were home with their young children. That put a huge strain on those who came to work, with the added worry of possibly getting sick. Dr. Stobie reports that, thankfully, no one on staff became ill. As for the patients and their families, the humans were incredibly grateful that NorthStar remained open, even with the protocols. Early on, most were afraid of being inside, so waiting in their cars was acceptable. Dr. Stobie shares that about 99% of people are fine with the remaining restrictions, although there are a few who do not want to comply. “It’s my job and responsibility to protect our staff and clients. We want to be able to remain open and serve the public, so we’re taking every precaution possible,” he says. “And we expect people to honor that if they come in.”

The pets have even shown themselves to be under stress, just like people. Dr. Stobie’s staff has seen more dog bites in these last few months than they typically see all year. “I think there’s something to it that the animals are getting cranky too, from being cooped up…Maybe they’re reacting to people’s stress or maybe because they were locked up and now they’re socializing and they’re not used to it,” he surmises. The hospital is also seeing that dogs living in the same household for years are biting each other. “It’s just been a very odd phenomenon,” he says.

When asked what pet parents should know when they visit an animal hospital during these unprecedented times, Dr. Stobie shares that some medications used for animals are also used for people. Because many people are ill right now, there may be a shortage of medications such as pain relievers and those used for anesthesia. When a decision must be made between who receives the available medication, people receive priority over animals. In some cases, a certain drug may be on back order for two weeks. “We’ve been having to pivot here and there…to try to deal with the ebbs and flows of the fallout from the Corona virus,” explains Dr. Stobie.

With COVID-19 still looming over us, keep in mind that vets and staff are working harder than ever with both short staffing and short supplies. Wait times are also longer. Dr. Stobie asks that people be kind, patient, and understanding. “Everyone’s at their wit’s end because of the Corona virus, and they get frustrated easily. But we’re here to serve the public and we’re working more than we ever worked before,” he says.

Considering that vets are still doing their best to keep our pets healthy and happy, we need to honor that request and appreciate all they do for us in the face of a mysterious and dangerous virus.

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