Please note: the COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly in Atlantic Canada. The information in this article may be outdated by the time you’re reading it.
The Cobequid Animal Hospital in Lower Sackville, N.S., proffers every service an anxious pet owner could ever want for her furry friend. But a drive-thru window?
“Oh yeah,” laughs Manager Cynthia Todd. “People roll up for their prescriptions and they all want a side of fries.”
Of course, in these times, laughter may well be the best medicine. When COVID-19 descended on the mostly cats-and-dogs practice earlier this month, there was a real chance its staff of seven veterinarians and 26 others would have to abandon their calling, at least for the time being. After all, its quarter-century-old, touchy-feely business model could not have been more precarious under the circumstances.
Instead, it pulled out all the stops to remain open for the simple reason that its doctors, veterinary technicians, assistants and support staff felt deeply obliged to do so, whatever the cost. Says Todd: “The most important thing is to treat animals that might otherwise die from various conditions. At the same time, we have to protect staff and the public from this coronavirus. So, we’ve been doing some serious how-to thinking.”
The result has been a suite of innovative solutions – walking the line between complete isolation and hands-on care – to confront the current crisis. Apart from the precautions expected of any health-related enterprise (banning public access to the building, postponing regular check-ups, rescheduling elective surgeries) and a new hazmat fashion statement for medical staff (scrubs, masks, and booties), the clinic has introduced a new curb-side patient service, the first of its kind in the Halifax Regional Municipality — not house calls, more like car calls.
“We’re sort of pioneers in this,” Todd says. “A staff member retrieves the animal from the vehicle, brings it into the hospital and then takes it back to the owner after the exam. Also, we’ve kind of discontinued hospitalization fees and that sort of thing. So, there’s no charge for any of this if a pet has to stay here.”
When clients must pay for prescriptions, food and other sundries, they use the phone or, Todd says, the handy drive-thru window: “You know, it’s never been used – not in 20 years. I didn’t even know the buzzer still worked. But, we’re sure glad it does.”
So far, customers are relieved. Client confidentiality prevents the hospital from divulging many details about them, but its Facebook page displays some compelling testimonials. “What a great way to look after our fur babies while also keeping staff and clients safe,” enthuses one. “Proud to be a client of such a caring and adaptable practice!” Adds another: “Stay safe everyone. Thank you for continuing to care for all of the fur babies while protecting your amazing staff!!”
Todd says Cobequid will stay open in this way as long as it can, though the pressures are mounting. “We have one vet and one technician in self-imposed quarantine because they just got back from Florida. But, we’re doing everything we can to keep the hospital open.”
Well, almost everything. They still don’t serve fries with that cat litter.