Brianna Donnell, left, Marybeth Mueller, center, and Jen Rudisell, right, wear face masks to help combat the spread of coronavirus while working at The Cat Clinic in Columbia. Credit: Shawn Verbrick.
It’s 3 p.m. on a recent weekday, and Dr. Shawn Verbrick is closing up for the day at The Cat Clinic, the veterinary practice she has operated for nearly three decades. The longtime veterinarian usually has appointments until 5 p.m. but coronavirus has affected her Columbia practice.
“Most people are staying away, which is the right thing to do,” Verbrick said. “It is the right thing to do, but it’s hard when you’re trying to run a small business.”
As the threat of coronavirus increased in the past few weeks, the Trenholm Road clinic adjusted its protocols by no longer letting clients come into the building.
“They call and then we go out to the car and get their cat and bring it in,” Verbrick said. “Then, I go out and talk to them outside.”
This is similar to what Dr. Patrick Terry is doing at Brunswick Forest Veterinary Hospital in Leland, North Carolina, which is about 10 minutes southwest of Wilmington.
Terry said that the hospital has reduced its hours by closing on Saturdays to allow a natural decontamination, since no one is in the building for more than 48 hours. The hospital’s lobby is now completely closed to the public, and pets are retrieved from owners’ cars in the parking lot.
“We would bring the pet inside for the exam and procedures, then either write a report card or speak with the owner over the phone,” Terry said.
The Brunswick hospital has also postponed all routine annual vaccines and elective procedures as recommended by the state and the veterinary medical board. Terry said business has remained the same, but he’s not sure how much longer that will last.
“From a business standpoint, we are keeping cash in reserve and paying minimums on bills as much as possible and trying to get payment deferrals where applicable,” Terry said.
As the virus has continued to spread, it has impacted more than just how the business operates. One employee has resigned from the Brunswick hospital due to concerns about the virus’s effect on her pregnancy.
Pet owners who contract coronavirus are also concerned. So far, tests have suggested that animals cannot get the virus, although a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York has tested positive for the virus, it was reported Sunday.
The Columbia Veterinary Emergency Trauma and Specialty clinic is recommending that pet owners limit their interactions with their pets. The organization also has emphasized there is no evidence to indicate that pets can spread coronavirus to other animals or people.
The South Carolina Association of Veterinarians recently conducted a survey asking vets how COVID-19 has affected their practices and changes they have implemented. About 86% of the respondents said they are feeling an impact on their business. The majority of the concerns among practices is understanding the government stimulus program with the payment repayment program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. A few practices have had to reduce hours for staff, while some have been forced to lay off employees.
“This is a new experience for all involved and we appreciate our pet parents understanding and patience as protocols and plans are changing on a daily basis,” Adam Eichelberger, president of the SCAV, said in a statement.
Verbrick said more clients are using the clinic’s online pharmacy to purchase prescription food and medicine for their pets. She prefers people ordering online versus coming into the store.
“I don’t really like doing the retail,” Verbrick said. “It takes away from our ability to do medicine. I think a good thing about this is a lot of people will transition to the online pharmacy and not be so dependent on coming in, which helps us.”
Despite all the upheaval, Terry said that there haven’t been any major complaints.
“Everything has been going smoothly so far,” Terry said. “The clients understand the changes we have made in order to insure public health and the health of us.”
For up-to-date information from the SCAV, visit https://www.scav.org/covid-19/.