It is hard not to notice that many of your friends – since the pandemic – are now pet owners.
Since many people have started to work from home, pet ownership has grown. For example, the Town of Canmore has 1,230 active dog licences and saw an increase from 163 new dog licences in 2019 to 213 in 2020.
Many people don’t get licences, so the real number is likely much higher (you can get one here.) We don’t have the stats on how many certified and trained support animals there are in the Bow Valley, but we are willing to bet that most pet owners consider their pets to be “unofficial emotional support animals” that have kept people sane during this trying time.
Between Canmore and Banff, there are only a few veterinary clinics and they have been working overtime to accommodate our furry friends. Canmore Veterinary Hospital & Banff Veterinary Services, Mountain Mobile Veterinary Care, HolisticVet House Calls and Bow River Vet service the Bow Valley. These doctors, vet techs and support staff have worked hard and diligently to stay open during the pandemic by amending how they see patients and we couldn’t be more grateful.
We “virtually” sat down with Dr. Sylvia McAllister (SM) of Canmore Veterinary Hospital and Dr. Nathan Bernadet (NB) of Mobile Veterinary Care, both independently owned clinics, to learn more about what it has been like to be a vet during the pandemic and how we can better support them and our pets.
51: Between the rise of pets and ever changing COVID protocols is there a way to quantify the increase of demand on vet services since COVID began?
SM: Yes, we have pandemic puppies. And pandemic kittens. And increased adoptions of adult dogs and cats.
We believe it is because people are home more, doing less travelling and often working from home. The pandemic has created space in people’s lives for pet ownership. We have also found that people who already own pets are more invested in their animals. And since studies show that pets reduce stress, owning a pet during a pandemic is a good thing.
Since March of 2020 we have been providing curbside veterinary care. We have been able to keep our patients healthy and happy and maintain social distancing to keep our staff and clients safe.
Pets come into the hospital while the owners wait outside. It does require more staff and more time to function this way, but we have stayed COVID-19 free, so it is worth the effort. Starting this week, we are planning to return to more normal client visits. We are so looking forward to face-to-face contact.
Between the increased number of patients and the increased time required to care for our patients we have been very busy. If I had to quantify, I would say that we are 10-15 per cent busier than normal.
51: What are some things new pet owners often don’t do, but should?
NB: Two important things I would say are: firstly, before even selecting a pet, predict what your life will and could look like over the life expectancy of that pet to ensure you are selecting the type of pet that sets everyone up for success and secondly, start immediately with training and progressive exposure to help the newcomer integrate not only into the current world but the one you anticipate and look forward to.
Young animals in particular present a challenge as they are constantly exploring and pushing the boundaries, but this is also an amazing opportunity as you essentially get to show and prepare them for the world.
51: Regardless of a pandemic, vets are already in a very stressful profession and it takes years to become a vet, can you talk to us about that?
SM: We have four veterinarians at the Canmore Veterinary Hospital, with a combined total of almost 100 years of experience. It takes eight years of university to become a veterinarian, quite an investment of time, effort and money.
And although veterinarians rarely get rich (the average veterinary salary is similar to a teacher or nurse), our job is varied, rewarding and requires life-long learning. But yes, it can be very stressful.
We are required to be medical professionals, caregivers, businesspeople, employers and support workers. The reward is having dedicated clients and caring for their wonderful pets from puppies or kittens to adulthood and into their senior years.
51: Being a vet can be very emotional, how are you taking care of yourself and what can the community do to better support vets?
NB: I have little free time, but bike rides have allowed me to get a few evening hours of activity around town while still being available for emergencies.
With the mobile home care and emergency on call service I have had to help many clients through difficult times. Getting to know these patients and clients beforehand has always helped facilitate getting through a crisis. Starting a complex business in a very competitive industry with high startup costs exerts a significant challenge and in regards to COVID safety, keeping a small bubble within this business model has helped with physical health, but also highlights the importance of every connection for emotional health.
I have found people to be very supportive and they typically mirror the attitudes I bring as a vet. For the community to support vets, the number one thing is to support local. COVID has hit small business hardest and has been used by big business to reset both customer and employee relations. However, it has also given an opportunity for people to focus on smaller scale and more meaningful local community connections, which is why I choose to live and work here.
Our small local mobile vet care business focuses on being in and around the community and we always love it when people with their pets wave at the ambulance.
51: People tend to get emotional around their pets, that likely has been exasperated with the stress of the pandemic, and the vet ends up taking the brunt of that. Are there support systems in place for staff?
SM: To many people, their pets are their fur-babies. The human-animal bond is intense. It is important to honour that bond and the emotions surrounding it.
It is also important to be able to offer empathy and compassion to our clients. The most difficult situation is when a client is unable to choose the best veterinary care for their pet because of finances. During the pandemic, there has undoubtedly been more financial stress in people’s lives.
When this stress spills over into our job, it can end up causing burnout and compassion fatigue in the workplace. It is important that our staff support each other, take time to recreate and enjoy this beautiful valley, and spend quality time with our families and our own pets. Our provincial veterinary association provides counselling for professional staff when needed.
51: Any other pieces of advice you would like the community to know regarding “pandemic pets”?
SM: We would like to ensure that all of our pandemic pets keep their forever homes when life gets back to normal again. Please make sure your new puppies are well socialized.
Make sure that they are comfortable being left alone so that they don’t suffer from separation anxiety when everyone goes back to work. And please make sure that you are financially able to care for your pet either by registering for pet insurance or creating a pet bank account.
The 2020-21 pandemic has shown us how important pets are in our lives. We are here to take good care of you and your pets.