Pet owners worry as COVID-19 outbreaks among staff close veterinary hospitals

·2 min read
The Alta Vista Animal Hospital is one of three veterinary hospitals in Ottawa that has had to close its doors this week because multiple employees tested positive for COVID-19.  (Félix Desroches/CBC - image credit)
The Alta Vista Animal Hospital is one of three veterinary hospitals in Ottawa that has had to close its doors this week because multiple employees tested positive for COVID-19. (Félix Desroches/CBC - image credit)

Pet owners in the Ottawa area may have some difficult decisions to make this holiday season if their pets require veterinary care after all three emergency clinics in the city have had to shut their doors because of COVID-19 outbreaks among staff.

The Ottawa Veterinary Hospital and the Ottawa Emergency and Specialty Hospital will only be open for life-threatening conditions, but both companies told CBC they cannot guarantee everyone will be seen.

The Alta Vista Animal Hospital, the largest of the three hospitals which offer emergency care, is only offering curbside pickup for prescriptions of pet food and life-saving medications.

"It's been really emotionally hard on the staff. We want to get open as soon as we can," said Julie Dwyer, an area manager with VCA Canada, which operates the Alta Vista Animal Hospital and the Ottawa Veterinary Hospital.

Félix Desroches/CBC
Félix Desroches/CBC

She said the Alta Vista location has never closed its doors in its 70 years in operation, including during the 1998 ice storm when much of eastern Ontario was without power for multiple days, nor during the first 21 months of the pandemic.

Even with 165 employees, including 30 veterinarians, the current outbreak has put a significant strain on staff as other employees have also had to self-isolate per new Ontario guidelines.

"When you have a positive employee, that might expose 12 to 15 to 20 people and so when that starts to spread, we now just do not have the staff ... to operate the hospital."

Take extra precautions to protect pets, hospital urges

Dwyer urged people to be extra cautious with their pets over the holidays, ensuring they're not given any toxic plants or foods, such as chocolate.

In an emergency, people can either call the animal poison control hotline or access an online triage system where they can speak to a vet.

If someone has a true emergency, they can call either the Ottawa Veterinary Hospital or the Ottawa Emergency and Specialty Hospital, but there is no guarantee a pet will be able to be seen. People may be redirected to clinics in Montreal, Laval, Que., or Toronto.

Owner of Mr. Meowgi worried

The closures worry Katie O'Rourke whose cat Mr. Meowgi, has to take a puffer twice daily because of asthma, and also relies on a rescue inhaler, for emergencies.

Submitted by Katie O'Rourke
Submitted by Katie O'Rourke

"It's kind of scary for me because I don't know, if there was an emergency, if I could make it to Montreal," she said. "And if your pet's in stress, it's usually something that needs immediate attention."

O'Rourke said she understands vets and clinics are doing their best and need to take care of themselves, especially as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly across Ottawa.

"We need to cut them some slack, but we also need to know that our pets can be taken care of if they have an emergency."

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