Veterinarians in the Berkshires are still seeing pets during the statewide coronavirus crisis, but only for essential services.
In conversations with The Eagle, several local practitioners said they remain open for sick visits, emergencies and the completion of time-sensitive vaccines. Hours have been reduced, but the offices are offering curbside service.
And despite the recent reports of a tiger at New York's Bronx Zoo testing positive for the virus, local veterinarians — as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture — say there are no known cases of the virus in U.S. pets or livestock.
The coronavirus outbreaks around the world are driven by person-to-person transmission, experts say.
Dr. John Reynolds of Pittsfield Veterinary Hospital, was quick to reassure owners that pets were safe from getting the disease.
"Dog and cats don't get the disease," he told The Eagle last week, "and they aren't carriers of the virus in terms of breathing it in or breathing it out."
He did caution that they could be carriers of the virus on their fur.
"If someone who has the virus sneezes, it [droplets from the sneeze] will get on the pet. It's not known how long the virus will remain alive, so another person petting the animal may pick up the virus."
He added that, "In general, we've seen nothing that shows pets are part of the problem, and you don't have to take any precautions, just maintain social distancing so no one pets your pet."
If a pet owner is hospitalized or unable to take care of a pet, whoever takes on the care of the animal should immediately give the animal a bath.
"We use Dawn dish soap here in our boarding kennel," he said. "Also do not use any of the animals leashes, collars, bowls or toys without washing and/or disinfecting. Do not use anything that might be contaminated without washing or disinfecting it."
Reynolds said Pittsfield Veterinary Hospital was still open seven days a week, but the hours have been shortened to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"We are deemed an essential business and were asked to stay open. We're doing everything we can to take care of people's pets. Pets are even more important during this time, giving their owners support and companionship."
To ensure the safety of its staff members and the public, Reynolds said the hospital has adopted curbside service.
"We'll chat with the owners before and after the visit," he said, "and take the pet in while the owners wait in the car."
He added that staff members will also check to see if the owner is not showing any signs of COVID-19.
Staff members' schedules have been adjusted at the hospital, so if some come down with the virus, the hospital can remain open, Reynolds said.
Ashley Gilvey, hospital manager at Greylock Animal Hospital in North Adams, reiterated that pets could not get or pass on COVID-19.
"Owners should be assured that their pet cannot get COVID-19. Cats and dogs get other types of coronaviruses specific to their species," she said in an email. "The coronavirus that they are susceptible to, is vaccinated for in the distemper vaccine that all puppies and kittens should receive every three to four weeks between six and 16 weeks of age. That vaccine is then given yearly thereafter to help maintain protection."
Gilvey said Greylock Animal is still seeing patients, but only for pets who are sick, have an emergency or are due for vaccines that are time sensitive, such as a booster."
Sick appointments would be considered as: ear or eye infections, vomiting, diarrhea, a decrease in appetite, lethargy, an increase in urination or more accidents not in designated areas (i.e. in the house for dogs, out of the litter box for cats)," she said. "Emergency appointments would be considered as lacerations, bite wounds from other pets or animals, collapse or pets hit by cars."
Gilvey said the hospital is also currently operating as a curbside service. Owners are requested to call from their vehicles when they arrive at our hospital to let us know that their pet is present for their appointment, she said.
"A technician (assistant to the veterinarian) will take a brief history from the owner over the phone and then go out and retrieve the pet from the client's car. The doctor will then examine the pet and call the owner on their cellphone while they wait in the parking lot for their pet to done with their appointment. After discussing the next steps with the owners and getting approval, the technician and doctor perform the necessary treatments."
While the pet is being treated, one of the hospital's receptionists will call the owner with the total cost of the visit and take payment over the phone by credit card.
For those who need medications or food refilled, Greylock is taking payment over the phone and asking owners to call when they arrive at the hospital for pickup. The product will then be placed outside for the owner to retrieve from the side door.
Greylock is open seven days a week, but has decreased its hours during the week to 8 a.m. to noon and open again from 1 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is open 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Crystal Carr, the office manager at Allen Heights Veterinary Hospital in Pittsfield, said the hospital is offering only essential services, seeing pets only if they are feeling sick, it's an emergency and finishing vaccination series on puppies and kittens.
"We're not allowing the public in the building; we're offering curbside service," she said. "We ask that the owner call from the parking lot when they arrive. A technician will get the pet and bring it in to be treated," she said. "The vet will call or go out and go over everything with the owner, and the owner pays over the phone."
She added staff members may wear a face mask when dealing with the owner and a gown when handling a pet.
"We can't catch the virus from the animals," she said, "but they can carry it on their fur and we can get the virus from petting them."
She asked that owners be patient during this time.
"If one of our staff members get sick, we'll all have to be quarantined," she said. "We're just trying to keep the business safe."
Like other veterinary services in the area, Allen Heights has reduced its hours, due to limited staffing. It is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, and closed Sunday.