BENSON — Curbside veterinary care is being offered at Benson Animal Hospital.

At least for now.

On April 1, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order that allows veterinarians to examine animals through telemedicine. The order aims to slow the spread of coronavirus through social distancing measures.

“This order allows veterinary professionals to carry out their commitment to caring for Arizona animals, including house pets and farm animals, while Arizona residents practice physical distancing and limit time away from home,” Ducey said through a press release.

While using telemedicine for animal examinations may sound like a good idea, local veterinary hospitals that were contacted about the governor’s order say they have been taking other precautionary measures to protect clients and staff, but none of the respondents were using telemedicine for pet examinations.

Staff wear masks and gloves while following social distancing recommendations and many vet hospitals are restricting the number of people they allow in the hospital at a time. Others have closed their hospitals to clients, with the exception of euthanasias and emergencies.

“We’ve closed off the front office area of our hospital, and as far as clients go, we limit one client per animal,” said Ernest Manning, director of operations for Sierra Animal Hospital in Sierra Vista. “A big part of what we’re doing is not panicking. We’re making sure we talk to the pet owner one-on-one while continuing to practice good medicine. Examining pets through telemedicine is not something we’re doing.”

It’s a similar situation at Benson Animal Hospital, where the hospital’s front desk manager talked about measures the facility is taking to help protect employees and staff against the virus.

“We have implemented a social distancing process at our hospital in order to follow the state and federal recommendations, but we are not using telemedicine,” said Tammy Marble who, along with her position as front desk manager, doubles as a veterinary technician. “One of the big changes we have in place is that we’re not allowing people in the hospital.”

The hospital’s front door is locked, with signage that directs clients to a check-in window where they are greeted by Marble.

“We’re informing all new clients when they call for appointments about this policy, so they aren’t surprised when they get here,” Marble said. “The check-in window is the first stop for animals that need to be seen.”

When clients arrive for appointments, they call Marble from their car on a cell phone. She then takes the cell number and gives it to one of the hospital’s four technicians.

“One of our technicians will call the person back and take the pet’s history over the phone, just as we would do in an exam room,” Marble said, as she described the curbside service. “The technician, wearing gloves and a mask, will go to the person’s vehicle with a hospital leash to prevent cross-contamination, if the pet is a dog. She then takes the animal in the building for for the veterinarian to examine.”

After the exam is completed, Veterinarian Ellen Grygotis contacts the client over the phone to go over findings and discuss a treatment plan, if necessary.

From there, a masked, gloved technician will either go outside to discuss an estimate with the client, or talk to the person via a consultation window, which is the second stop in the curbside process.

All pet drop-offs start at the check-in window. Animals are typically dropped off early in the morning for such procedures as spays, neuters and dentals. Payments for medications, prescription foods and other items are taken at the check-in window as well.

“The only exceptions to our curbside veterinary care are euthanasias and serious medical emergencies,” said Barbara Powell, one of the hospital’s four veterinary technicians. “In those situations, clients are allowed in the hospital, but are required to wear a mask if they come into the building, and they use hand sanitizers that are provided throughout the animal hospital.”

Appointment times take a lot longer because each exam room is deep cleaned after every single visit, Marble said.

Business hours have also been shortened to 3 p.m. in order to help minimize the staff’s exposure risk, another change in the hospital’s operations.

“We’re recommending that clients wait to schedule appointments that are not urgent,” Marble added. “Obviously, we want our clients to keep their pets current on things like rabies vaccinations, but are asking them to wait to schedule well-pet exams or other routine procedures until this health crisis is over.”

Michelle Determan was at Benson Animal Hospital on Monday with her dog, Bronco, who had exhibited signs of a seizure.

She and her son, Brock Determan had just handed Bronco to vet tech Adriana Figueroa for an exam and were settled on the hood of their truck while waiting to speak to the veterinarian.

“I know all this is very different for the hospital staff and clients, but I think Benson Animal Hospital is doing a great job, and I appreciate what they’re doing here,” she said. “I’m glad they’re able to remain open through this pandemic, especially in cases like ours where we had an emergency with our dog.”

While Marble admits that she misses visiting with clients inside the hospital’s lobby, she said the curbside service has been working well for them.

“We’re fortunate to have the two front windows where we can do the check-ins and consultations,” she said. “It’s a lot more time consuming, but we feel good about being able to provide our clients’ pets with quality veterinary care while taking the extra precautions to protect our staff and clients.”

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