COVID-19 closes city’s largest pet hospital, emergency care scarce during holidays

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The Omicron variant has crippled Ottawa’s emergency veterinary services, increasing the likelihood that pets will need to be taken to Montreal or Toronto for emergency care while on vacation.

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An executive at Alta Vista Animal Hospital, the city’s largest 24-hour operation, said isolation rules for positive COVID cases have severely affected staff of 160, forcing hospital care to shut down. emergency Thursday at 6 p.m.

“We haven’t had to close the hospital in 70 years,” said Julie Dwyer, regional manager of referral and emergency hospitals for Alta Vista’s parent company, VCA.

“Omicron basically crippled the hospital and that’s mainly because of the isolation.”

She said there were less than 10 actual positive cases among staff, but – because they work in close proximity when handling animals – up to a third of staff have been forced into isolation. by contact, as directed by Ottawa Public Health.

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The drastically reduced numbers meant that Alta Vista didn’t think it was safe to stay open. (It will remain partially open to fill prescriptions and sell prescription pet food.)

The shutdown of Alta Vista has shifted the load to the city’s other two 24-hour emergency hospitals.

The Ottawa Veterinary Hospital on Boyd Avenue – much smaller than Alta Vista – is still open 24 hours a day, but expects to be swamped with cases and may already be near full capacity.

“Please note that we are the only emergency hospital open in the Ottawa area during the holiday season and as a result we will be handling a high volume of cases,” a phone message from Boyd Institution said to callers. Friday. “We ask for your patience and understanding as we do our best to help you and your pet. “

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The third facility, Animal Emergency & Specialty Hospital on Lola Street, also struggles to stay open during the holidays. A spokesperson said they do their best to deal with only the most urgent cases.

“At the moment, we have reduced our reception capacity due to staff shortages and potential exposure to COVID-19,” wrote customer service manager Nicole Rainville.

“What this means in practice is that we currently only have the capacity to accommodate patients who present us with life-threatening emergencies. So we’re not necessarily closed, we’re just trying to balance the capacity of our hospital with the emergencies we receive. “

Dwyer said she is confident Ottawa pet owners will eventually be driving out of town this holiday season. “I think it’s absolutely going to happen. I don’t see any way around this.

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It’s usually the busiest time of year in Alta Vista, with 70 or 80 cases per day and as many as 40 to 50 animals on a drip, she said.

This is due to two factors: most regular veterinary surgeries are temporarily closed; and pets face many gastro / poison issues due to the abundance of unusual food and potentially poisonous plants during the Christmas season.

Dwyer suggested pet owners call ahead before visiting out of town clinics. She also reminded owners to be extra careful with what animals eat at this time of year. Minor ailments, she added, can likely wait until regular veterinary care returns and she pointed to tele-veterinarian services that could help in a pinch.

The explosion in the pet population during the 20-month pandemic has also exacerbated the situation, with figures as high as 40%.

She says the “best case” is that Alta Vista could be partially reopened by the middle of next week, as staff come out of isolation on staggered days. However, she cautioned that things are “very fluid” at the moment.

Even during nearly two years of a pandemic and major events like the 1998 ice storm, Alta Vista on Bank Street South has always found a way to stay open.

“It’s really difficult for a lot of our employees. We have never been there.

To contact Kelly Egan, please dial 613-291-6265 or email [email protected]

Twitter.com/kellyegancolumn

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