Special procedures allow animal clinics to remain open

  • Dr. Jeff Maxwell, veterinarian at the Norris Animal Hospital, examines Cash, a 3-year- old Beagle mix, in the parking lot of the clinic on Friday afternoon (April 3). Looking on are, from left, Danny Frazier, 10, and his grandmother, Rita Graham, owner of the dog; and Taylor Cook, a veterinary tech at the clinic on Andersonville Highway. - G. Chambers Williams III

  • This sign along South Charles G. Seivers Boulevard sums up the procedure for clients of the Animal Hospital of Anderson County during the coronavirus crisis. - G. Chambers Williams III

Some of our pets will continue to need medical care during the coronavirus crisis, so veterinary clinics are among the “essential” businesses that Gov. Bill Lee listed in his recent order seeking to limit the spread of the virus in Tennessee.

But that doesn’t mean that local veterinary facilities are going to continue operating “normally” while the governor’s order is in effect.

A check of the four animal hospitals in the Clinton area – two in Clinton and two in Norris – found that the clinics are limiting or banning clients from bringing their pets into the waiting rooms.

Instead, they are asking people to wait with their animals in their vehicles in the clinics’ parking lots after calling to let staff know they have arrived. In some instances, pets are treated at their owners’ vehicles in the parking lots, and in other cases, clinic personnel are coming out to get the animals to take them inside for treatment – without their owners tagging along.

Payments for services are usually being taken only over the phone, by using debit or credit cards.

At the Norris Animal Hospital at 2683 Andersonville Highway on Friday afternoon, the veterinarian on duty, Dr. Jeff Maxwell, saw some patients in the parking lot, including providing the first exam for a family’s new puppy, and doing exams other dogs and cats.

“I just did vaccines on a dog out of the back of a truck, and we’re also doing sort of like the old drive-in restaurants, where you honk your horn or flash your lights to get service,” Maxwell said.

“Not all exams and procedures are able to be done outside, though, so we are following CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) guidelines, and trying to maintain six-foot separation,” he said. “We have a dog side and a cat side with our dual waiting rooms, and we are letting no more than two people inside at a time.

“People can pay over the phone,” he added. “We’re trying to do the best we can to keep properly separated.”

Maxwell also said he also wanted to make sure people understand that “as of what we know now, there is no way you can get COVID-19 from your pets.”

For that reason, he said, there is no reason for anyone to give away or abandon their pets over fears that the animals might spread the disease.

The Norris Animal Hospital and the Clinton Animal Hospital a few miles away at 730 N. Charles G. Seivers Blvd. have the same owners. Steven Newby, the hospitals’ director, said on their websites that the facilities are implementing the following steps:

“1. The hospital will be providing a curbside service for picking up of medications and food and doing as many functionable exams as possible at the vehicle.

“2. (We are) keeping the flow of patient contact to a minimum in the lobby and the exam rooms.”

There are similar guidelines in place at the other two local animal hospitals, which also have common ownership. They are the Anderson County Animal Hospital in Clinton, at 286 S. Charles Seivers Blvd., and the Norris location, at 2822 Andersonville Highway.

“We’re asking people to call from their cars,” said Tracy Pesterfield, office manager at the Norris office. “We’re not allowing visits for routine care right now, though -- it’s for emergencies. “We go out and talk with the owner of the pet and get a history of what’s going on, take the animal in, and let the doctor examine it.

“We are still doing surgeries and dental work, and we’re allowing clients to drop off their animals in the morning, then come back to pick them up after we’re finished,” she said. “We’re only taking payments by phone. We are not performing any services in the parking lot, because we don’t want any animals to escape. We ask that pets be on a leash or in a carrier.”

The restrictions are taking a toll on the clinic’s business, though, Pesterfield said.

“Our business is not where we would like it to be, but we’re keeping the lights on.”

There are signs posted on their main entry doors of both Anderson County Animal Hospital locations to inform clients of their COVID-19 policies. And the Clinton clinic has a large message board under its outdoor sign, saying, “Hey all you cool cats & kittens, we are curbside only.”

On the Facebook page of the Anderson County Animal Hospital’s Norris location, a notice posted March 23 says, in part:

“We continue to offer curbside service where clients can remain in their cars and we can bring animals inside for exam and treatment with communications over the phone, or lobby service to minimize contact.

“We’re also asking people to consider the need for immediate veterinary care vs. something that might possibly be delayed for a few weeks. Annual checkups in an otherwise healthy pet, mild lamenesses or illnesses, etc., may be monitored at home or we may be able to use teleconferencing to ascertain the extent of the problem and prescribe suitable medications.

“We obviously don’t want even one sick pet to be at risk, and we’re trying hard to balance this with the human factor, so we’ll all have to work together to learn how this best works. Our plan is to stay open and serve our clients and patients as long as we can stay healthy, and (we) appreciate your patience with us.”

Clients with questions about a particular clinic’s policies and procedures during the crisis should call those clinics directly.