The coronavirus pandemic has seen business go to the dogs … which if you are a veterinarian is mostly good, but not entirely.

“Our call volume is way up,” says Dr. Gail Henry, of Evanston Animal Hospital. “I’ve never seen it where we’re fully booked three weeks in advance.”

A big reason for the increase, says Dr. Olivia Rudolfi, President of the 2,800-member Illinois State Veterinary Association, is simple. With more people staying home due to the pandemic, “pet adoptions are up.”

At Fox Animal Hospital in Evanston, Office Manager Samantha Labalestra says animal shelters seemed to be empty a month into the pandemic because of so many adoptions. “We’d get calls asking where the puppies are,” she says.

But if business is up now, it may only be making up for decreases early in the pandemic. Pet owners put off routine visits, elective surgeries were postponed and veterinarians worried about having enough masks and gowns. The American Veterinary Medical Association says the average practice nationwide made $17,000 less than usual in April.

While business is back up and then some, there are issues on the horizon. If pet owners do start returning to the workplace, pets who were used to having somebody home all the time may get nervous. “Pets experience stress the same way people do,” says Dr. Henry.

Pet owners can expect COVID safety restrictions to continue at the vet for the forseeable future. You won’t be allowed in. Your pet will be picked up curbside at your car. You may have longer waits for appointments, as cleaning and sanitizing adds time.

Vets hope all the new pet owners are happy with their animals, and didn’t just adopt because it was the thing to do during the pandemic. “I hope not,” says Dr. Henry, “but I will admit I’m concerned.”

Like everyone else, veterinarians are adapting to a new normal. “I would never have imagined we’d get as busy as we have,” says Dr. Henry.

“As long as we can stay safe and healthy,” says Labalestra, “we’ll be there for our clients.” Both two-legged and four.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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