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On the Front Lines: Veterinarians are working to keep pets – and their people – healthy during pandemic

UPDATED: Fri., April 17, 2020

Cindy Purvis is photographed with Toothless at VCA Manito Animal Hospital in Spokane on Thursday, April 9, 2020. Veterinarians are committed to continue caring for pets during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Cindy Purvis is photographed with Toothless at VCA Manito Animal Hospital in Spokane on Thursday, April 9, 2020. Veterinarians are committed to continue caring for pets during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

While many people are spending more time at home with their pets, veterinarian Cindy Purvis is spending more time at work keeping them healthy.

Purvis is the medical director at VCA Manito Animal Hospital.

“This is probably the hardest that I’ve worked in my 25 years for all the wrong reasons,” Purvis said of managing the hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.

Purvis grew up in the Tri-Cities surrounded by animals. She rode horses, participated in 4-H and showed sheep as part of the Future Farmers of America.

“It’s all I ever really wanted to be ever since I was a little kid,” Purvis said of being a veterinarian.

Purvis went to veterinary school at Auburn University, then moved to the Spokane area for a short time in the 1990s. In 2012, she moved back and started working at Manito Animal Hospital.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a combination of dealing with the pets and, of course, clients come along with them,” Purvis said. “Too many people say they want to be a vet because ‘I love animals,’ but you have to love people, too, to do this job.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a typical day for Purvis was juggling pets, their owners and her administrative duties.

“With all of this COVID-19, it has really added a tremendous amount,” Purvis said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been at this level of stress and anxiety, in general, and it’s not just about the virus. It’s about the mental wellness of my team and the financial health of the clinic.”

When the virus began spreading, Purvis and the hospital’s parent company, VCA, began working on new procedures to keep employees safe.

“I’m very fortunate to work for VCA,” Purvis said. “They have been extremely proactive and very, very on the ball.”

The clinic is now closed to people, except for emergencies. Pet owners bring their animals to the parking lot or foyer of the building and then communicate with clinic staff via phone, or walkie-talkie if the client doesn’t have a cell phone.

“We are still seeing all kinds of patients. It’s not just the sick and the emergencies,” Purvis said. “If we have room in our schedules, we’re seeing wellness appointments and those types of things.”

Purvis said it’s important for pet owners to keep their pets healthy during this time. Things like vaccine updates can be crucial, because if a family member gets sick with the virus and needs to board a pet, the animal is required to have up-to-date vaccines.

One of the few exceptions to the drop -off and pick up system is if a pet needs to be put down.

“That is one of those cases where we do make the exception because nobody wants to just drop their pet off, their family member essentially, to be euthanized,” Purvis said.

Pet owners are required to wear a mask and can have a maximum of two people in the room during the procedure. Clinic staff wear full personal protective equipment.

“I feel like that’s one of those special procedures where we feel like we need to take that chance,” Purvis said.

While keeping the clinic open has been stressful, Purvis said it’s important people know they can call their vet.

“They just need to know that we’re here for them,” Purvis said. “I would want the public to know that they also need to be patient with us. It’s not the same as it used to be.”

Clients can’t walk in and get an appointment, Purvis said, and the clinic’s schedule fills up quickly.

As an administrator, Purvis has been working from home a bit more than her other staff.

“I do know that my dogs are thrilled,” Purvis said. “They have a great time.”

Some pets are excited to have their owners home, Purvis said.

“But others probably wish you would go back to work so they could bask in the sun alone all day.”

Editor’s note: This article was changed on April 17, 2020 to correct the spelling of Cindy Purvis’s last name. Also, Purvis attended veterinary school at Auburn University. The wrong university was listed in the original version of this report.
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