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Veterinarians offer ventilators as they fight to be declared essential service


Canada's veterinarians said Monday they're willing to join in the nationwide efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic even as they fight to ensure they're allowed to keep providing care to the country's animals.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association said several members have come forward offering to make their ventilators available for human use in order to ease the strain on the country's overtaxed medical system. The association said it's currently in the process of surveying its members to get a feel for how much spare equipment could be pressed into service if required.

But veterinarians are also hoping to persuade governments across the country to declare them an essential service, saying such a designation would provide greater security during a time of increasing upheaval.

Their efforts come as a growing number of provinces declare states of emergency or implement other measures meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Quebec and Ontario announced Monday that all non-essential business would close within the next 24 hours.

"Veterinarians are an essential service," said Dr. Ian Sandler, a practising animal doctor and a member of the association's national issues committee. "We are the health care provider for thousands of animals across Canada, and it's absolutely critical that we continue to both administer medical care as needed as well as ensure supplies of medication to pet owners across Canada."

Sandler said veterinary services are necessary for the ongoing care of more than just domestic animals, though noting those animals can play an important role in home life in the age of social distancing.

He said vets also play a crucial role in Canada's agricultural system, ensuring food safety and sound clinical practices across the industry.

Limiting access to those services, he said, would place thousands of animals at risk of not receiving crucial care or needed medications.

Sandler said most vet clinics have stayed open so far, noting that they've been asked to implement  policies in line with advice from public health officials.

Many clinics have greatly curtailed public access to their premises, allowing people in one at a time or even taking animals inside for examination while owners wait outside.

Essential service designation has not been widely implemented as provincial governments ramp up their efforts to combat the pandemic, but at least two provinces have taken steps to keep animal care clinics open.

Veterinarians are listed among businesses allowed to stay open in both New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, which have declared a state of emergency and public health emergency respectively in recent days.

Vets also made the list of critical services released by the Quebec governments on Monday, hours before looming closures of non-essential businesses went into effect.

The same held true for Ontario, where the provincial government released a similar list hours ahead of when it had been promised. Veterinarians and pet stores were included.

One Toronto vet was desperately hoping her west-end clinic would make the list.

Dr. Hana Schwarz said she has seen no drop in the need for her services since the pandemic brought large swaths of Canadian society to a standstill last week.

She said it's vital to allow offices like hers to remain open, noting that there is no true alternative to specialized animal care even when it comes to prescribing routine medication.

"About 75 to 80 per cent of the supply that we will prescribe .... are veterinary prescriptions that may not be available at a pet store or a regular human pharmacy," she said.

Closing community clinics also risks forcing members of the public to put themselves at needless risk by using public transit to access scarce emergency animal care resources, she added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2020.


Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

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