Pandemic or not, pets still need to eat, play and see the doctor.
For some local businesses dedicated to the health and well-being of our four-legged friends, like Indian Trail Animal Hospital in North Spokane, the months since the pandemic's onset have been unexpectedly busy.
For others, like the two-location Yuppy Puppy, which offers grooming, doggie daycare and supplies like natural pet food and toys, consumers' pandemic-spurred preference for online shopping has been a major hit to sales.
"My downtown store is down by about 75 percent because it's predominantly frequented by tourists and people who work downtown, and obviously we don't have either of those things right now," says Yuppy Puppy owner Aquila Brown.
"We added a delivery service and do free delivery with an order of $25 or more, and I thought that would help pick up business, but food sales are down," she continues. "Where are people getting their food? Did they switch to Chewy or Amazon? It's really stressful."
The Yuppy Puppy's north side location, meanwhile, was able to reopen its professional dog grooming services back in early May when initial lockdown rules were lifted. Its groomers are still catching up; Brown estimates their calendar is still booked out for a month or more.
"Now the problem is that our grooming is super busy," she says. "People keep saying 'that must be so great because you're all booked up,' but it's not great because we can only do so many dogs a day, and we can't add clients or make up any losses. Twice as many dogs need haircuts but we can only accommodate the same amount as before."
The north store only recently reopened its self-serve dog wash stations because Brown wasn't able to source enough cleaning supplies to sanitize the area between customers. Reservations to use the wash stations are now required, whereas walk-ins were previously accepted.
Yuppy Puppy's doggie daycare service, only offered at the north store, has also taken a hit since March since so many of its regular customers are still working from home. Brown says the daycare is seeing about half of its usual clients.
While she's grateful to be back to operating all of the Yuppy Puppy's services, and for the steady support of her customer base, Brown felt some of the initial lockdown rules unfairly impacted small businesses like hers. The ban on pet grooming was the most inconvenient and restrictive for both her staff and customers.
For example, even when doggie daycare remained open with contactless pickups and dropoffs through all past phases of Washington's statewide lockdown, staff weren't allowed to groom dogs already on site for all-day supervised care. She adds that some big box pet stores with grooming services were still allowed to operate when she couldn't.
"It was extra frustrating. It really felt like they were targeting the little guys specifically," Brown says.
The ordered closure of pet grooming caused a negative result for many dogs, too. Some came in with extremely matted fur due to a lack of coat care during the nine weeks grooming was banned.
"A lot of the dogs were in bad shape, and we get it," Brown says. "We have had to shave a lot of dogs for safety and comfort."
While it's been an obstacle-filled return to normal operations for the Yuppy Puppy, one local veterinary clinic has been having a busier than usual summer, even amid the global pandemic.
Indian Trail Animal Hospital co-owner and veterinarian Keri Bayley says increased demand for services, paired with a need to space out appointments to allow for deep cleaning between patients, has presented several unexpected challenges to her practice and the region's veterinary services as a whole.
"The need is huge right now. A lot of people are clearing out our shelters, which is great, so we have seen a lot of new puppies and kittens," Bayley says. "And there are more animals outdoors, unsupervised or supervised, so there are more interactions between pets, increases in car accidents, dog fights and other traumatic type things."
As many pet owners have been spending more time at home, that extra time around their pets has also translated into more consistent observations of their animals' health, and the need to make an appointment.
"Many clinics also have reduced hours for various reasons, and a lot are 100 percent curbside, which adds a different time frame to manage the pets," Bayley says. "It's been a real challenge, but the biggest has been seeing all the pets that need to be seen."
Indian Trail Animal Hospital is scheduling about half of its appointments as normal, while only allowing one person with an animal into the exam room, with social distancing and masking required, while the rest are curbside or drop-offs. Clients are still able to confer with a veterinarian or technician for those appointments, but aren't allowed inside the clinic while their pet is being seen. Other contactless services the clinic offers include prepaid ordering of prescriptions and food for pickup.
Bayley says it's a similar picture across the region's vet clinics. To ensure pet owners with urgent needs are able to receive needed care, local clinics are working together to send records back and forth to whatever practice is able to schedule an animal first, even if it's not an animal's primary provider.
"There are only so many vets and so many animals that we can see in a day, so it's definitely become a little higher pressure in how do we help these pets with the resources that we have," she says. "A lot of people don't necessarily see that aspect. We used to always have same-day appointments or at least by the next day."
Staff at Indian Trail have noticed other effects of the pandemic on pets and owners, including increased stress and anxiety on both sides from being stuck at home, as well as puppies that are not being socialized with other dogs or people because of social distancing requirements. On the positive side, however, Bayley says she's noticed more people taking their dogs on walks, which provides mental stimulation and healthy exercise to both parties.
"I think in general, pets are going to be our saviors in all of this," she says. ♦