What it’s like to lose a pet during the coronavirus pandemic
Around 8 a.m. April 6, Tazo, my pet bearded dragon reptile of three years, collapsed onto the floor of her tank. She had been completely healthy before and showed no signs of illness. In a panic, I frantically called her exotic veterinarian’s office on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. Someone on the emergency hotline answered and recommended I take her to an emergency clinic in Brooklyn, half an hour away from my home.
So, I did. I had never been to that clinic before, but I could immediately recognize it by the setting: four white tents hoisted outside a tall building with owners and their dogs sitting more than 6 feet apart on metal chairs.
A receptionist walked out of the building: She wore a mask and gloves and was holding a wire cage in her hands. I read a sign on the glass doors of the entrance: “Due to COVID-19, No Owners Allowed Inside.”
Around 45 minutes passed before the receptionist returned to take Tazo’s carrier inside. The attending vet called me on the phone, said she had no experience with reptiles, and couldn’t help me. She added that Tazo had a low heart rate and was going to die pretty soon if I didn’t take action.
I decided to take the risk and drive to Manhattan to her usual vet. Before the coronavirus pandemic took over New York, it would have taken around an hour, with traffic. That Monday, since most people are now working from home, the drive took less than 30 minutes.
When I arrived at the vet, I couldn’t go inside to comfort Tazo. I couldn’t see the doctor in person when I was looking for assurance that she would be OK. Instead, I had to leave my
pet’s carrier on a table outside the building doors under a sign that also said no one was allowed inside due to COVID-19.
Shortly after, the vet called me on the phone and said Tazo had passed away. She said the cause of death was unknown, that she was sorry, and that if the circumstances were different, I probably would have been able to have Tazo receive critical care before she died.
A day after Tazo’s death, her vet called me and said she would do a “community cremation” of Tazo and other pets that also had died within that week, which I think is quite unusual for the clinic to see so many deaths within a short time span. I still don’t know how many deaths there were.
Even now, three weeks after Tazo died, I wonder: “If the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t happening, would I have been able to take her to the doctor in time to save her life? Would Tazo have been seen by the doctor earlier if the social distancing measures – which allowed one pet in at a time to be seen – hadn’t existed?”
I wonder if the owners of those cremated pets had gone through a similar experience and couldn’t get their pets to be evaluated before they died. With minimized access to veterinary care and medical supplies because of limited space in the clinics and safety measures, I think the likely answer is “yes.”
And I wonder, too, whether those owners ruminate over what would have happened if this pandemic wasn’t our current reality.
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