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A Conversation with Registered Veterinary Technician Kelly Seeback

The following is an interview that took place with Kelly Seeback, a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) with a small animal general practice in Waterloo, ON. She has been a RVT for 21 years, primarily working with small animals – dogs, cats and some rabbits and guinea pigs too! Hopefully our conversation will give you a bit of an idea of what’s involved in the position of a RVT and what it’s like to work in a veterinary clinic during the Pandemic.

1. What does a typical shift at the clinic look like?

A typical shift starts with surgery in the mornings. I would say on average, we have anywhere from 2 to 4 surgeries per day. We try and have them finished before noon, so the pets have time to recover before going home. The role of the veterinary technician is to prepare the pet for surgery (run bloodwork, calculate sedation, anesthetize the pet, shave, and clean surgery site) and monitor the anesthesia. The afternoon is filled with appointments. As a technician, I help with restraint, client education and any procedures that may be required (radiographs, bloodwork, IV fluids etc). Of course, each day is different and there is always something unexpected that comes in. It could be a sick pet or an emergency surgery that we have to squeeze in.

2. What do you like most about working with animals?

Animals can be unpredictable and each one is unique. I never really know what my day is going to be like, and I do enjoy that aspect. I like working directly with the animals. I know that they are stressed when they are in the clinic, and I find it very rewarding to be able to provide comfort to an anxious pet.

3. Do you enjoy working with a certain type of animal more than another?

Cats 100 percent! I love both dogs and cats, but I am definitely a cat person. They can be a challenge in the veterinary clinic because they are very much a fight or flight animal. I feel like there is a real skill to handling a stressed cat. I definitely have my war wounds, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

4. Are you able to share a funny story about an animal you have worked with in the past?

I was working a shift at the emergency clinic and a dog came in for chocolate toxicity. This is a pretty common issue which is usually solved by making the dog vomit up the chocolate. This particular dog had eaten part of a chocolate shaped like a certain appendage, of the male anatomy. The dog got into the chocolate at a bachelorette party so you can imagine what the shape was. In order for us to determine whether or not a dog has eaten enough of the chocolate to be toxic, we need to know how much of the chocolate was ingested. So, we asked the owner to go and purchase another chocolate appendage similar to the one the dog ate to compare sizes and to see how much the dog ate. We were all laughing when she brought it into the clinic! Don’t worry the dog ended up being ok.

5. Do you have a ‘strange but true’ story from your time working as a Vet Tech?

My strange but true stories mostly involve strange things pets have ingested. I think the strangest one was a pug that ate almost an entire box of Q-Tips. They had to be surgically removed from his stomach. I remember watching around 10 or so being pulled out and thinking “Ok, that must be about it,” then there were at least 60 more that followed! And he swallowed them all whole! This little guy was tough and was totally fine once we got all the Q-Tips out of him.

6. What is the most challenging aspect about your job? Has this changed since Covid-19?

I would say the most challenging aspect for me has always been client communication. People are very emotional when it comes to their pets (rightfully so) and sometimes that can cause tension in certain situations. The Pandemic has definitely heightened this tension as we have been doing a curbside service. It is hard for people to hand over their pets and wait outside. It’s even harder if the pet in unwell. We try our best to ease the pet’s and owner’s anxieties, but it can definitely be a challenge.

7. I’ve read a lot online about ‘Pandemic pets’ and the ‘pet boom’ that has happened since the Pandemic hit North America in the spring of 2020. How has this impacted your clinic?

We have definitely noticed the ‘pet boom’! We have really seen an increase in pet ownership. It has been a challenge for us as we are short staffed, and we have trouble fitting in all of our appointments. It isn’t just the clinic I work for. There has been a shortage of veterinarians and technicians for quite some time now. The Pandemic has made it more difficult as staff is now needed to restrain/hold pets because owners can’t come inside the clinic. For a time, we had to turn away new clients because we weren’t able to get our existing clients seen. We were also receiving calls from people wanting to come in because their regular clinic had to turn them away. As a result, our local emergency clinic went from being open only weekends and evenings to being open 24/7.

8. Have you noticed anything different about the types of patients/pets coming in for care since the Pandemic?

The puppy boom has resulted in a general shortage of purebred puppies. We have seen lots of puppies/dogs that have been rescued from other countries. We have also seen an increase in the number of puppies coming from a puppy mill situation. The Pandemic has unfortunately made it easier for puppy mill breeders. It isn’t questioned now when a breeder says they aren’t letting people visit the litter/parents prior to purchase. More people are turning to puppy mills because they don’t want to wait 2-3 years for a puppy, which is now becoming more common with reputable breeders.

9. Have you seen similar situations, to those mentioned in this quote, about behavioural and/or socialization issues amongst your canine patients yet?

“Pets left at home when their humans returned to work can experience behavioural issues, or accidentally ingest things they shouldn’t when they’re unsupervised. Dogs who are used to one-on-one attention are being socialized as things open up and meeting other pups can lead to some injuries after spats and scuffles with other animals. They don’t know how to interact with other animals, they haven’t learned that behaviour,” (Parmer, Tarnjit and Steacy, Lisa. “Pandemic pets contributing to staff burnout, long waits at B.C. veterinary clinics.” CityNews Everywhere, Oct 13, 2021. Oct 17, 2021.)

Yes. Now that the Pandemic has been going on for almost 2 years, we are starting to see our “Pandemic puppies” coming in for their first adult vaccines. We can definitely see a difference in behavior in the clinical setting. Most of our older pre-Pandemic dogs do just fine leaving their owners and coming in for their appointment. Our Pandemic dogs, on the other hand, definitely show more anxiety. They don’t want to leave their owners, and when they do eventually come inside, they are visibly more anxious.

10. Post Covid-19 when most people return to work and are leaving their pets at home more often and for longer periods of time, how do you expect the needs of your patients to change?

I think we will definitely be seeing lots of behavioral issues and unfortunately, we will probably see more pets being rehomed or surrendered to a shelter. I also think we may see a decrease in some types of appointments. I feel like during the Pandemic, we’ve seen pets for lots of issues that owners may not have necessarily noticed if they weren’t at home with their pets all day.

October is Registered Veterinary Technician month, so if you happen to be visiting your vet clinic this month this is something to keep in mind!

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