How Austin Pets Alive! Safely and Methodically Reopened Spay Neuter Services: 10 Things to Consider

May 19th, 2020

Are you itching to reopen or increase spay/neuter operations? If you are like those of us in Austin, I am guessing the answer is YES! How will you reopen and maintain safety for our staff, volunteers, community members, and pets?

Preventing the spread of disease and maintaining lifesaving have continued to be our top priorities at Austin Pets Alive! and American Pets Alive!. Thanks to the Austin community, APA! was able to continue to save hundreds of lives from around the state as the pandemic made its way across the world.

As a result of operating essential services only to keep our community safe, we saw an increase of unaltered animals entering our care. As Texas planned to reopen services statewide, Austin Pets Alive! started to plan for resuming spay and neuter operations. The APA! Medical Clinic took precautions and considered how to open back up for spay and neuter services while continuing to maintain safety as a top priority.

Just last week, the Medical Director, Director of Operations, Clinic Managers, and members of the AmPA! team came together to create a plan on how to start decreasing the number of animals waiting for spay and neuter.

Here are a 10 factors we considered and the steps we took:

Ten Considerations Before Reopening Spay/Neuter Operations

1. Is it the right time for you?

How do you know when it’s the right time for you? Read our blog on balancing the two 90+ percentiles, and get your decision tree download. This decision tree should help you decide when the right time to reopen spay/neuter at your shelter is.

2. Minimize Crowds and Maintain Social Distancing

Avoiding a crowd of people is the most important aspect to re-opening spay/neuter. As we reinstate these operations, we need to continue to make the safety and well-being of people and animals our top concern.

3. Curbside Drop Off and Pick Up

If you have the driveway for it you can do a curbside drop off and pick up where people never exit their car. This does require people to be able to pull up, drop off their animal, then pull forward to exit.

4. Transfer Kennels

If you do not have the option to do curbside drop offs and pick ups, you can utilize transfer kennels. Transfer kennels are what Austin Pets Alive! is currently using and it is working well. To use transfer kennels, check people in via phone, assign them a transfer kennel (see our videos about these here and here), have them place the dog in the kennel. Once the person steps away a staff member or volunteer retrieves the dog from the kennel.

5. Minimize Paper Handoff

Can you prepare consent forms and other paperwork ahead of drop off? Ideally paperwork is electronically sent to clients and, if possible, signed electronically so there is minimal paper handoff. When you must use physical paperwork, have clients drop it in a bin, ensure all is completed, and disinfect the papers later, before handling them. Also, consider cashless transactions only to minimize contact. Consider using a drive thru model, if possible.

6. Split Your Surgery Staff Into Teams

Splitting your staff into teams (Team A, Team B, etc.) prevents entire departments from becoming sick or unable to to work due to exposure to COVID-19. In the event a team member becomes ill, operations can continue while that team isolates. Splitting into teams also reduces the number of people staff are coming in contact with. This follows CDC guidelines and helps staff feel safer while they are working.

See our COVID-19 Shelter Preparedness Protocol about dividing into teams here.

7. Use Volunteers

Maintaining six feet of distance between humans is not easy! We have to think about each step we take and because of this our processes take us longer to complete. Surgery drop off used to take us 5-10 minutes per animal but now it’s going to take us a little longer and that’s ok. But, how do we make sure we can still start surgery on time? How do we ensure we can still check out on time?

By thinking about how you can safely add volunteers to your teams you can still perform a meaningful number of surgeries a day without compromising safety. At Austin Pets Alive! we are slowly adding 1-2 volunteers to each team to provide support. These volunteers must attest that they are healthy and have not knowingly been exposed to COVID-19 before they can start helping. They also cannot assist in any other areas of the shelter. This is to minimize the number of people they come into contact with.

8. Consider Surgery Drug Shortages

Because of medication and drug shortages due to COVID-19, you may find it difficult to get your routine surgery drugs. If you cannot obtain your routine drugs what will you use? How quickly can you retrain staff? Is there a cost difference? These are all important things to consider when it comes to maintaining your medical clinic stock during this pandemic.

9. What about PPE Shortages and Use?

By using only necessary PPE and reusing when possible we can keep patients safe and not waste precious masks, gowns, etc. At Austin Pets Alive! staff are using cloth face coverings, while veterinarians are wearing surgical masks (1 per day) and cloth scrub hats.

10. Don’t reopen if you don’t need to

If spay/neuter isn’t an urgent priority or you are in a hot spot then we advise you to remain closed.

Be sure to take a look at all of our protocols in the AmPA! COVID-19 Animal Shelter Preparedness Guide.

What Austin Pets Alive! Did to Reopen Spay/Neuter Services as Safely as Possible

1. Surgeries by the Numbers

Austin Pets Alive! currently has 830 animals awaiting surgery with their adopters. Approximately 500 animals a month are being pre-adopted. This means our team needs to complete ~1800 surgeries in 8 weeks to catch up, breaking down to 225 surgeries per week, and 45 surgeries per day, 5 days per week.

2. Staffing and Scheduling

Completing 225 surgeries per week requires two complete surgery teams consisting of one veterinarian and three vet techs. These teams will be on a rotating schedule to minimize the number of people everyone comes into contact with.

We came up with the following schedule for our clinic:

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: Surgery Team A

Wednesday: Rotating Surgery Team A/B

Thursday: Ortho Surgery day, Surgery Team B

Friday: In-house Special Surgery day, Surgery Team B (only one tech needed)

Saturday: Surgery Team B

3. Safety Precautions for the Austin Pets Alive! Medical Clinic

There are a few other things our team considered and wrote into the plan when it came to reopening S/N operations.

  • There is an increased need for volunteers to help with safe check in/check out because of the use of transfer kennels and increased time it takes when maintaining social distancing.
  • Additional administrative/scheduling support is needed from a volunteer or other employee working from home due to the surgery lead losing an administrative day with the increased number of surgeries.
  • The clinic needs to minimize use of PPE and reuse as much as possible.
  • All staff and volunteers will be required to wear masks.
  • Managers must keep drug stock up and provide training to all staff in the event of a change in drug.

As more states reopen, spay/neuter operations will be opening up. We hope you take all precautions with COVID-19 as human safety is still a primary concern. If you would like more information on how you can safely reopen spay and neuter services email us at [email protected].

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