LONDON, ONT. -- In the time of COVID-19, end-of-life care has changed, even for veterinarians.

Dr. Kristina Russell says she recently had a family of six wish to attend the final moments of their pet's life, but she had to deny all but one.

Moving forward, she says, the unfortunate new policy will continue with another needed modification. Any staff present, and the person present with the pet, will have to wear a mask for protection against the virus.

It’s a heartbreaking new reality facing veterinarians like Russell and her staff at Stoneybrook Animal Hospital.

Until just a few days ago, she feared veterinarians would not be deemed essential, especially those who do not work frequently with livestock.

But when the province released its list of essential services she was relieved to see she could still operate.

However, things have changed at her hospital.

“We have to have the door locked now. I had to send out a mass email telling people not to just show up, because a lot of people just show up and we’re not opening the door to anyone."

Moving forward, other than pre-arranged appointments, visits are limited to essential care.

The directive is, of course, designed to protect the human population more than the animals.

The new procedures require people to call once they've arrived. Soon after, a clinic employee comes outside, wearing a mask, to pick up the pet.

In the cases of dogs, the pick-up is at the car. For cats, the animal is placed in a carrier outside the clinic's back door, before a staff member takes the cat inside.

Dog owner Nava Pundaky says she understands the protocols, even though it’s hard not to be inside with her pet.

“Oh I’m sure they’re doing everything they can to protect the dogs in the owners, that is for sure.”

In more than 20 years of business, Russell has never gone to such extreme measures.

She acknowledges part of the response is a direct result of concerns some have over whether pets touched by COVID-19-infected humans, can in-turn pass the virus through fur.

“I’m treating pets, until I know more, just like a piece of paper, just like anything. You can have germs, bacteria, viruses on anything people touch, including your pets.”

On a broader scale, veterinarians, including Russell, have also been asked to play a role in the fight against COVID-19.

Any extra ventilators normally used for the pet population, are being earmarked for emergency human use, if need be, she confirms.

However, in London, she only knows of one of the machines.

In the end, Russell says pets are crucial to the human population, especially those who live alone.

Therefore she believes the continued operation of all vet clinics during the crisis is essential, as many pets require ongoing medical care for conditions – just like their human counterparts.