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WEMU Reaches Out: COVID-19 Conversations - Veterinarian Cathy Theisen

As we take care of ourselves during the COVID-19 crisis, we can't forget about the health and well-being of our pets.  In this installment of "WEMU Reaches Out: COVID-19 Conversations," Barbara Lucas talks with veterinarian Dr. Cathy Theisen about how serving animals is changing, how she is dealing with the personal and professional changes, and her hopes for a silver lining at the end of the outbreak.  

David Fair Intro: As the relentless march of coronavirus upends our lives, many are reaching out to others—at a safe distance!—to ask, how’re you doing?  What are you doing to cope?  Reporter Barbara Lucas has been ringing up a wide range of folks, to hear their unique stories, including a best friend to your furry friends.

Barbara Lucas:  Do you think there are going to be any improvements when all this is over, any silver linings, anything like that?

Cathy Theisen:  Well…

BL: I’m talking with Dr. Cathy Theisen about COVID-19.

Theisen: As a veterinarian, the silver lining I most hope for is that the wild animal markets are closed.  The MERS, the SARS, now this, Ebola.  These have all come from contact with wild animals that are being captured for meat.

BL: She feels allowing wild animal sales to continue is unconscionable…

Theisen:  …a catastrophe for public health.  A catastrophe for the animals that suffer capture and then confinement and then slaughter. And they are an absolute catastrophe for endangered species.

BL: Until recently, Dr. Theisen worked full-time.  But with COVID-19, her position teaching veterinary surgery evaporated.  And although her veterinary house call business still exists, it’s…

Theisen: …usually only for horrible things like euthanasia is that need to be done at home.

BL: She says many vet clinics are moving to curbside service—staff will come out and pick up or drop off the pets while folks stay put in their cars. But animal shelters are in a real bind.

Theisen:  I know a lot of the shelters have closed because they can't obviously have the public coming in.

BL: She says some are having adoption specials.

Theisen: Or they're asking you to foster pets.  Give your kids something to do and get that dog out of a cage for two weeks, maybe train it, give it a few lessons and manners to make it more adoptable.  So if you have it in your heart, to foster or to adopt, now would be a great time.

BL: Without work, she’s been finding other ways to feel connected.

Theisen: Last week, the neighbors had a little impromptu gathering in the cul de sac keeping 10 feet away from each other, just sitting on lawn chairs and having a beer.

BL: She’s strict about social distancing, and is getting uncomfortable about the exploding numbers of walkers on the narrow woodland trails she normally walks her dogs.

Theisen: It'll push us to go to more isolated areas.

BL: She wants to stay virus-free and ready to serve.

Theisen: I am hoping to keep myself healthy enough to help with swabbing patients if they want people who know sterile procedure. I would absolutely sign up to do that if that comes to pass.  And if they would take a lowly veterinarian because it frees up the nurses and doctors to stay in the hospital and do the important work of keeping people alive.

BL: To support their critical work, Dr. Theisen recently donated her boxes of N-95 masks to the University of Michigan Hospital.  They’re like gold right now, due to their scarcity and the urgent need to protect medical staff.  She had them on hand for her work as a veterinary first responder, which deploys her with rescue dogs to disasters in faraway places.  But now, the disaster is here, and staff badly need them.

TheisenThey are the ones that are showing up every day and risking their lives.

BL: In this new reality Dr. Theisen’s June wedding, and their big trip to Ecuador are on indefinite hold.  But that’s OK.  COVID-19 has put a lot of things in perspective.

Theisen: Be grateful you're not used to this, that we haven't had to live like this and we haven't had to live with food shortages or water shortages or bombs falling on our heads because we're Americans.  And mostly I feel grateful that in my life, this is the first time this has ever occurred.  So, you know, roll with it.  Follow the directions and take it seriously.  And for God's sake, stay home.

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Barbara received a master's degree in Environmental Policy from the University of Michigan. She began her association with WEMU in 2003 as an intern with Washtenaw County, assisting with the weekly "Issues of the Environment" show. In 2003 she also began working in documentary film, and later established her own video production company.
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