This is the first Silver Lining, an Uptown Messenger series on locally owned small businesses that are thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maple Small Animal Clinic has a different pandemic story to tell from many of our local businesses. For one thing, it does not depend on the tourist trade. And veterinary clinics are considered an essential business, so it never had to shut down.
The clinic changed its protocol to curbside drop-off and pickup, but it stayed fully staffed and did not need to limit its services.
Then a month or so into the mid-March lockdown, a surprising thing happened. The number of new clients doubled in April 2020, compared with April 2019.
“I think the reason for the surge of new clients or existing clients adopting new pets is because people were forced to work from home and had more time to devote to their furry family members,” said Dr. Emily Zeller Lemann, the clinic’s medical director. “A lot of people have told me, ‘I always wanted a dog but felt bad going to the office every day with no time to bond with him or train him.’ This became the perfect time to adopt.”
People are also adopting animals during the pandemic for some much-needed company and comfort. There is so much in the news about a rise in depression among people who are isolated, laid off, quarantined, grief-stricken, sick or simply afraid. People find that having a pet lifts the spirit, imparts unconditional love, and gives them a sense of responsibility and purpose.
People are adopting from shelters, rescue groups and breeders. “I was elated when I heard last spring of shelters becoming empty. What an enormous feat!” exclaimed Zeller Lemann, known to her clients and staff as Dr. Emily.
The established client base at Maple Small Animal Clinic has remained steady, Zeller Lemann said. Existing clients are also bringing their pets into the vet more often. The more time they spend with their pets, the more pet owners can notice early signs of illness, behavioral changes or other concerns. These may have gone undetected were they not spending all day with their pets.
Fortunately, the Maple Small Animal Clinic has been able to maintain 100% of its staff. “I could not be more grateful for our team and their heroic dedication to helping the animals by working through this pandemic,” Zeller Lemann said.
Zeller Lemann’s group practice is flourishing now, but she knows what it means to have a business devastated in a disaster. Fresh out of veterinary school, she had just joined her father’s practice, the Freret Veterinary Hospital, in mid-2005.
Dr. Eugene Zeller’s vet practice on Freret Street did not survive Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches. The building, as well as most of the client records, flooded and the building was declared uninhabitable. The journey after that took the Zellers to the Maple Street clinic. Eugene Zeller died in 2017 at 70.
At this point in the pandemic, there are no immediate plans to return to in-office service, Zeller Lemann said. Curbside has been effective in the clinic’s ability to keep staff and the pet owners socially distanced and safe, she said, while still being able to provide a high level of animal medical and surgical care.
While making it as convenient for both the clients and their pets, the staff thinks it has made all the difference that everyone seems to be comfortable with this “new normal.” Maple Small Animal Clinic stands out as one of the good news stories in the midst of so much uncertainty.
Maple Small Animal Clinic
7608 Maple Street