COVID-19 has brought pets and their human friends closer than ever before.

COVID-19 has brought pets and their human friends closer than ever before.

That aspect of pandemic life has shifted veterinarians’ work into overdrive, including Dr. Keri Hudson Reykdal, the Manitoba-based vet who’s the star of the Animal Planet Canada series Dr. Keri: Prairie Vet, which returns to TV with its fourth season première Jan. 21.

"All this time at home, people have gotten to spend a lot more time with their pets so they’re able to notice things more quickly, concerns that they have," the veterinarian says from her home near Ashern. "Veterinarians all over — it’s worldwide really — have been overrun with work."

There have been occurences of domestic cats contracting COVID-19 in Europe and the United States, and vets around the world are on the lookout for any changes.

<p>MERIT MOTION PICTURES</p><p>Season 4 of Prairie Vet features Dr. Chris Enright, right, from the Assiniboine Park Conservancy.</p>


Season 4 of Prairie Vet features Dr. Chris Enright, right, from the Assiniboine Park Conservancy.

"It looks like our domestic cats at home, even if they get sick with the COVID virus it doesn’t look like they can transmit it to people, which is very fortunate," Hudson Reykdal says.

"It’s a moving target and new information comes to light every day, so veterinarians have definitely had to keep on top of what new species have been affected and how that could affect humans as well."

Hudson Reykdal, who is known as Dr. Keri on the show, says cats tend to hide more if they are unwell but adds that it can be difficult to notice symptoms of illness among the feline set.

COVID-19 has changed the show, as well as Dr. Keri’s career, in the past two years. Dr. Keri: Prairie Vet, which has earned a Canadian Screen Award nomination, has been on a two-year hiatus, owing to delays in shooting. At one point, she feared for the show’s future.

Filming was to have begun in March 2020 — the height of calving season at ranches in the Interlake — but shooting was put on hold until the fall, and when it restarted, strict protocols were introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

<p>MERIT MOTION PICTURES</p><p>Dr. Keri Hudson Reykdal’s specialty is farm animals, including bulls.</p>


Dr. Keri Hudson Reykdal’s specialty is farm animals, including bulls.

Eventually 10 episodes were put together during pandemic lulls, focusing on farm animals — Dr. Keri’s specialty — as well as household pets, the odd wild animal and guest appearances from other Manitoba veterinarians, including Dr. Chris Enright of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy and star of another Manitoba-based veterinary show, Arctic Vets.

"It was an incredibly challenging… I’d say year, but I would say it was a year-and-a-half to get everything filmed," she says. "The crew was great and we had to persevere when situations arose when we couldn’t film. We just had to make alternate arrangements and change our plans. It made everyone very flexible."

The series also follows Dr. Keri to Thompson, where she opened a new clinic during the pandemic.

"It has been a very very busy year, getting a new clinic started up there. It’s been hectic, full of challenges, but it’s great for the community to have access to vet services. We’re happy to up there and they’re happy to have us," Dr. Keri says.

The TV vet is back at the ranch in the opening episode of Season 4, where she’s shown treating bulls, perhaps the most unpredictable and dangerous animals on a farm. Their side of the fence is definitely their turf.

<p>MERIT MOTION PICTURES</p><p>Dr. Keri notes that the pandemic has made people more aware of potential illnesses in their pets.</p>


Dr. Keri notes that the pandemic has made people more aware of potential illnesses in their pets.

"They’re domesticated but they’re still a wild animal for all intents and purposes, so you do have to watch the positions you get yourself into that you always have a way out," she says.

The show offers a view of Dr. Keri’s animals as well, which include her three dogs, Siri, Two-Bit and Pep, her horse and the large herd of cattle she and her husband Calvin care for as they roam the swampy pastures on the eastern shores of Lake Manitoba.

Last summer’s hot weather in Manitoba made life difficult for many farmers and ranchers in the province, including the Ashern couple.

"Obviously, this summer was really tough with the severe drought we had but thankfully we got those rains later in September and October that really helped the pastures," she says. "The cattle, for the most part, they are so resilient, they came through it better than we expected."

Like everyone else, Dr. Keri looks forward to the day when COVID-19 is either in the rear-view mirror or less of a factor in everyday life. The transition back to pre-pandemic society will be a challenge for pets and their owners, she warns.

"In a lot of ways it’s been really good for pets to have those extra hours of eyes on (them), but in some ways, it’s going to be tough when people go back to work," she says.

"Pets have gotten used to having people around all the time and, especially for puppies, there’s going to be some behavioural concerns that come up, separation anxiety and stuff like that, which is going to be challenging."

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.