Like businesses everywhere, when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the nation, Mountain West Animal Hospital in Springville had to make radical changes to its operation to serve its clients.
The waiting room remains vacant and a sign on the door asks clients to call and wait in their vehicle until someone comes to get them for their appointment. Only one person and their pet are allowed inside the hospital at a time and masks are required. It was a difficult transition, but the three veterinarians and six staff of the hospital adjusted to keep providing their services.
For Dr. Isaac Bott, owner of Mountain West Animal Hospital, the changes were critical because maintaining social distancing while caring for animals is impossible and he was concerned not only for his staff, but the clients who depend on them to care for their pets.
“Our health and their health are important, so we have one patient at a time. It requires patience from everyone, and I hate it, but that’s just how it is,” Bott said.
Before the pandemic, the hospital had at times seen as many as 54 pets in one day and now they are booked two weeks in advance. It was a painful adjustment, but they were making things work.
And then COVID-19 hit them personally.
One day, while sitting at his desk, Bott said his scalp began to itch. It was an oddity, not a concern. Bott suffers from seasonal allergies, so he didn’t think anything about the symptoms that came later. They were for him ordinary.
“June is always a miserable month for me,” he said.
It was later, when the fever started, that Bott became concerned. He stayed away from work and was tested for the Coronavirus.
The test was positive, and soon thereafter two of his staff tested positive as well. Bott was faced with the most difficult business decision he has had to make since becoming owner of Mountain West Animal Hospital in January 2014.
On July 2 he closed the hospital. For the safety of staff and clients it would remain closed until July 13. Meanwhile, Bott and his two staff members faced their personal battle against COVID-19.
“All three of us were able to isolate at the first signs. I put myself in my basement and didn’t see anyone for two weeks,” Bott said.
The father of three (Kaycee, 15; Kayden, 12; and Kendyn, 9), struggled with the virus alone, battling symptoms that were excruciating and unexpected. He said he never developed a cough and never lost his sense of smell or taste. Most of his symptoms were gastrointestinal.
“I had tremendous nausea and an unrelenting headache. I quickly lost 12 pounds during the following week and for several days I experienced severe chest pain,” he said.
The symptoms of his staff were completely different than his, but equally excruciating. None of them are considered “at risk” for the virus. Bott is in his 30s, as is one of the staff members to get the virus. The other is in her 20s. As for how they were exposed, Bott hasn’t a clue.
Alone in his basement, Bott struggled through the virus that wracked him not only physically, but mentally.
Healthy and active before COVID-19, the virus was debilitating.
“I was sicker from this than I have ever been. Mentally it was difficult. I felt so worthless,” he said.
While still struggling with the virus, Bott decided to post a video on his podcast and Facebook page to let everyone know what was going on.
“For me it was important to get information out. I didn’t want anyone to get the impression I was hiding anything. We have a responsibility to be good citizens.”
The response to the video was overwhelming. Viewed thousands of times, Bott said as he started feeling better, he took time to read the responses to his post.
“I cried many times as I read the messages, texts, cards and emails,” he said. In the video he mentioned he liked Cheetos and Swedish Fish and bags of them appeared at his doorstep.
For Bott it took seven to eight days to start feeling better. When he could eat, he relied on Door Dash. “I didn’t have enough food in the house. Before Door Dash I would have had to survive on pizza.”
While back to work, Bott said he is still weak. “Work leaves me pretty wiped out, and I’m ready to be back on the couch at the end of the day. I anticipate it will take a couple of months to fully return to normal.”
He said it will take months or longer for the practice to recover from the shutdown.
Before returning to work, while still recovering, Bott devoted time to two of his hobbies, writing on his website, DocBott.org, and carving antler sheds his three reindeer provide him each year. He also had time to reflect on life and the path he has followed.
Bott was raised in Castle Dale on the family farm and while he had been around animals all his life, he decided initially against being a veterinarian after taking a personality test while attending Emery High School.
Designed to match your personality to what career path would be best, it indicated veterinarian medicine would not be a good fit, so Bott decided he would study law.
He attended a mission for his church in Peru and his experience growing up on the farm helped him help others. When he prepared to return home was when he decided his future.
“I literally decided on the plane home that I would become a veterinarian. The best way I can serve people is by caring for their pets.” Bott said.
He enrolled at Southern Utah University weeks after returning home and received his doctorate from Washington State University.
Where he was sent on a mission of service impacted the decision he thought he had already made about his career, and Bott said there have been too many things happen in his life to be coincidence.
There is a reason for everything.
One reason was what led to the decision to study veterinarian medicine. The second was a random phone call in 2010 from someone who owns reindeer. He said he thought one of them was pregnant and wanted to know if Bott could come by and take a look.
“She wasn’t just pregnant, she was in labor,” Bott said.
After that encounter, Bott started an artificial insemination cryopreservation program for reindeer.
He has three reindeer of his own now that he keeps in corrals behind the hospital.
He has published several scientific articles and provides training and reproductive services for pets and wildlife. He served as president of the Society for Theriogenology in 2017-2018 and currently is their delegate in the American Veterinary Medical Association. He lectures at Utah State University each fall.
The third coincidence (that perhaps wasn’t) was becoming the owner of Mountain West Animal Hospital in the first place. He said he called a friend on the east coast one day and mentioned he was thinking of opening an animal hospital in Utah Valley. The friend knew Dr. Harold Davis, the previous owner of the hospital (who still practices there part time) and suggested he speak with him. Bott said he didn’t follow up on the suggestion for months, until the day he was driving through Springville and saw the hospital.
If there was a reason behind being infected with COVID-19 or if it was just coincidence or bad luck, it taught him valuable lessons about himself and the community he calls home. “This reminded me of my own humanity. No matter how healthy you are, it can spiral out of control in an instant. It made me appreciate the small things and reminded me to be more understanding, more empathetic. I try to be a kind person and I try to be patient. I love this community and love being able to contribute to this community,” he said. (Davis is the editor of Serve Daily.)