Most of us are accustomed to taking our dogs for services, or handling routine maintenance tasks ourselves. But increasingly, daunting medical needs, complicated schedules and plain old compassion-based issues are creating a demand for a more retro approach: house calls.
Pat and Bob Engeman of Long Island, N.Y., doted on Riley, their small Shih Tzu/Maltese mix. When Riley was diagnosed with incurable transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), or bladder cancer, in 2009, they were determined to give him the best quality of life they could provide during the time he had left. However, the realities of what Riley needed on a daily basis were overwhelming.
“We had to give so many injections,” says Pat Engeman. “It was too emotional for us. We were afraid to do it wrong. He needed three a day when he first got home from the hospital. My husband was running home at lunchtime, then I would wait for him to come home after work. I thought, ‘This is crazy — someone should be able to come to the house.’”
After checking out options, Pat connected with Pet Home Health Agency, based in New York City. Owner Charlene Overcash had created the unique service when she realized that she could combine her love of pets with her long-time experience as a home-healthcare nurse. Today, her clients range from busy young professionals who can’t stay home to care for their convalescent pets to the elderly who are physically unable to tend to their pets’ medical needs. Further, Overcash provides veterinarians with a full report of each visit as well as assurance that their patients are receiving appropriate post-surgical treatment and/or rehabilitation.
Overcash herself made the hour-long drive to the Engemans’ Long Island home to demonstrate proper techniques and to give the couple an emotional boost. After a few visits, a vet technician who also lived on Long Island was entrusted with Riley’s care. Slowly, as the Engemans grew more confident about caring for him, the professionals were able to reduce the number of visits, which also saved the Engemans money. Thanks to his in-home care, Riley made it to his 10th birthday in January 2010 (he was peacefully put to sleep in April 2010).
The Engemans were touched that Overcash and Rose, Riley’s main vet tech, stopped by with cookies and flowers after Riley’s passing. “People probably scratched their heads over why we put so much money into this dog even though we knew he wouldn’t survive. Overcash and Rose just take that extra step and personalize everything. They know he’s not just a dog. He had a good extra nine months.”
Heeding the Need
While in-home pet services are more popular than ever, small-animal veterinarian Christine Foster had to wrestle with the state of Virginia when she first proposed Companion Paws Mobile Veterinary Service 16 years ago. There were many fine animal hospitals in her area, but no one offered a full-service mobile vet option because state regulations required the surgery suite to be separate from the exam room.
As part of a traditional veterinary practice, she recognized that it was a struggle for many pet owners to come to the office. Elderly clients could not drive, parents of small children found it difficult to get everyone in the car for a trip to the vet, and people who owned multiple pets had to make multiple visits. Also, when it came to euthanasia, many people balked at bringing their beloved companion into a sterile office and sharing such a personal event with a lobby full of strangers.
“Now, when I do euthanasia, they just feel so much more comfortable because they’re home with their pet,” says Foster. “Many times their pet will be on a blanket in front of the fireplace with the whole family gathered around. They share pictures and say goodbye. Then I do the euthanasia. We talk afterward and they get to a point of feeling better about making that decision. It’s very peaceful to be allowed the dignity of saying goodbye to a pet at home.”
Foster has also noticed that some people are more comfortable talking to her in their home than in an exam room. They share stories, and sometimes the details clue her in to things that are affecting the animal.