Each year, 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in U.S. animal shelters, in procedures that are far from the serene, peaceful end animal-lovers would prefer. Even the best-loved pets typically end their days at emergency veterinary clinics or in sterile exam rooms. That's why veterinarian Dani McVety started Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, a Tampa, Fla.-based in-home service that helps set up a comfortable environment for aging or ailing pets--and, when the time comes, performs humane euthanasia in the place the animal loves most.
Soon after opening in 2009, the business took off, and in 2010 McVety brought aboard as a partner vet-school colleague Mary Gardner, whose background in computer programming helped them develop sophisticated tracking and client-relations software. By the middle of 2010, the two decided to franchise, reaching out to vets across the country with a turnkey package that can get a business started in about a month. So far 44 vets in 15 states have signed on, and Lap of Love expects to have 50 locations by 2014.
We spoke with Gardner about helping pets and their owners at a difficult time.
Has anyone done this before?
There are individual vets who do this, but there's never been a franchise before. Veterinary hospice is a new and emerging segment inspired by human hospice, which is only a few decades old. Humans usually go into hospice when they have less than six months to live; with pets, we like to start in-home hospice when they have less than three months. Let's say a dog is slowing down and can't get up. We'll go into the home and evaluate the pet. We help manipulate the environment, like placing yoga mats to help big dogs get up on tile, or we'll set up slings. Pain meds and anti-inflammatories can be a huge benefit. Hospice is not about drugging pets so much that they can't move; it's about quality of life. There's a lot of great medicine that can help pets feel wonderful and stop pacing and panting.
What happens at the end?
When it's time for euthanasia, it can be done at home, but we have done them in dog parks, at the beach, in backyards, on boat docks. It's wonderful to let the pet be in its favorite spot with its favorite people, and it can have its pet friends around. Unlike vet clinics, we do it on our clients' schedules, even on nights and weekends. Our goal is to avoid an emergency, where they have to take a pet to the clinic. We want a peaceful passage, with music or their favorite show on. We give them a little sedation, which relaxes them and makes them sleepy; then we give them an overdose of anesthesia. It's very peaceful. Then we'll make a paw or nose impression and transport the pet to the crematorium if that's what the client chooses.
Who are your franchisees?
We know that this isn't going to be full-time work right away, so we look for vets with other sources of income but who have free time. Most of our franchisees are vets who work part-time at shelters or relief vets, who fill in for veterinarians when they go on vacation. They're our best franchisees, because they already know the clinics in their area. We also have a lot of moms who don't want to work full-time anymore. Our vets need to be dynamic and know how to do self-marketing, like visiting clinics and pet expos. You can't be an introvert. But within a year, most of our franchisees are looking to make this a full-time job.
Isn't it kind of a downer?
I don't get sad. It makes me so happy that so many pets have such cool parents and families to live with and that they were treated so well. I've even helped dig a hole or two for clients; it's very humbling work. It's completely different from working in a vet clinic. It's the most important appointment in a pet's life, and to be able to make it peaceful and nice and remember the life of the pet is not depressing at all.
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.