Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mobile veterinarians make house calls

LOS ANGELES

Two kids, two pets, two jobs, too much.

That's how it felt to Erin McCarthy when it came time to drag her cat and puppy to the veterinarian. So she jumped on a growing trend among veterinarians and called the vet to her.

House calls are a growing trend among the country's 85,000 veterinarians, said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

It has been a lifesaver for McCarthy, whose cat Duke was so afraid of the vet he had to be tranquilized to get there. When he was joined by a Shih Tzu puppy, Pooch, they found a vet who makes house calls, Elisabetta Coletti. McCarthy has made liberal use of text-messaging when a house call isn't necessary.

"When Pooch ate a peppermint patty last week, she was there with instant advice that got us through the night," said McCarthy, a teacher in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The trend is a return to tradition, Beaver said: "We used to call them farm calls." While the vet was taking care of cows and horses and other livestock, he would take care of the family dogs and cats, too, she said.

"House calls used to be the bread and butter part of our business," agreed Dr. Margarita Abalos, a relief and concierge vet in Los Angeles.

Then clinics and hospitals, where X-rays could be taken and surgeries performed, became the norm.

Now house calls are making a bit of a comeback, at least in bigger cities and higher income areas, said Abalos, who handles several ranch pigs, goats and sheep in addition to smaller animals.

Seeing an animal at its home enhances the bond between vet, pet and owner, the veterinarians say.

It starts with less stress, said Lisa Beagan in Severna Park, Md., the Mobile Pet Vet. There is no waiting, driving, loading or getting hot and cranky for kids or pets, she said.

"For a lot of animals, it's stressful to go into a strange hospital with all kinds of smells. Cats and dogs are so smell-sensitive, it's like getting bombarded with a kaleidoscope of colors. At home, they don't realize they are having an exam or shots," she said.

House calls help vets solve behavior problems, too.

Beagan had a client who couldn't figure out why her cat was peeing outside its box. Seems the litter box was next to the cat's pet door and when it came through the door and went to the box, the flap on the door would hit it on the behind. Removing the flap solved the problem, she said.

Other pet owners may need a reality check.

"I had a client who, bless her, had these fat, fat cats. I had been at her for years to deal with their weight. She kept saying they were only getting a certain measured amount of food each day," Abalos said. So she made a surprise house call. "There were bowls of food everywhere. I caught her red-handed." They were able to start working on the problem together.

Beagan said many of her pets and owners are geriatric and have trouble getting in and out of cars, so house calls help them all.

House calls can cost twice as much as an office visit, but every vet is different. Charges have to be higher because sometimes the vets can only make it to three or four homes in a day and they have to limit client numbers.

In New York, house calls may be as necessary as they are convenient, Coletti said, because many cabdrivers won't stop for someone with a dog or cat and many New Yorkers, including Coletti, don't have cars.

Coletti makes her house calls on bicycle, with her cocker spaniel Milo in the front basket and supplies and equipment in a rear trailer.

Coletti helped Carrie Dirks Amodeo through the death of her cat, Delphi, several months ago. At the same time Delphi got sick, Dirks Amodeo had her second son. She had to leave Delphi's care to Coletti.

"She would come after the kids went to bed and take care of the cat, then she'd let herself out," Dirks Amodeo said.

When Delphi had to have surgery, Coletti went with Dirks Amodeo and the boys.

And when the time came, Coletti put Delphi down.

Vets who make house calls say home euthanasia is one of the most important parts of their practices.

"That was so important. We were heartbroken. She was able to come so we could have our time with the cat without being rushed and pulled in a lot of directions," Dirks Amodeo said. "She was as invested in respecting him as we were."

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