Dani McVety is a rarity in the medical profession, and not just because she makes house calls. The Lutz veterinarian's company, Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice & In-Home Euthanasia, provides compassionate assistance to pets in rapidly declining health - and their owners.
Her successful formula for the company she co-founded in 2010 has expanded to a network of veterinarians from California and Washington state to Massachusetts, the Midwest and elsewhere in the Southeast. "In two years, we've gone from two vets in Florida to over 60 vets around the United States," she said. She and her local staff serve Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.
The idea for the company evolved months after McVety graduated in 2009 from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, and while she was working for Tampa Bay Veterinary Emergency Service. "It was clear that even though I was newly out of vet school, my strength was talking to clients through those hard times," she said of distressed pet owners seeking urgent care for their dogs and cats.
When McVety had to perform her first humane euthanasia, she realized the value of the service, an experience that renewed memories of volunteering at a human hospice while attending Colorado State University. "It was just an amazing experience to see how they handled death, how they handled the families around the death," she said of the hospice in Fort Collins, Colo. "In medicine we're taught how to treat, treat, treat, and not usually taught how to manage the case delicately.
"If you think about it, I probably have one of the hardest jobs in medicine, especially in the only medical field licensed to take a life," she said. "I have to walk into a total stranger's house and, from their perspective, euthanize their best friend." But she said it is an honor to help pet owners during the dreaded moment. Thank-you letters from clients fill books in her home office.
To develop Lap of Love, McVety drew upon life experiences that included her hospice training and witnessing euthanizing of her 13-year-old Doberman, Dusty. In-home services include consultation, sedation, humane euthanasia and memorial keepsakes like a clay paw imprint and a pet loss booklet with the animal's name and date of death. Aftercare arrangements include cremation.
McVety, who grew up in Odessa, addresses about 10 college veterinary student groups annually. She tells them: "While grades are important, they're not the only thing. It's about how you interact with people, how well you can help them and how comfortable you make them feel."
Soon after launching Lap of Love, McVey enlisted the help of a friend and former UF vet school classmate, Mary Gardner, then working at a general veterinary practice in South Florida. Gardner, whose first career was with a software development company, left the vet practice and joined McVety to become co-founder of the company. Gardner's decade-long software career was critical to meeting the unexpected response.
"I had absolutely no idea what it was going to turn into. But shortly after I started I was getting calls from people all over the country wanting to start something similar," McVety said. To that end, Gardner wrote a total web-based practice management software program.
The company launched in fall 2009 and had its first out-of-state member in summer 2011. "And we started taking in vets all over the country," McVety said. Today there are eight in Florida alone.
With two full-time employees - a veterinarian and a receptionist - McVety's practice responds to 30 to 40 calls weekly.
McVety goes on about one call weekly. "Now, as head of the company, I have to work on the business, not necessarily for the business," she said. Her obligations include interviewing and helping train veterinarians who want to join the Lap of Love network.
She said clients learn of the service through veterinarian referrals, word of mouth and the company website: www.LapofLove.com.
McVety does not have a vet clinic; that would defeat the purpose of an in-home hospice, she said.
As McVety sedates an animal, the owners often ask, "Do they still know that I'm here?" She always tells them: "You're right next to them. He's on his bed in his home in his living room with his mom and dad. That's what's best for him."