Bringing care to animals at home Veterinarian makes house calls to benefit patients and owners

December 01, 1997|By Dawn Fallik | Dawn Fallik,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Raspberry is probably the only patient that ever purred while getting a distemper shot.

That might be because the 3-month-old orange kitten got it while sprawled in the middle of his kitchen in the eastern Montgomery County community of Laytonsville, surrounded by familiar sounds and the feline smells of his brother, Rhubarb.

"All my patients should be this happy," joked Dr. Carin Rennings, as she watched the kitten -- who barely blinked when the needle pierced his fur -- leap to his feet.

Rennings is one of a growing number of Howard County veterinarians who make what had been almost unheard of in this field -- house calls, traveling to clients' homes to give vaccines, offer advice and dispense general medical treatment.

Animal doctors say the service can benefit owners -- elderly people who can't drive to the veterinarian's office, those with too many pets to fit in a car -- and animals, especially the extremely ill that should not be moved.

Brandon was one of those sick animals. The 15-year-old Labrador retriever was dying and his owner, Kathleen Berry, knew it was time to put him down.

"He had all sorts of problems -- epilepsy and bad hips and stomach problems," she said. "Our regular vet had done a wonderful job, but one day I came down and saw him at the bottom of the stairs, and he couldn't get up. He was in such pain, I knew he was dying," she said. "I didn't want to pick him up and put him in the van and bring him to the vet. It would have been so traumatic for him. I was calling all these vets and no one would come, no one would help me."

Berry finally got in touch with Rennings, who canceled her plans and came to Berry's Columbia house. With her partner and technician, Stephen Benedik, Rennings put Brandon into his pet bed and gave him a shot of anesthetic.

"A couple moments later, he looked up and sighed, then he put his head in my lap and he went to sleep," said Berry. "Then they put an IV in his leg and gave him an overdose. I don't think he felt any pain. He just went to sleep."

After a few moments, Rennings and Benedik took Brandon's body away. They sent it to a crematorium in Rockville, and Berry received the ashes a few weeks later.

Several veterinarians said they will provide home euthanasia services for clients because it's physically easier on sick animals and emotionally easier on owners, who can then grieve privately.

"When an animal is dying, some people can just drive up and drop off the animal, say goodbye and leave," said Dr. Scott B. Sanderson of Columbia. "For other people who are really bonded to their animals, it's the best thing we can do for them to come to their homes. It's never a routine procedure. It's always hard for us as well."

Sanderson, who runs East Columbia Animal Hospital, said home vets have their limits. Even routine surgeries, such as spaying and neutering, must be done in a hospital.

Rennings, who is solely a home-care veterinarian, said she was glad to give up the surgeries she performed while working in a Baltimore-area hospital where she said she sometimes saw more than 20 animals a day. She wanted to spend more time with both the animals and the owners.

Since opening Home Veterinary Service two years ago, Rennings said, if she sees six patients in a day, it's busy.

Most of her calls involve routine care, such as Rhubarb and Raspberry's vaccinations. Because she has no office overhead costs, the visits are not that much more than an average trip to a veterinarian's office, she said.

"I would say I pay about $20 more for the visit, but it's definitely worth it," said the kittens' owner, Donna Kahle, whose two older cats are also treated by Rennings.

"I know the value of a dollar, but I also value my time, and to have someone come to the house instead of struggling to put the cats in the car and then waiting in a waiting room -- it's so much easier."

Veterinarians say the service is something that clients increasingly request.

"Nineteen years ago, I was the only one around who made house calls," said Dr. Badr Oweis of Beltway Animal Clinic and Hospital in Catonsville. "But it's a time-demanding thing, and when you are a one-man show, it's hard to leave the clinic because you have no one to cover for you."

Oweis said house calls provide an opportunity to get to know the pets' families better and to see some good entertainment.

"Sometimes the cats will decide to run and hide, and you spend an hour looking behind the refrigerator, under beds," he said. "It's never boring."

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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