Ask Dr. B
One year of SagePet. The lessons I learned.
SagePet is a business born out of a passion, and to fill a need I saw in my patients. I have always had a soft spot for the “golden oldies” and saw time and time again that they were not receiving the nuanced care they deserve (see here for more on origins of SagePet). In my work performing in-home euthanasia I would meet pets who had not seen a veterinarian in their final months, or years. I wanted to create a practice to fill this space and to give them pain relief, medical care, and improved quality of life. I wanted to meet them where they are, both physically and medically.
While I could see this need so clearly, I could not find other practices that were similarly focused on senior pets. This meant one of two things, 1. I had stumbled upon a great idea! Or, 2. This was a terrible idea and wasn’t going to work. Well, here we are, one year in and we have helped over 100 patients. I am so grateful to each and every one of you who has let me into your home and shared your fears and hopes for your beloved companions and offered me the opportunity to help, guide, and advise. In honor of this anniversary, I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned along the way.
1. House calls are awesome!
I was really not sure how pets would react to having a veterinarian in their home. I had seen from house call euthanasias that dogs often saw me as just a new friend who always carried treats and many smells of other animals. These pets, however, we usually sedated shortly after my arrival and didn’t see me on repeat visits. How would animals feel about physical exams, blood draws, and vaccines at home?
Overall, pets are more calm, except when they aren’t. There is not all the windup anxiety associated with the car ride and the sights and smells of a veterinary clinic. This is especially helpful for cats who rarely leave the house, except to go to the vet.
The gift of in-home veterinary visits is time. House calls allow more time to interact with people and their pets, to create a better bond. I know we all say we get into veterinary medicine for the animals, but there are some great people there as well who are amazing advocates for their pet’s health and I really enjoy getting to know them better in this more relaxed setting. I really enjoy being there for them, allaying their fears, and providing truth in a sea of Dr. Google advice.
While I am chatting with the human, I can slowly get to know the pet, offer treats, and often perform most of my physical exam disguising it as petting. Some critters don’t tolerate this well and still would be best served in a clinic, but they are the minority.
2. I really love quality of life consults and palliative care
There is nothing more satisfying to me than discussing how your pet finds joy in their everyday life and learning where they stumble and struggle. I love taking the time to get into the details and discuss what ideas and options we haven’t tried. I pull on my experience from many different facets of veterinary medicine to create solutions that are focused on the whole pet and the whole family. This satisfies my brain’s need to solve a puzzle, and helps pet owners find closure and know that they have tried everything they can.
3. In-home euthanasia can be so beautiful
So, this wasn’t really news. Euthanasia (meaning “good death” in greek) is an incredible gift of peace and rest that we can offer our closest companions. I have always prioritized this service and even sought extra training in this field during vet school. Animals have given so much to me throughout my life, and I see it as my way to give back to them. I have been performing in-home euthanasia since 2018 and have been part of some absolutely soul-filling transitions. There is nothing more special than sitting around the fire, encircling an old cat and sending her peacefully on her way knowing that we, her care team, have done everything in our power to keep her comfortable before she heads on to her next adventure.
4. There really are so many options for pain control. Pain is under-recognized and under-treated in our patients. I am making it a personal goal to educate and advocate for this.
I am always seeking out new information, especially related to pain management. Many pets I encounter do not have their pain adequately controlled and I get so excited at the opportunity to be able to improve this for them. More to come in this department.
5. Marketing is difficult
I have no background in business. This was perhaps the most terrifying part of starting SagePet for me. Little by little I have gained the knowledge I need to keep us afloat. Marketing has been a particular challenge for me. It does not come naturally to me to self-promote or try to sell folks on my services or talents. I just love pets and want to help them. However, there is a delicate balance as I need a stream of new patients to keep the business going – oh, and I guess I have to pay my mortgage. One goal for me in the next year is to continue to grow in this department, with a focus on education and promotion of the service I aim to provide.
6. This is a good fit for me!
Perhaps most importantly, I learned that this is a fit for me. So many veterinarians are struggling with burnout and mental health concerns. I was certainly one. I created SagePet as a passion project, to fill a need for my patients, and myself. I have been able to find so much balance, peace, and joy with this new venture. So, as we journey into year two of SagePet, I am looking to grow! My goal is to be able to offer this service full time. I appreciate all of you that have been a part of the journey and have trusted me with your most precious companions. Here’s to another great year!