Bobby Seale had stopped eating. My cat, named for the Black Panther, came from a Hollywood apartment building with a “free kittens” sign posted on it 14 years ago. Now she had cancer and was dying. The last trip to the veterinarian had gone badly for everyone. Despite having little energy left, she bit someone during an X-ray, and the vet had to call the County Health Department. Rabies vaccinations were dug out of files and submitted. Add to that the bad news that Bobby had a large tumor that kept her from digesting any food. Leaving the vet with my small black cat, I knew she only had a few days to live.
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Few things are worse than watching animals suffer, especially the ones who’ve been our companions. Enter Steve Smith, home pet doctor. I’m not old enough to remember when doctors made house calls, but Dr. Smith, as his Web site, homepetdoctor.com, makes clear, does just that. And while he will happily give your dog his vaccinations or check your cat’s health, the bulk of his business is home pet euthanasia.
Smith discovered his niche when his own father called him and asked that he return home to put his own 17-year-old Lhasa apso, Pepper, to sleep. Three years after that he did the same thing for his family’s cat.
After years of working in vet clinics, he left to work for himself and visit the animals in their own homes. “You’re in the hospital for 10 hours and you might see 20 patients, and won’t see the sun until the next day. I set my own schedule and make my own hours.” Now he sees between one and six animals each day.
Smith admits it’s an odd process to schedule visits to put pets down. “I have people tell me they wish I’d gotten lost or just never shown up at their door. The whole planning, and contacting me, it’s surreal for a lot of people.”
At home, the cat or dog is as comfortable and relaxed as he can be, and the process is usually quick and quiet. Unlike in an examination room, the setting is entirely up to the owner. “They get to do their own thing. They control the lighting and sound,” he says. “I’ve gone to some homes and the lights are down, there’s a fire in the fireplace — there’s a million tea lights and they’ve made their own playlist on iTunes.” So what’s a typical song? “Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ — that one stands out.”
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Putting an animal to sleep at home is easier on the pet owner, and it’s as easy as it can be on the animal. But what about for Smith? “People ask me that a lot,” he says. “I realize it has to happen for these pets, and I know it’s better to do it at someone’s home than it is for that person to take their pet to the vet, so it’s a blessing to do that. ”
After it’s over, difficult as it is, the owners’ last memories of their cat or dog aren’t in some sterile clinic on a metal table but where the animal felt safest: on the kitchen counter or the bathroom rug. “Wherever the pet is comfortable,” says Smith. “I’ve done dogs in the backyard under a tree, or a cat on the balcony, with the sun coming in.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon