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WNY veterinarian offers at-home euthanasia

Dr. Gundula Dunne started offering this service 7 years ago. She offers at-home euthanasia for primarily dogs and cats, and birds, rabbits, and other small mammals.

SNYDER, N.Y. — Saying goodbye to a pet is never easy, but some veterinarians have started offering at-home euthanasia to make things more comfortable for both you and your pet.

2 On Your Side spoke to a Western New York veterinarian about why she chose to pivot her career to offer this service.

"I feel pets don't have their own voice sometimes, and I feel like I'm there to help kind of bring that bond together between people and their pets," Dr. Gundula Dunne said.

Dr. Gundula Dunne knew she wanted to be a veterinarian when she was a little girl.

"We have pictures of when I was like seven dressed up as a veterinarian," she says.

She doesn't go to a traditional veterinary office though when she goes to work. Dr. Dunne goes to her clients' homes where she offers at-home pet euthanasia.

"Pets really have become more and more part of our family, and oftentimes when people think of like hospice for their own family, they think of wanting to be at home, and so really this is the same honoring of their pet, their love for their pet, and their pet is saying goodbye to them," Dr. Dunne said.

While Dr. Dunne was in private practice for 15 years various small animal practices, seven years ago she branched out on her own to offer at-home euthanasia for primarily dogs and cats, and birds, rabbits, and other small mammals.

"When I started seven years ago, I think it was because I had said goodbye to my own pets in their own home, and then I had had a few clients that had asked me to come out, and I just found it to be such a peaceful and really private experience where they're experiencing such a sad time. And sometimes being out in public, you know, it's difficult, and so being able to be in a comfortable space and certainly dogs, and cats, and pets are much more comfortable when we say goodbye at home," Dr. Dunne said.

Michael Zionts is one of Dr. Dunne's clients who said goodbye to two of his family's dogs at home. He says he knew it was the right choice for his family based on his memories of losing his childhood pet.

"I went with my dad, and it was terrible. The dog was frantic. The dog knew what was going on, and she was a member of our family. It was just heartbreaking to have her in an unusual and foreign environment where she was uncomfortable and stressed and it was very traumatic for me. I think I was 13 or 14 years old at the time," said Michael Zionts.

He was thankful to have this option.

"She came and spent a lot of time with us and she answered all of my children's questions, and they got to see, they got to see a kinder, gentler side of saying goodbye to your animal," said Zionts.

While veterinarians across the country offer this service, Dr. Dunne thinks it is an option new to a lot of people.

"Oftentimes, I hear about having a pet bucket list or wanting to spend some special time with them before the actual goodbye. And then when it's scheduled, (it) gives owners the opportunity to have some time before the appointment, and then after for grieving," Dr. Dunne said.

Dr. Jose Arce is the President of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and he says this became an option for more veterinarians when Congress passed the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act of 2014 which allowed them to take controlled substances out of their offices to provide services to people's homes.

"I think this is something that has picked up because it's a special service that we're offering our clients and something that is going to make them feel better at a difficult moment, in a moment they have to make a very difficult decision with a pet they've loved and lived with for many, many years," said Dr. Jose Arce.

Dr. Arce says many hospitals, including his own, we're offering this service before the pandemic made it difficult for veterinarians to do house-calls.

"With COVID, and with distancing and all of that, we stopped doing it for a while and now we're starting to do it again. But I definitely think there's probably been a pickup because it's natural. It's something that, you know, because of the curbside type of practice that was being done in many, many places, definitely this was something that was a good option," Dr. Arce said.

There are some things to know if this sounds like an option for you and your pet. Dr. Dunne can also provide aftercare, including cremation services, or you can make your own arrangements. At-home euthanasia can also be more expensive than going to the vet's office. 

But in addition to the potential benefits you've heard her talk about, Dr. Dunne says this option can also be meaningful for the other pets in the household.

"Often both dogs, and cats, and even birds, I've had realize that the pet has passed and they really almost say goodbye in their own way, and I feel it helps them accept the passing and go on as part of the family," Dr. Dunne said.

"What do you think it's meant for families to be able to experience this together in their own home if they choose that?" asked 2 On Your Side's Kelly Dudzik.

"I think it helps them. Well, what I've had owners tell me is that it changes the way they feel about goodbye, you know, so even though they know it's a very sad time, it can be a very loving time, and so I think it's a chance for owners to celebrate their pet's life, honor their love for them, and say goodbye together," Dr. Dunne said.

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