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By Bob Shaw
email@example.com Updated: 11/07/2011 12:08:35 AM CST
Sid Korpi is glad that death makes house calls. When her cat, Giles, approached the end of his life in August, Korpi called on a unique in-home euthanasia service. Called Minnesota Pets, the St. Paul business does euthanasia—and only euthanasia. It has no clinic to treat animals, just four veterinarians who make about 20 house calls a week, each one ending an animal’s life. Customers say their pets die more peacefully at home. Korpi said that instead of dying in a clinic, her cat died in her lap, surrounded by love, peace and candlelight.
“There was no stress from cramming him into a carrier. I didn’t want to have to drive him somewhere with tears streaming down my face,” she said.
The idea for the business first dawned on Dr. Rebecca McComas four years ago, as her two beagles aged. Being a vet, she always planned to euthanize them at home. “I would never consider doing it in a clinical setting,” McComas said. “Then I started talking to other vets, and they said they wouldn’t do that in a clinic, either.” So, she asked, why would anyone? She knew that other clinics performed in-home euthanasias but wanted to have the first Minnesota business to specialize in them.
But the business does more than stick needles into dying animals. The vets are expert grief counselors. They dispose of the body afterward. And they offer mementos of the pet, such as a clay imprint of a paw. The basic visit costs $225, up to $375 for cremating the body and Advertisement returning the ashes. McComas helps customers deal with a form of grief that is misunderstood—and underestimated. When someone’s mother dies, friends and family share the grief. Everyone understands it. But when a pet dies, it’s not the same. “A lot of clients report that the loss of an animal, for people with a primary bond, is worse than that of a mother, father, sister or friend,” said Lisa Havelin, a grief support specialist with Minnesota Pets. “It’s incomparable. It’s much worse.”
That’s because pets spend an enormous amount of time with their owners. “We get used to them. They go in the car with us. We are with them all day,” said Havelin. “We do not spend that much quality time with other people.” That makes the loss of a pet hard to explain to others. “It’s disenfranchised grief,” Havelin said. But can’t a person who loses a pet just get a replacement? “For some people who do not have a connection with the animal, they can say, ‘Fine, I will replace a black lab with another black lab,’ ” Havelin said. In other cases, the animal-human bond is very strong.
“It’s just like with people. You may have a lot of people in the course of your life, but some stand out,” Havelin said. “I have had animals my whole life, but two or three of them have been especially difficult to lose.”
Linda and Allen Anderson of St. Louis Park realized last summer that their 19-year-old cat, Speedy, was no longer living up to his name. “He was falling down,” Linda Anderson said. The cat stopped eating and drinking, and death seemed imminent. But McComas said cats are very hardy – and can sometimes live for weeks without food. That means that an owner determined to let nature take its course will watch the cat deteriorate—painfully.
For the Andersons, euthanasia in a clinic seemed too cold, too impersonal. “Speedy hated vets,” Anderson said. McComas showed up at the house, dressed in surgical scrubs and carrying a bag with the equipment. Together, they talked about Speedy’s life. “She was very kind,” Anderson said. The experience was perfect, she said. “To be able to do that, with him on my lap and my husband there, to give him that last dose of love—it was a remarkable experience.”
Korpi is a Minneapolis author of the book “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” and an expert on grieving over lost pets. So when her own cat, Giles, was near death in August, she liked the idea of a peaceful death at home. When the vet arrived, Korpi lit a candle and dimmed the lights in the room. “Giles came right up to her. He knew what was happening—and he was grateful,” Korpi said.
She has been through euthanasias of 16 of her other pets. “Every single time,” she said, “I say that when I go, I want to go like that.”
Bob Shaw can be reached at 651-228-5433. Follow him on twitter.com/BshawPP.