Bristol Herald Courier

Veterinarian makes house-calls when it’s time to say goodbye

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Carla Johnson faced a sad end — twice — in only a few weeks.

“My lab got down and just couldn’t get back up. His hips were gone,” said Johnson, a registered nurse who lives in the Reedy Creek area of Washington County, near Bristol, Va.

That dog, Levi, weighed 120 pounds and was 13 years old when Johnson called for the services of Dr. Sarah Francis, a veterinarian.

Francis operates Loving Hands Home Euthanasia, a house-call service, which allows pets to die at owners’ homes.

For Johnson, there was really no other way to deal with losing Levi, her beloved dog. “I could not physically take him,” she said. “It was one night about 7:30 that she came to the house ... And he was outside, and I couldn’t get him back to his house, in the cold.

So Francis gave Levi, in his fenced-in lot, just what he needed to die peacefully — at home.

Only a few weeks later, Johnson called that vet again to have her take care of Freckles, a 15-year-old Jack Russell terrier.

This time, Johnson could have taken that smaller dog to a vet. But, she said, “I had used her service before, and she was just so wonderful.”

With Francis’s assistance, Freckles ultimately died on the bed where she always slept. Sounding emotional, Johnson said, “It was bittersweet. It was the best for her at the time.”

Francis’s service uses a heavy sedation cocktail for animals and costs from $150 to $250. Francis can later assist with burial, cremation or whatever process you opt for.

The vet got the idea to start this business from a similar service operating at Virginia Beach, Va., where she grew up.

“I had it come up a couple of times, just working in the area, where people would want the vet to come out to their home,” Francis said, “but most local vet clinics are just not set up to do that.”

Now a resident of Bristol, Tenn., Francis works part time for Jones Animal Hospital in Bristol, Tenn., and also does relief work for local veterinarians.

So far, she’s paid visits to have about 25 animals put to sleep. “Pretty much all of them are geriatric,” Francis said. “I’ve had a few that had been younger than had really early onset cancer.”

As for the owners, Francis said, “I have a lot who just don’t want to have that really private, personal experience in a public setting.”

While at a house, Francis creates a keepsake paw-print. A week after the animal dies, Francis sends the owner a painted paw-print mold plus a sympathy card.

“I try to separate myself, but I definitely understand what they’re going through,” Francis said. “And I guess how I’m able to not completely break down is I feel like I’m providing a very valuable service and allowing people to grieve in a private setting. And I feel like I’m just helping them.”

 jtennis@bristolnews.com | (276) 791-0704