Though some parents may beg to differ, most pets don't travel as well as people do. This dictum led Dr. Pamela Doskey to a new way of doing business. In May 2008, Doskey, an LSU veterinary school graduate who had been a practicing vet for 14 years, converted her operation to a 100 percent house-call service. Now all of her clients — who number around 350 and span New Orleans, Kenner, the West Bank and St. Bernard Parish — can receive medical treatment for their pets without ever having to leave their homes.
"I got frustrated working in private practice," Doskey says, "because so often doctors will overbook. You just can't do what you need to do in 15 minutes. I had a lot of clients that would get rushed in and rushed out. I felt like we could do a better job."
With her husband as office manager/IT support and her Nissan Armada as a converted clinic-on-wheels, Doskey brings a whole suite of veterinary services to clients' doorsteps. The most common calls are for diagnostic exams and treatments for minor ailments like infections, but Doskey is equipped to perform most procedures outside of surgeries, which she schedules for the Algiers Animal Clinic, her former employer of eight years.
Her newfound mobility has been most helpful in serving what Doskey says is a majority of her business: older pets and cats. "In most practices, (cats make up) 30 to 40 percent," she estimates. "We're probably 45 to 50 percent. We've had lots of cats that would get so upset in the clinic, vomiting or defecating in their carriers. One cat we've seen in the clinic and at home has this chronic respiratory condition due to allergies. We've had to wrestle him down in the clinic, but (at home) we were actually able to do the exam while he was resting on the sofa. I think the most we got was a growl. I can't tell you what it's meant to the clients, not seeing their pets get so upset."
Calls for feral cats — a particular problem in New Orleans, and some of which Doskey says people have been looking after for years — are commonplace. "We've had a lot where they catch them into a garage area and then say, 'Good luck, Doc!' That's always lots of fun."
The rest of her patients consist mainly of dogs ("a disproportionate number of really large, 200-pound-plus" ones, Doskey notes) and "pocket pets" like rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas — and rats. "We see a lot of rats, surprisingly," she says. "[Our clients] have a lot of nice rats."
Perhaps more so than any other procedure, euthanasia is ameliorated by an in-home visit. As an owner of an elderly cat and dog herself, Doskey is especially sensitive to the needs of "seniors," as she calls them. "We tend to have a larger percentage of euthanasias," she says. "It's such a stressful situation, and it makes it as comfortable as possible for the pet and the client."
It's not just senior pets that benefit from Doskey's transport; senior citizens, she says, also find the service invaluable. "We have a lot of senior clients that don't drive, so we go around to retirement homes and take care of pets there. One little retirement community we go to in Algiers, Woldenberg Village, they have several older ladies and gentlemen that rely on a shuttle for doctor's visits, stuff like that. It makes it so much easier for them."
Doskey and her husband live in Gretna, and they are in the early stages of building a hospital near their home to expand their services. She projects the "ICU-type facility" to be operational within the next five to six months. For now, however, her heals-on-wheels practice keeps rolling along. In 10 months the business has nearly tripled — almost entirely by referrals, Doskey says. "I've been seeing some of the same people for years and years. Ninety percent have been repeat clients."
On this day, Doskey's calls will take her from St. Bernard Parish (cat with a urinary tract infection) to Kenner (rat with a respiratory infection). Those are nothing, she says, compared to the time she was called out to see Poochie: "We had a little dog — the lady didn't know what was going on. She called and said, 'Something's not right with Poochie's eye.' I get there, and I could just look at the eye and see it was out of the socket. She had been looking at it all day and saying, 'Poochie's really cranky today!'
"We had to sedate him, clean the eye up and get it back into the socket," Doskey says. "And we were able to save his vision, which is very exciting."
Doskey can be reached at 812-5986, or email her at email@example.com.