Dr. Stephanie Bowes examines a family's elderly cat. | Courtesy of EverLoved

Saying goodbye to a pet is hard, but two Lakeland natives have opened a new mobile veterinary practice that may give owners more support during that difficult stage.

EverLoved — a remote veterinary practice devoted to palliative care, including at-home euthanasia — opened at the end of July. Founders Julie Stern and Stephanie Bowes are both pet owners who grew up in Lakeland and said they knew there was a need. 

“I personally had a very difficult end-of-life experience with my first dog, Ziggy, beginning with a very awful vet ER visit (that was not in Lakeland),” Stern said. “From that moment on, I really wanted to give pet parents a comprehensive end-of-life experience that was compassionate, personalized, dignified and that provided comfort for families every step of the way — especially when it comes to grief support, which I’m very passionate about.”

Stern has lived across the country and worked in the animal health industry for 15 years in the areas of hospital urgent care, aftercare/cremation, mobile care and wellness. She wanted to bring her expertise back to Lakeland.

“I knew Lakeland needed this service, so when I decided to start the business, I immediately approached Dr. Bowes to be our founding medical director. (She is) someone I trust and whom I knew looked at the end-of-life journey the same way I did,” she said.

Bowes was studying for her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Florida when she became pregnant. The pregnancy led her and her husband to return to her hometown upon graduation.

“We knew that Lakeland was the right city to come back to. I have always had a deep connection to this community as a second-generation Lakelander and wanted to be able to share that with my family,” Bowes said.

EverLoved offers in-home euthanasia for cats and dogs, in-home assessments, aftercare including cremation and memorialization, and free online grief support group sessions. The company has care coordinators available to speak with customers Monday through Saturday.

“By EverLoved offering home visits, the attention is completely on the pet within their own environment and the family is there to talk through the entirety of their decision,” Bowes said.

Finding peace in final moments

“Grief doesn’t change — whether a pet is lost at home or within a veterinary clinic — however, those families who choose at-home euthanasia often feel more at peace with their decision and the timing of it as well,” Bowes explained. “They are able to remember their beloved pet’s final moments as a peaceful send-off in a favorite room or on a favorite chair, instead of in a strange and busy hospital.”

Julie Stern, founder of EverLoved, with Stormy. | Courtesy of EverLoved

“Understanding that our pets deserve to be treated like family has shifted the way veterinary medicine and the pet industry, as a whole, operates. Just like our human family members, we value what being ‘home’ means especially at the end of one’s life,” Stern said, while explaining the need for at-home euthanasia services.

Stern said it’s also difficult for some to transport large pets, and seniors may also have difficulties getting their pets the care they need. They also offer evening availability for people who work, as many places of employment do not offer sick days to care for pets. They also offer same-day or short notice appointments.

EverLoved isn’t the only at-home euthanasia service available in Lakeland.

Dr. Katrina Zandberg offers at-home euthanasia services and is dedicated to mobile end-of-life care. She offers her services through the national company, Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In-home Euthanasia. She works with exotic pets as well, such as pigs, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, birds, fish, and goats, according to the website.

Lap of Love's euthanasia appointment is $440, with additional fees for evenings, weekends or holidays.

A national shift

According to the National Pet Owners Survey conducted in 2021-2022 by the American Pet Products Association, 70% of U.S. households — 90.5 million families — own a pet. That is up from 56% of U.S. households in 1988, and 67% in 2019.

Stern said there is a growing movement in the veterinary industry to offer more mobile services, from primary care to grooming and vaccinations.

“We’re seeing increased corporatization of medical practices by private equity groups, (and) increased burnout amongst veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals. In part due to the pandemic, clinics are busier than ever, it’s difficult to get appointments as a client, and it’s tough for clinics to staff. There are just major macro changes happening,” Stern said, adding that pet owners like the convenience of mobile services and since they’re now more likely to view their pets as family.

While at-home euthanasia may be more comfortable for all involved, it’s also more expensive. EverLoved charges $450 for a pet assessment or euthanasia appointment. Their aftercare services, which include cremation and memorialization, are an additional $200.

Clinics charge anywhere from $100 to $500 for similar services.

“Typically an in-home euthanasia appointment is more costly as this involves a veterinarian traveling to a home and spending substantially more time with a pet and their family… An EverLoved veterinarian can spend up to two hours with a family. This prevents a very sensitive and important time in a pet’s life from feeling rushed,” Bowes explained, adding that a typical euthanasia appointment at a clinic may last half that time.

EverLoved is hiring veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals, client care coordinators and grief support specialists.

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for Jazbablog. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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