Spanky gets his ears massaged during a home visit by mobile pet vet Susan Konecny. - <I>-Photo by Jamie Lusch</I>

House calls

Despite his humble nature, Spanky has been known to nip when stress gets the better of him.

Seeing a veterinarian in the comfort of his own home goes a long way toward keeping the 9-year-old cocker spaniel calm. Susan Konecny's new house-call service, Home Pet Vet, is just what the doctor ordered.

"The pets are way more relaxed," Konecny says. "In fact, they want to play."

Although Spanky's not feeling quite up to snuff, he relishes Konecny's caress, melting into the veterinarian's hands as she massages his ears to check for skin irregularities. Once the weather turns warm, Spanky's walks expose him to an onslaught of allergens — pollen, grasses and molds — all of which irritate his skin.

"He's got severe allergies, just like people," Konecny says.

Noting that Spanky's belly looks a little red, his lymph nodes are slightly swollen and a few suspicious bumps have erupted, Konecny orders up some tests. She plucks syringes and swabs from one of the two rolling suitcases she's brought while her husband, Grant Konecny, records the treatment on a laptop computer. Spanky's owner, 45-year-old Pam Rowe of Medford, also requests a heartworm test.

The needle prick in his ear hardly registers with Spanky, but the lump on his neck is another matter. As Rowe and Konecny try to restrain the yelping dog, Susan Konecny aborts the third attempt at drawing some fluid. The veterinarian decides to slightly sedate Spanky for the procedure on a follow-up visit.

But Spanky is now so needle-shy that he won't stand while Konecny takes some blood from his front leg. Rowe provides an unconventional solution, taunting Spanky with the sight of hated house cat Amber. Thoroughly distracted, Spanky doesn't notice when Konecny finds a vein in his back leg.

"Whew, it worked," Rowe says.

"That was a great idea," Konecny says. "I guess we just have to bring a cat to every visit."

The episode is one example of the spontaneous nature of in-home veterinary care. Observing pets in their own environments, Konecny says, allows her to assess behavioral issues. She can go straight to a food bag rather than ask clients to recall ingredients. Consultations become more like conversations in the casual setting of a client's living room. And Konecny's system for scheduling appointments allows time for examining other pets in the home that may have just suddenly caused their owners concern.

Multi-pet families have been Konecny's main clientele since the 46-year-old Jacksonville resident started her Home Pet Vet rounds in April. A house call takes the struggle out of loading up numerous pets for a vet visit and cuts the time busy clients spend waiting in a veterinary office, Konecny says. Seniors who may have diminished mobility or are just unable to lift large dogs into the car also value the service, which offers them a discount, she adds.

"We're servicing a lot of the clients' pets that wouldn't normally go into a veterinarian's office," she says.

The demand for vets who make house calls prompted Grants Pass veterinarian Beth Kraft, 34, to start her mobile clinic about a year ago, serving Josephine County and part of Jackson County. Her "critter cruiser" is a small motor home fully equipped for any veterinary procedure, including dental care, surgeries and euthanasia. She's also squeezed in a lab and pharmacy.

"We do everything from pocket pets and exotics to cats and dogs," Kraft says.

Including Kraft and Konecny, at least five veterinary practices in Jackson and Josephine counties offer some type of at-home care.

More important, pet owners are increasingly proactive about safeguarding their animals' health, an attitude Konecny says has evolved in the 14 years she's been practicing. Because pets age so much faster than humans, she recommends twice - yearly visits instead of once per year. If owners follow through, Grant Konecny says, Home Pet Vet is really more about "wellness management."

Such was the case with Spanky, who on the whole looked "really good," but he was teetering on the cusp of an allergy flare-up that could be staved off with some medication, Konecny says.

"That's the old, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,' " Konecny says.

"If you prevent it now ... you don't necessarily have to treat it in a worse situation later."

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