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Should you start your own in-home euthanasia business or join an established practice?

Opinion
Article

Once veterinary professionals focus on end-of-life care full-time, the next step is determining whether business ownership or traditional employment is the right path for them.

TommyStockProject/stock.adobe.com

TommyStockProject/stock.adobe.com

As more pet owners learn about the possibility of in-home end-of-life care, mobile hospice and euthanasia are becoming an increasingly high-demand sector of the veterinary field. Mobile care is easier on ailing pets, and families appreciate being able to say goodbye in their own homes and on their own terms. It takes a special kind of veterinarian with deep compassion, empathy, patience, and understanding to deliver this type of care and find special meaning in this work. Additionally, the practical benefits of mobile end-of-life care can sometimes allow for a better work-life balance than general practice if you don’t mind driving.

Business ownership allows you complete control to execute your vision exactly as you like and to fill a gap in your local community by providing a much-needed service. However, business ownership is a big commitment, and you must be physically, mentally, and financially prepared before taking the plunge.

Entrepreneurship is not a job but a personality attribute. To succeed, you must be willing to prioritize what your clients want, and your patients need and build a business around them. You will have to work harder than everyone else to provide clients exceptional service, offer compassion and flexibility during highly emotional times, and balance your personal and family needs with your business. It requires complete commitment on your part, nothing less.

On the other hand, joining an established business as an employee takes away the power of decision-making but can provide you with stability and a steady income and relieve many of the responsibilities that come with business ownership.

The decision to start your own business or join an established in-home euthanasia practice is highly personal and will depend on your current situation, priorities, and long-term goals. To help you weigh your options, here are some lessons I’ve learned as the founder of a nationwide veterinary in-home hospice and euthanasia service. Here are the top 6 lessons I learned in my business ownership journey after starting my business from scratch and now employing veterinarians.

#1: You won’t get paid right away

When you start a business, every penny you make goes back into the company. Although a mobile practice requires considerably less overhead than a traditional brick-and-mortar building, expenses increase quickly. You won't immediately turn a profit between equipment purchases, vehicle maintenance, supplies and drugs, and accounting, legal, and marketing help. I didn’t bring home a paycheck for 2 years, but I expected that going in and was financially prepared with savings. Consider your needs and your family’s needs—can you survive without an income for the immediate future? Do you have access to affordable health insurance through other means? Are you willing to constantly invest back into your business to make it successful long-term?

#2: The phone is going to ring at all hours

Concerned pet owners are likely to call you for help at all hours. Understand that you don’t have to answer calls in the middle of the night if you don’t want to—and you should set those boundaries early on—but every call that is not returned promptly is lost business. Because of the urgent nature of euthanasia, pet owners who can’t get through to you will hang up and call another service. I remember having to step away from my young children and find a quiet spot in the house so I could dedicate the time and attention each caller deserved. This was difficult but essential until I could afford to hire someone to help, considering that you’ll always be “on-call.”

#3: In the beginning, you will be responsible for everything

Answering the phone isn’t the only task you will be responsible for while building your business. Without support staff, each appointment and follow-up tasks will take significantly longer. Medical records, drug logs, referring veterinarian communications, sympathy cards, and cremation coordination will all fall on you, so you must be realistic about how many appointments you can see in a given day. Finding the right balance between hustle and personal time can be challenging at first, and you may end up sacrificing sleep to build your business and reputation. In an established business, you can lean on employees, technology, and workflows already in place to streamline the process, and you are more likely to make it home on time.

#4: You will need to establish relationships with vendors

Veterinary euthanasia businesses must establish and maintain relationships with crematory and supply vendors, a website developer, and possibly a marketing team. You will need to negotiate pricing, check statements each month, and keep track of accounting, ordering, and receiving on an ongoing basis. You will choose which drugs to stock, where to get them, and how much to order. You will also want to select a respectful and compassionate crematory service carefully.

You should visit local crematories before choosing so you can answer any questions your clients have about the process, from how their pet is kept separate from others during private cremation to where their ashes will be spread after a communal cremation. An established practice already has these relationships in place and an accounting team to do most of the work for you. Of course, you’re not required to handle any of this back-end work!

#5: Licensure gets complicated when you travel with controlled drugs

Mobile euthanasia practices are, by nature, a controlled drug nightmare. The Drug Enforcement Administration does not take this lightly, and you shouldn’t either. Before starting your own business, ensure you understand the applicable laws and can maintain appropriate licensure and compliance. Maintaining drug logs and hard counts is time-consuming, and you should be prepared to handle the paperwork that sometimes comes with ordering scheduled drugs and maintaining annual logs.

#6: Business skills are necessary for success

Marketing, advertising, and other business skills are not natural talents for many veterinarians; however, they are essential for business success. Anyone can learn these skills but remember that everything falls on your shoulders as a new business owner. Do you have the time and desire to learn the business side, or would you prefer to join an established practice and leave the marketing—and big decisions—to someone else? This, of course, is entirely up to you!

In conclusion

Other veterinarians repeatedly tell me that they could never do what I do. However, those called to this type of practice find no greater reward than the gratitude of a grieving pet owner who had the best possible experience saying goodbye to a long-time friend. If in-home end-of-life care is your passion, you have the option to create your business model or join an established service or practice. Choosing the option that best suits your needs will allow you to glean the most joy from your work and sustainably help pets and clients for years to come.

Dani McVety, DVM, founded Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, a nationwide company helping 10,000+ families per month say goodbye to their beloved pets in the comfort of home. She was the 2017 Pet Industry Woman of the Year and is the 2022 AVMA Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year.

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