Photos by Lap of Love and Ross Taylor
In 2009, shortly after completing veterinarian school at the University of Florida, Dr. Dani McVety-Leinen founded of Lap of Love, which, today, is a multi-practice pet hospice network with 60+ locations around the country. Lap of Love provides in-home, end-of-life veterinary care; aftercare; in-home euthanasia and pet loss support groups.
“I was initially going to do this as a side job, and I’d offer to come to clients’ homes for euthanasia. Then I got busier and busier—it’s been a wild ride!” Dr. McVety-Leinen shares about her success.
Once word started spreading about this dignified approach to a beloved pet’s last days, Dr. McVety-Leinen received calls and emails from all over the country. It was then that she realized this was needed and could expand beyond its origin location of Tampa, FL.
She reached out to veterinary school classmate Dr. Mary Gardner who had a decade of software development experience. Dr. Gardner immediately connected with the Lap of Love model and they became business partners.
“Dr. Gardner was the second location. We then started designing and developing our proprietary software for the practices, and we wrote the operational manual and researched a lot of legal implications,” Dr. McVety-Leinen shares.
It soon became inevitable that pet parents appreciate reassurance and guidance from their veterinarian when it comes to end-of-life decisions for their pets. The third location was then opened in NC by a fellow veterinarian who expressed interest in offering the service, and Lap of Love continued to grow from there.
“As veterinarians, we put the decision to euthanize on the pet parent’s shoulders. That’s a lot of weight. Instead, at Lap of Love, we give them permission to say ‘goodbye’ and assure them they gave the pet a wonderful life, and now it’s time,” Dr. McVety-Leinen shares empathetically.
“I’m passionate about talking with our clients and knowing what they need to hear when it comes to end-of-life care for their pets. In veterinary school,” she continues, “we’re not taught anything about how to talk with families about euthanasia.”
Dr. McVety-Leinen has studied different communication styles to facilitate these difficult conversations over the years, and says the tone you use and body language are all important.
“There’s a piece of being a doctor that’s looking in the eyes of the person and knowing what they need to hear. You can say, ‘Yes, this is the right time. Yes, you’ve done an amazing job.’ It’s the difference between saying ‘I feel for you’ and someone else grabbing your hand and saying, ‘I know what you need.’
“Or, sometimes, the pet parent knows the pet is dying, but another family member will be home in a few days, and they want to say goodbye,” Dr. McVety-Leinen continues. “We can help them make the pet comfortable until they say their goodbyes.
“I volunteered for human hospice while in college. I had an affinity for this kind of care from the beginning. I love helping people feel comfortable about the end of life, and I love telling them they’ve done an amazing job for their pet and assure them this is the right time,” she says.
The veterinarian community recently recognized Dr. McVety-Leinen’s work by naming her the recipient of the “2022 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award.” The award is named after the late Dr. Leo K. Bustad. Dr. Bustad was a former president of the Delta Society and dean of the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Bustad pioneered studies of the bond between humans and their pets.
The award is one of the profession’s highest honors, presented annually by the AVMA and supported by Merck Animal Health. According to the AVMA, “The award recognizes the outstanding work of veterinarians in protecting and promoting the human-animal bond.”1
Dr. McVety-Leinen says, “The bond between our species has not only brought me into this career that I cherish, but has also been the cornerstone of my work as a clinician, my inspiration as a businesswoman, and the driving force behind my work with veterinary students.”
In her work with veterinary students, she teaches a communication class: “Part of that lecture is a divided slide that says, ‘don’t do this’ vs. ‘say this instead.’ For example, instead of saying, ‘There’s nothing more you can do.’ You can say, ‘You’ve done an incredible job of getting your pet here.’ It’s so much more supportive and positive,” she advises.
In addition to educating veterinary students, Lap of Love added virtual support groups for grieving pet parents: “When COVID started, we added online pet loss support groups. They’re free every day of the week, and we offer one-on-one coaching for family members.”
When not teaching, working with her patients or running her growing veterinary practice of nearly 500 employees, Dr. McVety-Leinen speaks and writes on topics such as veterinary hospice and body language for doctors.
With her unmatchable empathy for grieving pet parents and pets reaching end of life, this one-of-a-kind veterinarian is certainly deserving of the coveted “Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award”—and so much more! +
1. AVMA names Dr. Dani McVety-Leinen recipient of 2022 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award. (2022, May 4). AVMA. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/dr-dani-mcvety-leinen-recipient-2022-bustad-companion-animal