As Keith Murray opens the door of his Bethesda home to greet Dr. Solomon Perl, his dogs, Rudy and Oakley, rush over with tails wagging. Murray shakes Perl’s hand enthusiastically, saying, “It is good to see you!” before the veterinarian sits on the kitchen floor and begins to examine Rudy, who licks his face in excitement.
Perl has been offering house calls in the Bethesda area for more than 25 years and going to the Murray residence for about three. Rudy, a 12-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, has metastatic cancer, and Perl is trying to keep him comfortable for as long as possible.
According to Perl, just about anything that doesn’t require an overnight stay at the vet’s can be taken care of at a pet’s home, from vaccinations and lab work to wellness exams and euthanasia. Many house-call vets, including Perl, are unaffiliated with an animal hospital, but have previous experience in hospitals or clinics. These vets refer clients out for things such as X-rays or major surgeries. However, some businesses offer house calls in addition to hospital services, including Petvacx Animal Hospital in Rockville and Grove Center Veterinary Hospital in Gaithersburg.
While some vets have visited homes for decades, new house-call-only practices have been sprouting in the area recently, such as Rock Creek Home Veterinary Care and DC MetroVet. “For the pet owners, many are realizing that the convenience and the costs make it that much more practical,” says Perl, who sees an average of 15 clients per day, up from three or four when he began making house calls.
Veterinary appointments at home are a good option for people who can’t leave their residences or those with multiple pets, busy schedules or pets that dislike the car or the waiting room. “Cats don’t do well out of their own environment, so taking them in the car in a carrier can be very stressful for them,” says Carol Lander of Rockville, who has three cats and three dogs and has been using Petvacx Animal Hospital’s house-call services for more than 20 years.
Despite the convenience for cat owners, Perl has noticed his business spread more rapidly among pooch people. “Dog owners meet other dog owners at the dog park and talk about their dogs,” Perl says. With less socializing connected to cats, their owners may not chat about vets as much, he says.
Prices for house calls vary, but the travel fee ranges from about $40 to $120 and the cost of care is similar to brick and mortar animal hospitals. For people with multiple pets who pay only one travel fee, it may be more economical than going to a clinic.
The life of the traveling vet is often unpredictable. “We’ve been under a bed, on the roof; we’ve been everywhere,” says Dr. Deborah Dodson, a vet for Petvacx. She has attended house-call parties, where one person invites friends and their pets over to use a vet’s services. She has even been on a house call to the circus, where she took care of the performers’ pets—as well as a circus tiger.
Kelly Seegers is a former editorial intern at Bethesda Magazine.