UPPER WEST SIDE — One local veterinarian is bringing back the lost art of the house call, one paw at a time.
After working in an animal clinic Downtown for nearly two years, Upper West Sider Dr. Jeffrey Lavine realized he wanted to spend more time with each animal and its owners. So, he struck out on his own, making house calls to pets across the neighborhood through his new venture, VetCierge Veterinary House Calls.
Now, after just two months, he counts about three-dozen four-legged friends as patients, mostly within walking distance of his apartment.
"Everyone seems a lot more relaxed in the home," said Lavine, who usually spends a "calm" and "friendly" hourlong visit getting to know the family and their pet, while talking about everything from toys to treats to training.
Typically accompanied by a vet technician, Lavine sits and talks with the family, and "by the time it comes to the exam, it feels like a playdate to the dog [or cat]" because of the relaxed atmosphere.
Upper West Sider Michelle Winchester had Lavine take a look at her 4-year-old cat George, who is suffering from kidney disease and elevated calcium levels.
"Having the vet come to my apartment was much less stressful for George and for myself," she said. "He hates traveling and going in his carrier, and I hate trying to get him in there, too."
With much less overhead, Lavine said he can charge lower prices than clinics or vets who are asked to make house calls — a service that typically costs $300 when the vet is affiliated with a practice, he said, citing his previous experience working at clinics.
Instead, his visits never cost more than $125 for a basic checkup — not including services like blood testing or X-rays — and can cost even less, he said. Winchester noted that Lavine's price for blood work was less expensive than at a normal vet's office.
Being accessible to families is important to Lavine, he said, and he follows up after appointments by phone, email and text message, in order to create meaningful, long-term relationships.
"The kids [in the family] love it. I let them listen with my stethoscope," Lavine said.
If an animal requires more intense procedures than a house call will allow, Lavine refers them to an emergency or regular clinic, shepherding the family through the process, he said.
"The more attention you can give to discussing and educating owners about preventative care, the better," he said.
Visiting animals at home means Lavine also can help when it comes to discussing end-of-life care and the decision to euthanize an animal, which he'll start offering as a service in people's homes in 2014.
When he's not moving from pet to pet, he's taking care of his own animals: Kayla, a year-and-a-half-old Labradoodle, and his 10-foot long, 22-year-old boa constrictor, Jobu.
"I only wish Kayla could come on appointments with me," Lavine said. "She'd be a great sidekick, and every appointment would be a doggie playdate."