"People assume my job is depressing, and they're shocked when I tell them it isn't," said Dr. Lori Braun, a mobile veterinarian specializing in pet hospice care and in-home euthanasia. Braun works for Lap of Love, a national network of veterinarians dedicated to providing in-home hospice care; she administers to patients in the metro area, including Clackamas County.
Statistics show that there are about 54 million senior pets in the United States, and Braun said helping those pets and their families is "immeasurably satisfying."
Providing in-home euthanasia "can be helpful to the grieving process; having a pet pass away at home can be the first step to healing," Braun said.
"Euthanasia is a final gift of love. You are helping them pass away with dignity, before struggling becomes suffering. Helping these pets is a way of rewarding a perfect life with a perfect passing."
She added, "I'm grateful for the ability to help families. Studies show that the loss of a pet is just as traumatic as the loss of a human family member. In both cases, you've lost a loved one."
Sometimes pets dislike being put in a carrier and taken to a veterinary clinic, and this is where the other aspect of Braun's job comes into play — hospice care.
"In this job, for me the medicine aspect is about 25 percent, and the remaining 75 percent is establishing the interpersonal connection. I try to listen to people and hear what they need. I want to work with them, as well as with their pet," she said.
"Hospice can be a wonderful option for pets. There are things that can often be done to help them have good quality time in their remaining lives."
She further noted that hospice care can be done with Lap of Love, but that family vets also are important. People can speak to their regular vets about these options, too.
For Braun, the best thing she can give pets and their owners is time.
"The good thing about an in-home consultation is being able to have a concentrated amount of time to get a history going. I want to understand the family's needs as well as what the pet needs," Braun said.
She also can observe how the pet behaves at home, which is helpful since some pets act differently when they go to the vet.
"I want to help maintain that human-animal bond. For example, if pets don't like to be pilled, we can find alternative ways of getting them the medication."
Braun said she checks in with her hospice patients weekly, either by email or in person.
Milwaukie resident Julie Brundage is one of Braun's clients. She turned to Lap of Love when her cherished dog, Baloo, began to show signs of slowing down.
"The sooner you start hospice, the more comfortable the journey," Brundage said.
Baloo is nearly 17 years old and doesn't enjoy going to the veterinarian very much.
"He doesn't like people who touch his head, and he doesn't want to be poked or prodded," Brundage said.
Baloo was in good health until recently, when he took a bad turn.
"At 3 p.m. he threw up and at 3 a.m. we were at the emergency clinic. They wanted to do a lot of tests. I didn't want to take him back there, so that's why I called Lori," Brundage said.
"She talked through his history and got to know him. She is helping me know what to do when the time comes," she said.
Brundage added that Braun gave her a great check list "to tell when it's time. I am so much more calm. There is someone I can call when he starts to suffer pain."
Brundage adopted Baloo when she lived in Oakland, California, adding that she has lived in Milwaukie almost two years and works from home, teaching people the Alexander Technique as a way to ease pain.
She said that Baloo is a perfectly behaved dog, with one exception.
"When I lived in Oakland, a Petco was going out of business so I bought a big, black bag full of toys for my dog-walking clients. I put the bag in a closet and closed the door," she said.
But somehow one day the door was left ajar and Baloo "opened up every package and played with every toy. That is his one big, bad thing," Brundage said.
As for now, Baloo still wants to go for walks and still wants to be here as long as he can have fun.
"I want him to be kept comfortable. I want to do everything my dog wants, and Lori knows that. I recommend this service to others," Brundage said.
"I have always loved animals and at an early age knew I wanted to be a zookeeper," Braun said.
"Being a zookeeper was an amazing job. I have had so many life experiences that most people don't even dream of," she said.
But after 10 years Braun wanted a change, so she left that job and went back to school to become a veterinarian. She worked in a rural clinic for just over a decade as a general practitioner.
Then last spring she spoke to a friend in Atlanta who told her about working for Lap of Love.
"She and I talked about her experiences and she was so effusive and so happy; she said she had really found her niche," Braun said.
"No matter what, hearts are going to break, but she was very passionate about easing the pain."
Braun told her friend that she would be open to talking to someone from Lap of Love if an opening ever came up in the Portland area.
"Then I got an email that Lap of Love was looking for someone. After we talked about what the job would be, and I spoke to one of the founders of the company, I felt this was right for me." Braun said.
She shadowed other doctors and received additional training specifically in hospice care, before she began working for Lap of Love at the end of August 2016.
Hospice care is a developing field in veterinary services.
"I have found my niche. I am so passionate about trying to make one of the worst days [in a pet owner's life] just a little less awful," she said.
Love of pets
The impending death of a pet is hard for people to process, Brundage said, noting that Baloo has lived with her in California, New York City, South Carolina and now Milwaukie.
"He's always with me. He takes me outside for walks when it is so easy to not go outside. It's nice to have somebody like Lori, who understands" the pet-human bond, Brundage said.
"A pet is [a pet owner's] constant; a pet is their life witness. A pet is the definition of unconditional love," Braun said.
"Losing that constant in your life is so traumatic. The head and heart do not talk when it comes to the loss of a pet. When they die, you have lost a loved one," Braun said.
She advises people to take themselves out of the equation when contemplating whether euthanasia is the right choice for their pet. "It shouldn't be about how we feel; it should be about what is best for the pet."
Getting closure on the death of a pet is part of what is best about Lap of Love, which has a Facebook memorial for people to put up pictures of their pets and talk about highlights of the pet's life, Braun said.
"People can focus on the awesome memories and start to let go by saying all the good things about their pet."
Pets are family
Lap of Love specializes in in-home hospice care and euthanasia. Learn more at Lapoflove.com; click on Community for access to the Facebook page and other testimonials.
Call: Dr. Lori Braun at