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In 2003, when Traci Rochon of Clifton met the man who would later become her husband, she knew that he came with a bonus.

“He had a cat named Katie that he had rescued from the animal shelter,” she said.

The couple married in 2005 and the trio have lived happily together ever since.

But this week, Traci and her husband painfully acknowledged that it was finally time to let the third cherished member of their family go. “Katie was 17 and had been suffering from intestinal cancer for quite a while,” Rochon said. “It was heartbreaking, but her quality of life was such that we had to make the hard decision to finally put her down.”

Rochon said the sweet-natured Abyssinian-mix feline had never been fond of going to the vet, or traveling anywhere in a cat-carrier. “I wasn’t about to do that to her and stress her out like that on her last day on earth,” she said. “There had to be a better way.”

Rochon spoke to a girlfriend of hers and soon learned about Lap of Love, a growing network of veterinarians—nearly 70 nationwide— who provide family-centered in-home hospice and euthanasia care for pets.

“In many ways, the loss of a pet can be as traumatic as losing a friend or family member to a terminal illness,” said Christine Shibly, a Fairfax veterinarian and Lap of Love hospice care provider who often goes by “Dr. Christine.”

According to Shilby, providing hospice services for pets is an emerging trend in the veterinary field, and being able to offer these services in the pet’s home can be a reward for their unconditional love and devotion.

“Going back and forth to the veterinarian’s office is often stressful for animals, especially those who are aged and sick. Lap of Love eliminates this additional stress at a time when every day counts,” she said.

Shilby says the cost of in-home euthanasia starts at $280, but that hospice pet care includes much more than euthanasia. Lap of Love veterinarians tailor a specific treatment plan for each pet, taking into account its age, overall health, and any disease or specific medical needs.

“This may include making husbandry changes, providing palliative care and pain relief, administering fluids, wound care, supplementing the diet and helping to manage incontinence,” Shilby said. “To be able to see the pet in their own surroundings is huge in end-of-life veterinary care. The whole point of what I do is about the comfort of the animal. This is not a depressing line of work – it is actually an honor to help families, and to see the love they have for their pet makes this job worth it. We treat pets and their owners with dignity, respect and love as they go through this difficult time.”

Shilby said she has cared for more than 200 area pets so far in 2014.

This past Wednesday, she went to Rochon’s home in Clifton, and sat down with both Rochon and Katie.

“Dr. Christine walked me through all the steps with no drama, no cat carrier, no stress,” said Rochon. “She made a clay keepsake mold of Katie’s paw print that we can forever use as a Christmas ornament, and then gave me a book of poems about pet bereavement. She then administered something to soothe Katie and Katie died peacefully right in my arms. It was all such an amazing peaceful process. My husband couldn’t be there, but I think he would have been pleased with the process.”

Shilby says one of the benefits of home euthanasia for pet owners is that it is often much easier to express grief at home as opposed to being in a clinical setting.

“That’s so true,” agreed Rochon. “You are able to be right there at home, where you and your pet have shared so much of each other’s lives, and you can be there with your grief and cry unrestrained, letting it all out. You don’t have to hold it in and you don’t have to wait an hour to be able to drive home from the vet’s office. I can’t believe I have never heard of this service before.”

For more information about Lap of Love, go to www.lapoflove.com.

gmacdonald@Fairfaxtimes.com