Dr. Heidi Pulito (DVM ’11) has spent more than six years working in small animal clinics, written a book to help struggling veterinarians, shared tools and techniques at veterinary conferences, and started her own company. Her unique role in this profession shows veterinarians the wide range of opportunities a degree in veterinary medicine opens.
Trial and Error
Dr. Pulito’s first position at a walk-in clinic provided a lot of experience, but overtime shifts and an understaffed team caused her enthusiasm for veterinary medicine to slip downward. Looking for a change, Dr. Pulito took a position at Sandwich Veterinary Hospital, working with small animals.
Eager to reclaim excitement for the career she once loved, the doctor began some self-reflection.
“I realized I needed to get my eyes off myself and start looking around in Vet Med. Who are we helping? And how can I do a better job of that instead of drowning in my own sorrows and bitterness towards the career since it wasn’t exactly what I had expected.”
One 17-year-old “creaky” Maltese dog pinpointed her passion: a love for older pets. During year four in Sandwich, Ill., the hospital Dr. Pulito worked for began receiving an increasing number of house calls for home euthanasia. Dr. Pulito took on many of these cases and discovered her gift for empathetic and compassionate communication with owners to ensure the pet’s peaceful passing.
Hospice Care vs. Clinical Care
Dr. Pulito found that compared to exams at the clinic, her in-home exams left animals and owners feeling more comfortable. Clinical appointments are often rushed, requiring bloodwork, x-rays, and hasty communication with owners about end-of-life decisions. In-home-hospice allows veterinarians to provide the animal their full attention without rushing to the next appointment. In the specific case of in-home euthanasia, Dr. Pulito and her clients have found that the home atmosphere keeps pets and their families calm.
When asked the difference between in home and clinical hospice, Dr. Pulito recalls a successful in-home exam she performed just recently on a small Chihuahua-Dachshund dog.
He always hated going to the vet. But in his home during the exam he was just wagging his tail, he’s super happy, didn’t even notice I was examining him. It was the first time he’s never shaken when the vet examined him. He’s more relaxed, he doesn’t care.
Heidi Pulito, DVM
Hospice as a Career
Dr. Pulito considers in-home euthanasia one of the most dignified and peaceful ways to go. However, not everyone wants to remember their pet passing in their home. In these cases, in-home hospice is still useful for animals afflicted by physical limitations. For example, larger arthritic dogs can be seen in their home, rather than lugged to the clinic, a stressful trip.
As time passed, Dr. Pulito sought out more opportunities to help older pets. According to the veterinarian, “It was mainly noticing how gifted I was in being empathetic and compassionate, communicating with owners, and helping their pets pass peacefully. That’s how I knew I had to try and find a way to more of it, and a mobile business was the way to do it.”
Dr. Pulito discovered a certification program offered by the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care. The certification curriculum focused on medicine, proper communication, and taking good care of the family attached to the pet. Dr. Heidi Pulito graduated from the program in October 2018 and opened her own in-home hospice business soon after.
Unleashed with Grace
A month following her graduation from the AAHPC certification program, Dr. Pulito started her business, “Unleashed with Grace.” She serves clients in a seven-county area west of Chicago, offering pain management, supportive care, mobility exercises, quality of life education, and more.
The mobile business has been fast-growing ever since. Dr. Pulito conducts all operations, medications, and client contact, while her husband helps out with finances.
Her clients schedule 1.5-hour appointments. During this time, Dr. Pulito examines the pet, goes over all potential medications for keeping the pet comfortable, and gives the family as much time as they need to absorb information and ask questions. In the case of euthanasia, the pet will pass peacefully inside the client’s home.
Dr. Pulito’s website is the main point of contact for her mobile business. Unleashedwithgrace.com explains animal hospice, offers contact opportunities, and features an informational blog focusing on gratefulness and grief.
One of the coolest things we can do in Vet Med is to start our own stuff.
Heidi Pulito, DVM
Alongside her business, Dr. Pulito strives to help other veterinarians navigate the stressful profession, which has one of the highest rates of suicide.
Dr. Pulito’s thoughtful book, “Victory Unleashed: A Veterinarian’s Tale of Thriving in a Profession Marked with Depression,” discusses angry clients, coming to terms with disillusionment, and finding a niche in veterinary medicine. The text speaks on the doctor’s own experience and offers solutions to common problems in the field. The book is a glimpse behind the scenes and is recommended to veterinarians, veterinary professionals, and anyone experiencing frustration in their high-stress job.
Her new business model is a perfect example of an innovative solution to the pressures and time constraints surrounding hospice situations for companion animals. Veterinarians have the option of referring their clients who need extra time and attention to a practice specifically designed to meet those needs. Or veterinarians might want to consider opening a similar business themselves.
By Stephanie Maurer