Earlier this month, Blake, the 80-pound black lab that lived a happy life right to the end, sat calm and relaxed in his favorite spot on the floor at home. After making sure he was comfortably sedated, veterinarian Dr. Julie Rabinowitz gently administered a lethal injection and then “he took three deep breaths and he was gone. It was very peaceful,” said Blake’s owner, Inga Jackman, 61, of Overlea.
Jackman found Rabinowitz through an Internet search, where she discovered Peaceful Passage, Rabinowitz’s business that provides euthanasia for pets in the comfort of their own homes.
“From the moment I spoke with her — at the first contact, I was so emotional I couldn’t talk —she was so kind and so gentle,” said Jackman. When she arrived “she sat on my dog-hair-covered floor like she lived here,” and even though they had to wait for Jackman’s husband to arrive home — he was stuck in traffic — “I never felt rushed,” Jackman said. “She was the most compassionate person. Peaceful passage was the best way to describe it.”
About six years ago, Rabinowitz, who was, and still is, working part time at the Stevenson Village Veterinary Hospital in Pikesville, received more and more requests from clients for house calls to euthanize ill pets, which gave her the idea to start a business.
“The majority of these folks I’ve not met before,” said Rabinowitz, who cited several reasons owners appreciate the in-home visits. “First of all, they don’t have to put their ailing pet in the car.” For pets that may be suffering from a debilitating cancer or have orthopedic issues, the car ride alone can be stressful and cause major discomfort. And “people often say to me, I can’t imagine my pet passing on a cold steel table,” and this way owners “are allowed to grieve in the privacy of their own homes. Very often, they want to hold their pet, which can be more complicated in an office setting.” At home, they can rest against a couch or chair, she added, because “it’s important to me that [the owners] are comfortable too.”
Rabinowitz, 40, who is religiously observant so her business is closed for Shabbat and all Jewish holidays, says she receives about 65 requests per month, and demand is growing. So much so that she recently hired Dr. Ayrika White-Mfoudi to work with her.
White-Mfoudi, 39, worked at the Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Catonsville for 11 years, so she’s had to euthanize many pets in an emergency setting, but administering the service in homes is a real change.
“The main one is that people are more ready,” she said. “No one’s ever ready — but at the emergency clinic [people come in] with a sick animal, and I have to explain this isn’t going to get better and they have to make a decision quickly versus when people call Peaceful Passage; they know it’s close to the time, so they’ve come to terms with what’s going to happen.
“And in a person’s home, the animal is more comfortable,” she added. [The owner is] a lot more comfortable. It’s an honor to be invited into someone’s home and perform the service.”
Jacqueline Orwig, 59, in Rosedale, had to put down her Lhasa Apso, Sammy, 13, in June and then her 15-year-old Dalmatian, Pepper, only six months later. Pepper had been with Orwig since she was an 8-week-old puppy.
“I knew old age was getting to her,” Orwig said of Pepper, who suffered from hearing and vision loss, arthritis and a heart murmur. “But she was still eating. It was hard for me to figure out when was a good time to let her go. Because we had her for so long — I always called her the daughter I never had — I didn’t want to take her to a cold table” when it was time to put her down.
She contacted Rabinowitz for help with both dogs, and both died peacefully in Orwig’s arms in their favorite bedroom spot.
“I was really pleased with her professionalism and compassion,” Orwig said, adding, “I think she’s got to be a heck of a strong lady to do something like this. After Sammy passed and it was all said and done, I looked at her and asked, ‘How do you do this?’”
“It’s extremely comforting to people, they feel so grateful that the service is provided,” Rabinowitz said. “They feel a lot more control over how the pet passes and how they want the experience to be. They’re able to grieve and cry out loud, hold their pet and carry them out (afterwards) to my vehicle if they want. They’re able to be a lot more active in their pet’s passing.”
Rabinowitz explained that pets are very aware of the presence of a doctor or a stranger during vet visits, and “so many times I hear a pet is terrified to go to the vet; they’re nervous and shake. “But in the home setting, they treat us just like another guest.”
Prices for all of the services are on the Peaceful Passage website and range from $250 for euthanasia alone to $320 for euthanasia and removal for a pet up to 50 pounds to $360 for euthanasia, removal and individual cremation, which also includes a hand-carved hardwood chest and custom nameplate for a pet less than 50 pounds.
Fees vary depending upon the size of the pet, and there is a surcharge if travel is required outside Baltimore County. Travel information is listed on its website, peacefulpassage.net.
“I truly have enjoyed working with [Rabinowitz], and I’m so glad that she created this. It’s so important, and I’m happy to be a part of it,” White-Mfoudi said. “It’s an important service; we’re truly blessed to help people, and we truly care about every person and pet we encounter.”
“I get beautiful thank-you notes,” added Rabinowtiz. “It makes me feel good to help others, to see the relief. Most of them are going to have a positive memory [of their pet’s] passing.”