Shhh! Sam the Dachshund has lived with cancer for years — but don’t tell him or he might not eat his treats. Since adopting Sam from a rescue back in 2015, veterinarian Karen Louis has kept him in the dark about his illness.
If Sam’s appetite is any indication, the silver-muzzled pooch appears to be thriving.
“Hey, Sammerama, I’ve got snacks,” coos Louis, as she crouches beside him on a mat. “I know the way to your heart, don’t I?”
She also knows the way to remove the pesky tumors that sometimes grow on his hip. The same disease that caused other potential adopters to shy away from Sam convinced Louis to bring him home.
“I knew I could take care of him and he could live a long, happy life,” the veterinarian explained. “He doesn’t know he’s sick and we tell don’t him. I have two other dogs that are blind and one that walks like a crab. Seriously, Sam is the family athlete.”
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Louis performed acupuncture on 12-year-old Sam at Metro East Home Vet Care, the low-stress vet clinic she recently opened in Belleville. Both dogs and cats can benefit from acupuncture, a procedure that involves inserting fine needles through the skin at specific points to cure disease or relieve pain.
Sam was so busy nibbling a chicken-and-liver-flavored dog treat that he didn’t even notice tiny needles were being placed along his back.
Low-stress vet clinics have their perks.
“We have a treat menu — six items for dogs and five for cats,” Louis said and smiled. “You can order off the menu and select something you think your pet will like.”
Surgeries notwithstanding, the clinic provides all the services of a typical vet’s office, including vaccinations, examinations, X-rays and ultrasounds.
There are no cold, metal tables in the examination room, just a sofa, an ottoman and a nice, cushy mat on the floor, where Louis examines her patients. Walls are painted shades of blue and purple, colors scientifically proven to be soothing to animals. The veterinarian doesn’t don a white lab coat, because the color white can stress out dogs.
So what did Louis — who is married and has several furry, four-legged children — do before she opened her clinic? For the last several years, she has visited patients in the comfort of their homes, hauling the tools of her trade in her trusty Prius V, something she plans to continue part-time.
“It’s amazing what she can fit in her car,” Belleville relief vet Laura Boeren said. “She’s definitely one of a kind. Not only is she certified in acupuncture but she also makes house calls. I know she has a soft spot in her heart for rescues and senior pets.”
She sees many of them in a typical workday.
“When I first started making house calls, I thought I was mainly going to see the old dogs you couldn’t drive anymore,” Louis said. “Or the really nervous cats. Or the big dogs you couldn’t get into a car. I do see a lot of those. But I also see people who want me there for convenience.
“I have a lot of clients who are professionals and work from home. Or parents with young children who don’t want to load up the 2-year-old and the 5-year-old and pray they behave at the vet’s. I had one client with twins who wanted me to visit during their naptime.”
‘She takes the stress out of vet visits’
Cat lover Angie Grossmann-Roewe, of Belleville, has been a client for more than a decade.
“It’s a lot of chase to get just one cat in a carrier — and we have a fleet,” said Roewe, whose cats, Bits, Gucci, Polo and Rocky, love Louis. “She takes all the stress out of vet visits.”
Another of Louis’ clients, Kari Kalicki, of Belleville, recalls how caring Louis was while treating her cat, Cosmo, for cancer and associated issues.
“At one point, she started doing acupuncture on my cat and it really helped,” Kalicki said. “She just did everything possible to maintain his quality of life. She thinks outside the box when it comes to treatments. If I brought up an alternative idea, she wouldn’t just pooh-pooh it like some other vet might. She would research it and get back to me.”
When Kalicki eventually made the difficult decision to euthanize Cosmo, Louis again came to her home.
“It’s never easy to euthanize a pet,” the vet said. “But it can be more like a celebration of the pet’s life when you do it at home. People have their pet wrapped in his favorite blanket and pass him from lap to lap loving on him. One woman was feeding her dog chocolate. She said, ‘He’s never been able to eat chocolate before. He has always wanted to taste it and today he gets to.’”
When she’s not making house calls or working in the clinic, Louis fosters pets for various organizations, mans a podcast and writes a blog. She also recently started offering telemedicine consults to her clients through an app they can download on their phones.
“Now when you say, “My dog is doing this really weird thing right now!” you can show it to me while he’s doing it.”
Located at 1601 North Belt West in Belleville, Metro East Home Vet Care will host an open house from 1-3 p.m. Sunday. People of all ages are welcome to enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the vet clinic. Please leave your pets at home. Phone number is 618-327-0417.