As a child, Melanie Cohen observed the veterinarian who cared for her parents’ Namibian farm animals. This helped develop her passion for animal care. As a teenager, she moved to Florida to finish high school and worked in veterinary care. She earned her Veterinary Medicine Doctorate (DVM) from the University of Florida and married Barry, an officer in the U.S. Navy. The couple moved with his career to Annapolis, Maryland; Newport, Rhode Island, and Hampton Roads. She worked as an independent contractor in animal care during those years.
It was during these first few years when she developed an interest and a sense of responsibility for caring for her sickest, terminal, disabled and/or geriatric patients. “My respect for medicine grew, and my love for our patients flourished,” she says.
In 2018, Cohen opened Angel Pets In-home Hospice Care, a woman- and military-spouse-owned small business specializing in home-based veterinary hospice care and euthanasia. Gina Highfield, a Norfolk native, joined as support coordinator/practice manager and administrator. Highfield earned her Bachelor of Science degree in occupational technical studies and marketing from Old Dominion University and is founder of the 70,000+ member Lost & Found Pets Hampton Roads VA Facebook Group. “My true passion has always been protecting and supporting the human-animal bond,” Highfield says.
Initially, the two women operated Angel Pets seven days a week, answering phones and offering daily appointments. They needed more staff.
Yorktown native Morgan Kline, DVM, graduated Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech in 2020 and joined a Yorktown veterinary practice after graduation. Last year, she sought a better work/life balance, “I also wanted to feel fulfilled as a veterinarian,” she says. “My friend, Melissa Shaughness, DVM, traveled from Virginia Beach to work on the Peninsula with Angel Pets.” Kline joined the organization as primary doctor on the Peninsula.
“Primarily, we enter appointments as advocates for the animal,” Shaughness says. “We’re a subjective third party who empowers the client to make the right decision for themselves and their animal.”
Jeannette Wilson earned her DVM from Kansas State University and is trained in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine and food therapy. After consultations with clients, she offers recommendations which may include herbal medicine and food therapy.
Angel Pets in-home euthanasia visits include a quality of life consultation; pain and anti-anxiety medication, allowing the pet to fall into a comfortable sleep; a clay paw impression or nose print; a lock of hair, if desired; and coordination/transport for cremation, if needed.
“We often see the pet owners almost physically relax when you tell them that it’s OK,” Kline says. “It’s like a wave comes over them as they accept it; sometimes all they need is for someone to say, ‘It’s OK to let go.’”
“We’re the first ones to connect with the family and hear the stories, Highfield says. “It’s nice when a family, in their time of grieving, takes time to say, ‘you guys were amazing from the very beginning. We called, you answered and saw our pet in an emergency.’”
“Our support team is so important because they’ve built relationships with the pet’s families,” Cohen says, “If we just gave them a little bit of reassurance and comfort, I feel like we were there when the family needed us.”
“We can usually accommodate same day appointments,” Cohen says. “If a particular day or time is needed, we highly recommend scheduling an appointment 48 hours in advance. We are a mobile vet hospice/end of life care pet practice that services all of Hampton Roads.
“Helping my patients pass peacefully in the comfort of their home, surrounded by family, is an honor and privilege,” Cohen says. “This team has my heart and I don’t think we’d be where we are and who we are without each one of them.”
TO THE POINT:
Contact: Gina Highfield