Dani McVety

I’m often asked why I do what I do. Growing up I was surrounded by horses, cows, dogs, cats, birds, and various other animals, and I never thought I could put an animal to sleep. After almost a decade of education with hours spent in the veterinary school ICU, something changed. I wanted to be with those pets whose owners weren’t there to comfort them. I never wanted an animal to pass alone; I always thought how much warmer the experience would be if these animals were at home surrounded by family.

As an emergency veterinarian, I constantly witness owners' struggles as they are forced to make tough decisions quickly. They have no time to adjust to the life changing choices they are about to make, no time to come to terms with the acute illness or trauma that is completely unplanned. For many of these owners, all they want is time... even a few more hours. Lap of Love was born after witnessing a euthanasia in which the owner held tightly to her beloved dog, curled lovingly in her lap. It was such a beautiful sight, a woman and her companion sharing those last moments wrapped in each other. I knew I had to try to provide that opportunity to more people; it is what all owners and their pets deserve.

For me this is not a job, this is a calling. I do this because it is my gift to the animals I serve through my veterinary oath. I feel I have found my place in this vast veterinary world, quietly helping tighten the bond between owner and pet.

Nil Wilkins

Growing up in Oklahoma, Illinois and Maryland, we always had pet dogs and cats. For a time we lived on a farm where there were also chickens, cows, pigs and horses. I greatly enjoyed being around all animals.
So it was really no surprise that I wanted to become a veterinarian. Volunteering at a small animal practice while I was in high school confirmed this for me as I saw how helping animals helped their owners too, such is the human - animal bond.

After I graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, my husband and I made our home in Tampa, raising two daughters and a myriad of pets we fostered/adopted. These included puppies, kitties, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs and gerbils.  After graduation I worked in private practice for many years. Then to help homeless animals in the community, I worked at two animal shelters. While I found both private practice and shelter medicine to be very rewarding, working with Lap of Love is exceptionally gratifying. Nowhere is the strength of the bond between owners and their pets more visible, touching and heartwarming than during end of life care.

Currently our family includes 5 cats: 3 that we fostered and adopted from an animal shelter, another we adopted from the same animal shelter and a neighbor's cat that adopted us!  

I feel so fortunate to be a part of such a compassionate group of individuals providing comfort and support during this time; for no matter how long our pets are a part of our lives, it's never long enough.

Anna Champagne

I have wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Kansas as the oldest of six children in a house with at least three animals running around at a time. There were always several cats, a dog, and a small animal (mouse, lizard, fish, frog, etc.) for us to play with. I studied animal science and veterinary medicine at Kansas State University. During my studies, I gained a huge respect for farmers and ranchers, so there will always be a special place in my heart for farm animals. I also learned that I love all species! I had the good fortune to work with everything from lions to bearded dragons to fish before I graduated in 2015. After veterinary school, I moved to Florida where I practiced general medicine and studied acupuncture therapy. We never stop learning!

My passion for end-of-life care started during my last year at veterinary school. I had the honor of taking care of an older dog who developed cancer that spread to his lungs and limbs. I spent 12-14 hours a day giving him everything that he needed while managing my other cases. I kept this up for about a week, while we were waiting for his family to come together at the hospital for his final goodbye. He had the best goodbye ever! As exhausting as his treatments were, I felt such peace. Giving this old dog the ultimate respect fulfilled something beyond myself.

Animals give to us unconditionally. Therefore, with Lap of Love, I hope that I give them the most comfortable passing possible.

Cathy Berquist

Born and raised in northwest Indiana, I was the youngest of 5 kids. I witnessed my siblings grow up and leave the nest, often moving far away, for the military or their spouse’s job. The idea of traveling and moving to a new state always intrigued me, and in my family, seemed like the natural thing to do. I later realized that most people stay close to where they grow up; however, my path would be different, and my career would take me to several states.

My entire life, I have wanted to be a veterinarian. In fact, when I started college and saw people changing their majors after the first year, I was utterly confused. I thought, didn’t everyone know what they wanted to be when they grow up? I found out that was, of course, not the case for many, even though my road never wavered. The moment I realized cat-only hospitals existed, I was further drawn in that direction.

Throughout vet school at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, I explored various options within veterinary medicine. The day of graduation I reflected on my experiences and reverted to my original vision of becoming a cat vet. My primary attraction to working at a cat-only clinic wasn’t necessarily because I had an exceptional love for cats. My draw to this environment was due to the ability it brought me to focus on one specific species. In fact, I’ve always personally had a dog, and have raised pet gerbils, parakeets and guinea pigs throughout my life. I have such an appreciation of the human-animal bond, regardless of the species. I’ve noticed that in my career I enjoy a position that allows me to maintain a narrower concentration though.

This same focus led me across the country from Las Vegas, NV to sunny Tampa, FL to join Lap of Love. As a hospice veterinarian, I can dedicate myself to one very important facet of veterinary medicine: helping people and their beloved pets when it is time to say good-bye. I’ve also held the role of pet parent and have personally lost pets throughout the years. I have experienced both the comfort of a peaceful in-home euthanasia and the anxiety associated with a pet’s final moments being in a clinic. It is a privilege to work with pets in their own, relaxed environment, and to honor families’ bonds with their pets by offering a compassionate experience when it is time to say good-bye.

Loren Gassler

As a native Floridian born and raised in Tampa, Florida, attending Busch Gardens adventure camp was the highlight of my summer. Working with the animals thrilled me, but what I loved most was connecting with them. From this connection, I developed a strong appreciation and respect for the human/animal bond. My passion for animals grew as I attended camp for eight years and helped care for a menagerie of family pets including a dog, rabbit, iguana, sugar glider, turtle, and numerous gerbils and fish. I realized that I not only wanted to work with animals, I wanted to treat them. 
 
My quest to become a veterinarian led me to Auburn University, where I earned a Zoology degree in 2007, followed by my doctorate at Mississippi State University in 2011. After graduation, I practiced in San Antonio, Texas for four years before returning home to Tampa. 
 
I was in high school the first time I witnessed a pet being euthanized. It was my first day volunteering at a veterinary hospital, and a very sweet Dalmation was diagnosed with bone cancer. Due to the aggressive nature of the disease and the dog's decreased quality of life, the vet recommended euthanasia. I wanted to be brave for his parents, so I fought back tears and repeated “it’s what’s best for the pet” over and over in my head. These words have become my mantra and are the foundation upon which I practice medicine.
 
While veterinarians are needed throughout a pet’s life, I believe we are most needed in times of illness and injury. My calling as a vet is to support and advocate for my patients in their greatest time of need. I strive to give your furry family member the high quality of life he or she deserves and to ensure the best possible experience for you both when it’s time to say good-bye.
 
When I’m away from the “office,” I love spending time with my wonderful husband and our family of five furry children. We have two domestic short haired cats (Dolce and Duncan), a terrier mix named Rusty, a cairn terrier named Scooter, and a chihuahua named Dixie. They are a fun, goofy group of best friends that light up my world every day. I also enjoy cheering on the Bucs, Lightning, and Rays and attending theatre at the Straz Center. 

Elizabeth Merchant

I grew up the youngest of 4 children in sunny south Florida and my parents were not particularly fond of animals but my oldest brother and I loved them! Being 13 years older than I am, he would take me to pet stores every weekend so we could play with the puppies, ferrets, bunnies, and anything else we could snuggle. By the age of six, I knew I wanted to become a veterinarian.

I volunteered at veterinary clinics throughout middle and high school and went to the University of Florida for my undergraduate degree and Texas A&M University for my veterinary degree. While there, I was fortunate enough to work with all kinds of animals ranging from dogs and cats to cattle and horses, and even marine mammals and wildlife.

After veterinary school, my husband and I moved to Tampa where I worked in small animal practice, both corporate and private. While working, I became acutely aware of how special it was to help owners cope with the hardships in making decisions about their beloved pets’ end of life care. I find it an honor to help families find peace with one of the most selfless decisions they will ever make and that feeling is what led me to Lap of Love. Our pets give us so much love and change our lives forever, and we will always cherish the sweet memories of times we had together.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France  

Keely Smith

I wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember and was so excited to fulfill my lifelong dream. I received a Bachelors of Science from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and later moved to Gainesville, FL where I earned my doctorate from the University of Florida. After graduation, I completed a Large Animal Internship and Large Animal Medicine Residency at the University of Tennessee.  Life ended up taking me to Doha, Qatar in the Middle East where I worked as an equine practitioner for nearly 2 years before returning to Florida to run my own practice.  

Throughout my veterinary career, I continue to be inspired by our clients’ strength when they are faced with end of life decisions for their animal family member.  It is the same whether it is a horse, pot-belly pig, cat, dog or pocket pet. I am honored to help them give the last and greatest gift of love to their family member. 

In my free time, I like to spend time with my daughter and our horses, dogs, birds and lizards.  My hobbies are traveling, knitting and fiber arts, learning new languages and dancing.

Lisa McIntyre

After graduation from the University of Illinois, I served as an extern at the Anti-Cruelty Society and went on to become a veterinarian at Blum Animal Hospital before moving to Naperville, Illinois. That is where I raised three sons alongside my husband Andrew, spent time working in shelter medicine as well as at a private, small animal practice, and volunteered with my Golden Retriever at the local hospital in their animal-assisted therapy program. 

In 2007, I founded a house call service, providing in-home care including end-of-life services to pets across the Chicagoland suburbs but life and opportunity (and a search for fewer polar vortexes) landed us in Tampa, Florida. 

Through Lap of Love, I’m incredibly appreciative to continue serving families and their beloved pets during one of life’s most challenging but beautiful transitions. In the role of a gentle guide and medical professional, I am constantly in awe of the human-animal bond and richness it provides to our lives.

I return regularly to Chicago to visit my college-aged twins, root for the Cubs, and run along the lakefront.

Megan Wehrwein

Growing up in central Wisconsin, our home was always filled with pets. From dogs and cats to rabbits, hedgehogs, ferrets and more.  When I was in kindergarten, one of the first projects we worked on in class was to write a ‘book’ all about our family, our interests, and what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wrote about how much I wanted to be a veterinarian and my desire never wavered. My mom kept that book I wrote in kindergarten, and when I graduated from veterinary school, she gave it to me as a reminder of my long- standing commitment and dedication to the profession and love for animals. 

My journey to becoming a veterinarian continued while I was in high school and was able to volunteer at our family veterinarian’s clinic after school and gain insight and understanding of what veterinary medicine was really about. After high school, I attended University of Minnesota – Duluth, completing a bachelor’s degree in Biology, and ultimately went on to University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, where I obtained my Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine.  

After graduation, I worked in small animal private practice for several years where I helped many families say good-bye to their cherished pets. I feel privileged to be able to relieve a pet’s suffering as well as support a family through the difficult decisions. In 2018, I needed to make those difficult end of life decisions for my own beloved lab, Toby. Toby and I were inseparable and losing him deepened my understanding of the importance of end of life care. I believe each pet deserves a peaceful, dignified passing and I am honored to bring my heartfelt compassion to every Lap of Love family I help in the Tampa Bay area.   

When I am not working, I enjoy running with my new lab, Millie, and I am really looking forward to the Florida sunshine – a welcome change from the winter’s in Wisconsin!