Originally published in the November 2016 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.
Dr. Dani McVety recently received University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award, but her career at the school did not start off on a high note. “You see, I failed a class in veterinary school, resulting in repeating my first year (which, at the age of 22, is about the worst thing that can happen to a vet student), then graduating in the part of the class that makes the top 90% possible,” says McVety wryly.
She had her first child in veterinary school, her second while growing a business just months after graduating, and her marriage of 10 years to local attorney (and Jackson’s Bistro managing partner) Chris McVety, came to an end.
And yet, the pair remains good friends and live within a half mile of each other. McVety, 34, not only went on to receive three major industry awards, she is also the founder of Lap of Love, a family-centered veterinary hospice and in-home euthanasia service—a first of its kind.
“Each of these missteps / failures / challenges / areas of growth (whatever we call them) have taught me so much about fulfillment and happiness, lessons I am so thankful to have learned,” she says. She’s not the only one who’s learning: Today, she attracts crowds to her inspirational speeches.
Growing up on a farm in Tampa Bay, becoming a vet was always McVety’s top career choice. Though she went away to South Carolina (Furman University) then Colorado State University for part of college, she transferred back to the University of Florida to complete her bachelor’s degree in Microbiology and then her veterinary degree. She moved back here so her children, 8-year-old Baron and 5-year-old Collins could grow up near family. McVety’s brother works with her as Senior Mentor on her Support Team and her parents work with her ex-husband at Jacksons.
“Practicing emergency medicine as a new graduate, I gravitated towards the severely terminal cases; I felt like I was very good at helping pet parents make tough decisions,” says McVety. “And for some reason I loved it. During my undergraduate studies I volunteered for human hospice, which is certainly where my acceptance and comfort with end of life discussions came from, and that experience poured into my work in the ER. I started using the word “hospice” for those really tough cases (something that hasn’t been historically widely used in veterinary medicine) and saw how families positively responded to it.”
She started Lap of Love just three months out of school as a “side thing” to help her pay back student loans. Today, Lap of Love has a network of 70 veterinarians. The name came to her after the euthanasia of a Chihuahua in which the dog lay on his mom’s lap, enveloped in her sweater.
“She asked me if he could stay on her lap the whole time,” McVety says. “‘Of course,’ I said, ‘there’s nowhere else he wants to be.’ I felt the beauty of that small detail and knew I wanted the same for my own little dog, on my lap where our pets feel the most loved.”
What is your proudest moment?
As a mother, my proudest moments come when I see my children interacting with the world in a positive way. My son, at the age of 5, told me that he didn’t want to sit next to me on a plane because he “wants to talk to someone new and meet more friends.” He chatted with a woman for two hours straight before curling up on my lap to sleep. My daughter, at the age of 3, told an angry classmate at pre-school, “Take a deep breath and in the name of love, think it all over.” These are the moments when you realize your kids never actually listen to you, they only watch.
Professionally, my proudest moments are when I realize how far our company has reached. I forget that Lap of Love has now entered over 50,000 homes across the country in the past few years. This Summer I was giving a keynote speech for PawTree, a company whose veterinary advisory board I’m on, and a woman raised her hand in the back. With tears in her eyes, she thanked Lap of Love for helping make her dog’s passing so peaceful. She lives in another state, across the country, and was still helped by something I started years ago. That realization is pretty amazing!
What is your biggest achievement?
In 2013 I was privileged to be the youngest recipient of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award, then the Florida Veterinary Medical Association’s President’s Award in 2014, and, just this year, I was named Pet Industry Woman of the Year. These are my greatest honors thus far second only to the thank you cards I receive from families I’ve helped and veterinary students who tell me I’ve inspired them to keep going.
In the years to come, I hope to say that my greatest professional achievements are having a TED talk titled “Why veterinarians will change the face of human death” and aiding in the lobbying efforts on a federal level for improved end of life care for humans. Lofty goals, yes, but that’s what life is about.
On a personal level, my greatest achievement will be raising kind and generous adults that contribute to society’s growth. My life will be complete the day my children say to me, “We have always felt loved.”
Describe Thanksgiving at your house.
Thanksgiving is absolutely one of my favorite holidays! As a true Florida girl, our vacations during this time have generally been to snow instead of away from it. Most Thanksgivings, even now, are spent in the mountains of Colorado, hopefully during a good snow storm! Years ago we hired a cook to prepare our Thanksgiving feast (and honestly, we had just embraced vegan food and needed to learn some new cooking ideas!) and it’s been a tradition ever since. Everyone chips in a bit, and we get to relax, learn some new tips, and we’re still guaranteed a tasty meal! It’s so much more affordable than you might think, and the decrease in stress (along with increase in family time, especially with small children) is well-worth it.
When the meal is ready and we gather around the table, the first thing we do is say something we are thankful for. This is one of my favorite times and really sets the mood for a true “Thanks-giving” meal!
What is your happiest Thanksgiving memory?
My happiest Thanksgiving memory was probably the year after graduate school when we finally owned our own home. We invited about 25 of our closest family and friends over; it truly felt amazing to host everyone together, laughing and sharing stories. It was the most love I’ve ever felt in one room!
Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving dish? If so, who taught you how to make it?
Although my son would remind me that I’m not the best cook, occasionally I surprise myself! My absolute favorite dish is green bean casserole, my grandmother’s recipe, but every year I have to look it up!
What makes you happy during the holidays, and how do you avoid holiday stress?
Stress is overrated. I simply don’t have time to be stressed out. Almost anything that I don’t enjoy doing can be outsourced in order to maximize my time with my family, which is the single most important component to my personal happiness. Christmas lights, cooking, organizing parties, decorating—all these things can be done by someone that does them better and faster than me. The important details like ornaments, baking cookies and family traditions will always be done with my immediate family, but I would gladly reduce all other “stresses” to be very present with my kids. Thanks to many years in college, I am quite frugal when it comes to most things in life; I still shop at TJ Maxx, buy high-mileage used cars, got most of my furniture from Craigslist or Ikea and limit myself to one Starbucks latte a week. But my time at home with family is invaluable, and I will gladly ask for help when and where I need it!
What kind of message would you like to give women in the area or in this community?
I hope that every woman (and man) understands the value they bring this world. We all have gifts, every single one of us, and we must not only cultivate and perfect those gifts, but also share them with the world. Picasso said it best: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”