By Becca Taurisano
Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is one of the most difficult things any pet owner will experience. Few people know that better than Dr. Annette Otis. Dr. Otis opened Stillwaters Veterinary Care in 2017 after she saw a need for end-of-life veterinary services in the Syracuse area.
Dr. Otis’ goal is to help owners keep their pets at home and give them the tools and resources to take care of their pet in those final days. She fills the gap in the time between a pet’s diagnosis and the end of their life, providing what she calls “small comforts” for the animals and their owners.
“It’s a tender time,” said Dr. Otis, “and I want to make the process as manageable as possible.”
After spending 13 years in emergency veterinary services, Dr. Otis was accustomed to performing euthanasia in a clinical setting, but she saw a need to provide those services in a pet’s home to help them go with peace and dignity. In the clinical setting euthanasia is “usually very stressful and a sudden decision.” She said she saw a better way to do it.
“As much as they try to make a clinic nice, it’s not home. Saying goodbye to a pet shouldn’t be an appointment,” Dr. Otis said, “I was a veterinarian with a job before, and now I feel like I’m a veterinarian with a mission.”
Water is an important symbol for Dr. Otis. She chose the name Stillwaters Veterinary Care in honor of the importance of water as part of the environment, the end of life being a time to slow down and reflect, as well as a symbol of the beautiful lakes that surround Central New York, including Skaneateles, where she is based. She also offers water-based pet cremation, which is more environmentally friendly, using 90 percent less energy than traditional cremation.
Although she mostly sees dogs and a few cats, Dr. Otis has also cared for an 850 lb. pig and a therapy turkey named Tofu from Purpose Farm in Baldwinsville. In total, Dr. Otis has cared for 445 pets.
“They all mean something to me,” said Dr. Otis.
Going to their homes gives Dr. Otis so much more information about the pet and a sense of their lives than she gets in the clinic.
Dr. Otis is currently undergoing certification for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care and will be among the third class in the country to be certified. This is a relatively new veterinary field and it’s growing fast, according to Dr. Otis. She will be the first veterinarian certified in Hospice and Palliative Care in Syracuse. She hopes that she will become well-known enough that pet owners will call on her when it is time to help their pet through the end of their life and reduce their anxiety in their last moments. When it comes to making the choice to say goodbye to a pet, Dr. Otis hopes to help the family make the decision that is best for them.
Of her chosen profession, Dr. Otis says, “It’s changed my life.” Compassion fatigue is a common affliction for doctors and she has to work to clear her mental and emotional space so she can be completely focused on her patient. She loves nature, so in her spare time she hikes, paddleboards, skis, reads, and meditates. She credits her emergency room training with her ability to compartmentalize and focus.
“As sad as [end of life care] is, it replenishes my spirit,” she said.
Dr. Otis’ demeanor is calm and steady, putting you instantly at ease. Even as a child, Dr. Otis knew she wanted to be a veterinarian, although it was during a stint with Americorps after college that she realized she preferred caring for pets to teaching eighth-graders.
Her latest endeavors are charitable. Dr. Otis created the Compassionate Crossings Fund to help families who can’t afford to bury or cremate their pets and she is in the very early stages of setting up a clinic to treat the pets of Syracuse’s homeless population. She is currently looking for a location that will provide basic healthcare, bedding, food and other needs for the animals.
“Homeless pets are their humans’ whole world,” said Dr. Otis.
Recently Dr. Otis started a pet loss support group, which meets every third Thursday in East Syracuse at the Veterinary Medical Center of CNY. The support group is free and open to the public. Owners grieving the loss of a pet are encouraged to bring pictures and to share stories with other group members.
Dr. Otis offers end of life counseling, hospice & palliative care, in-home euthanasia, aftercare and support, and water-based pet cremation. For more information about Dr. Otis and Stillwater Veterinary Services, please visit her website at www.stillwatersvetcare.comor on Facebook @stillwatersvetcare.