By Alissa Hicks

Dr. Bennett visits with Jackson, one of the dogs who receives care from her. “He is the sweetest boy and has the best mom. I see him every one to two weeks,” she says. Photos by Melissa Donald

Dr. Courtney Bennett is used to taking care of pets — it’s what she’s done since she was a high school student working part time at a veterinary clinic. But what she’s doing now not only helps pets but their owners as well.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Dr. Bennett was taking care of her terminally ill mother, who was suffering from Huntington’s disease, before she moved to Louisville. Throughout her mother’s difficult battle, Dr. Bennett gained interest and experience in acting as a caregiver, which led her to look deeper into palliative care and support groups.

When she moved to Louisville in 2012, Dr. Bennett used her caregiving experience to redirect her career in animal medicine. She wanted to start a pet loss support group, but she ended up starting a hospice care service for animals — something she felt was missing in the community.

Heart’s Ease Veterinary Care specializes in animal geriatric care, hospice and palliative care, euthanasia, and end-of-life support. One of Dr. Bennett’s main goals is to help people understand the true meaning of hospice. “I think there is a growing realization that hospice isn’t death,” she says. “It’s preparing for a better end of life. I knew I wanted to see a change. I wanted there to be a different way to help families that are facing geriatric issues and disease with their pets.” Since 2012, Dr. Bennett has focused on making sure her clients’ pets have as comfortable an end of life as they can. And because her practice is mobile, she provides care in the comfort of her clients’ own homes. “I really feel people are taking care of their pets much differently these days,” she says.

When it comes to end-of-life care, Dr. Bennett says the hardest part is the ‘When do I decide?’ moment for families. Every case is different financially, physically, and emotionally for both pets and owners. “Not all vets do euthanasia the same way, and that’s concerning for me,” she says. “Personally, I have a standard. I go where the pet is comfortable and where it makes the family feel best. I’ve even gotten under tables and other furniture. It’s important as a doctor to make the experience of loss easier.”

Outside of work, Dr. Bennett also organizes an adult support group for those grieving the death of a companion animal. She has teamed up with the Hosparus Grief Counseling Center to provide ongoing support for those in need. She is also involved with the Hildegard House, which provides compassion and care at the end of life for individuals who have no loved ones or home.

Dr. Bennett and her partner, Mark, enjoy bike riding and eating in Louisville’s many restaurants. But most of all, she says she is focused on where she is now and is enjoying seeing a change in the field of animal medicine. “It’s important to me to focus on what you can do and how you can do it differently.”

Read about how to comfort someone who’s lost a pet from Today’s Transitions, our magazine for seniors and caregivers.