Seen in a previous issue of the Local, Betsy Lukens of Mt. Airy and her Golden Retriever, Casey, were happy to have Dr. Kassell make a house call.

by Len Lear

We all know that doctors have not been making house calls for many decades. Well, maybe not for two-legged patients, but Dr. Natasha Kassell, of Mt. Airy, has been making house calls exclusively for two decades, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dr. Kassell, 48, graduated from the University of Virginia in 1990 with a B.A. in Biology and then from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1994. She quickly realized her dream, that of working in a conventional small animal practice, only to become disillusioned. “I hated it,” she recalled. “I was really, really, really unhappy professionally. Nothing about the job matched what I’d hoped for. I am a slow, methodical person. I like to take a lot of time with clients and patients.”

Instead, she found herself allotted 15 minutes, the length of a typical office visit, to obtain information, make a diagnosis and prescribe a treatment. Convinced there was a better way of serving patients as well as herself (becoming unleashed, you might say), Kassell started her own practice, one that relies entirely on house calls and phone consultations, in 1997.

Is there anything that a vet can learn in someone’s home that he/she might not learn in an office visit? “So many things!” insisted Dr. Kassell. “Being able to see my patients in their natural environment over a relatively long period of time (my initial house call is one-and-a-half hours) really allows me to get a picture of my patients’ behavior and health in a way that I never could during the relatively short period of time allotted for a conventional appointment in a vet hospital. This was not why I initially started a house call practice, but it has been one of the many happy ‘side effects.’”

Dr. Kassell makes it clear to patients that hers is a “holistic” practice, including such modalities as homeopathy, nutrition and reiki. “In a holistic practice,” she explained, “the practitioner tends to look at each patient as an individual, carefully weighing the pros and cons of dietary options, vaccines, flea and tick prevention, etc. Thus, my recommendations for an indoor-only house cat would be different from a barn cat. The same goes for a Center City-residing Pomeranian versus a Wissahickon-frequenting Pit Bull.

“Holistic practitioners also tend to work with more natural modalities such as diet and nutritional supplements including essential fatty acids, probiotics, vitamins, minerals and herbs. Some holistic practitioners use acupuncture, homeopathy or chiropractics. At this point, my practice is more integrative than strictly holistic. I give vaccines and prescribe conventional medications if I think it’s in my patients’ best interest, but I support my patients with holistic modalities, as well.”

What do many pet owners not do that they should do, and vice-versa? “Many pet owners do not feed anything aside from highly processed, commercially prepared dog and cat food. I believe that a diet based on a variety of fresh, whole foods is as important for dogs and cats as it is for humans. Many pet owners also over-use flea and tick prevention products. These products do have their place, but they are serious pesticides and should be used minimally.”

According to a patient’s mom, Laura T., “I was looking for an alternative to steroids to treat my dog’s seasonal allergies. Dr. Kassell put Kyla on a raw diet along with natural supplements that have worked wonders! We made it through this past fall with no steroids.”

Dr. Kassell is also a writer of non-fiction because “writing (and humor) are good medicine!” She turned to writing as a means of preserving her sanity while coping with a sick husband and two small children. In 2004, her husband, Dr. Tom Osborne, whom she had met at Penn Vet School, was diagnosed with a brain tumor; he died at home on Aug. 27, 2005, at the age of 40.

Dr. Kassell has two pets of her own: an orange tabby, Juniper, who is “the bestest bad kitty ever,” and a “big, goofy Dosewallips, my lovely, life-saving black Labrador.”

If Dr. Kassell could have any job in the world, what would it be? “I really (really!) like my job and am grateful that I get to do what I do every day. That said, I do have a yearning to make an impact on the larger world, especially in terms of conservation, and I’ve always wished that I had studied wildlife biology or ecology in addition to veterinary medicine.”

Who are Dr. Kassell’s heroes in real life, living and/or dead? “James Herriot, who sparked my love for veterinary medicine, as well as for writing. And countless women who have changed the world for the better in ways both large and small: Bernice Johnson Reagon, Joy Harjo, Sonia Sotomayor, Elizabeth Warren, Temple Grandin, Amy Schumer, Misty Copeland and my mom, to name a few.”

What is the Mt. Airy vet’s biggest pet peeve? “It would probably be best to leave that unpublished!”

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