Dr. Juliana Lyles
Like many veterinarians, I knew I wanted to be an “animal doctor” from the time I was very young. I worked toward my goal of becoming a veterinarian by receiving my bachelor’s degree in Zoology and Genetics from Iowa State University and my veterinary degree from Mississippi State University, where I also met my husband, William. Over the years, our family grew to include our two children, as well as 2 cats, Ravenclaw and Trika, and a ferret, Luna.
Throughout my veterinary career, I have had the pleasure of working with a wide variety of medical disciplines. I interned at an exotics-only practice, cared for working Clydesdales, racehorses, and even studied animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. I have always respected the bond between pets and their families, including the end of life care they receive. While I was still a young pre-veterinary student, I had to euthanize my beloved 11 year old ferret, and I realized how peaceful and comforting a process this can be when it’s done with the utmost respect and care. When my husband joined the army in 2010, we were relocated to Fayetteville, NC, where I worked at a small animal practice and started working in end of life care.
I quickly realized I had found my passion within veterinary medicine, and knew this would be my life-long career. After my husband completed his military contract in April of 2012, we moved back to my hometown of Chicagoland and I started a veterinary hospice business. Over the years, it has been such an honor to see it grow. The majority of the families we help find us because of a referral from a trusted friend or veterinarian, and it is such a privilege to help those families during this difficult time.
Dr. Kristina Kalivoda
I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago in a family that has always valued pets as members of the family. I wasn’t entirely certain I wanted to be a veterinarian, ironically because I wasn’t sure I could handle euthanasia. I received my degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois and then took a year off to work full time in a veterinary clinic as an assistant. We had only ever had dogs growing up, and I didn’t “understand” cats at all, but it was at that clinic that the hospital cat decided to attach himself to me and show me the way.
I attended vet school at the University of Illinois the next year, graduating at the top of my class. While in vet school, I discovered a passion for working with exotic animals, and completed an internship in zoological medicine at Texas A&M University, followed by a residency in avian and exotic animal medicine at Cornell University. I did miss working with dogs and especially cats, and have spent the last few years in practice working with all species.
Along the way, I collected several cats, including my long-haired orange guy Apollo. After moving back to the Chicagoland area, Apollo started to lose weight, vomit, and drink a large amount of water. He was already in severe kidney failure at the age of five. I kept him stable and happy for almost twelve months with intensive hospice care at home. He let me do everything I needed there, but he hated the hospital, so when it came time to say goodbye to him, I decided to let him pass at home. I was so surprised by how peaceful it was for him. I am so honored now to help other families say goodbye to their beloved pets peacefully and with dignity in the comfort of their own homes.
I currently live in the northwest suburbs. I most recently said goodbye to my best buddy Oscar, an amazing brown tabby who saw me through all my schooling. I have a three-legged leopard gecko named Achilles, a cockatiel named Percival (Percy), and my little black cat Imp.
Dr. Molly O’Brien
I grew up in Des Plaines and had many different pets as a child. I wanted to be a veterinarian from a young age and got my first job at an animal hospital while I was in high school. I received my Bachelor of Science in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois and my Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Ross University. I worked in private practice in the Chicagoland area for 14 years prior to joining this practice.
I currently have a rescued Welsh Terrier named Chewie, and have had to deal with the loss of multiple pets in recent years. Even though I am a veterinarian, I know it can be very hard to lose a special pet and even harder to have to make the decision of when to do it. When that time comes, I think it is nice to have the option to say goodbye at home in a familiar setting. I always want those last moments to be as peaceful as possible for the pet as well as their family. I have always felt it is a special honor to perform euthanasia and hope to provide comfort and compassion during a difficult time.
Dr. Heidi Cunz
Born and raised in Illinois, I pursued a career in theatre for 6 years before moving to Colorado to study as a veterinary technician. I fell in love with veterinary medicine and earned a Master’s in Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University while working as a vet tech in the Critical Care Unit and Animal Cancer Center at CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. I received my Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and I chose my clinical year at Louisiana State University so I could spend a year living as close to New Orleans as I could get.
I have worked in emergency medicine and general practice. My favorite patients are my geriatric ones. I love to make them as comfortable as possible, giving them more quality time with their loved ones. I share my home with a 14 year old Flat Coated Retriever Maggie, a 2-year-old terrier mix Penny and a 2-year-old cat Max who rules the house. Recently I had to humanely euthanize the love of my life Wrigley, a pit bull mix and I know how important it is to have end of life care performed not only humanely but with the love and respect our pets and families deserve.
Aaron Blohm, Aqua-Cremation Manager
I was born and raised in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. Up until I joined the A Gentle Goodbye family, I had worked in many different fields from body shops and auto detailing, to retail and jewelry sales. There have been aspects of every position I have held that I found very fulfilling, but nothing quite as much as working in end-of-life care for pets. Before joining the A Gentle Goodbye family, I ran and operated a local pet cremation company for 6 years. During that time, I found my love for helping families during one of the most difficult times they may ever experience.
Three years ago, my then girlfriend, Kelly, and I rescued an adorable grey and white tabby, Sterling. He was found under the hood of a client’s car curled up next to the battery for warmth. He is a spirited little guy who, my now wife and I can’t imagine being with-out. A year later we decided Sterling needed a little cat brother, so we found Oliver, a grumpy-looking, mostly grey, somewhat “slow” short haired angel. He is the biggest love bug and scaredy-cat with fur as soft as a Chinchilla. My life has found a new vigor since adopting these boys and marrying the love of my life.
In my free time, I enjoy collecting, watching TV shows and movies of all kinds, and growing my collection to over 2000 titles. In the spring and fall, I enjoy camping for a couple days and I have found nothing that resets the mind and body better.
Erin, Head Care Coordinator
I was born and raised in Wisconsin and grew up in a family of animal lovers. Throughout my life, the animals I’ve had have been more like family than just pets. In 2018 I met my boyfriend, an Illinois native, which brought me here to Illinois. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Retail Merchandising and Management from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and have worked in a few different industries, including banking, customer service, retirement solutions, sales, and medical staffing. I have always wanted to work with animals since they’re such a big part of my life.
I currently have two little Pomsky dogs, Lucy and War Machine (aka Mouse and Snoof among a long list of other nicknames), that are always a source of comedy and intrigue. When I’m not working or playing with my dogs, I’m creating artwork, watching movies and television shows, or spending time outdoors with family and friends. What attracted me to A Gentle Goodbye is my own experiences with losing pets when they come to the end of their lives. When I think of elderly pets, I am reminded of the story of The Velveteen Rabbit and how the little boy loved his toy rabbit so much, even when it was old and worn out, that something magical happened. When it’s time to say goodbye to a pet, people undergo a great deal of grief and uncertainty because they’re losing an important member of their family, and they want to be around veterinary professionals who understand and appreciate that. I am grateful to have been given an opportunity to be one of those professionals.
Grace, Care Coordinator
I grew up in the northwest suburbs for most of my life here in America. I was born in Seoul, South Korea and arrived in the United States when I was about 7 years old. My first dog, and my first friend here, might I add, was a beautiful Golden Retriever named Lady. Despite the tremendous transition I was going through, she was someone who I found comfort in during such a strange time in my life.
I have been in the restaurant/hospitality industry for the past 8 years. So coming to work for A Gentle Goodbye was definitely a surprise but definitely a blessing in my life. I am currently working towards becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer (ultrasound technician). Even if I may not have the passion to get into the veterinary field, I know I have the passion for wanting to help people.
I currently have my best friend, a mix terrier, named Beanie. Sometimes I call her Beanzo. She’s currently 4-years old, timid, yet the smartest dog I’ve ever had so far.
I love to binge watch shows/movies on Netflix and Disney+ during my free time. I am very open to trying everything new if I ever get an opportunity. Whether it’s an activity, food, or people, I tell myself to at least try it once.
Joy, Care Coordinator
Growing up in northern Illinois, interacting with animals and nature was a normal everyday experience. From a young age, I was surrounded by beautiful lakes and forests teeming with wildlife. Given the environment around me, many hands-on learning experiences were made available to me that I am thankful for everyday. With the loving support of my parents, I was not only taught to respect animals, but also how to interact, co-exist, and raise them as well. Young me was hooked! I dove into the animal world head first, proclaiming at the age of 6 that I would become a wildlife rehabilitator. I grew up mesmerized at National Geographic, Animal Planet, all of it!
I held on to that dream since, but have decided to dip my toes into all sorts of animal-related fields as well. After high school, I started towards my associates degree for Zoology and then quickly found myself working at my local pet store. Since then, I have gained so much experience, becoming a jack-of-all-trades due to my love of learning and trying new things. Dog grooming, training, CNA work, photography, management, animal care, you name it!
Unfortunately, with animal care, it also included the harder aspects. End-of-life care and handling sensitive situations gave me a new respect for the life cycle of our beloved pets. I had focused so much on raising these animals when they were young, but had never truly thought about how life changes for them as they decline in health or get older. I got to witness and experience first hand how much it can make a difference in both people’s and pets’ lives to simply focus on comfort, dignity, and respect. It made me feel good to ensure that these animals were living their best life — in every stage of life.
I have since found A Gentle Goodbye and am excited to continue my animal career adventure on the opposite side of the animal lifespan. I plan on continuing my education and adding to my ever-growing plethora of experiences. I am lucky enough to be supported by my wonderful husband and our rambunctious dog, Athena. When I’m not focusing on animal-related work, I love to dive into various forms of art, travel and try new things, or just take a nice long walk to ground myself in nature with my family.