I recently sat down with Dr. Alice Villalobos, DVM, to talk about her new book, “Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology: Honoring the Human-Animal Bond.” She’d just returned from a book tour, and I asked her about her new book and about her return to Hermosa Beach to practice Pawspice (pet hospice).
Dr. Alice Villalobos has been a Hermosa Beach resident since she graduated from UC Davis in 1972. She started Coast Pet Clinic in 1974 in a small, 890 sq ft building that used to be an Orange Julius. In fact, when she moved into the property, she had to tear down the huge old “OJ” billboard. Then, in 1977, she built a state of the art facility at 1560 PCH where VCA Coast Animal Hospital is currently located.
Not only is her name familiar to many who’ve had pets, but so is her face to many of those who walk the Hermosa strand in the mornings. Part of her morning routine is walking the strand with her husband, Ira, and their Olde English Bulldog, Neo.
Villalobos opened a new end of life care service for pets known as Pawspice. It operates on Tuesdays within VCA Coast Animal Hospital. Dr. Villalobos opened Pawspice with her partner, Carreen Schuller, a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT), who has worked with her for most of the past 22 years. Pawspice is a special program that empowers families to provide in home end of life care services for their pets with advanced stage cancer and other terminal conditions.
I asked Dr. Villalobos the obligatory eleven questions about her unusual specialty and her new book.
Q. What caused you to go into veterinary cancer in the first place?
A. When I was applying to vet school, the chances of getting in were pretty grim. Only about one of every 13 applicants were being accepted. I loved flying, and I wanted to feed the world, so I thought I might become a crop duster. I studied insects at Long Beach State, and controlling pests with toxicology. When I heard my first cancer lectures in vet school. It was obvious that the cancer cell was the most hated pest in the body. Since cancer cells could be killed by chemotherapy, and I knew toxicology, it just seemed logical for me to declare war on cancer cells in my pet patients.
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Q. Tell me about your book. Is this a book that animal owners should buy or is it primarily for veterinary professionals?
A. Both, it’s a hybrid book because it brings the human-animal bond into the exam room with the doctor. It’s clinically breezy -anyone who wants to learn about keeping their pets alive longer will benefit from reading it. You might keep a medical dictionary handy, but I do define almost all of the terms. This book tells you what often goes unsaid in the exam room.
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Q. Where can someone buy your book?
A. It’s available at www.blackwellvet.com. Use my author’s code, PRGC67, for a 15% discount. Unlike most textbooks, there are some chapters that are unusual. For example, there is a chapter on what do you do with terminal patients and one on decision making.
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Q. When are you available in Hermosa Beach?
A. Careen and I hold our Pawspice care clinic every Tuesday and we are available for phone consultations 24/7.
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Q. How does someone set up an appointment with you? Do they call VCA?
A. No, We operate independently and schedule appointments through my home office at 310-379-8440. If a client calls VCA Coast, they are given my home office number. End of life care needs extraordinary attention. We are always available to pet caregivers by phone. Now that the book is finished, I’m resuming my practice in Hermosa Beach and Woodland Hills with Thursdays in Norwalk as a new addition.
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Q. What should we know about end of life care?
A. Pawspice is a very personal experience. As long as the pet has a good quality of life and has no pain, Pawspice can be a very special time for the family to give that pet an extended farewell. And though the pet may not know it, they’re giving their family members a special farewell, too. It should be a two-way exchange and more good days than bad. We teach the family to recognize if their pet has pain and how to evaluate quality of life. We use a special Quality of Life scale to help the family determine if they should make the final call.
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Q. How would someone know if their pet had cancer?
A. I’ve compiled some information in a brochure with the warning signs included. It allows people to become more proactive in looking at their pet and saying “Something’s wrong,” hopefully before it’s too late to treat. To that end, my book also has an entire section on the early warning signs of cancer and illness in pets.
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Q. Can puppies get cancer?
A. Yes, 11% of all dogs with brain tumors are relatively young. My youngest dog with lymphoma was only 10 months old.
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Q. What is the biggest problem you have with the animals you see?
A. The biggest problem we have is pets accepting their medications. I advise all pet owners to learn how to open the animal’s mouth to get them to take a pill. I also teach them ear care, dental care, foot care while the pets are babies. I try to teach these essentials before the pets are 13 weeks old, when they are still imprinting, so that the pet knows this is part of their life. Those essential exams should not be a battle. Veterinarians are always at risk.
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>Q. How do you set yourself apart from most Oncologists?
A. I’m very sensitive to the human-animal bond. I don’t have a big clinic or staff meetings to worry about, so I can concentrate more on my patients. This is the most rewarding work I’ve done in my 35-year career. One reason is that Carreen has made it possible for me to do what I do best, that is practice veterinary medicine. For example, Carreen set up our clinic in Hermosa while I was on a book-signing and lecturing tour. When I came back, our new Pawspice clinic was ready to receive patients. Carreen set up our Norwalk clinic that same way.
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Q. How are clients referred to you?
A. Most pets are referred to us by their family Veterinarian who determines that the pet might benefit from Pawspice care or expertise in cancer management. Clients make appointments by calling (310) 379-8440 or (562) 493-5025
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