Lisa Lotti was distraught. Her be-loved boxer, Barkley, had died in his sleep. Her husband was out of town. Nearly in hysterics, not sure what to do, she called her veterinarian, Rachel Boltz, DVM.
Dr. Boltz didn’t hesitate. She left her Los Altos, Calif., office and drove straight to Lotti’s house, where she hugged Lotti, then carried Barkley to her car and went to the clinic to make final arrangements.
“I will remain grateful for this extension of compassion throughout my lifetime,” Lotti wrote in an essay about Boltz, adding: “If you are looking for an absolute star in the veterinary field, you need to look no farther. This woman is amazing.”
The experts judging the second annual “Thank Your Vet for a Healthy Pet” contest agreed. Boltz, 37, was named the national winner of the contest, sponsored by the Morris Animal Foundation, Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Veterinary Practice News, Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy magazines.
She will receive the award this month during the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas. The contest honors America’s veterinarians for their skill, dedication and commitment to ensuring that pets are healthier, happier and living longer lives.
To Boltz, a house call like the one she paid Lotti is nothing unusual. It’s part of the way she builds a close relationship with her clients, both the four-legged and two-legged kind.
“She was devastated and I could handle it,” Boltz says simply of her visit to Lotti, whom she has worked with for several years, caring for animals Lotti brings in from her rescue organization, Unconditional Love. “I try to build a trusting relationship, where the animal trusts me and where the client trusts me, too. It’s all about being open and accessible and letting them know that you are going to work with them.”
That means her clients at Adobe Animal Hospital know she’ll always manage to work them in if their pets get unexpectedly sick. She also offers all clients an e-mail address that she checks frequently, even on her days off, so she can head off any needless concerns or advise them to get medical attention right away.
“Sometimes I can call and we can talk it through and figure out that (the problem) is really pretty minor, so the client can save the stress and the money of rushing off” to a veterinary office, especially after hours, Boltz says. But in other cases, “I figure out pretty quickly that they need to go ahead and get them in, and that’s important, too, to get the animal the care they need when they need it.”
Childhood Interest in Animals
Like many veterinarians, Boltz knew her calling early—very early, to hear her mother tell it.
“My mother tells this story that when I was still in a stroller, we were walking down the street when someone walked by with a large Doberman,” Boltz says. “She’s afraid of big dogs, so she was nervous, but I stuck my hand right out and he put his head down. I just have always been attracted to animals.”
The formal decision came a bit later, at age 7. She flirted briefly with the idea of medical school—the patients are less likely to bite, she jokes—but instead headed off to veterinary school at Michigan State University after earning a bachelor’s degree in animal science at Cornell University and a master’s in biological sciences at Oakland University.
After earning her DVM in 2001, she worked at a couple of California private practices before joining Adobe in 2004 as an associate senior veterinarian. The small-animal hospital, a large practice of more than 20 veterinarians, appealed to her because she liked its combination of personal service and state-of-the-art medical capabilities.
“When you are a veterinary student, you have access to all the latest technology, all the progressive, cutting-edge care, and I wanted to continue to grow in that way so that I could offer more and more to my clients,” she says. “Veterinary medicine is really interesting. It never stops moving, as new technologies, new drugs, new principal applications are always being developed.”
Helping Rescue Groups
Boltz appreciated Adobe’s practice of offering discounted services to animal rescue organizations like Unconditional Love. She works with several of these groups and admires the community service they do in trying to save orphaned and sick animals while also trying to solve the overpopulation problem through spaying and neutering programs.
“It’s important for us to give a break to these groups because they have such a high volume of animals. They would not be able to afford veterinary care if we didn’t,” she says.
Boltz assesses the medical needs of these rescued animals, often seeing more than 25 a month. The rest of her private-client practice is devoted mostly to cats and dogs. She became board-certified as a feline practitioner in 2008.
She’s developed a good bedside manner for the more difficult clients—those in pain, scared or both. Treat them gently and alleviate their pain, she says, and they’re usually easy to work with.
Difficult owners, she says, are more common and a little trickier to deal with. But she’s developed a winning strategy for working with them, too.
“If (an owner) is difficult, it’s usually because they just want to know what’s going on, and they’re worried, especially when the animal is sick,” Boltz says. To deal with a potentially prickly client, she makes sure to stay calm and take extra time to explain what’s going on, using language the client can understand.
“If I’m talking with a neurosurgeon, I use my veterinary language,” she says. “If I’m talking to someone who’s not a neurosurgeon, I will try to put it in terms that are clear so they get an understanding of what is going on so they can make the best choice.”
Because at the end of the day, she and her clients are almost always on the same page.
“They want what they’ve always wanted: for the animal to feel better and to continue with the life it’s leading as long as it can,” she says.