Back in the late 1960s, I applied for a job at three veterinary clinics, wanting to be a veterinarian. I got head shakes that said “no” and looks of pity. Once I was in veterinary school, it was obvious that women were not entirely welcome by some staff and classmates.
I was the only student who was overtly upset when our pharmacology professor demonstrated seizure activity by administering a drug to a dog. After class, I approached our professor. “This is 1968,” I told him. “We have TV and film. I’d rather watch seizure activity on the screen so that only one dog would have to be subjected to this. Here we are in vet school to save animals and we feel horrible to see this type of unnecessary live demonstration.”
The professor replied that he hated that particular class and that it was getting more difficult for him every year. He said he would film the next case so future classes would not feel so badly.
Was I one of the first animal welfarists back then? Now, women are the majority in every U.S. veterinary school and ethical concern for animal welfare is standard procedure.
Back when Dr. Gordon Theilen introduced our class to oncology, it was about bovine and avian leucosis, equine sarcoids, feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and lumps, lymphoma and bone cancer in dogs. Back then, I decided to dedicate my career to treating cancer in pets.
Suit of Armor
In the early 1970s, one local colleague called me a quack for treating lymphoma in FeLV positive cats with high FIP titers. Back then, I disagreed with Sloan Kettering’s Dr. Bill Hardy. He recommended euthanasia of FeLV-positive pet cats confirmed with his IFA test because he had proposed that these cats had a “theoretical” zoonotic potential.
I argued that FeLV was not a proven zoonotic agent and that genocide of well pet cats would not solve the problem, especially since unprivileged stray cats escaped scrutiny.
Pioneers always have arrows in their backs, so I developed thick skin.
Twenty-two years of struggle was validated in 1994 when the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine gave me its highest honor, the Alumni Achievement Award, for my “pioneering role in bringing oncology services to the companion animal community.”
Back then, over 18 million dogs and cats a year were extinguished in pounds across the U.S. Pet rescue, shelter work and placement were uncommon arenas for veterinarians.
It was a sad day in 1977 when I founded the Peter Zippi Memorial Fund for Animals to honor Peter Zippi, a kindhearted employee who wanted to be a veterinarian. Peter was killed in a small-airplane crash near my flight club in Torrance, Calif.
Since then, our volunteer staff has sheltered and provided medical help and forever homes for almost 12,000 homeless animals, mostly cats. Read more at PeterZippiFund.com.
Nowadays, shelter medicine, rescue and placement services, behavior modification and prevention of pet relinquishment are huge and well-respected efforts nationally and internationally. Now we use computers and websites to help place animals of all species and we network with many other rescue groups.
Now the U.S. extinguished dog and cat numbers are below 4 million a year and efforts are under way to update animal shelters through enhanced adoption programs, one shelter at a time.
I spent 10 years with the late Dr. Hal Snow and Leslie R. Bennett, M.D., as a research affiliate at the Leo G. Rigler Research Center for Radiological Sciences at UCLA and treated five hyperthyroid cats for the first time in the world using radioactive iodine 131. So in 1982 I wanted to build the first radiation therapy facility for pets.
But the banks had no precedent for loaning money for such an endeavor for pets.
With the help of friends and Dr. Jane Turrel, then chief of radiation oncology at UC Davis, we built our orthovoltage radiation therapy facility without bank financing and ran it for more than 20 years.
We performed intraoperative radiation therapy, which boosted the survival time of dogs with sarcomas and cats with vaccine-induced fibrosarcomas. Back then, we took our patients to benevolent centers for radioactive iodine 131 treatment and CT and MRI imaging, and later we contracted with mobile imaging units come to our facility.
Now our profession is approaching 60 such facilities in the U.S. with imaging units and dosimetry on site.
Back in the 1970s, I wanted to integrate the best of Eastern medicine into our modern medicine, surgery and oncology practices. We began by encouraging associates to study acupuncture and used nutraceuticals as immunonutrition to support the immune system and organ function of our chemotherapy patients to reduce adverse events.
We placed our cancer and geriatric patients on natural or synthetic agents that had known anticancer and anti-angiogenesis action as chemoprevention.
We used beta glucans to offset the negative effect of steroids and began to prefer the Agaricus mushroom because of its multiple beneficial effects. We supplemented patients with Platinum Performance, APF drops, Oncosupport, HepatoSupport and other organ-specific agents.
Now we have evolved our chemoprevention into metronomic chemotherapy protocols to continuously inhibit angiogenesis and metastasis as a safe option to treat high-risk and geriatric cancer patients.
Recently, my favorite medicinal mushroom, Agaricus blazei, was shown to have anticancer action by researchers at UC Davis and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
The mechanism by which Agaricus prevents diabetes and enhances glucose regulation has been elucidated via its ability to redistribute fat away from the abdomen via increasing adiponectin levels in the body.
Back then, I was out on a limb using beta glucans from mushrooms and antioxidants for my cancer patients. Now, we use antioxidants openly, including Co-Q10 to protect the heart when using cardiotoxic chemotherapy agents.
A recent article in AJVR showed that astazanthins, part of the carotenoid family—the largest antioxidant group—were shown to have anti-osteosarcoma activity in the Rottweiler. It is great to see the validation coming in now!
Recognizing the Bond
In 2000, the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians asked me to introduce my concept of pet hospice. Now it’s known as “Pawspice” (Pawspice.org) and emphasizes pain management and palliative care.
And now we have the International Veterinary Association of Pain Management (IVAPM.org). Now there is a nationwide pet hospice movement fanned by the demand of pet lovers who want to care for their end-of-life pets at home for an extended farewell. Now we are challenged to provide veterinary leadership and supervision for pet hospice (HospiceCare.com).
Back in the 1970s, it was impractical to realize that pet owners wanted their veterinarians, including me, to heal “their” cat. Understanding that “this” cat or “this” dog was a highly valued member of the family was a recognition and validation of the people-pet relationship that was yet to be named the “human-animal bond,” by Dr. Leo Bustad.
In 1999, after Dr. Bustad died, the Delta Society, the AVMA and Hill’s Pet Nutrition validated my oncology work and honored the human-animal bond by selecting me for the Leo Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award.
Now, veterinary schools and conferences offer classes in attachment theory and communication skills and certification for veterinary family practice skills that honor the bond.
Now, the power of the human-animal bond is recognized as the glue that holds our endeavors in the many facets of veterinary medicine together as One Medicine.
What’s next? For the past year, I have immersed myself in anti-aging science. Can we introduce anti-aging for pets? I can’t wait. The future is now!
Alice Villalobos is a past president of the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and is president-elect of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics.
This article first appeared in the April 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News
Because of an editing error, a paragraph in Dr. Alice Villalobos’ April 2010 column, “We’ve Come a Long Way in 40 Years,” incorrectly described her medical position regarding FeLV-positive cats. The error was repeated in a highlighted quote on the page. The passage should have read: