Veterinary Medicine

Alice Villalobos

VCA Coast Animal Hospital

Until Dr. Alice Villalobos came along, a diagnosis of cancer was the equivalent of a death sentence for pets.

When she began to practice in 1972, vets lacked the expertise and technology to treat the disease. Villalobos became one of the first veterinarians in the nation to develop cancer treatments for pets, and thanks in part to her trend-setting work, many pets can get at least some treatment, unless the cancer has progressed too far.

"When I was in veterinary school, I realized that the biggest pest in the body is the cancer cell," says Villalobos, now 52. "At the time, most of the East Coast vets favored euthanasia, which conflicted directly with my main goal in entering vet school to make animals live longer and happier lives. I realized my calling was to see if these animals could be saved."

After graduating from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Villalobos started out as junior partner in a Manhattan Beach vet clinic. The two senior vets referred cancer cases to her, and she soon saw enough demand to start her own specialty clinic, the VCA Coast Animal Hospital and Cancer Center in Hermosa Beach.

The cancer clinic opened its doors in 1974, and she now performs about 600 pet tumor surgeries a year, plus chemical and radiation treatments for hundreds of other animals. All of her cases come on referral from other veterinary clinics.

Though she has a sizeable clientele of Hollywood pet owners, including Oliver Stone's ex-wife Elizabeth and Maria Peterson, wife of producer Wolfgang Peterson ("Das Boot," "Air Force One," "In the Line of Fire"), Villalobos does not cater to the elite. Nearly 20 years ago, she set up a non-profit fund to help the pets of people who cannot afford the expensive series of cancer treatments, which typically costs between $1,500 and $3,000.

Since then, the Peter Zippy Fund for Animals, named after one of her assistants who died in a plane crash, has provided treatment and placement for more than 8,000 animals.

"She shows tremendous concern for clients and outstanding compassion for the animals under her care," said Dr. Gordon Theilen, retired professor of veterinary medicine and radiology at UC Davis and Villalobos' longtime mentor. "I know of no other veterinary practice in the nation that has a fund set aside for those who cannot afford to pay. Some vets will occasionally pay for cancer surgeries out of their own pockets. But with her, it's a regular thing."

Her efforts, both in cancer treatment and with the non-profit fund, earned Villalobos the 1999 Leo Bustad Veterinarian of the Year Award from Hills Pet Nutrition Inc., which makes dog food and other pet products.

Her work on the development of pet cancer treatments has not been her only distinction as a vet, either. When she graduated from UC Davis, she became one of only a handful of women vets in the nation. Today, about 70 percent of the graduates from the UC Davis veterinary program are women.

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