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Dedicated veterinarian devotes career to easing end-­of-­life decisions

By Alex Jimenez

For many pet owners, deciding when and how to let their best friend go is the hardest decision they will ever make. Oftentimes, loving owners feel they must choose between euthanizing a beloved pet or racking up debt for treatments that aren’t guaranteed to work and may not improve quality of life. In the eyes of Dr. Alice Villalobos, the choice doesn’t have to be so black and white.

A founding member of the Veterinary Cancer Society, former president of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and current president of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics, Dr. Villalobos is a pioneer in the treatment of animal cancer, or what she calls the "pest of the body," and a pioneer in the field of veterinary palliative and hospice care. Her belief, and what she has devoted much of her career to, is that end-of-life care doesn’t have to be an either/or accord.

"We, as veterinarians, are obligated to educate pet owners to the best of our ability and then help them make their best choice," she says. For Dr. Villalobos, that education means offering more than one or two options.

"When a pet comes to us sick, we can’t just say here’s option A, spend thousands of dollars to hopefully help your pet; or here’s option B, euthanasia. We need to offer choices A, B, C, D, E, F and so on," she says.

Dr. Villalobos bases these choices on her groundbreaking Quality of Life Scale, which she developed in 2010. The scale rates the animal’s condition in several key areas, including "hurt," "happiness," "mobility" and "more good days than bad," to determine the next best step.

Sometimes, treatment may be similar to her Pawspice program, a palliative-based care program. Pawspice focuses on pain reduction and increased quality of life and embraces kinder, gentler chemotherapy to fight cancer without putting the pet through more costly aggressive treatments.

Still, Dr. Villalobos recognizes that even with the most tailored end-of-life care, all pet owners will one day have to say goodbye to their loved ones. To help them through that emotional process, she uses other means of easing the transition, including sending grieving clients a Morris Animal Foundation veterinary memorial card.

The memorial card program allows veterinarians to make a donation in honor of a recently deceased pet, and the Foundation sends a customized card to the pet’s family.

"When the Foundation sends these cards, I often have clients tell me what a noble honor it was to their animal, because our memorial gift will help fund a cure for cancer and help other animals," Dr. Villalobos states.

It’s a program that Morris Animal Foundation is proud to offer, because no matter how many diseases the Foundation works to prevent, treat and cure, saying goodbye to a furry friend is inevitable, and it never gets any easier.

Posted by MAFon August 31, 2011.

Categories: Veterinary news


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Submitted by MAF at: October 6, 2011
You can download it here:
Submitted by Joan McCarn at: September 2, 2011
How would I get a copy of Dr. Villalobos' Quality of Life Scale?