Meet the Vet: Dr. Lillian Roberts

Alicia Bailey

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Dr. Lillian Roberts, DVM, is the owner of Country Club Animal Clinic in Rancho Mirage, California—she’s been practicing veterinary medicine for over 30 years. Opening her practice in the Coachella Valley in 2008, she was the first in the area to train her full staff in Fear- Free veterinary medicine—reducing fear, anxiety and stress in pets and focusing on emotional well-being and enrichment. Dr. Roberts is an American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) certified Cat Friendly Practice whose dedication to her clients and passion for veterinary medicine makes her a favorite of local pet owners. She spoke with Pet Companion Magazine about what inspires her and what makes her practice unique.

What inspired you to pursue veterinary medicine?

At a young age, I made the decision to go to college, and I knew I loved working with animals. So, setting my sights on vet school seemed like a natural fit. Like many young people in that situation, I had no real idea what I was trying to do, but luckily it turned out to be a great choice for me. Even luckier, I initially planned to work exclusively with horses—that lasted about a year before the economic reality kicked in and I moved into small animal emergency. I enjoyed that so much, I stayed for almost 8 years, overlapping with the time I opened Country Club Animal Clinic.

In addition to your current clinic services, are there any new services/offerings available or soon to be available? If yes, what inspired you to add them?

Starting in 2019, I finally got to tackle a long-term goal of studying veterinary acupuncture. This is a fascinating modality that gives me a way to treat some conditions for which we haven’t had much to offer in the past. Going for certification at this stage in my career has renewed my enthusiasm for learning new skills. Acupuncture is endlessly fascinating, and I expect I’ll continue to study it and learn new techniques for as long as I continue to practice.

We also just signed up with an app called Televet, to offer telemedicine consultations. This is an easy service to use, that creates a permanent interactive record—you can upload photos, videos, questions, etc., and we’ll get back to you with advice or comments. For now, this is only available to established clients during regular business hours, but it’s a way to deal with those minor issues like diarrhea, mild limping, or minor skin problems that don’t necessarily require a visit. This is brand new for us, so it remains to be seen whether it will be helpful—obviously, it’s a byproduct of COVID-19, giving us a way to help people self-isolate, but it has its advantages for certain other situations as well.

Is there an area of practice you enjoy the most? For example, senior pet care or specific procedures or therapies?

I especially enjoy helping senior pets and treating chronic conditions, like skin and ear problems or long-term intestinal conditions. But if I had to pick one thing, I’ve put a lot of extra effort into developing our dentistry services. I was fortunate to open my practice in the mid 1990s, just as veterinary dentistry was coming into strong focus, dental X-rays were becoming more standard, and vets and pet owners alike were coming to really appreciate the importance of dental care in pets. But—and this is still true—veterinary students didn’t get much training in the field. So, it was left up to us as practitioners to seek training and to develop our skills, leading to the availability of training for those in practice.

Since I was moving from emergency work into day practice, right off the bat I wound up with a lot of challenging senior pets that other vets had frankly given up on. So many of these had terrible dental disease, so I felt compelled to develop the skills to help them. This led to a strong interest in the subject that I still feel today. I definitely don’t mean to imply that I am a specialist—we have an excellent veterinary dental specialist here in the valley—but it’s a major interest of mine, and I’ve been gratified that quite a few clients have sought us out for this service.

It looks like you are very involved in the community and serve on a few boards. Why do you feel it is important to be involved on a community level, and are there any new board positions or new initiatives you are a part of?

As I write this, we are in the midst of COVID-19, a historical pandemic, with unprecedented demands on human healthcare workers. With that in mind, I feel like any small effort on my part is hardly worth mentioning. But we do work with several rescue organizations in the valley to provide pre-adoption spay and neuter. We also provide discounted care to animals being housed at the Humane Society shelter and a couple of other organized rescue groups.

Are you the only doctor at Country Club Animal Hospital or do you have additional vets as well?

Right now, it’s just me, with Dr. Laura Huston helping me out one or two days a week. I have a traveling surgeon and our local veterinary radiologist who come in by appointment to offer their services. I was in the midst of searching for a new associate when COVID-19 struck, which left us a bit up in the air. I will be looking for a new long-term vet to join the practice in the near future.

What would you tell new pet guardians about the importance of lifelong veterinary care?

It’s a lot like seeing the pediatrician with your child. My advice is to visit your vet with any new pet right away, within a few days of them joining your household. Hopefully that will be a fun-filled visit, with treats and cuddles, which will set the stage for your pet’s relationship with your vet and how they come to feel about going in. For most adult pets, once-yearly visits are the norm, but as they get older, we may need to see them more often. So, puppies, kittens, and senior pets will need to see us more frequently than healthy young adults. But we still want to see those young adult pets once a year so we can keep an eye on their weight, their teeth, check their hearts and skin, and be able to answer your questions about those skin lumps, foot-chewing, bottom-scooting and so forth.

At the end of the day, what is the most rewarding aspect of taking care of so many companion animals?

I think it›s just knowing that I’ve made a difference for someone. Our main focus, of course, is on the pet and its health. But it›s easy to lose sight of the human on the other side of the exam table. As animal lovers, we all feel the pain, so to speak, when our pets are not doing well. By helping pets, we touch the lives of so many people, too. I’ve had so many people laughingly say they wish I could be their doctor! I’m really glad I›m not, but that I get to work with animals all day.

Do you have pets of your own? If yes, could you tell us about them?

I live with two cats at home—Billy Ruben and Tarmac—both middle aged and, of course, rescues. We have one clinic cat at the moment—Midge, a 16-year-old diva who came in for euthanasia over a year ago. I’ll be honest, she’s not great about using her litter box, which had something to do with her being brought in to start with! But now she has a whole staff to clean up her messes.

My parrot, Rocky, has been a clinic bird since being found as a stray in 1989—that is NOT a typo, he’s an African Grey Parrot, and they live a long time! He’s on hand to greet people at the front desk.

I’m really proud of what we’ve built here. We’ve been early adopters of so many new ideas—from new technology to efforts at standardization. But for years I’ve been calling Country Club Animal Clinic both “High Tech” AND “High Touch.” Clients may not realize it’s exceptional to have a video otoscope or for dental X-rays to be standard practice, but they definitely see how their pets respond to visiting us. We were first in the area to enlist our full staff in Fear-Free training, and as far as I know, we’re still the only AAFP-certified Cat-Friendly Practice—both are designations that recognize our efforts to make our pet patients comfortable and as happy as possible about coming to see us. These are things pet owners can see. When our clients look forward to their visit, the pets pick up on that and it helps them relax even more. A happy, relaxed pet is easier to examine and treat, leading to better outcomes all around.

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