Animal Wellness talks to Hollywood vet Hillary Hickam.
Hillary Hickam is one of Hollywood’s top celebrity veterinarians, working with clients such as Paris Hilton, Ellen Degeneres and Katherine Heigel. We got the chance to sit down with Dr. Hickam at her home in Los Angeles to find out more about her career as a vet, her new passion of acting, her travels around the world saving animals of all types, and tips we should all know while taking care of our pets.
AW: Explain to us why you love animals in general?
HH: Our relationships with animals are uncomplicated: devoid of anger, jealousy, or selfishness. I can relate to animals without fear of judgment and their innocence makes me desire to help them in every way I can. They are pure of heart, never hold grudges, always give second chances, and love us unconditionally. (What’s not to love!?!)
AW: You are known as one of the top celebrity veterinarians. Who were some of your a-list clients while working at various animal hospitals in Hollywood and did you ever have to make house calls for their pets? Any fun stories?
HH: I have some incredible stories, and you know what? My celebrity clients were often the easiest of all to deal with. Katherine Heigel, Nick Lachey, Hillary Duff, Milla Jovovich, Ellen Degeneres, Mariette Hartley to name a few… all completely lovely all the time.
My favorite moment is when the hysterical Donald Faison came in with his brand new puppy and when I asked him her name, he burst out singing “Sandy” from Annie.
I often made house calls for my celebrity clients; and no doubt the most exciting of these was Paris Hilton. She cared so much for her pets and had some amazing setups for them. I definitely had a lot of fun chasing her pot belly pig around the swimming pool to try and put sunscreen on her!
AW: You have travelled the world (Vietnam, Costa Rica, Ghana, Uganda) to teach veterinary medicine to students and other professionals. Why did you feel the need to share your knowledge globally, and how do you feel other countries compare to America in terms of their veterinary skills?
HH: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” My Daddy taught me from the time I was three years old that I was blessed beyond all belief to have been born in the United States of America. I have never taken that gift lightly and I feel it is my responsibility to share whatever I have with those less fortunate; in this case those without the privilege of an education. Secondly, I love animals so passionately that it breaks my heart to see them suffer in any way. If I can teach a single person how to appropriately treat an animal, then that has a ripple effect that can possibly change how animals are viewed and treated in the future.
For example, in some places I have visited, kicking or throwing rocks at a dog is perfectly acceptable behavior. But when the same people who were throwing the rocks see me simply walk over to a dog, put a collar on it, pat it on the head, and speak baby talk to it, they are fascinated! They then tell their neighbors about kindness to animals, the neighbors teach their children about compassion for animals, and so on, and so on.
As far as their skills, every country is completely different in their levels of expertise. It is purely a matter of education and exposure. Many of the people I have met in other countries are highly motivated and ambitious so given the opportunity to learn, they become experts quickly.
AW: What was the craziest and/or most “out there” type of surgery you have ever had to perform?
HH: I was on a team that amputated the tail of a 15-foot albino Burmese python. It had hibernated and the tissue of the tail had died and had to be removed. Just carrying the snake to and from surgery was a challenge undertaken by 4 men!
AW: We also read that while in Peru you nursed a baby howler money with pneumonia. Tell us more about this!
HH: Oh wow, one of the greatest treats of my life! About 8 years ago, I was lucky enough to spend time at a nature reserve in the Peruvian Amazon Basin that welcomes volunteer veterinarians. During that time, a baby howler monkey who had been separated from his mother was rescued. Because he had pneumonia, we nebulized and medicated him and, since he had no mother to do it, we snuggled with him a lot! He had a lot of difficulty breathing for a while, but he slowly recovered. The way he would hold on to my arms when I held him was priceless.
AW: What has been your biggest challenge so far as a veterinarian?
HH: My biggest challenge is remaining emotionless when owners won’t provide the standard of care for their pets. There is nothing harder for me than watching a dog walk out of the clinic with its owner who has just refused the care that the patient needs to have a good quality of life. Of course there are hundreds of reasons why sometimes owners won’t or just can’t provide the care their pet needs but, as the advocate for the animal, it is painful for me to know that an animal may suffer due to lack of care.
AW: You have two rescue dogs… what type/age are they? Can they do any special tricks?
HH: I have a 6-year-old, 4 pound maltese named Bronte and I have an 8 month old shih tzu named Taz. I honestly think they are two of the most amazing dogs in the whole world….but tricks? Sadly, no. I used to have a dog that could sing and read your mind though!
AW: Why do you personally feel it is important for people to rescue dogs?
HH: Because I have worked in shelters and seen hundreds of thousands of amazing dogs shiver in fear in cold cages and beg to be adopted and sadly, no one comes for them. I have been blessed with four of the most extraordinary canines that have ever lived and they all came from rescue situations. Until we start closing animal shelters for “under-population” there is no reason to purchase a dog.
AW: If you could come back in your next life as one animal, what would it be and why?
HH: A pelican. They get to live by the sea, they get to eat raw fish (sushi!) all day long, and they fly in the most beautiful formations I have ever seen. I really really wish I could fly.
AW: Do you feel having pets helps your overall career (which is now acting) and dealing with various situations?
HH: My pets demonstrate unconditional love to me every day. The more I can mimic that unconditional love, the better person I am in every situation. There is a saying: “Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.” If I can just remember to love everybody in spite of what’s going on, yes, that helps my career immensely!
AW: And finally, you have owned cats in the past, and now dogs, why do you think there is a war between the two types?
HH: Litter boxes! Enough said!?!?
Follow Hillary on Facebook via: https://www.facebook.com/HillaryHickamActor