If you happen to bump into Dr. Rhonda Stallings, founder and chief practitioner at Arroyo Veterinary Hospital, you can be sure that she will be surrounded by clients who want to share the news of their dog’s or cat’s exploits, achievements or even hygiene habits. knowing that each tidbit will be appreciated by Stallings.
“It’s the best part of being in a small town,” said Stallings. “Roots go deep and you eventually are sharing part of each other’s lives and the lives of people’s animal companions as well.”
While to the general public, the term veterinarian usually conjures up a Norman Rockwell image of a kindly male attending a sick puppy, in recent years women are rapidly venturing down Stallings trailblazing path.
In 1910, the first female veterinarian graduated from Cornell University. In 1947, the U.S. had about 120 women veterinarians. It took until 1963 to reach 200, and 1980 to swell their ranks to 3,213.
In 1981, Stallings added one more digit to that number, graduating as valedictorian and top of her class at the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Women were still somewhat of an anomaly in veterinary medicine,” said Stallings, who began her professional life at an emergency medicine facility in Akron, Ohio. A year later, she moved to San Francisco, working her way up to medical director at Pets Unlimited, and spending 11 years at Avenues Pet Hospital.
But the big city treadmill was taking its toll on the family’s personal life. “I was married now and we had two children,” she reflects. “There was no real community for them or quality schools.” Stallings and her husband, Rich Lee, made a list of pros and cons and weighing the results, and relocated to Sonoma in 1992.
“It was a tough decision,” said Stallings, “but it turned out to be the right one. Our kids have grown up in a small community with close ties and we really feel connected here.”
In addition, Stallings was able to start her own practice in Sonoma, purchasing Arroyo Veterinary Hospital in 1997, with her husband on board as "Practice Manager," overseeing the business. In 2002, Arroyo moved to its current location on Highway 12.
While the hospital is a 24/7 operation, Stallings manages to squeeze in other sidelines such as a weekly radio show on KSVY, 91.3 FM and a board position with Sonoma Valley Dog. For Stallings, the long days at Arroyo are worth it, “with our own business, it gives us something tangible, something we are invested in emotionally and financially," she says.
In 2010, Stallings life got even busier when she was awarded the Don Low-CVMA Fellowship in Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Now, she spends two days each month at their Teaching Hospital, learning the latest techniques in emergency care. “I’m learning from experts in a world-class facility and interacting with the students, providing them with insights into what it's like practicing in the real world," she said.
Stallings recently spoke to 60 young women about her career through “Expanding your Horizons,” an organization which encourages 6th, 7th and 8th grade girls to do well in math and science.
“I love talking to kids about becoming vets,” said Stallings. “This age group is wonderful, very focused and really a joy to work with.”
Industry encouragement for women to enter the veterinary field seems to have worked. As of 2009, the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that female veterinarians outnumbered their male counterparts for the first time: 44,802 to 43,196.
If they are anything like Stallings, our pets are in good hands.
Arroyo Veterinary Hospital, 18501 Sonoma Hwy, (707) 996-1054