Lessons Learned as Youth Helped Dr. Vasquez Win Prestigious Award

Dr. Vasquez and his beautiful family

By Jim Bell for SCVMA PULSE magazine 4.2023

Dr. Ronaldo (Joey) Vasquez, winner of the 2023 Cortese Lippincott Award, got lessons from his parents at an early age that would help him meet requirements for the honor.

“My parents taught me that I should give back, that we need to share,” he said in an interview.  “Even if you don’t have a lot, it means a lot to people if you share.  From, a young age, my parents told me that: to share, to help out.

“I remember my dad telling me, ‘Joey, if you see anyone hungry at school and they don’t have lunch, you share your lunch or buy them lunch,’” he added. 

“We didn’t have a laundry machine in the house so my father and I would go to a local laundromat.  And we would always see these two elderly ladies and they never had enough coins or detergent to finish their laundry.  My dad always would give them quarters or share our detergent.”

The Cortese Lippincott Award is presented annually to someone who has gone “above and beyond” to make the world a better place for humans and animals, who excels in community service and education in the veterinary community and who supports the human-animal bond.

“It’s an honor to be in the same league with other winners like Jennifer Hawkins and Peter Weinstein, Dr. Vasquez said.  “We got a phone call at the practice and my staff learned that I was going to get the award and they were yelling and shouting.  It was one of those moments where you have to pinch yourself.  Was it really happening?  So I’m on cloud nine.  I am just so honored to receive this award.  I still think it’s unreal.”

“Veterinarians are in a unique position.  Not only are they able to help pets but they also are able to positively impact humans as well.   I love volunteering, giving back because it makes you feel good.”

Dr. Vasquez’ father was the late Dr. Rolando P. Vasquez, who founded North Figueroa Animal Hospital in Highland Park in 1981.  His son grew up in the practice and took over as owner eight years ago when his father died.

The younger Dr. Vasquez was born in the Philippines.  Shortly after his birth, his father, a practicing veterinarian, and his mother, Lucy, a veterinary technician, left him with his grandparents and immigrated to the United States. 

Neither of his parents could step quickly into veterinary work in America because of licensing requirements.  “They worked at various odd jobs,” Dr. Vasquez said, his mother joining the Army and working as a respiratory therapist.  They sent money to the Philippines, however, to support family members.  When Joey was four in 1976, there was enough money for him and his grandparents to come to California.

Young Joey had no memory of his mother and father.  “When I saw them for the first time, I didn’t know they were my parents,” he said. “I was crying.  I wanted to go back home.”  He also met his first sibling that day, a baby girl named Patricia.

“When we opened the practice, I worked there from day one,” Dr. Vasquez recalled.  “I cleaned cages, helped out with surgeries, did a lot of bathing and grooming.  I did everything.  I swept the parking lots, walked the dogs – I was pretty much born there.”  He agrees that was part of a pretty good education for his current job of running the practice.

One problem: his dad didn’t want him to become a veterinarian.  “Be like your uncle [a dentist],” he told Joey.  “He works three hours a day and plays tennis the rest of the time.  He makes lots of money.  Veterinarians work 15 hours a day and it’s a tough job.”

After high school, Joey went to USC. “When I finished my undergrad, I really wanted to be a veterinarian.  So I secretly applied to vet school.  I also applied to dental school.  Then I told my dad that I needed to follow my dreams and passion.  And I have no regrets.  This field has brought me so much happiness and it is so rewarding.”

Joey attended Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine at St. Kitts in the Caribbean, although he spent his last clinical year at the Kansas State University veterinary school.

And, yes, he now has some very long work days .  But he loves every minute of it.  For 10 years after he got his veterinary license in 2001, he worked full time at his father’s practice, then worked nights at an emergency hospital to widen his experience.

Despite some long hours, “working is just so enjoyable,” he said.  “Putting a smile on the faces of clients is very rewarding.  Sometimes all they have is their pets.  And they can be so appreciative for what you have done for them.”

Dr. Vasquez said that his greatest accomplishment in life has been marrying his wife Jennifer and becoming the father of his 15-year-old son Tyler and nine-year-old daughter Kaylie.  He said that he is working with his children the way his parents worked with him: encouraging them to give back and to volunteer.

“Sometimes my son goes with me to Downtown Dog Rescue and he will help out there.  At Thanksgiving the whole family goes to help feed the homeless.  I try to lead by example. I try to make a difference.”

Jennifer, who has an accounting background, works as office manager in the North Figueroa Hospital.  She has worked there since her husband returned to the practice with his DVM degree.  “I couldn’t do all I do without her,” Dr. Vasquez said.