By Shelley Gillespie

When a collie named Ruff repeatedly followed her home from school, Gilbert resident Linda Elliott knew what her career would be. Among her four sisters, she was “the animal person.”

“I always had a way with pets and could do more with them than the average person,” said Elliott, who owns Ahwatukee’s oldest animal hospital, Ahwatukee Commons Veterinary Hospital.

Growing up in Iowa, she was surrounded by family pets—four or five of them. When she was 10, her family bought horses. By the time she was 16, she was training horses.

“Our home was like a petting zoo with geese, chickens, a goat and cats that became barn cats,” Elliott said.

After a pregnant barn cat died, Elliott blamed herself because she was not aware of its problem pregnancy.

“No animal was going to die as a result of my ignorance,” stated Elliott.

That sealed the deal; she was going to veterinary school. “This career—it chose me. It’s part of who I am.”

During her veterinary school training, Elliott wound up in Arizona for her internship. After graduation, she figured she’d try one year in Arizona. She never left.

In 1979, Elliott bought the practice where she was working in Mesa. When land became available in Ahwatukee in 1988, she planned and built the veterinary hospital she now runs at Ahwatukee Commons, at 4902 E. Warner Road.

Over the years, she’s remodeled the office and added new equipment.

About 10 years ago, she decided to differentiate the treatment rooms by hiring Jos, a Tucson muralist, to paint fanciful, full-length scenes with animals in Arizona, Hawaii, Alaska, a Southwest bar, a country setting, Oz with the Emerald City from “The —Wizard of Oz”, and a rainforest.

The animals in the murals immortalized her pets, her staff’s pets and pet patients. The vivid colors perk up the treatment rooms and create a lively place to visit for both pets and their owners.

Her friendly staff of 13 greets patients along with Oliver, a colorful, chestnut-crested macaw kept in a cage in the lobby.

Oliver likes attention and enjoys greeting guests and saying good-bye, as well as “dancing” – bouncing up and down on his perch.

Elliott said that “there has been quite the revolution” in how people treat animals since she was a child.

“Dogs were basically in the backyard. They were not allowed in the house,” Elliott explains. “Now, our culture has changed and, with families breaking down, dogs take the place of kids.”

Dogs are dressed in clothes and allowed to share the pet owner’s—now, the “pet custodian’s”–bed, especially if the pet is ill. People rely on animals for greater emotional support.

Elliott cautions potentials owners, “Don’t get a pet unless it’s going to be a part of your family.”

With the advent of better medical care, humans expect more extensive treatments for their animals.

Dental treatments now involve blood work, anesthesia, IV treatments, and two people to monitor the pet’s vital signs during procedures.

New procedures Elliott employs include using the pet’s own stem cells to reduce inflammation, allergies and urinary incontinence. She also uses cold-laser treatments to reduce arthritis and other diseases. And, she has added ultrasound to her therapeutic tools.

“Costs have soared to meet the standards of expectations of the general public,” she added.

Elliott believes some of people’s indulgence of animals can cause them separation anxiety and make them too dependent on humans.

Melissa Patel, the office manager, agrees. She counsels owners to “think like a dog” when training their pet.

Her practice supports the work of “Lost Our Home,” an organization that rescues abandoned and sick pets.

For the past year, Elliott has not had an assistant. She counts eight employees who have gone off to veterinary school, inspired by her enthusiasm for the demanding career.

The veterinary hospital is open six days a week, usually from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Elliott works straight through lunch. She hires substitutes, but she is “very particular” about whom she hires to give her a break. She’s looking for a full time veterinary assistant, but hasn’t found the right person yet.

Because of her own extensive pet collection, she moved from Ahwatukee to Gilbert, where she has space to keep her two horses, three large dogs – two Bernese Mountain dogs and an English crème golden retriever, plus two older cats and 40 alpacas.

She had been breeding and showing the alpacas, but now focuses on selling their extremely soft, warm wool and products.

Her daughter Rebecca, 29, carries on the family love of pets with her own dog and a rabbit.

When Elliott’s not working, she sings in a community chorus and travels to a central Phoenix studio to blow glass. If she had more free time, she’d love to return to ballroom dancing.

She also hikes and loves exploring Arizona.

“You can drive anywhere and change the scenery – lakes, snow, and more. You can find anything you want,” Elliott says.

She also enjoys the arts and culture festivals—especially the Ostrich Festival.

For information on the Ahwatukee Commons Veterinary Hospital, go to 480-893-8423 or