They are sometimes derided as “celebrity vets” more interested in self-promotion than animal welfare, but Australia’s television vets remain professionals eager to make a difference, Tracey Porter writes.
Twice a year an enthusiastic group of children and teenagers gather in Sydney’s eastern suburbs to study the human-animal connection.
With backpacks in tow, they give up five days of their sacred school holidays to work alongside specialised animal handlers to be educated about responsible pet ownership and explore the realities of a career in veterinary science.
Growing in popularity each year, the Future Vet Kids Camp exists largely due to the good work done raising the profile of the sector via media personalities such as Bondi Vet doctors Lisa Chimes and Chris Brown, Harry’s Practice presenters veterinarians Katrina Warren and Harry Cooper, and Village Vets Australia workhorses Drs Anthony Bennett and James Carroll.
Dr Lisa Chimes
Having graduated from Sydney University in 2006, Dr Chimes—best known for her work on Network Ten’s Bondi Vet, where she is filmed carrying out her everyday duties as an emergency and critical care veterinarian at Small Animal Specialist Hospital (SASH)—says she feels humbled to be afforded the opportunity to teach people, in particular children, about animals.
“I always had in my head that one day when I become a vet it would be nice to teach kids about animals. I remember watching Harry’s Practice as a child and I learned so much, and I always thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice to teach kids one day and give back?’.
“When I was at school it wasn’t that common for people to consider becoming a vet. Now, because of Bondi Vet’s influence, there are so many kids that want to become vets they’ve got enough interest to stage school holiday programmes. It really wasn’t like that when I was a kid and I feel very privileged that Bondi Vet is one of the driving forces behind that.”
Dr Chimes, who studied drama through school in addition to completing a television-presenting course during her studies, says her television career came about almost by accident.
Sydney-born and bred, she had already completed a year in Melbourne in emergency and critical care upon graduating when she discovered a new accident and emergency hospital, SASH, was due to open in North Ryde. Unbeknown to her, at the same time makers of Bondi Vet had been in touch with the hospital and asked to film some stories there.
By coincidence she met one of the Bondi Vet producers through a friend who works at its production company and was asked to work on the show.
“It was just amazing timing. They were starting filming at the exact same time I was moving back to Sydney to work at SASH so all the ducks were lined up.”
Dr Chimes says most options for television work are not necessarily educational but the chance to appear on Bondi Vet and her other show Dr Lisa to the Rescue (where would-be pet owners are matched with pets from shelters) have allowed her to combine both her loves, while showing the realities of life in practice. “It’s teaching children empathy, science and responsibility—and I really feel so proud to be a part of that.”
Dr Katrina Warren
Unlike Dr Chimes, Dr Katrina Warren no longer works in practice but occupies several TV hosting roles, works as an ambassador for a pet treatment company, runs her own online training school and is also the resident vet for The Today Show.
Best known for her appearances on television show Harry’s Practice and for the relationship she had with her border collie, Toby, Dr Warren says she works hard to use her profile to promote responsible pet ownership which she says is a win/win for all vets.
“I hope that I have had a positive impact on the profession and the way people perceive vets. The work I did with Toby definitely encouraged people to get out and do more training with their pets. I still meet people today who tell me they were inspired to get their dog after watching the bond Toby and I shared.”
Dr Andrew Marchevsky
Yet it’s not just the future custodians of veterinary science who are being influenced by the work being done by vets in the public arena.
SASH co-owner Dr Andrew Marchevsky says it is impossible to estimate the effect the show has had in terms of patient or staff numbers since filming began in 2007, but both have “obviously grown”.
“I do think it has made the public more aware of veterinary specialist services in general. People can see that there are facilities that offer the same level of care you might find in a human hospital with CT and MRI scanners, surgical theatres endoscopic equipment and intensive care. SASH has specialists ranging from surgeons, internal medicine specialists, neurologists, ophthalmologists and dermatologists to name a few. The level of care that can be offered to our pets is fantastic.”
While initially concerned the show would seek to sensationalise stories, Dr Marchevsky says while the producers have final control over what goes to air, this has never been a problem. Indeed there have been many positive outcomes as a result of the hospital’s profile in the show including an increase in the number of phone calls from pet owners.
“In addition we also get some ‘Bondi Vet tourists’ from all around Australia and the world—we’ve had people from as far away as Perth in Australia, and Wales in Great Britain. If I’m not operating, I’ll always give them a tour of the hospital. If they’ve made the effort to come and visit it’s a small thing that I can do. Often it’s the parents as much as the kids that wander around the hospital wide eyed,” he says.
Dr Diederik Gelderman
Dr Diederik Gelderman, the owner of veterinary consultancy service Turbo Charge Your Practice, says as well as raising the profile of the sector as a whole, the country’s best known vets are also helping to educate the wider public about what good vets are capable of.
“They’ve shown people what we can do—as in putting in hips and elbows and big cancer removals and chemotherapies. A lot of that is a bit unrealistic in a day-to-day vet practice but at least the clients are coming in with some knowledge of some of the stuff that is available and they may not have come in otherwise.”
Dr Gelderman says while this means some fresh graduates are inevitably disappointed when they discover most of their everyday work is unlike some of the sensational cases that cross Dr Chris Brown’s desk, the approach taken by Village Vets offers a fresh perspective.
“I know so many people that watch [Village Vets Australia], quite a few vets watch it as well… because that’s real life. Not every animal survives—some die, there are middle-of-the-night calls. So that adds a good dose of reality to the hoopla.”
When originally printed this article suggested children took sleeping bags to Future Vet Kids Camp, however the camp does not offer sleep over facilities.