AN­I­MAL HERO

Vet­eri­nary sur­geon Noel Fitz­patrick on life, loves and becoming TV’s favourite su­per­vet

EDP Norfolk - - PETS - WORDS: Julie Lu­cas

Pro­fes­sor Noel Fitz­patrick knew from an early age that he wanted to be­come a vet, but it was a lifechang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on the fam­ily farm in Bal­lyfin, Ire­land, aged 11, that would set him on the path.

“I was help­ing with the lamb­ing one night and a ewe was stuck in a ditch, and sub­se­quently lost both her lambs. I never felt such a pro­found and over­whelm­ing feel­ing of de­spair and I was de­ter­mined to study hard so I could be the very best pos­si­ble vet for the an­i­mals that came un­der my care.

“Even early in my ca­reer I was in­tensely frus­trated by the lack of op­tions avail­able to our an­i­mal friends. I felt pow­er­less and help­less. I re­alised that I could spend the next 30 years feel­ing like that, or I could do some­thing to make a dif­fer­ence.”

Bul­lied at school, but fas­ci­nated by su­per­heroes, he used his vivid imag­i­na­tion and made up his own su­per­hero Vet­man. “He was such a sal­va­tion for me from all of the bul­lies,” Noel says. “He was go­ing to save all the an­i­mals, put bionic

legs on hedge­hogs and save the world.” Iron­i­cally 40 years later he would be­come tele­vi­sion’s own Su­per­vet, which fol­lows Noel and his prac­tice in Eash­ing, Surrey – the pro­gramme is now on to its 12th se­ries.

And he has cer­tainly made a dif­fer­ence. The state-of-the-art Fitz­patrick Re­fer­rals is the last chance for many of the cats and dogs that go through its doors. Here Noel and a staff of hun­dreds – there are 30 sur­geons alone – spe­cialise in help­ing an­i­mals with arthritis, neu­ro­log­i­cal prob­lems and other mo­bil­ity dis­or­ders.

He cus­tom makes pros­thetic limbs and has cup­boards full of spare bits and pieces that he utilises. He has said that the show was never meant to be about science, but about love and hope. “Most of our work cases are rou­tine stuff, it’s the 10%cut­ting edge that makes the head­lines or show,” he says.

Noel fol­lows a holis­tic ap­proach and is just as pas­sion­ate about the psy­cho­log­i­cal well­be­ing of his pa­tients as their phys­i­o­log­i­cal well­be­ing. “Ev­ery time I take an an­i­mal on a jour­ney of treat­ment and re­cov­ery, I feel an im­mense sense of joy when that an­i­mal returns home to their lov­ing fam­ily. They put their trust in us to al­ways do the right thing, some­times in very dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.”

He is pas­sion­ate about ad­vanc­ing vet­eri­nary medicine and with this goal he has founded the Hu­man­i­mal Trust – the first of its kind in the UK, a char­ity that is driv­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween vets, doc­tors and re­searchers. This sum­mer he will also be open­ing the Great Dog Walk at DogFest, de­scribed as the Glas­ton­bury of the dog world.

“It’s hard to find one word to de­scribe what it feels like to stand among smil­ing, laugh­ing, happy peo­ple,” he says of the walk, “and of course ev­ery imag­in­able shape and size of dog. For me it is ab­so­lute con­tent­ment and har­mony with what re­ally is im­por­tant in life – love, health and in­com­pa­ra­ble friend­ship.”

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Noel Fitz­patrick with some four-legged friends ahead of DogFest

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