Veterinary surgeon Noel Fitzpatrick on life, loves and becoming TV’s favourite supervet
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.”
Noel Fitzpatrick with some four-legged friends ahead of DogFest