Al Gordon discovers just how apt Noel Fitzpatrick’s ‘Supervet’ title is…
A long-time animal lover, veterinarian Noel Fitzpatrick is happy to share his life’s mission: to bring the medical advances made possible through animal research back to the animals themselves. The charming face of TV’s The Supervet, Fitzpatrick has pioneered the Humanimal Trust, seeing the animal and human worlds as bound to one another.
Growing up on a rural farm, the young Fitzpatrick always felt a close connection to the animal world. Back then, most of his friends were four legged, “because animals don’t judge you, they allow you to be yourself, they give unconditional love.” Today, many pet owners share his opinion.
“You very rarely see cruel, horrible people showing affection to animals and mostly, if you show animals love you’re a nice person!” says Fitzpatrick. He points out that while many animals have – albeit unwillingly – given their lives as clinical research animals to better medicine, that same technology has not been used to aid their own health problems.
“The authorities in the UK and across the world will not give a licence to use a drug on your child or grandmother without testing it on an animal first,” points out Fitzpatrick. He appreciates the need the need for animal testing, but fails to see why animals can’t reap some of the benefits back. “It strikes me as totally unfair that animals give their lives to serve humanity as clinical animals, while animals in the UK as pets do not have that technology coming back in their direction.”
Noel Fitzpatrick with Dolly by Lorenzo Agius
He sees the Humanimal Trust as being about bringing the technology that animals gave us back to help them, and realising that every disease, whether it’s the Ebola virus that came from fruit bats into a human, or AIDS or rabies, all have human and animal reservoirs. The Trust funds projects that help study disease such as bacterial viruses that can transmit between both. “Also, a cancer cell in a dog is 99% the same as a cancer cell in a human, because cancer is indiscriminate – so therefore if you fund research that helps a dog and a human at the same time then that’s far superior to giving a rabbit cancer to study cancer in humans…”
Fitzpatrick is passionate about his cause – and his practice in Surrey, where he leads a large team of pioneering vets to perform surgeries that other vets couldn’t. Part of his innovative approach lies away from the technological side; the vet insists that all his animal patients are treated with the respect and attention that one would expect if they themselves were treated at the hospital.
“When I built my practice I insisted that all the kennels have glass fronts on them so that it wasn’t like a caged environment. I didn’t want any animal to have physiological benefit from certain medicine and not have psychological benefit as well. I think both go hand in hand and it’s been proven in humans and in animals that you recover quicker from illness if you’re in a psychologically good state of mind… If I had a disease I sure as hell would want my doctor to understand that I have feelings.”
Fitzpatrick is convinced that animals are sentient – “if you have a brain, then you have feelings. As human beings we rationalise our environment because we have a brain. We go to the movies, we feel happy; we go through a divorce we feel sad – that’s our emotional roller-coaster and animals have the same emotional rollercoaster, they just vocalise it in a different way.”
Supervet sees Fitzpatrick use advanced technology to help pets in need – giving Fluffy the bunny a bionic leg, or Fido the dog a hip replacement – but he certainly doesn’t have a ‘saviour complex’. In fact, he tells me he often finds himself turning away four legged patients, because he would never operate on an animal if it’s going to hurt them more than it will benefit them: “The arbiter for me is would I do that on my dog, Kiera?” he says. “If I wouldn’t, then I don’t. I have to hold the paw or the hand of life and death…”