As well as working full-time in a veterinary clinic, Rory has recently become a TV personality appearing on the CBBC show The Pets Factor which has just finished its first series on TV. Being passionate about animals from a young age, Rory is now busy building awareness about their welfare. On a day-off from work, we chatted about qualifying as a vet, filming The Pets Factor and the CBBC Summer Social.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a vet?
I’ve always wanted to be a vet for as long as I can remember. We got my first dog when I was three-and-a-half or four years old and that was amazing because we hadn’t had a dog before and it was exciting. We drove and picked her up and brought her back, then the next week we took her to the vet, just for a standard check-up, and we met this guy who has sort of been my inspiration/mentor all through my studying. Ever since I met him at that young age, my mum tells this story, I walked out the vets and looked up and went, ‘Mum, I want to be a vet’ and I’ve never ever changed my mind, it’s ever since that moment!
How long did it take to become fully qualified?
After A-Levels it’s five years. I was quite lucky, I got through as quickly as I could. It can take you anywhere up to seven or eight years at a time, quite a lot of people do it as a postgrad but I was very lucky to just get it in five.
How did you get involved with The Pets Factor?
Ha, that’s a story! I’ve always wanted to do some TV and media stuff, all of my friends know that. There was an appeal through the Vet Times, which is a veterinary publication, it’s as boring as it sounds! One of my very good friends applied for me, I got a call from this lovely lady who said, ‘we’ve had an application for you to be involved in this TV show’ I was like, ‘oh really, okay, good’ so I sent in a jokey video just for them to see how I was in front of a camera and it went from there.
What’s been the reaction to the show?
More than I could have imagined. It is so much fun to film and doing something brand new, you never know what it’s going to be like. I’d never been involved in this weird world of TV and we were told all along this is going to be quite popular with kids and to be prepared for kids to get in touch and things. I could never have imagined this response, the kids have been so lovely, coming in and getting all excited to see us. Getting my clients involved too has been really positive and, surprisingly, I haven’t had the mick taken out of me too much by my friends!
Is it different performing operations knowing the cameras are there?
It was the first time, you get the shakes because you’re overthinking everything because obviously you’re putting yourself out there for critic really. I know from my own experience watching veterinary TV shows you go, ‘why’s he done that’ or ‘why is she doing that’ and I know people are going to be doing that even though it’s a kids show. You do get really sort of overthinky but by week two/three, you just forget they’re there.
How is it decided what gets shown on TV, does it always have to be a positive outcome?
No, in episode two or three there was a parvo outbreak – multiple puppies died. I think that’s a really important lesson actually, because we’re aiming this at kids between maybe eight and fifteen, a range we felt needed to be exposed to the sad aspects and the really upsetting aspects of it, because it’s not all puppies and kittens, bar my part generally. We wanted to put that across, obviously it’s very difficult, you’ve got to be very careful of what you film, because it’s all about the client and it’s all about the animal. We don’t stage anything, it’s all true cases that are coming through the door, we’re not advertising for people to come in to be filmed, what comes through the door gets filmed, and if it turns into a good story, great. Obviously people can opt in and out, but if a case is going in a negative way, or in a way that we feel the patient is very ill, quite often I’ll make the decision myself and say, ‘look, actually we’re not going to film this one’, if I feel like it’s the right thing for the client or the pet and they’re very respectful about that, they will say, okay you said no.
Do you think the show will encourage people to become a vet?
That’s the idea, that’s why I’m doing it. From the story I told you about my vet, he’s a super enthusiastic, lovely guy, I want to be that for someone. I think that I will feel like I have done the right career and a good job if I can get kids from the tender age of eight, ten, twelve, and they come to me in twenty years and say, ‘you know what, you were the inspiration for me’, and that will be my life made.
What age can you start training as a vet?
Hm, two! No, I mean training any time after A-Levels, life training early on, I started angling my experiences and volunteering life from the age of ten. I helped on farms, I fed the sheep, I helped my local farmer, getting up and doing 6am feeds, and lambing, getting involved with as much animal-based stuff as possible. I think you need that as a young kid, to then know this is the right way to go. It’s such a competitive field to get into, if you can go into your interview for a vet saying, ‘from the age of ten I’ve been doing this’, then you’re onto a winner.
What can you tell us about CBBC Summer Social?
That was fun. It came out of the blue really, the show had only aired for two weeks and we were all texted, it just said, ‘sorry it’s short notice guys but can you come up in a couple of weeks and be at the Summer Social?’. I had no idea what it was, I didn’t know it was a thing. I thought maybe a few people and a few kids would turn up and barely anyone would know us because we were so new, there was literally two episodes, the third episode was going out the week of Summer Social.
We turned up and I was the only one that could manage the whole week, I had Cheryl the first day and then I had James and Cat on the second day with me, it was brilliant. We had a little petting zoo that we set up, and we had a few boards advertising The Pets Factor. I was amazed at the amount of kids that came up and knew our names, knew who we were, had watched the show and were quoting the animals to us, and saying, ‘that was amazing what you did with Bagheera’, ‘that was amazing what you did with Lolly’, and I was like, wait a minute, you’ve watched this two weeks ago, it’s a brand new show and you’re already coming up and knowing who we are. It was the most humbling and lovely experience, really lovely.
What was the response like to your video regarding dogs in hot cars?
Much more than I’d expected. It was for our clients, I was working at a big hospital at the time. I’ve got a very good friend, Emma, who I still work with, and she pushes a lot of marketing stuff, she’s not a vet herself, she’s marketing and PR and she helps me a lot. I owe a lot to her, she’s really pushed the TV stuff, she’s pushed videos and things, she suggested that we do it. Not many vets like being in front of the camera, and not many vets like getting involved in the public eye, they like sitting behind their desk and diagnosing pets and doing surgery, that’s pretty much a vet. I think Emma was kind of rubbing her hands together when she realised that I liked doing stuff like that, so we’ve done a few, the dogs in hot cars one just blew up, it was ridiculous, I think it’s at 80,000 views, it’s insane, and if it’s saved one dog, then it’s done its job.
What would you do if you saw a dog distressed in a hot car?
Smash the window. Me personally, I’d call the police and smash the window straight away.
Advice for other people – if you don’t want to get in trouble, it really does depend on how sensible you are, and how hot-headed you are. I don’t think I would be able to leave it, I wouldn’t want to wait for the police to come because they’d probably take their time. The current guidelines is to call the police and/or call the RSPCA and get someone there that knows what they’re doing. Realistically, I would like to think if in that situation, you smash the car window and save the dogs life, surely that’s the right thing to do.
Do you have any pets?
Me personally, no, because I live in a pokey little flat, but home, yes. I’ve grown up with Great Danes all my life, so that dog I told you about earlier was a Great Dane, ever since then we’ve had Great Danes in the house. We also had a Collie cross and a Jack Russell at one point or another. My parents are fostering Great Danes, terminally ill Great Danes, or old Great Danes that are not going to find a home, which I think makes them better humans than me. They do a great job, they basically give them a year or two, or however long they have, in an amazing home. We also have cats and we’ve had chickens, geese and ducks.
Would operating on a wild animal be the same as operating on a domestic one?
Same as in, I suppose, approach and attitude, yes, experience and, I suppose, the research base behind it, no. Every vet, or a lot of vets, deal with dogs and cats, they deal with cows, sheep, pigs, horses, the big animals that we all see and love. Wild animals such as birds (I worked in a wildlife centre for years), hedgehogs, foxes and all that sort of thing, I would love to get involved with. The problem is – 1) funding, because other than the goodness of people’s hearts, there is no funding, 2) outcome, because quite often there are animals that are their own worst enemy, they’ll be ill and then they’ll still go out and get attacked by animals, it’s the way of life. Having research centres would be a big thing as well, I would love to get involved in that, I just think, without a base in front of them, it’s just not possible.
Have you ever been injured by one of your patients?
Yes, is the short answer, on a weekly basis, luckily never badly. I got kicked by a horse when I was training, not badly, little bites and scratches but generally, so far, my reactions are quicker than theirs. I say with baited breath… I’m probably going to get bitten next week now!
Do you have any funny stories from your time as a vet?
HAHA, yes animal-wise and I guess client-wise! I think that is the reason I love it, because you get different things every day. Specific funny stories… you get odd patients doing weird things. There’s a photo on Instagram of one of my patients, we were just having a chat in the consulting room. I generally just let the patients do their own thing, they just wander round, and when we looked over, the cat had curled up in the sink (we’ve got a round sink in the corner of the clinic), it just looked at me, almost as if it was trying to hide in the sink, but she was just too big, so she was just poking out the top. That was very sweet and quite funny at the time. We all have a laugh, obviously, you’re dealing with animals, what was that, ‘you don’t work with animals or children’ – it’s quite true!
Would you like to do any other TV shows?
I’d love to, as long as it’s doing it for the right reasons. Education is obviously the main reason we’re doing what we’re doing at the moment, if it can build up a good view of veterinary, that’s really an important thing. I think that’s my ultimate goal, with all the things I do, and the extra little bits, social media, that sort of stuff. There’s such a poor relationship I feel with the public at the moment in the veterinary world, people come into the vets, they expect us to try and fleece them for their money, they’re expecting us just to be doing it for us, not for the pet, I think that’s so wrong. I think you’d be hard done by to try and find me a single vet out there, that didn’t at one point in their career, do it for the love of the animals. Obviously people get twisted and it’s a tough job, don’t get me wrong, it’s stressful and it is intense, I can completely see why some people lose the love and some people get a little bit twisted by it. Saying that, every single person that starts in veterinary is doing it for the love of the animals and the love of the animals only. If I can be an advocate for both the pets and for vets that can be trusted in the public eye and sort of build a bridge, then let’s go.
Would you like to see all fire crews carry oxygen masks for pets?
Yes, oh 100%, I think that’s massively sensible. In the US, you see these amazing photos of them doing that and using human masks and it is not that difficult, it really isn’t. Oxygen masks cost a few quid, we could even donate them, it’s not specialist equipment, they would attach to human oxygen tanks. They don’t need a specialist kit, it is literally just a mask with an attachment, so yes, I think it’s absolutely key, especially for dogs and cats, its massively important.
Should people feed foxes they see in their gardens or on the street?
That’s a question, I’m not going to say yes or no to that to be honest. I think if they’re going to, they should realise the implications. If they’re going to feed the foxes, they will stick around and they will raid the bins and they will become pests. I admit I’ve got clients of mine who I work with to try and help foxes. Urban foxes are in terrible condition, we try and help, but saying that, I know for a fact that client has three, four or five different foxes in her garden, her cats are probably suffering for it. If it’s the right thing to do, yes, but you’ve got to think about the bigger picture a little bit.
What advice would you give to anyone who has a pet that doesn’t like fireworks?
Ohh that’s actually a video we were going to be doing in the next few weeks I think. I know it sounds silly but it’s about starting early, so as a puppy or a kitten, generally getting them used to loud noises. If you’ve got a dog, and quite often this is a rescue dog thing, and they’ve already got this deep fear of fireworks and fear of loud noises, you can get tapes and CDs you can play. You can start low volume, increase the volume over a number of days, and get them to the point where you’re just listening to that. Obviously the light doesn’t help as well as the flashing, so always draw your curtains. Also, don’t react, that’s the really big thing that people do that makes dogs worse, if you react to your dog being scared they will think, actually there is something to be scared of, I’m going to still be scared, so it will make them worse. It is difficult because human nature is, it’s okay don’t worry about it, that’s the worst thing you can do, because you’re just reinforcing that behaviour and reinforcing that fear, so almost ignoring, making sure they’ve got a nice covered crate or somewhere they can go, in their bed or with you, just for some comfort, and have the TV on, just ignore it and generally that will do the trick.
Would you like to visit primary schools to talk about looking after pets and how to keep them healthy?
I do, I’ve been to two now. We’re discussing possibly doing a third, my boss’s kids are at a local primary school, where I work, and we’re debating going and doing a talk to them. I think it’s really important to expose them to animal care, and how to look after pets from a young age. I was very lucky with the way I grew up, I had dogs, cats, chickens and all that sort of thing, and I learnt from that age how to look after them. The responsibility as well, it’s not just necessarily looking after a pet, it’s a responsibility in your life, so I think it’s really important. I do really push for that sort of stuff.
Would you consider releasing a book?
Mmm I think so. I need some more experience first, haha! I’m literally just reading Dave Nicol’s book on becoming a new vet, a few years late, but he very kindly sent it to me to get my opinion. I think it would be nice to maybe write stuff for kids to start with, and then develop into helping vets and pet owners.
Is there anything you would rather not handle?
Animal-wise, you know what, I don’t think there is. I’ve handled tarantulas, rats, snakes… I don’t think there’s much I wouldn’t handle to be honest. I’ve got a real fascination with all living things.
How did you find the Tough Mudder Challenge?
Ah I’ve done it four times now, I’m still aching haha! It was four days ago. I think they’re great, and they’re really funny. I’m really into my fitness and keeping healthy because I think, as we said about the job, it’s quite stressful, so that’s my outlet, trying to keep fit. They’re good fun and I do it to raise money for the Animal Care Trust, which is a charity, they do a lot of great things for animals and helping, it is one of the biggest referral centres in Europe. I do it with a big team, we had 47 of us this weekend, and that was really good fun and it’s built every year. It’s all down to this one amazing receptionist called Helene, who has just run it all off her own back, so yeah it’s really good fun.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a vet?
Start early, make sure it’s right for you. When I tell people I’m a vet, nine times out of ten somebody says, ‘I wanted to be a vet when I was a kid’ and then they tell you they’re an accountant! I think people have this view of veterinary, that it’s cuddly kittens and puppies and all that sort of thing. I think nowadays we’re very lucky with the amount of veterinary in the media, we’ve got The Supervet, The Pets Factor, Vet on the Hill, Yorkshire Vets, you can really see the ins and outs of veterinary life and in a veterinary surgery, so use those resources. Make sure it’s the right career for you, start early, get involved with catteries, kennels, farms, equine, you can go riding a horse and look after a horse, just go and help out with animals. Help in wildlife centres – that’s what I did for years – and just make sure you are really focusing yourself on the animals and on school as well, because you’ve got to work hard to get there.
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