He's a striking 6'3", mustached, with long, flowing hair and a tattoo that reads "Surgical Samurai" in Japanese. No, Dr. Jeff Young isn't your typical doctor, but he's one of the most respected — and busiest — veterinarians in the West. He cares for thousands of animal clients including domestic pets, livestock and exotic animals of all kinds in his Denver practice, and he also provides free services to remote mountain communities with his mobile clinic.
In the 25 years since graduating from veterinary school at Colorado State University, Young has performed more than 165,000 spay and neuter procedures, and remains a staunch advocate for pet population control — thus the name of his practice, Planned Pethood Plus. He's now the subject of the 10-part Animal Planet series "Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet," which follows him and his staff of 30 as they care for newborn hedgehogs, puppies with distemper, a rare white camel and alpacas that need their "fighting teeth" removed. It premieres July 11.
"I can't imagine life without animals," Young says. In the second episode, he reveals that when he was a boy, his pet dog died in his arms after being hit by a car, a moment that had a profound effect on him. He shared this and more in this interview with MNN.com.
MNN: Did you grow up around animals? Were you always interested in them?
Dr. Jeff: I was a military brat, so we never lived anywhere for more than three years. But I remember loving summers because I stayed with my dad and relatives at a dairy farm. We churned our own butter, plowed our own fields. Animals and nature were everywhere! Pigs, dogs, cows, apple orchards, strawberry patches...that's where and when my interest developed. I've always wanted to be a vet. I went to college and became a veterinarian — grad school in Montana and vet school in Colorado. My first year there, I spent a lot of time in Boulder and got very involved with animal rights, where we facilitated vaccine clinics. I'm proud that I was part of creating the vaccine wave there, and now at my clinic, we have full days dedicated to vaccinations, and that's what led to my mobile clinic, where I go on the road to help underserved communities that can't access my clinic.
What do you love most about your job?
Surgery — not just the challenge of doing it, but really putting animals back together. I love helping people and animals. And the reality is, by helping animals, you're helping people. My goal is to always make an animal as healthy as possible. That's what I love. However, my job can be difficult. My first year working out of school, way back in the 1980s, I had to put down 56 puppies just because there was no space. I always thought if you spay and neuter, you wouldn't have to worry about overpopulation. But now times have changed, and we have euthanized many millions less due to spay and neutering — it's my biggest cause, and my biggest message at my clinic.
Why is neutering/spaying so important?
Neutering and spaying is the best and most humane way to tackle overpopulation. You don't have to worry about euthanizing an animal if they haven't been born, and euthanizing happens in part due to space issues. Spaying and neutering also dramatically improves the health of pets over the course of their lifetime, and by doing that, you're reducing the costs of veterinary care.
What are some of the more challenging cases you've dealt with?
The hardest cases always are the neglected pets. For example, the dogs that didn't get care elsewhere and were rejected for a myriad of reasons. Our clinic is unique because we try to serve the underserved communities, and it's hard when we get cases when animals have been turned away from other places; the dogs show up at our doors an entire two weeks later when they're completely broken up. We sometimes get animals with broken bones that are six weeks old, and their legs inflate to three times the normal size and they bleed out before they get to the surgery table. That pains me. On the flip side, we see animals in need that are saved by strangers. Example: we have clients that will pay for strangers sitting right next to them in our waiting room. They don't know the person or the pet, but they'll volunteer to cover their costs. That's humanity.
How did you become involved with the TV series?
When the production company called to see if I was interested in a show, I told them I can come off as opinionated, so they should research me further just to be sure and then call me back. One week later, they were in my clinic in Denver. That's when we did the teaser tape, and I had a lot of fun making that.
Was it hard getting used to having the cameras around?
Filming itself takes a lot of time, and I'm not sure I was really prepared for how much time it takes and how often the cameras would be around. In terms of time constraint, I'm already very busy doing a ton of surgeries, but at the end of the day, I really like how the show came out.
Tell me about your family. We see your daughter working with you at the clinic. How is that for you?
I am married. I have three daughters and seven grandchildren. Working with my daughter Melody comes with challenges, which I'm sure is similar to anyone working with a family member. It has high and low points — it’s about finding that balance. And with Melody, I trust her implicitly, but she still can drive me nuts! If I critique her, she takes it harder; but on the same token, I expect more out of her.
Do you have any pets?
I currently don't have any pets of my own. Only recently, I had to put my two dogs to sleep, but because I travel a lot, it's not the right time for me to get another pet. But I might get a Dane when I move into my new clinic space. I live above the clinic, and will do the same in the new space. Danes make the best apartment dogs. Or maybe a micro pig…I miss having a pet.
What do you hope viewers take away?
Two things really: 1) Medicine is not as simple as it looks all the time. It's amazing how people think you can put something together, and that it's simple. 2) I want to challenge America to care for their neighbors' animals as much as they do their own. Same for how we care for animals that are a food source. We need to care for all animals equally, making sure they don't suffer and they don't feel pain. That there's a bigger picture, and we're all in this together. Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated," and that's how I feel.
Related on MNN:
- Why we're spending more on pet health care
- 12 pets that have survived crazy accidents
- Fascinating portraits shine light on the debate over owning exotic pets