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The Supervet and his pioneering work replacing animal limbs at Eashing

PUBLISHED: 09:00 08 September 2014 | UPDATED: 07:17 27 March 2015

In the surgery of his Surrey practice

In the surgery of his Surrey practice

Archant

Now a regular on our TV screens, Noel Fitzpatrick (aka Channel 4’s Supervet) has become renowned for his pioneering work replacing animal limbs – and all from his surgery just outside the little village of Eashing. Carole Malone went to meet him

Noel Fitzpatrick with one of his patientsNoel Fitzpatrick with one of his patients

Noel Fitzpatrick can’t quite understand the fuss. His Channel 4 TV series, which attracted millions of viewers, has just been recommissioned. Newspapers are clamouring for interviews. He’s just guested on Loose Women and there’s a petition for him to be knighted.

“Sir Noel Fitzpatrick?” says the man who has become a God among animal lovers. “How stupid is that?”

He’s being modest of course. Noel Fitzpatrick, otherwise known as TV’s Supervet, has devoted his whole life to the welfare of animals, often working up to 20-hour days. He has a house in Guildford but lives, eats and sleeps next to his patients at Fitzpatrick Referrals – his multi-million pound neurosurgery and orthopaedic centre just outside the village of Eashing.

“Yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m an obsessive, compulsive, one-dimensional psychotic,” he says laughing. “But then, if I didn’t have an addictive personality, I’d never do this. I’m a workaholic and fixing animals is my addiction.”

Pioneering surgery

The handsome Irishman is a gloriously complex mix of genius and clown: “I have a poem on my wall upstairs, which is called The Fool,” he says. “And most days I see myself as a bit of a fool.”

It’s rubbish of course. The Irishman, who grew up on a farm in the Irish Midlands – “a bog in the middle of nowhere” – is a million miles from being a fool. He has pioneered limb and paw replacements for dogs and cats. He also gives them new hips, new knees and he fixes their spines so they can walk.

On the day I’m there, I get to meet Papageno – the toffee-coloured Staffie who’s just had her second prosthetic leg fitted. Then there’s Bob, the cross-breed collie who’s first in the world to have had a knee replacement and a new foot. And Joseph, the cutest pug who waves his new prosthetic foot excitedly when he sees me: “What I’ve done with these guys is the future for humans,” says Noel proudly. “Currently, there’s no two-way street between human and animal medicine – but there needs to be. People need to be educated to see that the two aren’t different and that humans are in trouble if they don’t value animals more.

“And we need to show animals more respect because there’s not a pill or a treatment for any human that hasn’t been tested on an animal first. There’s not a hip or a knee replacement that exists without an animal having been involved.”

His obsession with animals is clear. So does he care about them more than humans: “Oh God, yes, absolutely,” he says. “No question. My best friends are animals. And I love them because I know they won’t ever hurt me. That they will love me unconditionally.

“As a kid I was bullied and my only friends were dogs. I had problems reading and writing back then, which is why the bullying started. And the only creatures I could relate to, who I felt loved me, were animals.”

I see the tears glistening in his big brown eyes, just like I saw them a few weeks before on the latest series of Supervet. He broke down after a Labrador called Mojo, whose spine he’d just operated on and who he thought would never walk 
again, walked into his open arms. The experience left him sobbing uncontrollably in front of the camera.

“I never cry on the shop floor,” he says, “but I was at rock bottom that day. So many things collided – both personal and professional – and I went from complete elation to complete desolation in a second.

“You know, there are animals I get very close to. And it’s hard to detach from the connection they make with me. I’m on the edge of vulnerability all the time so an animal who taps into that will tip me over the edge. And that’s what happened with Mojo.”

 

An eligible bachelor

And then he fixes me with those eyes again: “But I have a serious problem,” he says. “I need a wife. The thing is, you see, I only fancy very beautiful women– but they never fancy me.”

He says he’s furious with Keira Knightley for running off and marrying someone else but says his ideal woman would be “a roughed up Winona Rider”.

No pressure there then. But, seriously, why is there no woman in his life?

“I’ve always found emotional pain very difficult,” he says. “And in the past I’ve run away from it because I find it difficult to cope with. But I’m 46 now, and I need to stop running. At 35, it didn’t occur to me to want a wife and kids. Now, I want to make room for someone in my life.”

Be that as it may, fitting a wife and family into his 20-hour days won’t be easy. What would happen if he was about to take his fictional wife out for dinner and a sick dog was brought in to him? He laughs: “I think you already know the answer to that. But I’m working on how to say no.”

There’s certainly never a dull moment for the irrepressible Irishman who as well as running one of the country’s biggest veterinary practices has also set up a vet school, is writing a book and is now planning to make an animated film – about animals obviously.

All that as well as changing the world with pioneering limb replacement surgery.

“The thing is, people don’t care what I know as long as they know I care,” he says. “And I do care – desperately. There’s no point doing all the telly stuff unless it means something to ordinary people who love their cats and dogs and who don’t care about the technical details of how I fix them – just that I can.”

 

A labour of love

Fitzpatrick has 112 staff working at the centre – all of them hand-picked by him: “I only employ people whose hearts are bigger than their brains,” he says. “Because heart is what you need for a job like this.”

To get one of his vets, he had to sell his one and only luxury – his beloved Aston Martin: “The bank wouldn’t give me any more money for her salary so the car had to go,” he says.

Interestingly, Noel says that although he has no personal experience of marriage, he can always tell when couples bring their pets to him which marriages will last and which won’t: “I’m right 98 per cent of the time,” he says. “There’s nearly always one who loves the pet deeply and one who’s there because they have to be. However, if they’re both equally emotionally invested in the pet – they’re likely to stay together. If not – they won’t.”

He tells how one wealthy couple brought in their vomiting West Highland white terrier: “They didn’t know what had made him sick so I gave him a drug that brought up everything in his stomach.” And what was in there was a bright red suspender belt: “The woman immediately screamed, ‘that’s not mine’. I’ve never seen the blood drain from a man’s face so quickly,” says Noel laughing. “The woman filed for divorce a week later.”

The woman who takes on Noel Fitzpatrick had better get ready for a rollercoaster ride. For a start, there are the long days. If there’s an animal to save he won’t eat, sleep – or take her out. His staff say he doesn’t change his socks often enough because he never goes home. And worse – he loves Take That. However, on the upside, he’s a genius with a heart the size of a lion whose pioneering work might one day save the lives of humans just as it’s saved the animals he adores.

So, does he think he’s the best at what he does?

“No I don’t. But every day, I hold life and death in my hand. So I can’t go into theatre without thinking I’m going to give the dog or cat I’m operating on the best in the world that day.”

Noel says there have been times when animals have been his salvation: “They’ve helped me more than I’ve ever helped them,” he says.

That, I don’t believe. But I do believe him when he says: “The best part of my life is making them better.”

Now, what woman couldn’t fall in love with that?

 

• Fitzpatrick Referrals, Halfway Lane, Eashing, Godalming GU7 2QQ. Tel: 01483 423761. Web: fitzpatrickreferrals.co.uk

 

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…and it’s not just the veterinary world in which Surrey is having a surprising impact with animals…

• Discover how the Shalford-based David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation is helping to protect the world’s endangered species

• Surrey Wildlife Trust has a monthly column in Surrey Life magazine

• British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield - a wild day out in Surrey

• The new WWF headquarters in Woking: one of the UK’s greenest buildings and a new Surrey attraction

• Actress Virginia McKenna on Born Free, life in Coldharbour and her memoirs, The Life in My Years

• Nicholas Owen meets Wildlife Aid’s Simon Cowell

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