Ten years ago and fresh out of Murdoch Veterinary School, Dr James Haberfield realised there was a gap in the services available for exotic pets.
Dog and cat owners had plenty of options when it came to care for their furry friends, but if you owned a bird or lizard or rat, the local vet probably didn’t have the expertise to cater for their unique needs.
Of course we have all sorts of specialists at The Animal Hospital at Murdoch University, which is where James began his foray into exotic-only services, but suburban cavy-carers and koi-keepers needed more.
The ailments and remedies are as varied as the extraordinary range of critters being treated.
Just the other day James was faced with a somewhat challenging situation when presented with a death adder with a swelling inside its mouth.
“With venomous snakes you want to avoid the pointy end,” he said.
“So we had to anaesthetise the snake and deal with the lump in the mouth from a distance.”
The first episode of The Bizarre Pet Vets features eastern long-necked turtle George (or Georgina as it turned out) who had been bitten through the head by her lagoon-buddy, the usually-friendly freshwater crocodile, Fluffy.
“The viewer is in front row seat whole way through,” James said.
“I’ve found people are really interested in what we do.
“They can’t believe we do surgery on rats or fish, there is never a dull moment if you’re a vet for these bizarre pets.”
James’ studies at Murdoch covered a range of veterinary fields, but he always knew he would end up working with exotics.
At age seven he asked his parents for a pet lizard, so they got him a bearded dragon that he named Quasimodo.
James’ passion grew and so did his menagerie, adding more reptiles, parrots, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and more.
As a vet, he is driven by the diversity of the animals and the assortment of injuries and illnesses he gets to treat.
“The variation we see keeps it interesting,” James said.
“I still see stuff regularly that I don’t know what’s going on with it, we work on the cutting edge with new diseases and are always wearing several hats, but that’s what allows you to think out of the box.
“You might have a problem you haven’t seen before in a rabbit, but you have seen something similar in a bird, so you adjust appropriately and apply the treatment.”
James’ doesn’t confine his expertise to his clinics, he has been teaching Murdoch students about exotics for years, and these days all final year students do a rotation through the Unusual Pet Vets and those interested in specialising can spend further time at the clinics.
Veterinary students also come from around Australia and the world to get experience at the Unusual Pet Vets.
Six Murdoch graduates work at the two Perth clinics and two of those, Dr Kelly Giles and Dr Lucinda Lam, also feature in the new show.
“It’s a pretty cool job and we do pretty cool stuff so they thought it could make for a good TV series,” James said of Fremantle-based production company Metamorflix.
The show tells the stories of Australia’s bizarre pets, from the waiting area through to the operating theatre.
Viewers meet the loving owners and are with them from the moment their unique pets walk, waddle, crawl, slither or fly through the door.