Noel Fitzpatrick – a Real Life Superhero
Katie Thomson interviews the enigmatic Supervet Prof Noel Fitzpatrick ahead of this year’s DogFest and his upcoming tour…
Perspective is everything. Prior to this interview, I genuinely believed I was a busy person; but I’ve got nothing on this real life superhuman, let alone supervet. Noel tells me during our morning interview that he finished surgery at 3am the night before. For a man seemingly trying to cram 28 hours into a day, what makes him want to add more to his schedule with events like DogFest?
“DogFest is integral to the journey I’m taking with my work – I wanted to have a festival that was Glastonbury for dogs where families could learn lots of tips too – they could tear around the place and have a whale of a time, leaping through dog agility or Newfoundlands jumping off diving boards – I wanted to build a community of compassion – people make friends for life at DogFest.”
Noel hosts this two-day canine festival, this year in Cheshire (16-17 June), Bristol (23-24 June) and Knebworth (7-8 July), “I wanted people to vibe into this sense of compassion and fun in the field – the dogs are so happy too, they’re smiling all day! The Great Dog Walk is brilliant and there are thousands of people connecting. Last year on stage I thought to myself ‘I bet £1 million that there isn’t a bad person in this field.’ So everyone here is a magnificent human being and they can just have the best day in an amazing environment.”
“I had the most wonderful letter from a little kid – it said ‘I came to DogFest from the Manchester [sic] and I couldn’t get to see you because all the ladies were trying to hug you, then I went back to the Manchester to wash cars to make money for your charity to look after the ‘nanimals.’ in a Smarties tube for the charity, I’ve founded, The Humanimal Trust. He finished the letter ‘I know when you look after the ‘nanimals you look after me.’ And that was everything in a beautiful, succinct sentence, that was DogFest – look after the animals, look after yourself.”
“I’m so thrilled that I can inspire these children. Apparently I’m a popular choice for dress up days at school – they come as the Supervet. I mean, I’ll never win a Nobel Prize, but I’ll definitely take that! It’s a wonderful compliment – they’re the future after all.”
On top of DogFest preparation, Noel is beginning to write, and attempting to somehow contain, all the elements he wants to include on his upcoming tour. The premise is a lofty one, but totally in keeping with his genetic makeup – a visionary, wholeheartedly devoted to getting his message of love and progress in the face of adversity out to as many people as possible.
“The initial seed was sewn a few years ago just by the volume of letters I get from kids. More recently, I’ve noticed this vacuum in society where hatred breeds and can give rise to acts of inhumanity. In my view, hatred isn’t inherent in people, they turn to it when they don’t have inspiration of love in their lives. I just thought, who in medicine anywhere is actually standing up and saying all of this should be about love. What if I could spend two hours not just telling but showing people that love really is at the centre of everything?
“I’ve just co-written a paper on love – I’m so proud of it, which I never say about my other work – the paper is a clinical one about love as a core value in medical and veterinary practice, which is pretty revolutionary as a thought. I might write a report about bone healing, but the currency of that process is love – the love of the family who will their animal on to overcome its aliment. This is a dialogue between the two fields of medicine – veterinary and human – for the ‘humanimal’ one medicine approach, but centred around love. I use that term every day, but it isn’t a term used in a medical setting, and it should be something it is centred around. I wanted to call it the Love and Hope tour but that sounded a bit too much like a Bon Jovi concert – but in essence that’s what I want to engender.”
Noel’s office is filled with items from his years as a vet, but one framed selection on the wall stands out “that’s a dehorning saw for cattle – I was 10 years old and using that on the farm – people don’t associate me with any of that, but it’s part of the journey. It’s things like this that I really want to bring to the tour – funny anecdotes about how I operated on a cow in a man’s kitchen in Ireland and the interconnectivity of that moment with operations down the line, of the inspiration behind the creation of a bionic piece and how ultimately all of it, every single operation, boils down to love and hope. I want to bring people behind the scenes of the TV series, tell the stories of these amazing bonds – I want to try and bring people into this world and even just for two hours, fill their lives with hope and love.”
“The process of writing the tour has been really cathartic, I’ve spent so much time looking forward that I’ve not really been reflecting. My job for those two hours is to entertain people – they should laugh their heads off, maybe cry a little, they should feel intrigued because it’s going to be a real rollercoaster ride through bionics and the future of medicine, from the humble beginnings of operating on a table in a farm house in Ireland to an extraordinary future where everything is possible. Anyone who has loved an animal knows unconditional love and they can engage with that, but what I think is really exciting is the dude that would never watch the show, the one dragged along to the show, I want to bring something new to them, to affect them.”
“Whatever people’s opinion of me is, the objective of the TV show has always been to make the world a better place, as pure as that. The central core of my life is Humanimal – I want to cross pollinate human and animal medicine so that everyone wins. We’ve taken so much from animals in terms of developments but we don’t give those discoveries back to them. Somewhere in the region of 4-5,000 dogs get killed for science in the UK every year, 40,000 in the US, but we don’t return that technology developed on them to help them in kind. Naturally occurring diseases like cancer can be readily studied in animals that already have the disease which may reduce the need to induce the disease artificially and study it in experimental animals. That dog or cat needs help today, so why don’t we study naturally occurring disease and learn together, where animal and man both win. For example, the genetic mutations and the physical cell types in dog bone cancer are remarkably similar to those in humans and in my view should be studied side by side.
“I think if I can get a kid to translate the love they have for a dog or a cat into a wider picture of caring about their friend despite colour or creed, and again push that into caring about wild animals and the earth around them – if I can paint that love into a bigger canvas for them where they are driven by such a pure message to make the world a better place. The TV show gives me a moral conduit into the hearts and minds of children – I want to give them an antidote to the world of greed, corruption and destruction.”
Noel has been instrumental in setting up the veterinary school at the University of Surrey – as someone clearly so passionate about his life’s work it must be amazing to have a hand in shaping the lives of students? “It’s wonderful. The end goal is to have a medical school beside the vet school, so that the students know from the start of their education that the subjects are one. In the vet school we wanted to inspire hearts as big as heads. They don’t examine the size of your heart – yet it’s love that inspires you to do the work in the first place.”
“I gave a lecture to them this week and unbeknownst to them I had a dog from the show, Scrumpy with his mum June in the wings. I gave a case study of all Scrumpy’s problems – seven big issues all requiring surgery – I asked them about the moral decision, do you do the surgery or do you put the animal down? Then out walks Scrumpy and June and it made it real for them – a moment of epiphany where they have to look in June’s eye and say nothing can be done. That isn’t true anymore – we can do so much more but with that comes the moral decision about making the right call. So yes, I love to see the passion in their eyes as they start this journey – the future is full of bright young people just wanting for inspiration.”
“I never use the term owner, I use the term mum and dad – this is about guardianship of unconditional love and that’s the message of the show, not the science. You have to show the failures too and it’s hard – people are bearing their souls on national television – but failure happens all the time – every success stands on the shoulders of failure, so it’s important to show that too.
Noel was brought up on a farm and it is clear that that life profoundly shaped his whole outlook on life. “I had a revelatory moment which has stayed with me to this day where I just understood the fragility of life and my purpose. Animals on a farm have a perfunctory role, but I had a dog called Pirate who was my best friend, my confidant, who helped soothe any worries I had in life. The same is true of my dog Kiera – when we share love it is magnificent – no matter how my day has been she makes it better.
“The tour, DogFest and the TV show have given me a real vehicle to inspire change. I mean the show is now in series 11 – I used to struggle with the disruption and cameras at the start, but now I think about talking to the camera like I’m talking to a friend – the effect you have for those kids is what drives it. A world of compassion, love, good values and pure kindness – and fun. Embracing the joy of life – that’s what I want to bring to the table with all of these.” Lofty ambitions indeed, but if there’s anyone that can do it, it’s this man.
Hosted by Professor Noel Fitzpatrick, DogFest offers dogs, their owners and dog-lovers an action-packed, fun-filled weekend – find out more at dog-fest.co.uk. For details on Noel’s Tour, visit noelfitzpatricklive.com