Vets to the Stars Recalls Stories, Lessons Learned on the Set

One might think life as a veterinarian to animal stars would be filled with glamour and excitement. But Dr. Jim Peddie says it's really filled with 747s full of hay and tubs of Pepto Bismol.

Veterinarians Peddie and his wife, Linda, know these stories of a veterinarian's life behind the movies scenes all too well. The couple, both graduates of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 1965, worked for about 15 years with Holly-wood's animal actors.

They cared for the stars of 68 feature films, including "Dances With Wolves," "Operation Dumbo Drop" and "Evan Almighty," as well as 27 television series like "Frasier" and "Full House."

And as for visions of lounging on sets, hobnobbing with celebrities, Peddie laughs off the notion, saying the work wasn't always pretty, but it was always satisfying.

"If your job is a veterinarian, you don't get on set a lot. They'll call you and say while they were working with this animal, something happened that they are concerned about," Peddie says, explaining most of the calls he got were from animal handlers and trainers after hours, once the animals were back home for the day. "You'll work 24 hours a day."

One time he remembers being called to a set to deal with a case of "explosive diarrhea" that hit an elephant that was supposed to appear as though it were on water skis.

The Peddies have done a lot of work with elephants, he says, speaking lovingly of one patient he calls "a human in an elephant suit." The elephant named Thai has starred in films like "George of the Jungle" and "Operation Dumbo Drop." Thai's overseas role in "Operation Dumbo Drop," however, presented Peddie with one of his biggest medical challenges. While in Thailand for filming, without Peddie, the animal got very sick and wouldn't eat, he says. Trying to make his diagnosis from a half a world away, Peddie finally decided that Thai must not have liked the local vegetation she was being fed and maybe had a slight infection from the native water.

The more difficult aspect of the case came with the solution, though — how to get an elephant's diet overseas. In the end, Thai ended up drinking — 150 to 200 gallons a day — and bathing in bottled water, and Peddie chartered a 747, which he filled with hay.

One of the easiest parts of the job — much different from the life of a small-or mixed-animal veterinarian — is dealing with clients, he says. "The owner and trainer are usually the same person. They raised these animals from birth. You've developed this understanding with the animal," Peddie says. "The animals are family to these people. One of the neat things about doing film work was we worked with humans who had the animal's interest as their highest priority and that made an awful lot of decisions that a practitioner has to face nonexistent. It was never an issue of what to spend."

When he and his wife began taking care of the animals at Universal Studios' city walk section in 1991 at the request of the animal training company Birds and Animals Unlimited, they "broke into the inner circle" of Hollywood and started being contacted for work by all the major studios, Peddie says. Health problems have forced Peddie to cut back drastically on his film work, but he says many of the owners and trainers became personal friends and he still cares for their animals.

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