Famous Exotic Pet Veterinarians

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Every veterinarian is a superstar to the animals he heals as well as to the animals' owners. While even the most domesticated animal can pose a danger to a veterinarian when he's sick or injured, caring for exotic pets and wild animals requires special skills and sometimes, nerves of steel.

David W. Kenney, D.V.M.

David Kenney was the first staff veterinarian for Sea World and was instrumental in bringing the first Shamu to the famous park. In 1965, he developed a way to keep the whale hydrated during transportation from Seattle to San Diego, and later developed a medicine spray dispenser from a stovepipe that could spray medicine into the whale's blowhole. He diagnosed the first case of diabetes in a dolphin and cared for Gigi, the first grey whale ever kept in captivity. When whales were dying of digestive tract blockages, Kenney found they were caused from the bones in mackerel being fed to the whales. He developed a special diet of heavy cream and squid for the whales, which solved the problem. While treating about 20 sea lions for mange, he discovered he could drain their pool and swab the surface with medicated ointment, and they would become covered in the medicine when they returned to play. David Kenney passed away in 2012 at the age of 77.

Dennis Schmitt, D.V.M, Ph.D.

Some of Dennis Schmitt's more famous patients tour the United States as performers in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In addition to heading up the veterinary services for the three traveling circus units, he is also the chair of veterinary services and the director of research at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. He is the leading North American expert in elephant reproductive physiology and responsible for the first elephant birth from artificial insemination. As an elephant reproductive specialist, he travels the world assisting other elephant conservation facilities.

Debbye Turner, D.V.M.

Miss America 1990 might seem like an unlikely candidate as a famous veterinarian, but it was her pageant work that earned her the scholarships to help fund her dream. Debbye Turner grew up with animals and developed a childhood admiration for the compassion of her family veterinarian. She spent her 13th summer hanging around his office and was officially hooked. In high school, she took every advanced science course she could in hopes of earning a spot in veterinary school. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia in May 1991. Turner has combined her public speaking skills with her love of helping animals and can be seen as an expert contributor to DOGS 101 on Animal Planet. She served as a staff correspondent for CBS News for 11 years and is the resident veterinarian for The Early Show.

Tom Reidarson, D.V.M.

Perhaps Tom Reidarson's most famous patient was J.J., the baby grey whale who washed up on a Venice, Calif., beach in 1997. J.J. was only a week old at the time and weighed 1,670 pounds. She was comatose, fighting pneumonia and internal infections, and she was so underweight her bones and skull were visible beneath her skin. She was taken to Sea World in San Diego and was nursed back to health under the care of Reidarson and his staff. When she was released back into the wild on March 31, 1998, she had grown to 30 feet long, weighed 18,000 pounds and was eating 475 pounds of fish per day. Reidarson left Sea World behind and now serves as a veterinary consultant to such places as the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences in Honduras, Ocean World in the Dominican Republic, Dolphin Encounters in the Bahamas and the Curacao Sea Aquarium.

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