In a world full of dog whisperers and self-proclaimed pet experts, Ernie Ward, DVM, is determined to get veterinarians back on the media map and offer credentialed, peer-reviewed advice to pet owners with his new show The Vets. (Press the Play button below to watch a teaser.)
“Every time I see television shows like Dogs in the City with people who have no credentials, no education—it infuriates me,” says Ward, owner of Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C., and frequent dvm360.com contributor. “I’m extremely protective of my profession and I want people to know, appreciate, love and have a newfound respect for veterinarians.”
More importantly, Ward says, he wants to give pet owners genuine accurate medical information so if they’re Dr. Googling, they’ll wind up listening to what a veterinarian has to say. Recently, Ward was able to channel this passion into a TV pilot. While working on another project, he met Steven Sager of New Jersey-based Saddle River Productions, who also recognized the veterinary void in the television world. Sager, now an executive producer for The Vets, liked the setup of talk shows such as The View and The Doctors, where each panelist contributes a different personality and set of opinions to the dialogue.
Ward searched for a variety of veterinarians with different areas of expertise and nailed down the following cohosts: Jeff Werber, DVM, owner of Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles; Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, dvm360.com contributing author and associate director of Pet Poison Helpline; and Ruth MacPete, DVM, CVC San Diego speaker and animal shelter practitioner based in San Diego. (Ward and Werber are also on the advisory board of DVM Newsmagazine’s sister publication Veterinary Economics.)
MacPete has made several appearances on pet segments on The Doctors, a daytime syndicated medical talk show focusing on human health, and received positive feedback from the audience every time. She says the viewers were always left wanting more, which is why she’s excited about an entire show dedicated to pet health. MacPete says she’ll be thrilled if just one viewer says, “Oh my cat is drinking a lot of water—maybe he could have diabetes. I’m going to go to the veterinarian to find out.”
“The more pet parents know, the better—and the easier it will be for them to work with veterinarians,” MacPete says. “There are still a lot of pet owners who don’t even realize there are veterinary specialists available.”
This is why The Vets will feature different specialists every week and shed light on the latest and greatest information on dental disease, orthopedic surgery, cardiology, dermatology, new pet medications and more.
Lee, a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist on the panel, also hopes to clear up pet owner misconceptions. She sees too many emergency patients with severe metabolic issues and other conditions that could have been prevented. Lee’s written two books for pet owners, It’s a Cat’s World ... You Just Live In It (Three Rivers Press, 2008) and It’s a Dog’s Life ... But It’s Your Carpet (Three Rivers Press, 2008), both presented in an entertaining Q&A format.
“The Vets is designed the same way,” Lee says. “We’ll answer questions from the audience and bring up all facets of pet ownership.”
Producer Sager says all questions from pet owners will be genuine—there will be no planted questions in the live studio audience. Viewers at home can engage with The Vets and drive the program’s topics through social media outlets such as Facebook, Skype and Instagram. The show will also take viewers into celebrities’ homes to meet their pets and learn how they care for them.
“My No. 1 objective is to get the show into a syndicator and have it air on a broadcast network,” Sager says. “This provides the best platform to reach our audience, which is pet parents—or anyone who loves pets.”
Elanco Animal Health sponsored the program’s pilot and will give veterinarians segments to play in their clinic waiting rooms to raise awareness for the show. The Vets’ team is now in the process of promoting the pilot in Hollywood but in the meantime, the show will go on. The Vets will be posted on YouTube in a series of three- to six-minute “webisodes” once a week until it gets picked up. What makes this project unique is the fact that veterinarians are at the helm. Ward says Hollywood is not calling the shots—real veterinarians have control over the entire show. This is why he believes there are three areas where The Vets can make an impact almost immediately: pet nutrition, behavior issues and feline visits.
“Right now people get most of their nutritional advice from a pet store clerk or an Internet website,” Ward says. “Even in our pilot we have three segments on nutrition—that’s how important I think it is for our profession. We need to make sure veterinarians are seen as nutritional experts.”
It also irks him that veterinarians are no longer included in the discussion when it comes to dog and cat behavior problems. He says pet owners simply open their TV Guide to find these issues addressed by nonveterinary types.
“We have lost it to the dog whisperers in the world,” Ward says. “This is a big opportunity for us to educate in a meaningful way and visually compelling fashion.”
The main goal of the show is to raise the awareness of pet owners about pet health issues. Ward and the other doctors on the panel will explain why it’s necessary for them to visit the veterinarian, what questions they should ask their veterinarian and what signs to look for in their pets so they can be better pet parents. Along the same lines, Ward wants to make a positive impact on declining feline visits. He says that right now the pet-owning public doesn’t understand how to determine if their cat is ill. The Vets hopes to reverse this trend and stress the benefits of taking cats to the veterinary clinic once or twice a year. He’s hopeful the show will get picked up soon, but not without the support from the veterinary industry.
“I need my veterinary brothers and sisters to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter because if we can pull this off, everybody benefits,” Ward says. “Plus, I want to show that veterinarians can make interesting, compelling TV that people want to watch. We’re interesting, creative, funny, smart people. We don’t need some comedian from New York City portraying the profession as a sensationalist train wreck. That just makes our jobs that much harder. We can show the profession in a better light.”