Vets to the stars recalls stories, lessons learned on the set

Vets to the stars recalls stories, lessons learned on the set

Drs. Jim and Linda Peddie spent almost two decades working with the biggest animal actors
Feb 01, 2009

Veterinarians to the stars: From chimps to big cats, Drs. Jim and Linda Peddie have seen it all during their more than 15 years as movie set veterinarians.
THOUSAND OAKS, CALIF. — 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.

"She was on stage and they were deliberately moving it underneath her. But the movement of the ground under her feet ... poor thing," Peddie recalls, explaining his remedy. "I went to a drug store, bought gallons of Pepto Bismol and she loved it."

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.

"It was the most expensive hay ride in the world," he laughs.

Other unique cases include discovering encephalitis in big cats, before anyone knew they were susceptible to canine distemper virus, Jim says, and finding amoebic meningitis in an orangutan.

But solving non-medical problems was the biggest part of the job, Peddie says, adding it was an aspect at which his wife became particularly talented.