Dr. T, Lone Star Vet exclusive interview: Nat Geo WILD’s newest star on her favorite animals and tips for picking pets

Dr. T loves the hedgehogs and other patients she sees in her Texas clinic. Pic credit: Nat Geo WILD
Dr. T, Lone Star Vet loves the hedgehogs and other patients she sees in her Texas clinic. Pic credit: Nat Geo WILD

This Sunday, new Nat Geo WILD series, Dr. T, Lone Star Vet, sees Dr. Lauren Thielen join the network’s lofty club of superstar veterinarians like Dr. Pol to have their own show.

The differential is that Dr. T, as she is commonly known, is more hands on with the smaller and more rare critters — think hedgehogs, parrots and reptiles versus the large exotics like lions, tigers and bears.

Dr. T, who previously featured on Nat Geo WILD show Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER, runs a thriving practice in her home state of Texas after matriculating from Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. She has also spent time in Florida at Broward Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital and the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in New York.

She works at the Texas Avian & Exotics Hospital in Grapevine, north west of Dallas. Dr. T is also an adjunct professor at University of Miami Avian and Wildlife Laboratory, allowing her to offer case consultations to veterinarians around the nation.

This Sunday marks the beginning of her new career as a TV vet for families and fans of animals to get hooked on, as Dr. T and her assistants Tonya and Amanda take care of ailing creatures, great and — more often than not — small.

Monsters and Critics spoke to Dr. T yesterday and she shared her outlook on pet ownership and more, along with some heartwarming stories of animals in need. We also have two exclusive clips so you can preview the show!

Dr. Lauren Thielen of National Geographic's 'Dr. T, Lone Star Vet' saves the little ones and more unusual pets in Texas. Pic credit: Nat Geo WILD
Dr. Lauren Thielen of Dr. T, Lone Star Vet saves the little and more unusual pets in Texas. Pic credit: Nat Geo WILD

Monsters and Critics: I understand you’re native Texan?

Dr. T: Yes, I’m actually from this area of Texas as well. I just moved literally back home to the state, my dad lived 30 minutes away.

M&C: You’re also a Texas Aggie. I’m familiar with Texas and I’m also very familiar with Florida which is where you did an internship?

Dr T: And I worked at the practice too.

M&C: I find that Texas and Florida are loaded with exotic animals for American states. Do you think that’s a true statement?

Dr. T: Absolutely, yes, because in Florida and Texas for the most part the climate is acceptable, but they’re also the biggest hubs for exotic animal importation, actually, Texas being huge for that. So I think that’s why, in a way that’s why we get a lot of it.

And just the legalities of it, Texas and Florida are a little bit more lax. I also lived in New York so I wouldn’t see kangaroos in New York or monkeys or something that exotic.

It’s just different, yes, Texas definitely has some some true exotic owners.

M&C: I noticed that. I was driving out in the Austin area and there were ranches with really exotic animals like tigers, but you don’t really work on animals that large. Your specialty is avian and smaller critters?

Dr. T: That’s true, the space [in Texas] allows it. Yes, I mean, on the show I work with a kangaroo which…he’s not so big, but big enough, and I also work on an Emu which is again not huge but I mean quite large. But as far as something like a tiger…no [laughs] I wouldn’t even know what to do with a tiger!

Patient and owners Ginger Ripper and Chris Arrendo comfort their emu, Beepers. Pic credit: Nat Geo WILD - Kenyon Henderson
Patient and owners Ginger Ripper and Chris Arrendo comfort their emu, Beepers. Pic credit: Nat Geo WILD/Kenyon Henderson

M&C: Make sure it’s fully anesthetized…

Dr. T: [laughs] Yes, but see that is part of…that’s the problem. You have to dart these animals and be a good shot and stuff like that. So I’m just not trained for that type of exotic medicine.

M&C: One of the episodes I watched you were tending to an elderly hedgehog with bad teeth, Miss DeeDee…

Our exclusive clip introduces you to Miss DeeDee:

Dr. T: Yes! More my speed. I like the little prickly or fuzzy ones — or animals that I can just carry around effortlessly, that’s my type of pet or patient I should say.

M&C: Are you seeing a spike in people owning hedgehogs as pets?

Dr. T: Yes! So okay, my technician I’ll talk about this all the time. I don’t know if it’s a spike in people having hedgehogs as pets because, well they’re everywhere now right?

You can buy a hedgehog shirt or pencil bag, there’s hedgehog everything for sale on the market. So I feel like they’re they’re popular in that regard.

But in Texas, specifically at this practice, I work with three different hedgehog rescues. I see a lot of them, like at least one a day. Which in Florida and New York, I mean I saw them… but not like here, seeing one [hedgehog] a day.

But I do wonder if it’s the marketing of the hedgehog that’s making them more popular. Maybe that’s why there’s a need for all these rescues as well.

Our exclusive clip shows hedgehog ownership tips:

M&C: How do you feel about reptiles and what are some of the subtle differences between people who gravitate towards owning a reptile versus a bird?

Dr. T: That’s a great question. I love reptiles. I think they are really personable, it’s more than you would think, they’re very intriguing. Both of them actually have quite long lifespans, like at least 10 years. So, I mean you’re going to at least have a little companion for longer than you would have a hamster or something.

But as far as like what owners who own reptiles are like compared to those who like birds, well I think it just depends on your situation.

Unlikely great pet? A female bearded dragon enjoys her cozy spot in the clinic. Pic credit: Nat Geo WILD - Gary Collins
Unlikely great pet? A female bearded dragon enjoys her cozy spot in the clinic. Pic credit: Nat Geo WILD/Gary Collins

For example, bearded dragons I actually think can do really well with children. They are really relaxed, you can hold it, it is not going run away from you, it’s not going to bite you, as far as like the ease of their care…I’m not saying that any animal is easy to care for to be honest. But as long as you do your research and you set it up appropriately so you have the appropriate things for a species to thrive, then it can be lower maintenance than like a bird, for example.

You can’t necessarily always cuddle a bird, they bite you, they fly away from you, they’re messy. I have a parrot and she’s into all my business all the time. And they’re noisy! I think that is the best luxury of the reptile, they don’t even make noise, they are always silent and they poop like every third day versus 300 times a day [laughs].

So I think it just depends… as far as clients who own one or the other, I don’t know, because, I mean, I know plenty of people who own both. I think it’s just more like lifestyle and what kind of things you gravitate to.

The people who own tarantulas… now they are probably a little different in an interesting way [laughs]. But the lizard owners are just normal people.

M&C: I’m out West and people here tend to rescue squirrels and raccoons and then make them pets. Is that a bad idea?

Dr. T: It’s a really bad idea. The reason why rescuing squirrels and raccoons and any kind of wildlife really is a bad idea is because these animals just aren’t domesticated.

We have rabbits in our house but we don’t have cottontails, and the rabbits…we’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of years to domesticate them, so they are at a point now where they are not stressed to be in captivity.  They have their own social behaviors and do not feel mental issues from from being in these houses.

Versus these wild animals…they don’t have years of domestication. So they are not adapted to deal with the stress of people touching them. Their metabolisms aren’t made to be sedentary.

I think one of the biggest reasons why is because, like for example, raccoons…they just get aggressive when they get older and then that makes it very difficult and challenging to deal with.

Squirrels can be pretty aggressive too. They usually bond to one person and they’re always nice to that one person but then if anyone else comes in the house, forget it. I think they are challenging animals that I wouldn’t recommend people having necessarily unless they are ready.

M&C: Being a vet is stressful in ways that people don’t understand. Your patients can’t talk to you. You’re dealing often times with people with very big hearts but very small wallets, and you have to deal with life and death issues and administering that out of a humane response to the patient’s situation. Can you talk about that?

Dr. T: I agree. The link of veterinary medicine with money is, it just makes it almost not even analogous to human medicine in that regards almost because the medical doctor, thank goodness, has insurance and so they can kind prescribe the best treatment possible.

And you can’t euthanize people, which also makes it completely different as well. Versus veterinary medicine, I mean, I would say that’s the hardest thing that I struggle with being a veterinarian is knowing you can potentially fix the animal, knowing how to fix the animal, but then not having the funds to do it.

I mean, I kind of always find a way to do something, but not doing it the best way that you know and then the animal suffers as a consequence. I really struggle with that. I think all vets do, you know? And then, heaven forbid, someone gets mad at you because you’re charging them. That also like, really disrupts you, you know?

Especially someone to tell you that you don’t love animals or you’re money hungry or something like that, because you just like, no…it’s very stressful because you want to practice the best way you possibly can, and take care of the animals as much as possible, and it’s stressful for the clients too.

In those circumstances, I really feel like… not only am I worried about the pet that I’ve also worked on, I am really worried about the person too. Some take out loans or do certain things. I always wonder, like, how that affects their life too. But of course a lot of times, they do what they can to help, and they do end up doing it because they love their pets.

M&C: Lightning round: Best pet for someone who lives in an apartment or smaller space is…?

Dr. T: Skunk! Don’t take one from the wild, they have breeders! They’re just these glorious animals that are just really sweet and cuddly. I mean they’re predators…so if you have a hamster at the same time, I would be careful.

But they’re very loving, sweet pets that can live like 10 or 12 years. I really like them.

M&C: A pet you would steer people away from is…?

Dr. T: Sugar Gliders, which is one of my favorite animals actually. They’re like these little, tiny, adorable marsupials which are like the size of a hamster, and they can glide, they have little wings, almost, and they’re just the sweetest, cutest looking creatures and they’re one of my favorite animals.

But most people cannot take care of them properly, they’re nocturnal, they don’t have the time for them, and I think they end up in some depressing situations. But I love them!

M&C: Your stand out patient of this first season on Nat Geo WILD is…?

Dr. Katherine Wells holds on to Red the kangaroo as vet tech Carson Shearer cleans out his incision. Pic credit: Nat Geo WILD-Nick Wells
Dr. Katherine Wells holds on to Red the kangaroo as vet tech Carson Shearer cleans out his incision. Pic credit: Nat Geo WILD/Nick Wells

Dr. T: It’s gotta be Red the kangaroo! Well, that’s my favorite animal, first off. Plus we did some really awesome cool surgery to help him, and he got to be in the clinic for several weeks and he’s just such a good patient.

He won the all-star best patient award, we did bandage changes on him yesterday and he would just lay down and let us do it — he was hands down the best. Maybe the best part of the whole first year of my new practice!

Dr. T, Lone Star Vet premieres Sunday, Oct. 13, at 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD.

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