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As published in The Pet Directory NSW & ACT Edition
by Dr. Harry Cooper BVSc

Musings of an Old Vet breeding, keeping and other important things…

Dr Harry Cooper

I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve said that in the last 23 years. Born in Sydney back in 1944 I grew up with a father who lived and talked animals. He raced Greyhounds and ‘Quarter Miler’ Horses. He bred and showed Fox Terriers with great success – in fact he was a founding member of the British Terrier Club. He bred Roller Canaries, Norwich Crested, Racer Pigeons also with great success and in between bred and showed Dahlias. My mother bred Pomeranians.

How could two boys growing up in such an environment be anything but vets? Yes, my brother Neil is a vet as well. Animals have always been my life, starting with a duckling called “Squeaker” who grew to a massive Muscovy in the confines of my bedroom – imagine the stench! Then there were a series of dogs – a Pom, a Bull Dog and then a Doberman. A black cat was always round, everyone of then was called ‘Nigger’ – no race relations board to worry about then – it was just the name everyone of them was given. An Angora rabbit, a budgie by the name of ‘Percy’, who would imitate every word my mother taught him, still lies buried with a cross cut from a scrap of flat galvanised metal in the garden, his name still visible, written in the once wet paint, beneath the kitchen window of the family home. “If you get a scholarship to go to high school I’ll buy you a pair of budgies”, dad encouraged. I did. He did and so started a 30 year association with this little bird. A bird that has brought me many true friends.

From the age of 12, being a vet was all I ever talked about, though there was a time when geology looked interesting. High school was a drag: a square peg in a round hole. University was more my thing. No one cared what your parents did, where you lived, or what sort of car the family drove. It was up to you. Success or failure was dependants solely on your efforts. I liked that then and I still like it today.

Dr Harry Cooper
This taught me of life’s great lessons – face a challenge full on, learn by experience and come out the other side with a lot more knowledge and confidence...

Horses were a problem though – they were a totally new experience for a city boy. Once again enter Dad, and I soon found myself working at Horses Park Raceway strapping Trotters for two hours every morning before lectures. This taught me of life’s great lessons – face a challenge full on, learn by experience and come out the other side with a lot more knowledge and confidence. As a new graduate working in a dairy practise on the New South Wales north coast it didn’t take long to work out that cows were bigger and stronger than me, and the facilities you were expected to use for milking dated back to the Stone Age. Common sense prevailed and I moved to a practise at Gladesville in Sydney – went on to become a senior partner, specialising in Greyhounds and cage birds. I had two trips to Europe before finally settling down in my own Annangrove practise.

Along came divorce, then marriage to Janine, another daughter to add to the older “Pigeon Pair” finally a move to Tasmania. It seems life’s been in groups of two decades: twenty years learning, twenty years working and twenty years in Tassie and TV.

“Would you like to have a television show?” the caller asked, “Yes” was the answer and Talk to the Animals was born. Then came six years of “Harry’s Practise” – the best six years ever – and now I am about to enter my sixth year with Better Homes and Gardens. Television has been a chance to try and spread my knowledge of 43 years built up with so many different animals and in so many different problem areas. It is a medium that reaches so many people, but the people I want to reach most are the children.

In all spheres of animal breeding, be it fish, reptiles, birds, poultry, dogs, cats and horses it is our youth we must encourage.

With those early days in the budgerigar world came mentors, older experienced fanciers who shared their time and knowledge so freely. Those of you who are my age need to take on that roll. Nurture one or two youngsters in whatever phase they choose. Encourage them to join a club, be an active member – breed, show, fail and finally succeed – not with bought stock but with their own. This will only serve to strengthen their resolve. Funnily enough at the age of 64, with my interest in rare and pure breeds of poultry, I find myself being mentored by my seniors in the poultry game – as to type, showing and breeding and I in turn mentor them on disease and husbandry.

I look forward to a future where we see a return to keeping a lot more animals as pets – much as it was in my childhood. It is a scientific fact that children growing up with animals are:
A) More self confident
B) Suffer less anxiety
C) Achievers
I would want this for my children. Wouldn’t you?

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