Dr. Susan Kelleher from Nat Geo Wild 'Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER' [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

Dr. K dishes on her love of exotic animals and her show on Nat Geo WILD

Dr. Susan Kelleher comes across as a very happy person.  And why shouldn't she be?  She has a wonderful family, loves her work with animals that can be seen on Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER that recently began its sixth season on Nat Geo WILD and enjoys her downtime.

Dr. Kelleher is originally from Buffalo, New York, but after earning a dual Bachelor's degree in Chemistry and Biology from Alfred University, she migrated south.  Soon after getting her veterinary degree, she decided to make her home in South Florida.

After years of studying and working in the field, she opened her own practice called the Broward Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital. This practice is different from other animal hospitals as they really deal with a bit of everything.  You see them perform a c-section on a snake, get rabbits to get along by using bunny bonding techniques, improve the diets of all sorts of creatures and even save the life of a bird with a missing beak.

Something you will notice from watching Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER is that Dr. Susan Kelleher and her dedicated team love their work.  They are inventive problem solvers and always display compassion to their animal patients, as well as the humans who love them.

Dr. Susan Kelleher spoke with Michelle Tompkins for Stars and Celebs, the new home of The Celebrity Cafe about her early career, what she loves about her work, what makes Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER special, what we have to look forward to this season, what her family is up to, what are her goals for the future, what she likes to do for fun and more.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now what kind of surgery did you do today?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I'm about to go and do a surgery with a parrot which has a tumor on his jaw. So we have to take off half of his bottom jaw.

Michelle Tompkins:  Poor little guy. Now, where are you originally from?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I'm originally from Buffalo, New York.

Michelle Tompkins:  And you live in Florida now?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Yeah. I've been here for 23 years.

Dr. Susan Kelleher talks about her love of animals

Michelle Tompkins:  Were you always interested in animals?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Always. Always. I am that nerdy kid— all I wanted to do was be a vet when I grew up.

Michelle Tompkins:  Do you have pets yourself right now?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Absolutely. Today is my macaw's 18th birthday. I have an African tortoise that is in his late 20s. We have three dogs. I have one cat, two rabbits, two box turtles and a black-headed Caique.

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Bunny fun time!!!

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Michelle Tompkins:  Wow, quite a menagerie.

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Yep.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now can you please tell me about your education?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I studied chemistry and biology at Alfred University in Western New York. Then my veterinary education was at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now what do you like about living in Florida?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I love that it's warm. I just love being warm.  Even if I hadn't grown up in Buffalo, I had always wanted to live where it's warm.

Dr. Susan Kelleher opens up about her family

Michelle Tompkins:  Now is there anything you'd like to add about your personal life?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I have a wonderful husband. We've been married for 19 years. And I have really great kids that are my two daughters that are 11 and 14. My son is nine. I have a happy life. My husband and I are amateur bee-keepers. That's our hobby together. The kids keep me busy with camp scouts and swim team and horseback riding.

Michelle Tompkins:  And with now being back to school, you’re doubly busy now.

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Oh, yeah. Definitely.

Michelle Tompkins:  What led you to be a veterinarian? You said you'd always wanted to be one.

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Yeah. I'd really honestly. I know it sounds like cliché and corny. But I've never wanted to be anything but. I literary just grew up wanting to be a veterinarian.

Michelle Tompkins:  Have you any favorite kinds of animals that you like to take care of?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I'm particularly fond of birds and rabbits. But I'm incredibly grateful that I have the access to all sorts of species that I see because I get to see everything every day. Everything. I can see fish, reptiles, tarantulas, snakes, birds, exotic cats, pigs, prairie dogs and all kinds of rodents. Everything.

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The cutest pig

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Michelle Tompkins:  How do you diagnose a fish?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Oh, on fish, we draw blood, we take X-rays. It's like we do on any other tests.

Michelle Tompkins:  Really?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Yeah. Absolutely.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now when did you get interested in attending more exotic animals?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  It is what I've always enjoyed doing. I was allowed to have unusual pets. I had a pet chicken, pet dog, pet rabbit, and I just like the variety, and how everything was unique. On any given day, I'm going to wind up seeing something new.

Dr. Susan Kelleher talks about a few challenges with her job

Michelle Tompkins:  Now is there any animals that you don't particularly like taking care of?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  The only ones I won't do is venomous snakes [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:   I can see why that would be a little bit of a challenge.

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Yeah.

Michelle Tompkins:  And what happens if you ever dislike a human who's responsible for the animals that you're taking care of?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:   I get all different types of people in, but what you have to keep in mind, and what I try to keep in mind on a daily basis, is sometimes somebody might come across wrong, but they're upset. Their animal's really sick, they have stuff going on in their life. I don't know what happens to these people earlier in the day, so I make a judgment on that. If people are less than pleasant, there's usually a reason for it.

Michelle Tompkins:  That's a very fair way of looking at things. Now because you're in Florida, there are so many urban legends that you hear, like alligators in the sewers, and chimps in the Everglades, or anything along those lines, true?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  We definitely have alligators in the canals. There are colonies of monkeys down on Venga Beach. There are iguanas everywhere, there are sloths, there are parrots everywhere.

Michelle Tompkins:  So what are some of your strangest cases?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Most of them were interesting things. We had a tortoise in here - this was in the past year - that got out after Hurricane Irma damaged the fence. And a low-driving car drove over it and it was missing a huge part of its upper shell. So we worked with an engineering company to make a 3D printed shell to protect the tortoise.

Michelle Tompkins:  That's awesome.

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Yeah. That was really fun. The 3D printing company was 3D Chimera down in Miami. They were phenomenal to work with.

Michelle Tompkins:  That also sounds like an engineer's dream project too.

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Yes, yes, exactly. Yep. And that's what I love. People jokingly call me Dr. MacGyver because I always have to figure stuff out, how to make it work for the patients I see.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now do you often get a call from the county saying, ‘We need some help here?’

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Not necessarily, because we do have a very extensive wildlife care center in Fort Lauderdale.

Dr. Susan Kelleher talks about her show Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER

Michelle Tompkins:  Ah, that's good to know. Now tell me about your show?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  With the show, what people see on a daily basis is saving lives here with Dr. K. And one thing I thought was strange was that they named the show Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER. But then once I started watching, because I thought, ‘I'm not an ER, I'm a general practice,’ but then when I watch the show, I'm like, ‘Oh yeah, everyone does walk in like it's an emergency.’ So now you're seeing why they call it Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER. But people get to see us taking care of anything from fish and tarantulas to primates, rabbits, ferrets, rodents ferrets, just everything under the sun on a daily basis. And they get to meet the families that these pets are a part of. One really cool aspect about my job is that I have patients that are 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years old. So that's really neat when you have a relationship with a family that's had this family member for decades.

Michelle Tompkins:  It's very warm and friendly. I like that very much.

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Yeah. I love my job.

Michelle Tompkins:  How did the show come your way?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Well, Nat Geo WILD was looking for a vet clinic that they could do exotic animals with, they found us via our website on the Internet, they hired a production company to come and shoot what's called a sizzler reel, which is they spend two weeks with us and produce a 9 to 10 minute video. And at first, when they called, I didn't want to do it, I didn't want anything to do with it, because I was just shy about being on film, but my office manager at the time talked me into it. The company came and shot a sizzler reel, but the executives didn't like it. So then I was like, ‘Oh, that was interesting, but whatever.’ But then within two weeks we got a call from a different production company out of Tampa, and he told me - his name is Guy Nicholson, he's with Spectrum Production and that's who's currently producing the show - and he said, ‘You know, I've never even heard of this happening, this is one in a million, but Nat Geo loved you, they loved the people, they loved the stories here, they just didn't like how the first production company put it together.’ The first production company was from England, and English people like a very documentary style. Whereas Americans like a very story-type style. So they reshot a new sizzler reel, and they loved it, and now we're doing season five.

Michelle Tompkins:  That's exciting. How many seasons do you shoot in a year?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  We're doing two per year now.

Michelle Tompkins:  Can you please tell me a little bit about your colleagues?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Okay. Currently, I have with me Dr. Fara Wyckoff. So that's F-A-R-A W-Y-C-K-O-F-F. She is a new grad from Arizona, and she is my current new intern. So she's a fully licensed doctor, but she is being mentored and trained to be an exotic animal veterinarian. And then I also have Dr. Sara Stoneburg. She is my new associate, and she has been with me since July, and she is from Ohio originally. They are both creative and brave and wonderful to work with.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now what do you love about your show?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I love that I get a platform where I can show people the care that's available to and what these animals deserve and have for care. And I like that I get to educate them about the proper, care, diet, husbandry, and needs of these pets. And it means the world to me when I get another veterinarian calling that tells me from up in Boston that somebody brought their parrot in because of something they saw on the show that helped them understand, ‘Oh, there's something wrong with my parrot, I need to get it in.’

Michelle Tompkins:  That's exciting that you have that kind of camaraderie. I love that. Now when and where can people see the show?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  It's on Nat Geo Wild at 9:00 on Sundays they, and it premieres on September 9.

Michelle Tompkins:  I'll be sure to be tuning in this year. Now, when you're not working, what do you like to do for fun?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I love to do CrossFit, and I'm heavily involved in Cub Scouts with my son, and I just like hanging out with my family. My husband and I are beekeepers, so we have that as a hobby. We just enjoy doing stuff like that.

Michelle Tompkins:  You like honey? You get honey from your bees as well?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, is there any charity work that you'd like to mention?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I do have wildlife and rescue groups that I do a lot of consulting that I don't necessarily charge for. But there's not one discrete group that I do stuff with. I'm always adopting out rabbits for the Treasure Coves Rabbit Rescue. I do a lot of stuff with Progress Nature Center.

Michelle Tompkins: It seems like a lot of people get rabbits at Easter, but they want them gone before spring is over. What can be done to help this situation? 

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Right. That is a problem. People do get rabbits at Easter not understanding how intelligent they are and how high-maintenance they are, and then when they become sexually mature, and they're starting to pee on things, people will often let them go in a park, which is disastrous for a domesticated bunny.

Michelle Tompkins: I would've hoped that people don't do that. What would you recommend people do if they make a mistake when it comes to getting a pet that they're not ready for?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Reach out to local rescue groups. There are ferret rescue groups, rabbit rescue groups and bird rescue groups.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, how do you like people that connect with you?  Are you on social media?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Yes. I do have a professional Facebook page. I did Instagram, but I'm really bad [laughter] at using it. Maybe I'll have my kids teach me.

Michelle Tompkins:  What is your handle?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Instagram is @exoticvetdrk and Facebook is Dr. Susan Kelleher.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, what's next for you, Doctor K?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  Well, as a busy life with three kids, I really, really want to write some books, and there are three or four books rattling around in my head, but there's just no time right now for that. But in the future, I really would love to write books.

Michelle Tompkins:  On taking care of animals or exotic animals or something else?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I would like to write a radiology atlas for exotic pets. An emergency manual for exotic pets. A grief care book for very, very young children under five. And then maybe some kind of just story of things I've worked with the book.

Michelle Tompkins:  Oh, that sounds wonderful. I hope you can find time to do it sometime.

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  I really enjoying writing, but it's just finding the time to do it is a little tough.

Michelle Tompkins:  Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Dr. Susan Kelleher:  This is a tangent topic, but I really want to encourage people to microchip all their pets. We get a lot of lost pets in here that don't have microchips, so we can't get them back to the owner.  Definitely microchip them.

Dr. Susan Kelleher can be seen on Nat Geo WILD with new episodes airing on Sundays and she may also be found here.

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.

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