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Hooray for Howlywood

The lead pachyderm in Water for Elephants is the latest star patient for movie vets Jim Peddie, DVM '65, and Linda Peddie, DVM '65  The lead pachyderm in Water for Elephants is the latest star patient for movie vets Jim Peddie, DVM '65, and Linda Peddie, DVM '65 A few days before the two animal […]


The lead pachyderm in Water for Elephants is the latest star patient for movie vets Jim Peddie, DVM '65, and Linda Peddie, DVM '65

The lead pachyderm in Water for Elephants is the latest star patient for movie vets Jim Peddie, DVM '65, and Linda Peddie, DVM '65

A few days before the two animal actors sharing the role of Two Socks, Kevin Costner's lupine companion in the 1990 Best Picture winner Dances with Wolves, were scheduled to travel to the set, they got into what their veterinarian calls "one hell of a fight." Their keepers called Jim Peddie, DVM '65, in a panic. "Buck had gotten ahold of Teddy's tail and stripped the plume right off—there were four inches of fur left and the rest was a bony sprig," Peddie recalls. "And Teddy got ahold of Buck's right ear and took two-thirds of it off."


When Peddie arrived to examine his patients, he was greeted with plastic bags containing the tail and ear fragments, with a request that he sew them back on. "Well," he recalls with an amused sigh, "there was no way in the world." All he could do was amputate the remains of the tail, treat the damaged ear, and send the wolves off to movie stardom. "In the film, when you see a wolf running with a big plumy tail, that's Buck," Peddie says. "And when you see one with both ears upright, that's Teddy." And when you see one with both ears and tail intact, it's movie magic. "They did some green-screening where they pieced the images together," he says, "but the back end doesn't quite follow the front."

For more than two decades, Peddie and his wife, Linda Reeve Peddie, DVM '65, have been veterinarians to the stars— the four-legged (or, in the case of the title character in the B-grade horror flick Anaconda, no-legged) variety. They've treated such patients as the komodo dragon scheduled to become a banquet meal in The Freshman, Shirley MacLaine's St. Bernard in Steel Magnolias, the mice in Mouse Hunt, the big cats in Out of Africa, the wily Jack Russell terrier on "Frasier," and a whole menagerie for the sequel to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. After preview audiences complained that Disney's live-action version of 101 Dalmatians didn't have enough puppy shots, Linda did physicals on the 120 or so pooches brought in for additional photography. When the elephant starring in Operation Dumbo Drop developed stomach problems and stopped eating, the Ped-dies arranged to have the animal's preferred nosh—California-grown oat hay —air freighted to the set in Thailand via 747. As Jim puts it: "We did the most expensive hayride in the world."

These days the Peddies are mostly retired, but they've retained one client—a California organization, Have Trunk Will Travel, that raises and trains elephants for Hollywood productions and other events like fairs and traditional Indian weddings. "The work that Linda and Jim have done with animals in the movie business in general, and this cluster of elephants in particular, is quite extraordinary," says Don Smith, former dean of the Vet college and a longtime friend. "It's not just that they look after the elephants' medical needs well, but they do it in a creative manner. They work with researchers across the country and try to understand the best way to manage elephant problems."

Last year, the Peddies' work with Have Trunk Will Travel brought them to the set of one of this spring's most anticipated films: Water for Elephants, the movie version of Sara Gruen's best-selling novel. Released April 22, the film stars Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson as a Cornell vet student who's about to sit for his final exams when his parents are killed in a car accident, prompting him to drop out and join a Depression-era traveling circus. Although the Peddies had been to dozens of film and TV shoots over the years, Linda says, they'd never seen anything quite like the media frenzy attending Pattinson's every move. "You would not believe the number of paparazzi," recalls Linda. "The set was in a field, and the surrounding hills were alive with cameras with the longest lenses I've ever seen. You feel sorry for him. He can't move without somebody following him."

Robert Pattinson

In addition to treating Have Trunk Will Travel's six elephants, the Peddies are working to raise awareness of a disease that is devastating the species: elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus (EEHV), which has killed some 25 percent of the Asian elephants born in America since 1978. The disease, which has a mortality rate of 80 to 90 percent, took the life of JP, a three-year-old elephant born at Have Trunk Will Travel—and named after Jim Peddie—who passed away in the summer of 2010. "This is a disease that goes from the patient looking normal in the morning to being dead in the afternoon," says Jim, who was so heartbroken at the loss of JP that he asked his wife to remove the animal's image from their screen-saver. "We have little opportunity to do anything but stand back and watch it progress so terribly fast."

The Peddies both entered Cornell's Ag school as undergrads, in an era when students could apply to transfer to the Vet college after two years. When they met, the odds of wooing his future wife were not in Jim's favor: she was the only woman in their Vet class of sixty. They married over spring break of their fourth year, and Jim was drafted into the Army after graduation, serving as post veterinarian at a base in Virginia. They eventually settled in Southern California and were in private practice for two decades before segueing to film work, starting as in-house vets for Universal Studios. In all, they've worked on some seventy movies and two dozen TV shows, plus assorted commercial shoots—including one where, most memorably, they were called in to treat an elephant with a whopping case of diarrhea. "We had it under control in twelve hours," Jim recalls. "We bought about four gallons of Pepto Bismol, which the elephant loved."

— Beth Saulnier