Dr. Jeffrey Young is a casting director’s dream. There’s the veterinarian’s look: long, greying hair, a thick mustache and kanji tattoos inked on his biceps, sculpted from years working as a track-and-field coach at North High.
Then there’s the fact that, a quarter-century into his practice, Young still isn’t shy about sharing his opinions. The owner of Highland’s Planned Pethood Plus clinic, Young has courted controversy his entire career, whether testifying opposite his own professors in the state senate over vet schools’ sourcing of animals from pounds, or laying into the profiteering he says exists in his own profession. “I hate to say it, but I find that vets either don’t necessarily know a diagnosis or what they’re doing, or they lie about it,” says Young. “And I don’t know which is worse. Are you that poorly trained, where you suggest a surgery that isn’t really necessary? Or is it just for the money?”
This Saturday, viewers will get a peek into Young’s work when Animal Planet airs the first episode of Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet. The new series follows Young — billed by producers Double Act as "one of America's busiest vets" — as he and his colleagues perform procedures both routine and urgent, treating everything from sick cats to a camel in need of a neutering.
A self-described “military brat,” Young came to Fort Collins from Montana to attend veterinary school at Colorado State University. During his time as a student, he also worked as an animal control officer in Larimer County, a vocation that occasionally brought him into conflict with CSU faculty and administrators. Young recalls one day in pathology class when his professor showed the students a dead dog whose owner had hit it with a frying pan because it wouldn’t stop barking. “At that point, I said, that’s a violation of the law,” Young recalls. “You just presented this in class, and I’m a sworn officer of the court. What’s this guy’s name? And they didn’t want to give it to me. It was a big fight, and ultimately the guy ended up going to court over it.”
By the end of his tenure at CSU, Young’s humane society work had left a deep impression on him. “I really do believe that the biggest threat to dogs and cats in America is neglect. Just ignorance, lack of education or not having the means to get the simple things taken care of,” he says.
After graduating in 1989, he worked in mobile clinics, spaying and neutering cats and dogs for owners who couldn’t afford or couldn’t get to a traditional office. (As the name suggests, desexing is still central to Planned Pethood’s practice. By Young’s estimate, he’s performed more than 160,000 of the surgeries himself.)
When he was about two years out of school, the Animal Assistance Foundation called Young with an offer. The non-profit had built a new clinic, and was looking to offload its satellite location on Tennyson Street. The organization was familiar with Young through his spay-neuter work and wanted to know if he was interested in buying it. If he could come up with a $5,000 down payment, AAF would finance the rest of the $65,000 purchase itself.
The building that now houses Planned Pethood was never designed to be a clinic. Built in the early 1900s as a grocery store, the space is a cluster of tight corridors and undersized stockrooms. The clinic’s tiny surgery doubles as a recovery room and laboratory, with diagnostic equipment arranged in one nook and cats and dogs sleeping off their anesthesia on towels spread across the heated floor.
Old storage rooms are now isolation wards, housing puppies with parvo and other communicable diseases. The clinic gets its share of surprise visitors, too: During a tour on Tuesday, a staffer pulled a cardboard box off of a shelf and opened it to reveal a clutch of baby birds, brought in by a client.
Double Act, the British production outfit that filmed Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet, first found Young through a YouTube video of a lecture that he had given. While Young was initially ambivalent, he thought the series could be a good platform to advocate for spay/neuter. “So I said, 'Yeah, I’d be interested, but I am controversial. You may want to look at my Facebook, because I tend to piss off humane societies and I tend to piss off veterinarians,” he recalls. “They evidently looked at it because they called me back two or three hours later and said, ‘We’ll be there next week.’”
With a facility as cramped as his schedule, accommodating a film crew was “rough as hell,” Young says. “We have five surgery tables downstairs. I’ve got over thirty employees, we’re packed in here like sardines. Then, all of a sudden, the whole production team comes in. We’ve got people standing in hallways and up stairs, cameramen and sound men.”
Planned Pethood lists prices for standard procedures on its site; the clinic charges a fraction of what many other local veterinarians do, and the site notes that clinicians may choose to charge less at their discretion. But getting an appointment can be a challenge. During the office’s weekend low-cost vaccination clinics, the line can extend around the block, Young says. The clinic already has some 80,000 patients in its system.
Young himself won’t be in Denver to see his TV debut: He’ll be out of town, working on a reservation in Montana. He expects to come back to a deluge of calls from pet owners looking to get into his already-crowded practice.
Fortunately, Planned Pethood is about to expand: Young just sold the building for $920,000. In January, he’ll move his practice to a new, larger facility at 45th and Harlan that even has parking spaces, and he plans to hire more vets to help him keep up. But the clinic’s spartan model will stay the same.
“You won’t get the Cadillac treatment here; I can’t afford to give it to you,” says Young. “But I like to say, you can take a VW bus to the prom, or you can take a limo. Either way, you’re going to get there.”
Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet premieres at 8 p.m. MDT this Saturday, July 11, on Animal Planet.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.