Better Homes and Gardens vet Dr Harry visits a wombat sanctuary near Canberra where the hairy marsupials are cared for

GREETED WITH A SMILE: Dr Harry Cooper recently filmed a segment for Better Homes and Gardens at Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary near Canberra. Pictures: supplied by Seven Network.

GREETED WITH A SMILE: Dr Harry Cooper recently filmed a segment for Better Homes and Gardens at Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary near Canberra. Pictures: supplied by Seven Network.

One of the most familiar faces on Australian television is Better Homes and Gardens' resident vet Dr Harry Cooper, OAM.

He says he wanted to be a veterinarian from the age of 12.

"My Dad started out as an apprentice vet and my brother is a vet. We were always surrounded by animals growing up. My favourites were fox terriers and budgies ... I had 2000 budgies by the time I was 21," the 40-year TV veteran says.

"Dad took me to meet a career advisor when I was 15. I'll never forget what he said to me. He held up his forefinger and said: 'For the rest of your life you will have this finger or your arm inside an animal - do you still want to be a vet?'."

Dr Harry studied at the University of Sydney and worked part-time at Harold Park Raceway.

"Originally I was frightened of horses, but after working with them I got to love them.

"[In my day] we took on vet science, because we wanted to be vets. Today is different. They have the best equipment, but sometimes you see students who have forgotten the basics."

He says the profession is dramatically different.

"It wasn't uncommon to work 60 to 70 hours a week in the old days. I graduated in '66. It's been a wonderful career. But now there is a shortage.

"A lot of universities are too intent on turning out academic vets, not those who want to work in the field. You do it because you love it."

On a visit to Canberra for an upcoming Better Homes and Gardens episode, Dr Harry visited Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary.

He says the burrowing marsupials are cousins of the koala, and are also under threat.

"They are a fantastic animal but suffer from a disease called sarcoptic mange, which is spread in their burrows. They suffer massive hair loss and skin infections and die because they lose thermoregulation.

"I was shocked by the severity of the problem. It's a wake-up call for Australia."

On a different scale, an increasing problem the global pandemic has set in motion is separation anxiety in domestic animals.

"I am seeing more and more people with pets having behavioural problems," he says.

"Cats cope with separation better than dogs. It's likely we will see more pets being medicated to overcome some of these problems."

COVID caused a few problems for the show's film schedule but he was able to film many segments close to home on the Mid-North Coast.

"My crew would come up from Sydney in three separate cars, masked up. We've only recently been able to fly, but we managed."

The patron of the Greyhound Adoption Program NSW says he can't find the word retirement in his dictionary.

"It's been a fantastic journey. My greatest friendship on the show is with Graham Ross. He's been with it the longest and I am second. We're the same vintage, but I'm a bit older. We have a great rapport.

"I've had the same cameraman and regular sound man since Harry's Practice (1997-2003),and another cameraman since Talk to the Animals (1993-1996).

"When we're together we have a chat, we send a message on birthdays, but I don't go to Sydney until I have to.

"I just want to be able share my knowledge and my love of animals with people."

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