Dr. Evan Antin, WORLD WILD VET

Dr. Evan Antin, WORLD WILD VET

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Evan. Thank you so much for take two of “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” minus the technical difficulties this time, I hope. Thanks for coming back.

Dr. Evan Antin: Thanks for having us. I got Henry here too.

Zibby: I have Nya here on the floor.

Evan: Right on.

Zibby: I can pick it up. She likes to lay right there.

Evan: Hi, there.

Zibby: Good. It’s a four-person podcast.

Evan: There we go.

Zibby: Your book, World Wild Vet, which, PS, is hard to say, World Wild Vet, there we go, Encounters in the Animal Kingdom. Tell me a little more about this book. I know that you wrote it over fifteen years. Obviously, I’ve read it. Tell listeners what inspired you to do a travelogue of all the places you’ve been to and all the experiences you’ve had with animals. Why now in your career did you decide to write a book?

Evan: I’m so fortunate that I’ve been to so many places and I’ve worked with so many different species in different habitats and seen what it is to work with wildlife, appreciate them in their natural environment, be involved in their conservation efforts, and veterinary medicine for individual animals. I feel I’ve got a lot of different messages to share from around the world. It can vary quite significantly whether you’re in Australia or Africa or Central America. I did think about writing a book for years, but I didn’t think it’d be until later in my career. I decided to do it now because I think I have enough experiences to share. I’ve got a lot of messages to share as well. I felt like now actually is a good time to start writing and sharing those experiences and messages and lessons. My whole goal is to get people excited about animals, teach them a little bit about vet medicine and what that’s about. Then of course, a big part of that is making an effort towards wildlife conservation awareness and sharing that whole world. I’ve gotten to see that in so many different places.

Zibby: Amazing. You’ve had some really unbelievable experiences. Actually, the part that stuck with me the most was after you went on this whole big adventure and collected this amazing footage and everything, was it your car that was broken into? You lost everything. You even lost thirty-four pounds. Tell me that story again.

Evan: Oh, man. I don’t often rent cars when I travel. So many places I go, you just don’t need to. It made sense for the things I wanted to do in Costa Rica. I had just gotten to this hotel. I think I was arranging the room, just getting settled in there, and away from the car for not very long. It was dusk. By the time I came back to the car, it was night. I opened the door, and everything’s gone. Everything. I had a day pack with me that had my passport, which was huge. It had a memory card that had a few pictures. Ninety-nine percent of it was gone, all my travel stuff obviously. I bring my snake hook and my croc snare. My clothes and everything was in that bag. That was all gone. Oh, man, I was so pissed. I was not fun to be around for a few days. It was crazy. I’m not an angry person, but oh, my gosh, I wanted somebody to disrespect me in some way so I could take out the anger on them or something. It was a horrible mental state to be in. Things worked out. I still have those memories. Nobody can take those away from me, but I sure wish I had the footage and the pictures to back it up.

Zibby: I’m so sorry. That was all of your Galapagos experiences too, right?

Evan: Exactly.

Zibby: I’m so sorry. Then of course, you go to Costa Rica — I think it was when you were in Costa Rica when you sort of kidnapped a crocodile and left your girlfriend sleeping in Costa Rica in some hotel. She thought god knows what happened to you. You came back with the crocodile, which I can’t say has ever happened to me in any of my travels with anyone.

Evan: I’ve never heard of anybody doing such a thing. I wouldn’t do it again today. Legally, I don’t know what that would entail. It’s probably not allowed. It was my first crocodile that I’d ever caught in the wild. I worked with alligators and some other crocodile species in captivity. To see one in the wild, it was so easy. I just was dying to make an educational video about it and get some pictures with it and everything. At the time, I was just making educational videos for YouTube. I have one picture from that experience that I’d emailed to somebody. I at least have that from that experience. It was so funny. I guess I didn’t realize how long I was gone because she was freaked out when I came back. She really was about to call the embassy. She thought I was kidnapped. She can worry sometimes. That can escalate rather quickly. She went from being freaked out to being willing to help me film this guy within a matter of minutes. She got in the car and we went over to exactly where I caught him, got some amazing footage for a few minutes, and let him go. That was that.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Then you were bitten by a snake. Your mom had to get involved. It was a whole thing.

Evan: I’ve been bitten by hundreds of snakes, maybe thousands by this day, but that was a venomous snake. Again, it was the kind of thing where you learn lessons along the way. I’ve definitely done many things that I wouldn’t do today. That was one. That was probably the biggest one. That was also a blessing in disguise because it did obviously give me an opportunity to gain an even bigger respect for dangerous animals. I’m lucky I got bit by not the most venomous snake. It was a copperhead, which is bad news. That can be pretty destructive and pretty scary. I didn’t have any permanent damage that I know of. Everything worked out. If I’m working with an animal where I think the danger risk is too high, then I just say, I got to pass on this one or we have to do this a different way, or I have to sedate it. We have to just approach it a little bit differently. I still work with a lot of venomous snakes and still love it.

Zibby: How did you go from doing educational videos on YouTube to having a million followers and a TV show on the Animal Planet? How did that happen?

Evan: That was all part of the vision. That all started in that first chapter when I’m road tripping Australia and I had my mom send out my camera and my tripod. I wanted to start making that kind of content having no idea where it would go. I did a couple TV guest appearances shortly after graduating vet school. I think they found me on YouTube or something. I’m not totally sure. The Kris Jenner Show was my first show. It was a total blast. Then I did another couple shows. Then towards the end of 2014 about a year and a half after I graduated vet school, People magazine, I don’t know how they found me, but they offered to include me in the Sexiest Man Alive issue they put out at the end of the year every year. That year I was the sexiest beast charmer. The other years they did it I was the sexiest veterinarian, at least. The first time, it was a men-at-work section. It was different professionals. They’re the sexiest chef or teacher or whatever. Then in early 2016, and I think it was unrelated to the People thing, I had some big publications put out articles about me. One called Bored Panda did. Then when they did, Huffington Post and — what’s that other big one? Buzzfeed and a few other big ones reached out for an interview. Then they did a story on me, basically. In those days, it was easier and more possible to just go viral. I went from hitting 10,000 followers the night before that I was so excited about, and then two weeks later I was at 220,000, and then grew from there.

Zibby: Wow. Has that affected your personal life and your relationships? Do you feel like you have people glomming onto you who you don’t trust now? Do you stick to your core people from growing up? How do you handle that?

Evan: Personal-wise, nothing’s changed. My friends, they think it’s funny when I’m the sexiest vet or whatever. They know that’s not what I was striving for, necessarily, even though it’s been a blessing. I’m not complaining about it. Same with going viral. There’s been way more positive things than negative things. For me, I’m a pretty down-to-earth kind of guy. It’s not changed a whole lot in my personal life. I’ve always been close to my family. I’ve always been close to my friends. That’s all totally the same. They’re super supportive. It’s opened a lot of doors and created a lot of opportunity in a very good way for me. Really, those things have been absolute blessings.

Zibby: You said this whole vet empire world you’re building was part of the vision. What is the next phase of your vision? What’s your secret hopes and dreams? What’s next? What do you want?

Evan: Honestly, I want to keep doing what I’m doing and just get on a bigger and bigger scale. I want to do even more than I can in the media space and that platform and just creating awareness for wildlife and its conservation and promoting quality veterinary medicine and even talking about how we can best care for our pets too and getting people excited and educating them about animals and just growing that and making it bigger and bigger and becoming well-known in that space, but in a very positive and constructive way for our pets and wildlife.

Zibby: How have you dealt with the pandemic, not being able — I saw on your Instagram you were recently in — where were you? Tanzania?

Evan: Tanzania, yeah.

Zibby: Amazing. I didn’t even go to downtown. How did it affect you to not be able to do your thing and travel everywhere? Was that really hard?

Evan: This is the first year in several years I’ve traveled not nearly as much. The last few years, I think I’ve been gone probably, cumulatively, three to four months out of the entire year, probably closer to four months, and in a dozen different countries over the course of a year. Listen, I’m not complaining. I’m super lucky. I’ve already been to Australia and Tanzania. That’s more than most people can say they get to do in a year. From my perspective and what it usually is, yeah, it’s significantly less. Our hospital’s been open the whole time. I work at Conejo Valley Vet Hospital in Thousand Oaks nearby. I’m still seeing patients when I can. I’m still working on other projects. We’re talking about the book. The book, it’s taken a lot of my time this year. I’ve had other projects. I did another Facebook show. Tanzania was actually, technically, a work-related thing even though I was getting to have fun and get in the bush and host this really fun series. It’s definitely slowed some things down. I’ve absolutely managed to stay busy. I picked up a new hobby this year that I’ve just absolutely loved and dove into headfirst. It’s woodworking. I’ve gotten some new power tools and having just a ton of fun doing that and building furniture and stuff.

Zibby: What’s your latest creation?

Evan: I’m working on some midcentury chairs right now. It’s called a Z chair. The Z chair is the standard common name for it. It’s proven to be a bit of a challenge. This is a very new hobby. It was maybe a little bit ambitious for me, but so far, so good. We’re moving along. I think they’re going to turn out okay.

Zibby: If you’re selling them, my name does start with a Z. If you run out of options, I’ll invest in some Z chairs.

Evan: Z chair Zibby. I love it.

Zibby: Tell me about writing this book. How did that process work for you? Did you sit down and write it every day? Did you dictate it? Did you work with somebody else on it?

Evan: Writing and reading were never my strong suits through my education. I’m much more of a math, science, right brain or left brain, whatever that would be. Because I’m not a professional author by any means, I did hire a ghostwriter, which I think is common unless you are a professional writer. I ended up getting a phenomenal writer. Her name’s Jana. She really found my voice. We talked a lot. We had really long interviews. I had a very good idea of how I wanted the book laid out, the stories I wanted to tell. Then she would interview me. She would ask a lot of questions. I would tell a lot of stories. We had a really good back-and-forth. A lot of the work was just that, and then of course revising and editing what she would bring to me. She is so phenomenal at finding someone’s voice and sharing their verbal stories and putting it on paper in a way that would come — when you read it, that really is how I talk and how I share. She did a phenomenal job. That was a big part of it. Of course, working with the publisher. I’ve been very happy with Henry Holt Publications. They’re a boutique company under Macmillan. They do awesome work. They’ve had some really cool books. It’s been a dream to work with them too. They’ve been really helpful along the way. Of course, I have a team that’s very helpful. I’ve got a manager and an agent that I trust. Everything’s just been this perfect collaboration, cooperation with everybody. It’s been great.

Zibby: What do you think the most effective part of your book marketing has been in terms of what you did or some event that was different or just anything in this whole, I’m out and about trying to tell people more about my book? What stands out to you out of all the stuff? Aside from our amazing interview right now.

Evan: Other than this amazing interview — to half-answer a previous question about the pandemic, this changed everything. I was going to be going on a national media book tour. I was going to be going to several big cities doing in-person signings and readings. Obviously, that’s not so much the case. My team, the publishers and my agents, everybody says social media is the most important, most valuable tool. Having a decent following is very helpful for that. It seems to be that way. I’m getting a ton of positive feedback from my followers. I’ve been sharing a lot of things from the book, whether it’s animal facts or just sharing what the book’s about and how the project’s been going and that kind of thing. I think that’s helpful. To answer that question, I think it’s a combination of things. Social media’s huge. Doing podcasts like this one I think is really, truly valuable too in just getting it out there. I don’t know if there’s one thing.

Zibby: Do you have any advice to either aspiring authors or people who want to do something to really make a difference in the animal kingdom, in the animal world, and conservation and all of that?

Evan: For someone that really wants to pursue that in a very big way, you have to be passionate about it. You have to show that passion. I think that’s what’s worked so well for me. I’m not working or trying to show my passion. My passion is very vibrant in me. I’m lucky that I can portray that on a media platform and on social media. I think that’s a big part of it. I’m so lucky too. I get in the trenches. I get in the field. I get to work with these vets on the ground and these conservationists and get to wildlife rescues and get my hands on these animals and show what that’s all about. That’s a huge part of it too, the hands-on stuff. I can sit at home or in my yard and talk about conservation, and people will listen. If I’m actually out in the field, I’m in the Philippines or I’m in South Africa and I’ve got a binturong or a rhino or an anaconda or whatever, I think that goes a long way.

Zibby: My last question, my kids are in the stage where they want every animal under the sun. My little guy had a tantrum that we couldn’t go buy a blue jay today after school.

Evan: Oh, come on, Mom. We got to get him a blue jay.

Zibby: So not fair. I want a bird. I want a bird. One day, it’s a hamster and the fish. We’re in that mode. We already have dogs.

Evan: How old is he?

Zibby: We’re overrun. We have dead fish floating that I haven’t even dealt with. We’re like a menagerie. My little guy is almost six. Then I have a seven-year-old and two thirteen-year-olds. They’re kind of over the —

Evan: — Wow. That’s a whole other challenge that I can’t relate to, but I do a hundred percent sympathize. Most of my friends have children. It can be tough at times.

Zibby: In terms of the animal/pet management piece of life for many parents, you are the ultimate animal whisperer. What do you say to that? Should us parents get browbeaten into getting all sorts of different animals to give kids more exposure or just stay with the traditional black lab who I have over my shoulder? What do you think about bringing them into your home? Today, we were trying to explain that, no, blue jays are out in the wild. They don’t want to live in a cage. How do you tow that line of wanting to give your kids a love of animals but not have your home be taken over?

Evan: Number one, there’s a lot of ways to cultivate that without necessarily acquiring new lives that you have to then be responsible for. Most big cities and areas, moderate-sized cities, they have really high-quality zoos. Zoos are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and/or American Humane. They’re good places where they’re doing right by the animals. They are, in a very major way, contributing to wildlife conservation in their respective parts of the world where they have some of the animals as ambassadors of these areas. That goes a long way. Even going to petting zoos and things like that, just getting them exposed and getting those interactions is really valuable and really important. Nature’s such a big thing too. I grew up in Kansas. We had a creek in my backyard. My parents, they both like animals. They’re not completely insane like me, but they totally cultivated it. If I brought a turtle home for a couple days, it was okay. I’d get out in the creek and appreciate the nature. I’d go catch crawdads and look for insects and look for turtles and snakes and the wildlife. Anywhere you live, there’s going to be something in your backyard no matter where you live in the world. That’s always an option too.

Then when it comes to the pets, there’s no one answer. It really depends on the individual, the parent, the family, the children, everything. You have to ask yourself — I say this for any new pet, whether it’s an exotic pet or a dog or a cat. I have three main general tips. Number one, do your research. Know what you’re getting into. What does that pet need? Diet, space, time, ambient humidity, temperature, all of these things. You need to be aware of what you’re getting into. You don’t provide these things, you’re not giving this pet the fair life that it deserves. It’s going to be disservice to you and the pet. It’s going to be expensive and sad and just not what you want to do. Second question you ask yourself is, can I provide these things? Do I have the space? Do I have the budget? Do I have the time? Do I have the ability to provide all of these things? Am I going to do the upkeep? All that stuff. Then number three, find a veterinarian in your area that’s comfortable working with those animals, whether it’s a small animal practice that’s very comfortable seeing dogs and cats. If you’re looking to get, say, a cockatiel, which is a great pet bird — they do very well in captivity and can be phenomenal pets. Find yourself an exotic animal veterinarian that’s comfortable. They’re going to be a big tool and resource for regular check-ups and preventative medicine like vaccines and that kind of thing. That depends on the species, obviously. That’s really important too.

If you can ask yourself those questions and say, yes, we do have time for — say we want to get pet rats. Rats make phenomenal pets. They get super strong emotional bonds. It’s really like having a dog or a cat in rodent form, super intelligent, great animals. They need to be social. We need two rats. We need decent space for them. We need good enrichment. They’re super smart, so we need to constantly do mazes and toys and engage and that kind of thing with them. Can we get the right diet? Can we get with a vet? It really depends on the person. For some parents that have the children, especially a six-year-old boy that wants everything as I did, you just have to pick and choose. Do what makes the most sense for you. It sounds like you guys have a lot of pets. It sounds like you guys are doing pretty good. Just putting the energy into the pets that you have is also really important. There’s ways you can re-excite them about their pets. You do a little bit of research and — what do you have again, for example?

Zibby: My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law had a dog named Nya, this black lab. They both just passed away from COVID.

Evan: Oh, my gosh. I’m so sorry to hear that.

Zibby: Thank you. They had two dogs. We took Nya. Then my husband’s sister took Luna, the other dogs who’s a mix of three different breeds. Nya’s a black lab. Then I had a Pomeranian who is now basically my babysitter’s dog. She brings the Pomeranian in every day. Anyway, I could go on and on about this, but this is not about your book. Then we had these two fish. Now my daughter wants a bunny. My son wants a bird. We had two fish that we got over the summer that lived quite a while, but not anymore.

Evan: It’s the kind of thing you want to educate yourself in. Fish and some of those other pets, they can be lower maintenance in some ways. At the same time, you need to be very familiar with what a biological filter is and know how to properly care for these fish. It takes some experience. If you’re considering any of these exotic kind of animals, do your research. When it comes to bunnies or rats or —

Zibby: — We’re not getting a rat. I’m drawing the line on even discussing buying a rat. Full stop on that.

Evan: Let’s say bunny just hypothetically. You do want to know what you’re getting into. They do need space. You do need to have at least two. They’re super social animals. Don’t just get one bunny. Don’t just get one guinea pig. Know what you’re getting into when it comes to that space. If you have time that you can do some research if you’re kiddo’s really excited about one species, you ask yourself — don’t tell him yet because if he knows you’re thinking about it, it’s over, probably.

Zibby: I know. At first, I was like, I’m going to play him this podcast. Now I’m like, I am not playing him this podcast.

Evan: No, no, no. This you do until after the fact. You get the bunny. Then you can say, if you do that. If you don’t get a bunny, he can’t hear this one. You just ask yourself those things. At the same time, you have four children. You have a dog. You are a busy working woman as well. Don’t do something that’s unfair to the pet. There’s things you can do with your dog. You can do fun training and things to get him excited about that. There’s other opportunity to cultivate it. Then of course, there’s great programming available. I’m sure he’s into Kratts brothers and Coyote: Brave Wilderness.

Zibby: Wild Kratts? Isn’t that what it’s called? The Wild Kratts?

Evan: Wild Kratts, yeah, the brothers. Then there’s Coyote Peterson. He’s got great kid content, super educational, good guy. I met him on a show we did together, actually, about a year and a half or two ago. Super good dude, a good space. He promotes wildlife in a really good way too. There’s lots of ways you can cultivate it without necessarily having to get the pets.

Zibby: See, after this conversation, maybe now my almost six-year-old will turn into you. Who knows?

Evan: Cultivating it’s so important. I’m lucky that my parents would let me have pet reptiles and let me do these things. My mom is a landscape designer. She wasn’t doing it professionally, but she was crazy about her landscapes. She had all these little rock gardens and different things and other plant gardens too and everything. I was flipping rocks every single day looking for roly-polies and millipedes and grubs and cicadas in the right time of year. I just loved all of that.

Zibby: It all comes down to having your parents foster the love of whatever.

Evan: I’m glad you’re saying that message because I cannot stress that enough. There’s so many people, they buckle down, their kid’s getting a pet. They don’t do the research. It’s their kid’s pet. It’s like, listen, it comes to you guys. Then they come to see me at the veterinary hospital when I’m seeing patients, and they really don’t know what they’re doing. Our veterinary appointment is not just a wellness thing because their hamster has a legitimate health issue that’s out of their hands. It’s because they didn’t know what they were doing, because they weren’t providing the proper ambient humidity or UV light or they’re feeding an all-seed diet to their parrot. There’s so many things that people just don’t know and assume. They’re wives’ tales or whatever. It’s just common knowledge that’s totally not right for these pets. They find themselves seeing me because they just didn’t do their research. That’s the number-one thing. Please do your homework. Whether it’s for your kids or for you, please do your homework before you get a pet and take on a life. Make sure you’re doing it right.

Zibby: Excellent advice. Thank you, Evan. Thanks for doing this round two with me and sharing all these great tips. To be determined what pets I end up with next. I’ll keep you posted.

Evan: Hit me up anytime. I’m happy to answer questions and make recommendations. There’s plenty of other pets besides rats that make great pets. With a bird, a cockatiel. Look into that. If you’re considering a bird, look into that.

Zibby: Okay. Cockatiel, I’m on it.

Evan: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: Thanks so much. Take care.

Evan: Take care.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Evan: Bye.

Dr. Evan Antin, WORLD WILD VET