Geoff Woodhouse - Headed for the country

4 minutes read
Posted 28 February, 2024
Geoff with his special catJ Plasmo

Geoff with his beloved pussy Plasmo

Growing up as a city boy in Pakuranga, Auckland, Geoff Woodhouse doesn’t seem the most likely candidate to study veterinary science. However, a deep passion to help living creatures, inspired by his quite eccentric, animal welfare activist, vegetarian grandmother, won over.

Excelling at school, Geoff became Dux of Edgewater College. He also discovered track running, setting some Auckland records including a junior 1500m time at age 14 that stood for 43 years. He also represented Auckland nationally, netting some placings.

Geoff says it was his maternal grandmother south of Raglan who instilled the care for animals. “She was quite an inspiration, kind of whacky, a vegetarian since 1920 which was unheard of then, and a big animal welfare advocate,” says Geoff. “She ran the New Zealand branch of Beauty Without Cruelty which made face lotions and cleaning products from vegetable oil, and avocado face masks. “She was about four decades early, very resolute in her belief,” he says. “We thought she was slightly off-piste, but it was amazing how her philosophy became so real and inspiring.”

A farm visit at eight also planted that seed – “the smell of hay, feeding out from a Land Rover, blue skies, such a contrast to our life”.
A straight-A student, Geoff delayed preferential entry into Med School to jump straight into the second year of veterinary science at Massey.

It was a nerve-wracking ride. “My first lecture on animal behaviour the very stern lecturer said, ‘You’re either competent, or incompetent in which case you won’t proceed to third year’.”

“We were mainly handling farm animals and for me as a city boy it was so scary. I was just happy to successfully hold my chickens upside down and put them into cages.”

Vet students had a reputation for enjoying themselves and at ‘Halfway Day’ in third year the whole university closed to adjourn to a paddock for fun and games. “There might’ve been a race involving alcohol, eating, and running. It wasn’t my finest quarter mile,” he smiles.

Experience on the job with real vets was invaluable. “Those glimpses stay with you for life.”

He quickly learned to become an anaesthetist, surgeon, radiologist, pharmacist, mathematician, communicator and businessman all in one. “When you start off it’s like an insurmountable wall and you think you’ll never get over it.” Quiet observation became key.

His first bitch spay was a big deal. “That’s a highly underestimated and risky surgery, especially in big, deep-chested dogs. Mine was a very old, German Shepherd and I was 22. Terrifying!”

His first job at Central Vets in Alexandra was great with a lot of “trial by fire.”

As a new graduate Geoff got dealt to by an angry cow during pregnancy testing in an unkempt yard of wild cattle. “She broke through the race like matchsticks, chasing me 20 metres to the edge where I did a complete somersault over the fence and just escaped her hot breath,” he grins.

Geoff discovered multisport in Central Otago, taking a year off to train for the Xerox Challenge Multisport Challenge from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

He competed in the Coast to Coast before locuming in the UK and riding through Europe with friends to the World Mountain Bike Championships.

After a Post Graduate Diploma in Anaesthesia and several years in Auckland he and wife Karen returned to the UK for seven years before bringing their three kids home to Central Otago.

In 2004 they opened Remarkable Vets at Arrowtown – a big step.

By 2005 Geoff was starring on a vet reality TV show, Remarkable Vets, after local TV producer Phil Smith came in with his pet and had an idea. That ran weekly for two seasons. “That was certainly outside my comfort zone at the start.”

There’s never a dull day. Geoff was called to Paradise during shooting of the Prince Caspian movie. “I wandered into the forest and was met by the stunning scene of 12 Spanish Conquistadors riding towards me in the mist. I’d walked onto the set. Fortunately, filming had finished.”

Later that day he was hovering dangerously 2m above ground at high speed in a Robinson helicopter trying to dart tranquilise a farmer’s prize stag that had wire around its antlers – “real cowboy stuff - not me at all!!”.

A vet for 37 years, with three clinics and 30 staff, the passion is still alive, wife Karen always his mainstay during years of night call outs.

Out of the worst scenarios come the best experiences, like a middle of the night call to save a calving cow in lousy weather in the UK. “You’re negotiating all the obstacles and challenges, then there’s that unbeatable feeling driving home in the sunrise.”

“Our cause is helping people and animals. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Geoff in his other happy place mountain biking

Geoff in his other happy place - mountain biking


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