The locals call him “The Barefoot Vet.” That’s because Dr. Scott Sims, who owns and operates a veterinary clinic on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and is the focus of Nat Geo Wild’s Aloha Vet, likes to work shoeless. It’s this laid-back attitude, combined with his expertise and passion for all animals—big, small, domestic, and wild—that make Dr. Sims a celebrated figure on Kauai and beyond.
Whether riding a horse down the surf to reach a seal in need, or flying the plane he built himself to make house calls in remote areas, Dr. Sims will do whatever it takes to help Hawaii’s animals in need. We spoke with him to learn more about his practice, his passions, and his unique clients.
TAILS: Why did you decide to become a veterinarian?
Dr. Scott Sims: I can’t imagine life without pets—my family always had a dog and/or a cat, and I have always been fascinated with living things. I grew up around horses, taking my first riding lesson at age four and buying my first horse with my own money at seven. I also like science— pretty much all fields—and veterinary medicine gives me the opportunity to help people and animals while still being very science-oriented.
You are known for unique clients. Can you tell us about the exotic animals you’ve helped?
The list is long. I used to do a lot of work for the wildlife rehab groups in northern California. I was the first person to ever successfully pin the broken wing on a bat and have [him] returned to the wild. I’ve fixed thousands of bat wings and legs. A partial list of species would include golden eagles and other assorted raptors, otters, porcupines, badgers, all manner of wild birds, dozens of species of parrots, hummingbirds, fish, buffalo, deer, assorted snakes (one as long as 15 feet), skunks, etc.
What inspired you to move from California to Hawaii?
I was talked into coming to Hawaii on vacation in 2000. I was surprised by the rural nature of the place—it wasn’t all high-rise hotels and crowded beaches. I went home and started closing the doors on my practice in Novato, California and moved to Hawaii one and a half years later. As to why, well, look around! Kauai is beautiful, warm, and friendly. What more could someone want in a place to live?
How does being a veterinarian in Hawaii differ from being a veterinarian somewhere else?
It’s not that much different actually. I think there are more severe injuries here than I saw in California [though], and less emphasis on routine preventative care.
There is a large population of feral cats on Kauai. How do you help manage the population, and are you having success?
I think that education is the real issue. It’s critical that people begin to understand what an environmental problem outdoor cats pose. While I support spay/neuter, the real answer is to educate people about the problem. We veterinarians just can’t spay and neuter enough to have a really significant effect on the populations. It’s a frustrating battle.
Do you have a favorite species of animal to work with?
I probably like horses and birds best. That’s why I have those species as my own pets.
Can you tell us about your parrot, Oliver?
Oliver is six years old. I hand raised him from the time he was about two to three weeks old. He is very naughty and has a bit of a temper. He will fly over and ‘peck and run’ if I do something he doesn’t approve of. He follows me around the house when I’m home and sleeps with me, either on my shoulder or on the side of my bed. He’s very smart and affectionate, and loves to cuddle on the couch when I watch TV.
How does caring for domesticated animals differ from caring for wild animals? Is caring for one easier than the other?
In general, domestic animals are a little easier, but they come with [humans] and sometimes that can be problematic. Wildlife presents its own set of problems, including a far greater susceptibility to the stress of being handled. Endangered species are extra pressure because of the individual being so important genetically.
What was it like having a film crew follow you around all day?
It was a very interesting look behind the curtain of television. I must confess it has made me watch TV differently—I think I watch more technically now instead of just getting lost in the stories. The film crews were really great; very professional and very hard working. Having them around did add time to what I do, but I weigh that with the benefit people get from watching the series and learning more about animal care.
Is it strange seeing yourself on television?
It was a little strange at first, but I became interested in the technical, editing, and educational parts of the process. It’s amazing to see what viewers take away as the most important parts of each episode. It isn’t always what I see. It just proves that we all have our own perspective and that’s a good thing.