Dr. Jeff, Animal Planet's top-rated two-legged star, was hired in 2015 to bring some opinionated attitude to the potentially antiseptic world of televised pet medicine.
Since then, the free-wheeling doctor has delivered the in-your-face goods, pushing the show, "Dr. Jeff, Rocky Mountain Vet," to the cable channel's No. 1 slot for its first four seasons ... with a fifth on the way.
"I take it all with a grain of salt because I don't understand it ... it's all so surreal," confesses the man who, outside the world of reality television, is Jeff Young, son of Esther Stevens of Bloomington and half-brother of Jay Stevens, also of Bloomington.
Mom, a regular volunteer at the Prairie Aviation Museum in Bloomington, was instrumental in arranging for Young to be the star of the August edition of the museum's monthly Open Cockpit Day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Young will be accompanied by his wife and co-star, Dr. Petra, ready to meet and greet their fans and sign autographs. (But no pet treatments, thank you: "Simple: I'm not licensed in the state of Illinois.")
"She (Dr. Petra) doesn't care one way or the other about any of this," he says of their overnight stardom as reality TV figures being tracked by cameras most of their waking hours.
"She hates TV, never watches it, even though she's on the show quite a bit," Young adds.
"Her idea of fun is being up at midnight reading some huge freakin' book ... her thing is, she wants to be smarter than anyone else around her."
And usually is.
Both Drs. Jeff and Petra, however, appreciate the platform accorded them for educating the public on the pet-related issues they care about most passionately, including as advocates for spaying and neutering at their Denver-area clinic, Planned Pethood Plus, and providing low-cost animal care for all.
On camera or off, "I've been doing the same thing for 21 years now," he says, having performed "over 165,000 surgeries, which only two or three vets in the world have done," including a couple heart surgeries on the show, "which are really rare."
Young has Illinois ties, having graduated from Rantoul High School as a military brat whose late stepfather's career took him around the country, landing at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul during Young's high school years.
"We seem to have a big following in Illinois and the Midwest, which has the kind of values where I come from," says the man who followed his Rantoul High graduation with at trek westward to Colorado State University, where graduated in 1989 with a veterinary medicine degree.
As the story goes, the British-based company behind the Animal Planet show approached Young to star after viewing a YouTube video of him delivering an impassioned speech in what has become his trademark manner: upfront, with no filters.
"I'm an outspoken critic," he says, ready to aim his wrath at anyone who would profit mightily from pet owners' misfortunes, including pharmaceutical companies preying upon their love with assorted advanced treatments, from cancer to heart ailments.
"It's just greed, there's no other word for it," he adds, with much of that opportunism shifting recent years from human medicine to animal medicine.
With his series, "it's cool that we can do a kidney transplant on a cat or put a pacemaker in a dog, which are procedures very few can afford."
He also realizes that, away from what he can do on the show much more cheaply, "it doesn't make sense to spend $20,000 to extend a pet's life by six more months."
Young admits that "my skewed view of the world has to do with being a military brat, and not having a lot of money growing up, and traveling the world and seeing a lot of poverty."
Young's spaying/neutering advocacy is part of his personal code of ethics.
"There is a lot of ignorance out there about animals; we view this as our way to do a good job educating people, and standing for something."
He credits his Midwest upbringing for instilling the work ethic that has assured "we do in a day (at our clinic) what most hospitals don't do in a week ... I don't have a Ph.D in anything other than life."
In an ironic turn, Dr. Jeff's own medical issues on the human front have become part of the show's drama, including his knee surgery and a bout with cancer, which altered his trademark long-hair look when treatment led to hair loss and a shorter cut.
"The cancer was a pretty easy thing, not that bad at all," Young says. "It was the knee surgery that was a son-of-a-(bleep)."
Though "Dr. Jeff, Rocky Mountain Vet" as a large family following, it is a reality show, and Young is a veterinarian, and there are scenes of animals going under the knife, hence the warning disclaimers that appear before each episode's start.
"It can get a little bit gory, and some scenes might be disturbing, but I get a lot of kids and people who come to the clinic to say 'hi' and have their pictures taken with us," says Young.
"We want to be realistic on the show ... nothing is staged, it's all reality."