Quick Stats: Dr. Michael Lavigne, Animal Planet’s The Vet Life
Daily Driver: 2010 Dodge Ram (Michael’s rating: 8 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: New Orleans to Florida
Car he learned to drive in: 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme
First car bought: 1984 Ford Bronco
Although viewers see Dr. Michael Lavigne’s love of helping animals on Animal Planet’s The Vet Life each week, he also developed another passion while at vet school—working on projects cars—with his beloved 1974 Dodge Charger.
“That’s my pride and joy, it recently got restored,” Lavigne says. “I had it for quite a while, and it was never really a reliable vehicle to drive. Almost every time I took it out, I had a problem with it, but I finally worked out all the kinks, and I’ve been able to enjoy it now and recently got it painted, so it looks good. It turns a lot of heads, and it’s running pretty strong. So that’s my favorite right now.”
He rates it a 9 on a scale of 10. “I’ve always had a real strong interest in cars and always wanted an old-school muscle car, and Mopars are more attractive to me,” he says. “I liked the body lines, and they were known for being strong cars.”
When Lavigne was in vet school, a couple classmates had older cars. After he saw them work on their cars, he figured he’d start with something inexpensive to give him practice because he never did that growing up.
“As much interest as I had, I wasn’t very familiar with working on cars,” he says. “I decided, ‘I’ll get a little project car to work on and learn and see if I can teach myself a few things’ because those older cars are a lot easier to work on. You’ve got a lot of space, they were just more simple.”
He looked on eBay for cars to work on during summer break after his first year of vet school and saw another Charger. “I had a lot of time on my hands and wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I came across a ’71, it had a big block motor and it was in New York,” he says. “I was hesitant to pull the trigger. I hadn’t seen it in person. It was buying it sight unseen. I was trying to get in contact with a friend in New York to take a look at it, and before I knew it, somebody snatched it from under me. Then I found the car I ended up buying. It had a small block motor in it. It wasn’t quite as good, but it was close enough. I figured I would use this and take some time and make it what I want.”
Daily Driver: 2010 Dodge Ram
“I was looking for a truck,” Lavigne says. “I feel like every household needs a good reliable pickup truck, and I’m a Mopar fan. When I got my ‘74 Dodge Charger, that’s what really turned me on to the Mopar world. I got that back in 2003 and not too long after that, Dodge came back out with the trucks with the Hemi engines, so that really sparked my interest.”
At the time, Dodge was also offering a good deal compared to Chevy and Ford. “I feel like I got more value for my money, not to mention I got a Hemi, so that was a win win,” Lavigne says.
“I feel like the Dodge has the best-looking truck as far as its lines,” he says. “It’s been pretty reliable. At the time they were offering an extended lifetime warranty, so I took advantage of that and it’s paid off a couple times already. So I plan on keeping this forever.”
Lately, because Lavigne has put a lot of miles on it, the truck has had a couple of “hiccups,” he says. “Luckily they take care of it whenever I bring it in. If I could have got all the bells and whistles, that might bumped it up to a 10, but at the time I couldn’t afford it.”
1965 Chevy Impala
Lavigne recently bought this Impala from a neighbor. “Old cars always catch my eye. It just had real nice lines—he put aftermarket wheels and lowered the suspension—so it just caught my eye,” he says. “I would always see it out in his driveway, but it never moved, it was always there. I finally ran into him and asked, as a joke, when he was going to get rid of it. He was actually in the process of getting ready to move, and he knew he hadn’t been giving it the time and attention that it needed.”
“I haven’t really done anything to it, I just got it the way it was,” he says. “The guy who had it before worked on the suspension. I was really surprised because it had been sitting there so long, and all we had to do was charge the battery and it started right up.”
The interior is faded from the sun, so he admits there’s still work to be done. “It’s not a perfect car, but it’s in really good shape,” he says.
Lavigne wished it had more power. “I like cars with power, that have that old-school muscle,” he says. “It’s got a small block engine in it, it’s good for cruising. It’s a nice cruiser, but it’s not going to win any races.”
Lavigne hasn’t had time to drive the Impala or his Charger as much as he’d like. “The most use I’ve gotten out of my Charger, since I’ve got it running pretty strong, is [when] my truck was in the shop and they had it over a week,” he says. “I have a nice little commute to work, it takes me 35 minutes. I had to drive the Charger every day, so that’s the most wear and tear I’ve put on it since I’ve restored it. It served its purpose, it got me there safely, and now I got my truck back.”
Car He Learned to Drive In
Lavigne learned to drive in his mom’s 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that became his high school car when he was became a senior.
He lived in Slidell, Louisiana, but was going to school in New Orleans, so before the Oldsmobile, Lavigne commuted to school with his dad who worked in the city: “I would ride with him, and he’d drop me off every day. I’d walk home to my grandmother’s house and wait for him to get off work. But once I was old enough to drive myself, she passed her car down to me.”
That’s when his love of cars first started. Lavigne worked some jobs and saved up money to buy wheels and a little sound system to put in it. “The summer after my high school year, it actually got stolen,” he says. “So it didn’t last me very long.”
Lavigne doesn’t recall anyone teaching him how to drive in the Oldsmobile. “I think I just taught myself. I started out just moving the car around in the driveway, so I got the feel of it, and then eventually, I was probably not supposed to, but I’d take it for a little drive here and there when I could,” he says. “I taught myself until I ended up taking a Driver’s Ed course where I learned more of the rules and regulations of driving.”
First Car Bought
“I got a couple of hand-me-downs, but the first car I bought with my own money was a 1984 Ford Bronco,” he says. “I was working in restaurants at the time. I did everything from washing dishes to bussing tables to waiting and working in the kitchen as a cook. I thought I got a good deal at the time. It ended up being a lemon. It caused me a lot of problems, but I’m grateful for that vehicle, because that was the vehicle I had when I met my wife.”
Lavigne once locked himself out of the car with the key in the ignition, and since the back window never rolled up all the way, it had a little gap where he went to try to recover the key.
“I took a long branch I broke off a little tree and put a hanger on the end of it and fished my keys out the ignition from the back window. She was walking from one class to another and saw me with my arm in the back of a window,” he says. “That’s one of the things she always remembered about me. She just thought I was weird, ‘What’s wrong with the guy. He’s got his arm in the window with a stick trying to fish some keys out of the ignition.’ We had a class together, and we hadn’t really talked a whole lot, but that gave us a talking point to break the ice. And the rest is history.”
His wife was impressed that he managed to get his keys out of the ignition that way because “she thought I was pretty creative and resourceful,” he says.
Favorite road trip
Lavigne’s favorite road trip was the time he and his wife drove from New Orleans to Miami back when they were still dating.
“She just finished school, and I wanted to surprise her with a little trip, get away, have a little rest and relaxation, a good time,” he says. “It was my first road trip as an adult. It was just the two of us. We rented a car, I got a hotel, and we just went down there to go have a good time by ourselves. What made it really memorable was I realized a good three hours into the trip that I forgot all my money at home, and we had to turn around and go back,” he says.
It was cash, and Lavigne didn’t have a debit card at the time. “We wouldn’t have had enough money to do anything, so I was like, ‘Well, we’ve got to go back and get it.’ So that definitely made a memory,” he says. “We had a good time, we put on some music and let the windows down and had a good time.”
Season Three of Animal Planet’s The Vet Life
Lavigne, Dr. Diarra Blue, and Dr. Aubrey Ross and became really good friends while in vet school. After they all went to a Las Vegas practice to get training, they stayed there for eight years before opening a practice in Houston.
Blue’s sister was a producer on Pawn Stars. “She came up with the idea—it’s really unique, you’ve got these three friends, three young black veterinarians that are going to start their own practice together, they’ve got a really good bond and friendship,’” he says. “The first season showed the grand opening. It captures the three of us trying to juggle between opening a new practice, our families, our family lives, and juggling everything together.”
Unlike a lot of reality shows, this show is more of a “docu-series,” Lavigne says. “What you see is actually real, we’re not acting. That’s our personalities, we really are close like brothers, our families are really close, we actually get together all the time as much as we can and try to spend with each other. What you see is actually the reality.”
Lavigne encourages viewers to catch up on the first two seasons, where you see all kinds of animals including owls and tigers.
“This new season is going to be awesome,” he says. “You see a lot of camaraderie the three of us have in all the seasons, but this latest season our personalities are coming out, and you get a good idea of who we are individually and how we all work together. Being like brothers, there’s a lot of competition between the three of us. Ross and Blue probably go at it a little bit more. The two of them, they’re like the siblings that always battle each other, and I’m more of the level-headed mediator.”
This season also includes the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, their involvement, and what they all went through at the Cy-Fair Animal Hospital. “One of our technicians, she got hit hard. The hospital was OK,” Lavigne says. “A lot of people were affected. We got to help out with some of the rescue groups in the area.”
Season three of The Vet Life started Jan. 13 on Animal Planet.