John Dolittle is a kind and generous country doctor who loves animals -- a fact made quite apparent by the "goldfish in the pond at the bottom of his garden . . . rabbits in the pantry, white mice in his piano, a squirrel in the linen closet, and a hedgehog in the cellar." In fact, he likes them so much he decides to quit his regular practice and become an animal doctor.

Determined to help all creatures in need of medical aid, Doctor Dolittle travels to Africa after learning about a serious illness there among the primate population. He leaves for the continent, accompanied by some of his devoted friends and joined by new acquaintances -- among them the extraordinary pushmi-pullyu, a creature sporting a head at both ends of its body; Polynesia, the parrot; Too-Too, the owl; the monkey Chee-Chee; and Jip, the dog.
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