Steven Petersen: Sexiest Animal Lover

updated 11/16/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/16/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

Talk about the cat's meow. For millions of viewers tuning in to Emergency Vets each week, watching cherished pets restored to health isn't what arouses their animal instincts. It's small-animal surgeon Dr. Steven Petersen. "One fan letter said, 'If all veterinarians looked like you, everyone would own a pet,' " reports Connie McCabe, Petersen's assistant at Denver's Alameda East Veterinary Hospital.

But the man The New York Times called "the series heartthrob" pooh-poohs his popularity. "It's just the classic thing of TV being larger than life," says Petersen, 37, of the acclaim he has received since the Animal Planet channel began airing E.V. last year. "I've always considered myself a pretty average kind of guy."

Fiancée Jill Johnson, 26, disagrees. "He's not one to sit on the couch," says the veterinary technician, who shares a four-bedroom home in suburban Denver with the 5'10" Petersen and their two cats and two dogs (Booker, a yellow Lab, and Melvin, an Australian cattle dog). Indeed, during lunch breaks and after his 60-hour work weeks, the avid skier, windsurfer and runner indulges in his "true passion"—racing mountain bikes. He also never lets himself go, says Johnson: "He always shaves. His face is not scruffy on weekends." Neither are his rock-hard legs. Like most professional bike racers, Petersen shaves them. "We tease him about that, but those legs are awesome!" says Alameda East director and biking buddy Dr. Robert Taylor. "Steve takes good care of himself; he treats his body like a temple." Even better, man's best friend's best friend doesn't worship at his own altar. "He doesn't take himself seriously," says McCabe. "If he did, they'd have to widen the doors to the hospital." Or at least put him on a leash.

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