On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes veterinarian Gary Weitzman to the show on Monday, November 30 at 12:30. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
When Gary Weitzman was a kid, his parents wouldn’t let him get a dog, so he filled his home with gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs and a parakeet.
In vet school, he learned how to treat sick animals and went on to write books for kids and adults on caring for them, including two new ones: Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide and Pounce! A How to Speak Cat Training Guide.
He also became a vet of the airwaves, hosting WAMU’s popular “The Animal House,” heard on public radio stations across the country for more than six years.
The former CEO of the Washington Animal Rescue League (now the Humane Rescue Alliance) and current president and CEO of San Diego Humane Society, “Dr. Gary” joins us to answer kids’ questions about dogs, cats and other pets.
We also welcome the students of Silver Spring International Middle School, our school of the week. We’re looking forward to their questions, and yours too — if you’re a kid!
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Gary Weitzman President and CEO, The San Diego Humane Society and former host of WAMU's "The Animal House;" @sdhumane
KOJO NNAMDIHey, it sounds like there are animals in the house, and that's where our next guest is happiest, when surrounded by animals. But when Dr. Gary Weitzman was a kid, his parents wouldn't let him get a dog, so he filled their home with gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs and a parakeet. He grew up to be a veterinarian who now leads San Diego Humane Society. He's also written eight books on training and caring for pets.
KOJO NNAMDIDr. Gary, as he is known, was also, for several years, the host of "The Animal House," a program produced at this station and heard across the nation. One of my favorites. On the air, he helped people with their toughest questions about dogs, cats and other animals, and he's going to do the same for us today. We also look forward to questions from the students of Silver Spring International Middle School, our school of the week. We'd like to hear your questions, too, if you're a kid. Dr. Gary, welcome to the program.
GARY WEITZMANOh, thank you, Kojo. It's so good to hear your voice again, although I do hear it. I just don't get to talk back to you anymore.
NNAMDIBut so good to hear yours, too. Dr. Gary, let's learn a little bit about when you were a kid. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
WEITZMANYeah, I was born in Pennsylvania. So, just outside of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in a little town called Irwin, which has been renamed (laugh) since I grew up. So, it no longer exists. So, basically, I was born nowhere, at this point. (laugh) But I spent about 10 years there, had a short stint in Missouri, obviously, with my folks, and then ended up just outside of Boston and spent all by teenage years and my education in Massachusetts and New England.
NNAMDIWhat did you like to do as a kid?
WEITZMANOh, I liked to dream about having a dog. (laugh) Seriously, that's what I liked to do the most. Reading anything about animals. You know, we all do when we're kids, if we love animals, just kind of find anything possible we can do to absorb everything about animals. And I was really obsessed. I was obsessed with dogs. I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was, like, six years old, maybe earlier. I read all the James Harriet books, (laugh) which I don't even know if kids are reading that. I'd love to hear that from your listeners, if they're reading the "All Creatures Great and Small" and that whole series these days. But, you know, it was all about animals.
NNAMDIYou managed to collect dozens of pets, even though your parents, at first, wouldn’t let you get a dog. What was the largest number of pets you had at any one time?
WEITZMANYeah, I can only hope they're not listening, because (laugh) they're not going to live that down. Let's see, the largest number I had at one time -- you're trying to get me to admit I was hording, I think, Kojo, aren't you? (laugh)
NNAMDIYes. You were hording.
WEITZMANI was hording. I was hording, but I was taking really good care of them. And I don't (laugh) suggest this. But, at one time, I think I had 60 gerbils, about four or five hamsters, the parakeet you mentioned, a whole slew of chameleons and a big iguana. And, you know, the reason I got the animals was the schools that I was going to growing up as a kid often had animals in the classroom, and then they didn't keep them. They wanted to actually, you know, go on vacation. So, they would ask somebody to take the animals for them, and (laugh) I always raised my hand.
WEITZMANSo, I took the animals from the schools. I had the entire first floor, we call it the basement, in my house outside of Boston, and I just filled it up with animals. I had Habitrails. Do you remember those?
WEITZMANThose were fun. Habitrails and all the animals had connections to them, well, of the same species, of course. So, here's the problem. I had to learn how things worked.
NNAMDIWait a minute. Here's the problem. Here's the problem. At this point the pets are running the house, right? (laugh)
WEITZMAN(laugh) They are running the house. I had acquired many of my pets before I understood how pets were made, if you know what I mean. (laugh) So, the boys and girls were altogether. And then there were more and more and more of them. So, I really blame this (laugh) indirectly on my parents, too, because I think we should've had that talk. (laugh)
NNAMDIUltimately, before we get to the phones -- and kids are calling in in large numbers -- you did manage to get a dog when you were 16.
NNAMDIHow did that happen, and how did you finally convince your parents? I guess after the experiences they had already been through, it wasn't that big a problem.
WEITZMANNo, I wore them down, I think. You know, I always joke at this point that we probably had the equivalent in pound-for-pound mass of at least four or five dogs by the time I got my first one. (laugh) But, you know, my folks are animal lovers, so the irony was that they didn't want to get a dog. But, finally, they just had to succumb. So, we went out one day to a local animal shelter. Actually, we went to a few of them, and there weren't a lot of dogs available.
WEITZMANWe wanted a puppy, and that's very much the case now across the United States. In certain regions of the country, Washington, D.C., Metro D.C., San Diego, too, where I am now, there aren't puppies. But we finally found a puppy that was just being relinquished, surrendered, as we pulled into the parking lot. So, that puppy, his name was Wolf, was actually given to us right from the car that pulled in in front of us, because they were giving him up.
WEITZMANSo, we took Wolf home, and Wolf turned out to be a girl, not a boy, (laugh) and we changed her name to Coco. And, I'll tell you, my parents who didn't want to get a dog, that was their dog. I mean, I grew up with that dog, but I went off to college a few years later, and they were so attached to that dog. So, the lesson is, don't fight for things that you actually want -- don't fight against things that you actually want, because I think Coco and my father were the best friends he's ever had.
NNAMDILet's get this straight. You and your family adopted a puppy in a parking lot. It sounds like a shady deal to me. (laugh)
WEITZMAN(laugh) It does. It does. And, you know, technically, at the time, it would be considered a shady deal now, but literally, that puppy was coming into the shelter as we were leaving, dejected, because we couldn't find a puppy. And then the shelter director ran out and said, how about this puppy? So, we took her -- and we were told it was a boy, but it was a girl. Anyway, it just, you know, goes to prove that some things are meant to be. And we were there at the right time, and Coco was there at the right time, and it led me to my lifelong devotion to dogs.
NNAMDIIndeed. We're taking questions today from students of Silver Spring International Middle School or anyone else who's a kid. I'm going to start with 12-year-old Jacob in Silver Spring. Jacob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JACOBWhen dogs get neutered, how does it change their behavior?
WEITZMANOh, okay. Jacob, that's a really good question, and you bring up a very good point. Dogs should be -- and cats should be spayed or neutered. Spayed is if you're a female, neutered is if you're a male. And, you know, honestly, it doesn't change their personalities at all. It really doesn't. When you have a boy dog getting neutered, we think that maybe that dog has less of a tendency to roam away from home or to run away from home, maybe a little bit less of a tendency to have a fight with another dog. But, otherwise, it really doesn't change that personality at all.
WEITZMANSo, dogs are dogs whether you neuter them or spay them or not. It can actually just make the personality a little bit more mild. So, for the boy dog you just mentioned getting neutered, that dog may be a little bit less aggressive. And that's actually a good thing, because we want dogs to get along with us, not to fight and definitely not to fight with each other. But it's a really great question.
NNAMDIJacob, do you have a dog?
JACOBYes. His name is Cooper.
NNAMDICool. Very cool. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. On now to eight-year-old Isabella in Washington, D.C. Isabella, your turn. You're on the air.
ISABELLAFor dogs, if the dog has legs and it got hurt, how do you put it back together?
WEITZMANOkay, Isabella. How did the dog get hurt again?
ISABELLAIf it broke its leg.
WEITZMANOh, if the dog broke its leg, how do we put the leg back together again. Okay. Like all the pieces of Humpty Dumpty. Did you have a dog?
NNAMDI(overlapping) I was thinking the same thing. (laugh)
WEITZMANAnd, actually, there are many ways to put the dog back together. Did you have a dog that got hurt like that?
ISABELLAMommy won't let me have a dog.
WEITZMANOh, we'll have to talk to your mom, then, later, (laugh) because that happened to me growing up.
NNAMDIIsabella's clearly thinking ahead. Go ahead.
WEITZMANI think that's really good. Well, there's a number of ways to put the leg back together. So, just like us, dog bones are just like people bones. And, basically, it depends on the fracture, which is what we call it in medical terms, which is the broken bone. The break is called a fracture. And we can actually put it together with a cast. Have you ever seen those on people, some people wearing a cast when they break a bone?
WEITZMANYep, we can do that with dogs, too. Or depending on the severity of the break or what might help it heal the fastest, we can actually fix it inside the skin. So, that's called an open repair, and we go inside and put something on the bone or in the bone, like a plate, a little metal plate or some pins, and put the leg back together again. And then it fixes up really fast. It's a good thing, but here's the best recommendation I have for you. When you do get a dog -- and Kojo and I both know that you will -- you have to be very careful that that dog never breaks a bone. Okay? Is that a deal?
ISABELLAOkay. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Isabella. Great talking to you. You, too, can talk with us at 800-433-8850. Do you have questions about dogs, cats or other animals? Did you adopt an animal during the pandemic? How has your new pet changed your life? You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to Kojo@wamu.org. Dr. Gary, Stella, a 7th grader at Silver Spring International Middle School asks: How long should dog adopters wait before giving their newly adopted dog a bath?
WEITZMANOh, well, that's a good question. These are very specific.
NNAMDIAs soon as you get out of the parking lot, Stella, but go ahead.
WEITZMANYes. You know what? You can't -- so here's the thing. A bath requires trust, and you want to make sure that your dog always trusts you and you can trust your dog. So, I usually recommend that you establish that trust first before you put a dog in a vulnerable position like giving him a bath. But that being said, most of the time when you adopt a dog from an animal shelter or a rescue group, they're going to tell you everything that you need to know about that dog and help you to establish that trust and get that bath going.
WEITZMANSo, most dogs could use a bath when they go home, even from really great shelters like the one I'm in here at San Diego Humane Society, or the one that's in Washington called the Humane Rescue Alliance, which is where I used to work. But I would say you probably need to wash that dog pretty soon. So, do it with your parents and make sure that your dog is very, very calm when you do the bath. That's probably the best advice.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Dr. Gary, for more than six years, you hosted "Animal House," a program on this station that was also heard on stations across the nation. How did you get to be a radio veterinarian?
WEITZMANYeah, that's interesting. Boy, you think of things that happen in your life that you never planned on happening. (laugh) I was a veterinarian, and still am, of course, for a couple decades before I wrote my first book. And that was with National Geographic. So, National Geographic, right there living in Washington, D.C. where I was, contacted me to write some books on animals and animal behavior and breeds and shelter dogs and cats. And then I got a call from WAMU. And the call was: How'd you like to come here and try out for a new show we're thinking of doing?
WEITZMANAnd it's so interesting because, Kojo, you and I have met many times.
WEITZMANAnd I really love WAMU and miss you guys tremendously. And it just was amazing, it was really farsighted to consider that all through the galaxy of public radio, there were no animal shows, no animal programming for a number of years. The last one was in Minnesota, and that had been off the air for a couple of years.
WEITZMANSo, I remember it was Karen Munson at WAMU, and she called me and she just said, hey, how'd you like to come and see if you want to do this show? And I said, well, I really don't think that is for me, because I'm not really that comfortable with the radio. I don't even know what a microphone looks like. And she said, just stop talking and come in here (laugh) and say a few words. So, it worked out. I think that was 2008, or something like that.
WEITZMANBut, boy, I do miss it. I do miss it.
NNAMDIIt went on for another six years. The names Karen Munson, Steve Williams and Natalie Yuravlivker all come to mind.
NNAMDIHere is 12-year-old Lou in Silver Spring. Lou, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LOUHi. I'm from Silver Spring International Middle School, and my question is, for Christmas, I want a betta fish and all the supplies I need. Even though you didn't get -- convince your parents to get a dog for a really long time, do you have any suggestions for how I can convince my parents to let me get a fish?
WEITZMANYeah, that's good. You know what? Actually, I totally forgot I had a couple of aquariums, too, growing up. (laugh) So, I had fish, as well as mammals and reptiles. Yeah, actually, great idea. And here's why I think it's a great idea. I think it's absolutely horrible that betta fish are sold in pet stores. And the pet stores that sell them generally don't sell other animals, but they do sell betta fish and sometimes birds and reptiles, as well. Betta fish, have you seen them? Have you seen them in the stores?
LOUYeah, I've seen a lot of pictures of them. They're beautiful.
WEITZMANIt breaks my heart. It just breaks my heart, because those fish need to be in at least 10 gallons of water. And it's fresh water, because they're from Asia and they're from freshwater streams and ponds. And they're beautiful, beautiful fish and they're intelligent. And it just breaks my heart to see them in those little cups in the pet stores. So, if you get one, I think that would be great, because you'll be saving that fish from a lifetime in that cup. And I think that's absolutely fantastic.
WEITZMANBut what you have to do is make sure that you have at least 10 gallons for that fish and make a lot of hiding places for the fish. So, little caves and sea grass, real sea grass. And you have to get the right food for that fish. So, I would say to you, if you study up really well on how to properly take care of betta fish, you should be able to convince your parents to let you get one. But, unfortunately, you probably have to get one, because if you end up with boys, they have to be alone, otherwise they'll fight with each other.
WEITZMANBut you know what? You can get other things, too. You can get other things to keep the betta fish company, like freshwater snails or freshwater shrimp. All of those things could be company for your betta fish.
NNAMDILou, thank you very much for your call. Lou, you had another question?
LOUOh, no. I was just going to say, okay, thank you very much.
WEITZMANYou're so welcome.
NNAMDIYou are indeed. Dr. Gary, you just published a book called "Pounce! A How to Speak Cat Training Guide." Some might laugh at the idea of training a cat. I would say, especially cats. So, I want you to hear from six-year-old Juniper in Washington, D.C. Juniper, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JUNIPERMy question is, how do I get a cat back if it already ran away, but we know where it is? How do I get it back, because it won't come to us?
WEITZMANOh, did you lose your cat, Juniper?
NNAMDIBut, Juniper, you know where the cat is, right?
NNAMDIThe cat just won't come back to you. I suspect, Dr. Gary, this is where "How to Speak Cat" really comes in. (laugh)
WEITZMANOh, yes. Oh, you're so right, Kojo. Yeah, so you just mentioned "Pounce," and "Pounce" is sort of the training guide that goes with "How to Speak Cat." "How to Speak Cat," Juniper, can help you understand what your cat is thinking and how to make your cat comfortable enough to come back. So, is your cat in your house, or is your cat outside?
WEITZMANOutside, okay. So, have you tried putting out food to try to get your cat back toward the food and nearer to the house?
JUNIPERWell, no, because the other neighbors that the house (unintelligible) out under the porches, it's like a block away from our house. And they feed stray cats.
WEITZMAN(overlapping) Oh, okay. Okay. And do you live in Washington?
NNAMDIThis is a tough one.
WEITZMANThis is a tough one, and it's a sad one. But I'm confident, Juniper, that you will be able to get your cat back, and I'll tell you why. If you're in Washington, D.C. or if you're outside in Virginia or Maryland, I can tell you a different place to go, but go to the shelter over on Oglethorpe, Humane Rescue Alliance. And they will help you, with your parents, to get a trap and to put some of your cat's favorite food and treats in that trap. And it's a humane trap, so it will not hurt your cat.
WEITZMANThen your cat will go in there, hopefully the door will shut, and you'll be able to bring your cat back home again. And have patience, because it can take weeks to get a cat to come home again. But I bet that cat will come home. And also, if you stay over there and you make sure your cat sees you -- don't stay over there -- but walk over there and check for your cat and just let her know that you're around. And she knows how to get back home. She'll do it, but I think the trap might be your best bet with some food or her favorite treats inside it. What do you think about that?
NNAMDIJuniper, thank you very much for your call. You know, the reason Dr. Gary knows so much about Washington is because before he headed up San Diego Humane Society, he led the Washington Animal Rescue League, now called the Humane Rescue Alliance. All of these groups have amazing animal rescue stories, so he's pointing you in the right direction. Dr. Gary, should cats be allowed to roam the neighborhood on their own? And I've seen some people try to walk cats on leashes. Is that a good idea?
WEITZMANOh, I love the walking on leashes. When I lived up on Capitol Hill, we had a neighbor who walked her two cats on the leash up and down A Street. It was fantastic to see. So, here's the best answer for that. If you're to ask a cat if cats should be allowed to roam outdoors, every cat will say yes. (laugh) And there are a number of cats who actually insist on it. So, whether we like it or not, there are definitely cats that will not stay put in the house.
WEITZMANSo, all that being said, it's not safe. It's just not as safe as we want them to be. So, you know, here in San Diego, we have a lot of coyotes, we have raptors, and it's really scary, you know, to think of a cat being outdoors. We still have a number of them that insist and have to go outdoors, because they just won't stay in a home, but it's much safer for them to stay in a home. But cats get out. They really do. And, you know, the thing is, they're really good at taking care of themselves outside when they're out, as well.
WEITZMANSo, there are community cats -- and we talk a lot about them in animal welfare now -- that are very, very comfortable being outdoors and taking care of themselves, often with people's help. Food, just like Juniper mentioned, that's out there for them, cover that'll keep them warm, even in a Washington, D.C. winter. But, you know, it's a complicated situation with cats. The thing that we know, without any hesitation, though, cats are not dogs. Very different, very different animal.
NNAMDIIndeed. A cat just strolled by in my alleyway strolling on his or her way home, because I see him or her every single day, headed home. Thank you very much for your call, Juniper. Here is 11-year-old Elijah in Arlington, Virginia with what might be a crucial question. Elijah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIJAHI was wondering how pets are being affected, because they can't socialize as much as other animals because of COVID-19.
WEITZMANOh, that's great, Elijah. That is the best question of the day. Here's the thing. I think our pets are doing fantastic. And they do love the company of their own species. We all do, but I don't think there's anything our pets love more than us. And the fact that we're home and that so many people are home because of COVID, we are spending more time with our pets, understanding them better, taking even better care of them. And I think they're really appreciating it. I really do.
WEITZMANNow, if it's safe where you are in Arlington to go to a park with your parents or with your dog, and there are other people with dogs and you can stay socially distanced, but you can let the dogs play, that's a great thing. But, honestly, if a dog was given a choice of their human or another dog, nine times out of 10, I think they're going to pick you.
NNAMDI(laugh) Thank you for your call, Elijah. Here's 13-year-old Grace in Silver Spring. Grace, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GRACEWhat is the most unusual animal you've rescued?
WEITZMANOh, my heavens. The most unusual animal. The most -- Grace, this is a great question. Just a month ago, our humane law enforcement team, our humane officers actually rescued about a dozen lobsters. How do you like that? The lobsters were actually found in a box in someone's car that actually got pulled over by the county sheriff's department here in Northwestern San Diego (laugh) right by the beach. And it was all these lobsters that were in the box.
WEITZMANSo, I think that has to be the most unusual rescue that we've ever done. There are other ones, as well, but all those lobsters got put back into the ocean, and they're not going on someone's dinner table. And I think that's a pretty good rescue for those crustaceans.
NNAMDIThe 2020 great lobster rescue. Gary Weitzman, also known as Dr. Gary, is the president and CEO of San Diego Humane Society and the former host of the "Animal House," the show produced by WAMU that was heard nationally for several years. Dr. Gary, it was great hearing your voice again. Thank you so much for joining us.
WEITZMANYou, too, Kojo. This made my whole month, honestly.
NNAMDIMine, too. Kojo for Kids was produced by Lauren Markoe, and our conversation on international students was produced by Ines Renique. We need your help with our annual winter reading show, so tell us, in the year 2020, what was the best book you read? Record a voice memo and send the recording to Kojo@wamu.org with the subject line "best books." We'll play a selection of your responses next week.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, a local filmmaker discovered that three men were lynched in Montgomery County in the late 19th century. Now he's honoring the victims and their stories in a documentary. Plus, on Election Day, four states voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, and D.C. voted to decriminalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms. We'll talk about what that signals about the decades-long war on drugs. That all starts at noon tomorrow. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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