Saturday, April 3, 2010

Meet Tracie Hotchner - Your Pets Best Friend

I will never forget the first time I listened toTracie Hotchner, host of Cat Chat on Martha Stewart Living Radio; within minutes of the very first show, I was hooked. She was no nonsense, obviously passionate about her work, and quite direct with her callers. I knew within that very first hour, Tracie Hotchner was someone I would want to listen to as often as possible.

Fast forward to the following year and I was faced with a stray mother cat giving birth to six beautiful kittens. I didn’t know what to do! It was my first time dealing with a newborn kitten on any level! I turned to Tracie Hotchner, who helped me understand what to look for if there was a problem and what to expect as these tiny bundles of fur started growing up. Thanks to Tracie’s help and guidance every week on Cat Chat,  David and I adopted one of the little kittens and naming him "Sirius," inspired by our new pets best friend, Tracie Hotchner.

Tracie brought the keen eye of her background as an investigative reporter to every aspect of living with a dog, resulting in THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know. Tracie has established herself as a foremost pet wellness advocate in the United States. Her encyclopedic book covers everything from medical issues to training, nutrition and problem solving; winning the hearts and minds of people whose dogs are their family members.

Tracie did it again for cat lovers with the all-encompassing THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. Her investigative research exposed a number of startling revelations about creating a safe and interesting life for cats, not the least of which was to avoid the harm of feeding the highly-processed carbohydrates in dry cat food to an “obligate carnivore” - coining the phrase “kitty crack” to describe it.

Tracie also has a “mini-empire” of weekly live radio programs, all dealing with dog and cat wellness issues. She interviews experts in the field, authors of books about animals, and takes callers’ questions on the air. CAT CHAT® is on Wednesday nights on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius 112/XM 157 satellite radio – DOG TALK & CAT CHAT® is on Saturday nights on WOR 710 AM in New York City, and her first show, DOG TALK® on NPR station WLIU 88.3 FM from Southampton New York won a prestigious Gracie Award in 2010 for “Outstanding Host of an Entertainment/Information show on public radio.

Tracie has not only become my trusted pet care resource, but a friend as well. Tracie graciously agreed to answer a few questions recently for this House Blend exclusive interview:

You’ve authored two wonderful books on pet care; “The Dog Bible” and “The Cat Bible.” What was your motivation/inspiration to write these two books?

Nobody had ever tackled a “Dr. Spock for pets” – one reference book that would cover every single aspect of sharing your life with a dog or cat. So I decided to climb that mountain - I love a challenge!

Have you always been a pet lover?

Earliest memories are crawling around with my older “sibling” Pango, a year old Bedlington terrier. I think I barked before I spoke. And as a child growing up in Connecticut I had a Noah’s Ark menagerie – all in pairs. I had 2 donkeys (Jackie & Jennie, who wound up having a baby, Tinkerbelle), two sheep, lots of exotic chickens, a pair of ducks, different kinds of exotic rabbits, and of course many pairs of hamsters with names like Peaches and Cream.

I first became familiar with you when you started your Cat Chat radio show on Martha Stewart Living Radio. How did you come to connect with Martha Stewart and the radio channel?

The top fellow at Martha’s Omnimedia Empire happened to hear me being interviewed on the local NPR station in Southampton about The Dog Bible and I found out later just loved my voice and personality. Out of the blue I got an email from the head of Martha’s radio channel asking whether I waned to “join their world.” Needless to say I jumped at the chance – and The Cat Bible was about to be published but I had already trademarked the name CAT CHAT and had a logo designed – so I offered them me doing that show and they jumped at it./ Timing is everything in life.

I understand you now have three radio shows?

Yup – I have my original NPR show called DOG TALK on the new NPR station in the Hamptons called Peconic Public broadcasting – then CAT CHAT and my newest show is live in NYC on Saturday nights and is called “Tracie Hotchner’s DOG TALK & CAT CHAT.”

Do you have others who assist you in the production of your radio shows?

If only! I wish! In my dreams! Incredibly I do it all alone and sometimes marvel at how I pull this off- deciding guests I want, contacting them, arranging a date, reminding them, tweeting the show topic – and all that on top of tons of emails to answer.

What’s a typical day like putting a radio show together?

It’s a wave of activity that happens constantly – every time I hear of someone or a book or a topic that intrigues me I learn more, reach out and connect with that expert then invite them on the show – but the management of the website and email inbox is where 90% of time & energy goes. We all know how email can suck the marrow out of your bones – and in fact, mine are feeling a bit brittle at the moment!

On Cat Chat you drive home the message of good nutrition for pets and the draw-backs of what you refer to as “kitty-crack.” What is the best type of meals we can provide for our pets? (both cats and dogs)

The yardstick is exactly the same as for people food: higher quality ingredients – in the most natural state possible - with the least amount of processing. Variety from different food groups is also important, although with kitties it’s variety in the protein source since they should get a meat-only diet, with no more than 10% carbs. What we want to really avoid is corn-based foods, because those foods that are loaded with corn in different versions tend to be fattening, be way too heavy on the highly processed carbohydrates, which is the main no-no of pet nutrition. No kitty crack at all for cats, and reduce the amount of kibble in your dogs diet to no more than half his meals.

What I have enjoyed most about listening to Cat Chat is your straight forward, no-nonsense answers to caller’s questions and the fact that you’re consistent with your message. Frankly, you’re messaging goes against the grain of most manufacturers of pet food and even a good many vets. Has the public been duped all these years?

We have all been led down a garden path. And what I love about my listeners is that the very minute they hear the holes in the story they have been told, they know instantly they have been misled and misinformed and start using their own commonsense. It’s a beautiful thing, the triumph of intelligence and integrity and devotion to their pets getting people to take responsibility for their pet’s wellness and making decision based on their own good sense.

You are very supportive of animal adoption through shelters/rescues. What should a potential pet owner look for in a shelter/rescue? Are there any ‘red flags’ that people should be aware of?

A red flag would be that they charge a very high fee for "adopting" - above $150 for a dog or $200 for a puppy - because it signifies they may be selling dogs, not rescuing them. Otherwise a shelter should have a volunteer program- that's a sign of a really well thought out facility. And of course that it not smell terrible (i.e. is cleaned regularly) and where cats are concerned that they have done the spay/neuter already (not relying on people who adopt) and have determined that the cat is not positive for any illnesses. For dogs, you want some sort of credible behavior evaluation so you aren’t taking home a dog that may bite or have other serious behavior issues.

Pets of course are not immune to health issues. What are the most common health issues for both dogs/cats? Are there preventative measures that can be taken as we raise our pets to minimize these health issues?

That is a two-page answer! There is nothing that befalls all pets – except perhaps obesity, which comes from feeding too many highly processed carbohydrates (as I’ll explain when I come to Detroit to give my Pet Nutrition Truth talk!) Cats get fat for one reason only: you are feeding them dry food which is a heavily carb food which they are not “designed” to digest. They are obligate carnivores who need meat only. All the kitty urinary tract issues (stones, crystals, blockage, and infection) can be traced to the ill effects of feeding what I call Kitty Crack – any dry food. Wet food from a can or frozen raw pet food is the solution to these problems. For dogs, feeding an exclusively kibble diet without real food in it – and half their diet consisting of real recognizable protein – will lead to obesity. Good health and even preventive care begins in the food bowl (for our four-legged as well as two-legged family members!)

Are there common behaviors in pets that are perhaps misunderstood by owners?

I think people misinterpret aggression in dogs – they call normal dog-to-dog behavior “aggressive” when it is really just informational body language and vocalization to establish a hierarchy. Then they refer to a dog who bites people as “nipping” them or “being protective of me” when it is actually a full blown dangerous aggressive behavior requiring emergency intervention by a certified behaviorist. People with pussy cats think the cats don’t want to interact, that they are “aloof” – when really they may be feeling punky from being fed dry food (many cats act more energetic and affectionate as soon as you get them on wet food) and also they may be stand offish because people have not engaged them in games and interaction they can relate to in a feline way. People need to initiate with cats way more than they realize.

For those that have never shared their life with a dog or a cat, what advice would you give a potential pet-parent before they make the decision to adopt?

Just like people unsure whether they want a baby, I recommend spending time around the babies and kids of all ages of other people and imagine yourself living with that 24-7. Same thing with pets – hang out with different friends’ dogs and cats – take one for a weekend. See what’s involved; check out how you feel about the responsibility but also the companionship and connection. Do the trial-and-error thing with other peoples’ pets – don’t impulsively buy or adopt a pet and realize a week into it that this isn’t what you expected.

There have been news stories in our area recently of people ‘hoarding’ pets, with literally a hundred or more dogs or cats. What is the maximum number of cats or dogs that should be in a single family home?

There’s no fixed number. It depends on how big a space a person has and whether she has the ability to divide spaces and give proper wellness care and nutrition to whatever number of pets she has. It’s really a question of resources: if you have a 6 bedroom house and segregate groups of cats into 5 of them, you can have a lot more cats than if you just gave them the run of the house. Dogs need exercise as well as personal attention and training. Yet for some people, having three cats is too much and the house turns into a giant litter box and with three dogs they can be ungroomed, unwashed, unexercised, and malnourished – and all that can appear like hoarding. It’s a complex psycho-social phenomenon and very hard to truly eliminate.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Free time? What’s that?

What’s next for Tracie Hotchner? New projects on the horizon?

One thing I am NOT going to be writing is THE DONKEY BIBLE: Everything Your Donkeys Assume You Know. We now have a pair of mini-donkeys, mother and daughter retired breeding Jennies, Mona and Lisa. I think maybe they may inspire my next project. One project I am really proud to be part of and seems to be enlarging is being the spokesperson for the evolving natural foods section of PETCO. I am really looking forward to bringing the natural foods message to as many people as possible so they will learn how to make the best possible choices for their four-legged family members.

Tracie will be making her first Michigan appearance, April 18th, at the PETCO store in Westland, Michigan.  Click on the events page at the top of this blog for more information.


mike said...

What a fantastic interview. Even as a non-pet owner I appreciate her wisdom and knowledge. So glad she was an inspiration for Sirius! What a great story.

Carol said...

Thank you, Kenn. I really enjoyed this interview. Not sure I will be able to make it to Petco, but I will definitely be picking up The Dog Bible.

Elaine said...

Great interview! Thank you for introducing us to Tracie. Good luck on your event this weekend.