Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
What drew my attention to Mark Thompson was catching him when he’d pop up on Tim Conway Jr’s KFI radio show, sometimes as a guest host, or during his regular Tuesday night appearances on the show. Almost always there would be some talk about animals or his being vegan. Hence the reason for this interview.
Mark grew up in Washington, DC, where he had one sad story to share about having a dog as a small child. “As a kid you really get attached to animals. It could be a turtle, it could be a lizard, or a dog or a cat. The relationship a child has with an animal is so reflective of our natural hearts. Before we get carved up by society a little bit our heart wants to bond and take care of and help others or animals. We had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Barnaby which was a very energetic dog that always wanted to run and go outside. I was about 6 years old. Kids want a dog, but then Mom and Dad have to walk it. Mom and Dad have to take care of it and it’s a pain in the ass for Mom and Dad. So the kids get to pet it and play with it sometimes when they want to. I’m sure that was our situation with Barnaby, who was my first dog.”
“With that in mind my parents decided that because we lived in the city Barnaby would be better suited for a farm situation or a place where he could run,” Mark continues. “We had good friends who had a farm, who we saw often, so that’s where Barnaby was sent to live. It really was a pretty good solution that my folks had come up with. But unfortunately the story has a sad ending because Barnaby was dognapped. There were a lot of dognappings in that area and he was picked up along with a bunch of other dogs and, my parents said, sold to a laboratory for testing. I just remember being absolutely devastated. The reason I mentioned the attachment part first was when my dad said that they had given the dog away to our friends I remember being devastated for the first time. I think my dad did the right thing. He didn’t discuss it with me ahead of time which was probably the right thing to do so there wasn’t any crying or screaming – it had already been done. The dog was gone when my dad told me. But then when I heard that he was gone forever in that horrible way I remember being absolutely, profoundly devastated. Even when I think back to it now it was just so painful. So that was my first dog, and that experience always stayed with me.”
“Now I have three cats from a shelter that are all sort of quirky and weird. You can see sometimes how animals behaviorally might end up in the shelter because people are so unforgiving about what they want in an animal. Cats are so mellow I don’t see why anybody’s got an issue at all. People literally take these cats to the shelter because they’re not paying enough attention to them. That’s disgusting to me. They’re not that kind of animal sometimes. I have one male cat who really wants your attention all the time. And I have one female cat that is absolutely frightened of me and everyone else. I don’t know what her history is but she’s safe here. Occasionally she’ll come around and she’s getting better, but it’s taken years.”
Mark’s cats are Charlie, a black cat; Moki, a tabby and Frenchie, an orange colored cat. “They all get along and in fact are sleeping together right now,” he says. “Animals are strange because they do have their own little patterns that don’t necessarily reflect the buddy system. I think if the cats all come into a situation together they tend to get along better. That’s kind of how it is with these guys, who I got at the same time from the West LA Animal Shelter. I wish I could do more. I think if there was another person in the house I’d like to get dogs, but I worry they’d be home for long periods without me.”
“I always say it takes a real macho guy to have cats. Dogs are so much easier to have - it’s like saying I have a BMW when you say I have a dog. Cats are more like a Chevrolet – it’s not a brag – and guys need a brag somehow. That might not be true and that might not be such a good parallel but I’ve always been proud of the fact that I have cats. Dogs are more of a vanity pet. I had two cats but one of them got very, very sick. I was desperate to do something for it and was in a really tough spot. I was hydrating it and doing all this other stuff for it but it died. Here I was already very active in trying to rescue a lot of dogs primarily on television with this segment called Thompson’s Tails which I used to do on FOX 11 News. But because I still had one surviving cat I thought I’d try to foster another cat, also because I was so haunted by having not known quite what to do for the one that died.”
“It’s remarkable the network of people you meet and the goodness that comes to you from opening your home and your heart, even a little bit, to a little creature. So I fostered this cat who came with this foster person and a vet who wanted to make sure she was ok. And from that vet and foster person came a network of other people who were cat sitters and knowledgeable about cats and the best veterinary centers (there are so many). So from that world I gained all of this help with the surviving cat. The last year of her life, tragically she was affected by a tumor, but the difference was that I had the very best care for that surviving cat because of that foster cat and all the people who came into my world because of her. In a sense the legacy of being haunted by that other cat was this whole world of people to help out with this surviving cat. That was my first experience with fostering a cat and I think it’s a great thing for all the reasons I just mentioned. Since then I’ve fostered dogs and other cats, which is really hard, but very rewarding.”
“Thompson’s Tails is a pet adoption segment that started on FOX 11 and carried over to Tuesday nights at 9:30pm on the Tim Conway Jr radio show on KFI,” Mark explains. “I must tell you the results from doing this on radio have been startlingly good. People drive vast distances to adopt animals. They hear these stories and they want to help and get involved. I just never saw that level of involvement with television because doing this on radio is connecting with the audience in a more profound way. They’re really a great audience at KFI and we’ve had so many success stories that we do talk about.”
“The animals we feature tend to come from grass roots rescue groups and some bigger ones as well. What works best for me,” Mark continues, “and what I would suggest for anyone trying to get a dog or a cat adopted or to raise money or awareness for anything is to tell the story. You need a writer who can tell the story so people understand the situation this animal finds itself in and why help is needed. The groups that can do that for me are the ones that have a leg up over the others. Some of these smaller Mom and Pop rescue organizations are the best at doing that. Those little descriptions may be enough to move a person’s heart to action.”
“Even though we probably feature more dogs than cats, we had a couple of weeks where we only featured cats. Right now we’ve only been working with rescue groups but I would like to work directly with people from the animal shelters as well. I think that’s a tough world to work in because you know some of these creatures that are so magnificent are going to be killed. The plight of an innocent animal is a sad one to witness and these people have to witness it every day.”
People can contact Mark regarding Thompson’s Tails directly at: Mark@markthompsononline.com, and he’s also on Twitter and Facebook.
Thompson & Espinosa on KFI
With all the things Mark has done over his career, I asked what he enjoys most.
“I have to say what I’m doing now is really fun and challenging,” he replies. “I really love radio. It’s so liberating. Television is very much about not offending anybody and bringing the most people in… radio is about bringing the most people in but I feel like you’re going to offend people along the way. You almost can’t help it. Some of these real gutsy hosts - like I look at John & Ken and Bill Handel - they don’t care if they offend anybody, they just go with it. And those are the guys who have big followings. I think I have to learn to do that more. My new radio show with Elizabeth Espinosa is a new challenge for me, to work with a co-host. We’ve never worked together before on the radio and she has a style and I have a style that are not necessarily the same, so we have to kind of marry them. She’s got great energy, she’s smart and has a great sense of humor. So I think ultimately, when we get that dance right it will really be a potent combination. The show is just like most of the other talk shows on KFI – we talk about the news of the day, the culture, and offer our impressions on things. It’s a pretty loose format in that way, but it’s a work in progress.”
“I’m still going to do Tim’s show on Tuesday nights because I love doing it and it’s a way for me to honor the history that brought me to KFI. Without Tim I wouldn’t even be on KFI. And Tim, for all of his cynicism and kind of brushing it off and saying ‘I know you’re here to hawk some dogs’… he kind of makes fun of it. But if you look at Tim’s life he has more dogs and cats in his house than I do in mine. He’s great. I’m the vegan and I’m the animal guy….but Tim really walks the walk. He would probably fight me on this but I think the truth is he’s a man of incredible heart and his life reflects that.”
Mark also is very proud of his podcasts he produces called The Edge. These are typically an hour of unfiltered conversations which you can find at Edge-show.com. “I enjoy talking to so many different people and just decided to put these podcasts together myself. It’s also a work in progress,” he explains.
One of the most poignant interviews Mark did was with Sam Simon, of the Sam Simon Foundation, who talks all about his cancer diagnosis with his typical Sam Simon humor and honesty, along with being a vegan and an ardent supporter of PETA and The Sea Shepherd Society. For those anxious to know how Sam is doing, Mark says he’s “hanging in. And more than hanging in he’s rallying. He was just given a death sentence and he’s already proven the doctors’ wrong in how long he’s lived.”
“Sam is the most amazing spokesperson for animals that I’ve ever met,” says Mark. “And I’ve met a lot of great ones. But Sam is an advocate, he makes sense, he’s up on the latest things and he’s a funny, articulate, passionate spokesman for animals. And I’m in awe of him.”
On Being a Vegan –
“It happened pretty quickly for me,” he explains. “I did it for ethical reasons and started as a vegetarian. And then I listened to a woman named Colleen Patrick Goudreau talking about the way animals are treated and I thought, I have to change this. Vegetarianism absolutely is not enough and I became vegan the next day. The dairy industry is the worst, but nothing is treated worse than a chicken for pure horror. It’s like a torture movie. You can go from pigs to chickens and it’s unspeakably horrible. So for me getting away from dairy and anything from a chicken, eggs, etc, has been great. My conscience is clear and the only thing I can say is that I’m ashamed that it took me so long. For my ideals to be what they were and for my ethics to be what they are, so clearly pointed that way, I’m ashamed that it took me as long as it did to become a vegan. Everybody in their own time.”
“To those in the animal adoption world I would say, if you really think about it, it doesn’t make sense to love one so much and to eat the other and tacitly approve of the way they are treated. By eating it and by supporting it you are approving of it in some way. It’s a process. I would urge everybody to begin that process on whatever timetable they want. I want to make it clear. Two years ago I was eating everything, and I’m embarrassed about it and I’m ashamed about it. I became a vegan two years ago but became a vegetarian only a short time before that. That’s the way I do stuff.”
“Some people need to do these things slowly. For most people who are beginning the process I would say - to whatever degree - you can make a difference. It’s just like the dog fostering. If you can’t have a dog, then foster a dog for a little while. If you can’t be a vegan, then be a vegan three days a week. Just begin the process. Do what you can. Because believe it or not you’re saving animals and you’re saving suffering by participating to whatever extent you are able.”
(Mark Thompson can be heard Monday – Friday from 1 – 3pm on KFI 640 am radio. And tune in to his really entertaining podcasts at Edge-show.com. Thompson’s Tails can be heard on the Tim Conway Jr radio show on KFI every Tuesday night at 9:30pm.)
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