Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
"I was the proverbial little boy with everything in his pocket that moved," Warren relates. "When I was in elementary and junior high school, the teachers would make me empty my pockets before I went in the room. My poor Jewish mother. God knows what’s still hatching under those beds in that house… snakes and rats and just about everything else."
"My parents were very patient with me" Warren continues. "I was a horrid student. And I hated school. Actually, my mother spent more time in high school than I did. I was always in trouble. I would bring stray dogs I’d find on the way to school to class with me. I was not an easy kid to raise."
Warren Eckstein is a perfect example of what can happen if you follow your dream. So how did this difficult child grow up to be "The Dr. Laura of Pets," with a following of 12 million faithful viewers and listeners each month?
"I turned down a scholarship to Veterinary School because I realized at a young enough age that I have an abstract mind versus a statistical mind. I knew that the scientific end wasn’t for me… the behavioral end was," Warren replies. "Although I did various jobs as a kid, from delivering newspapers to shining shoes, no matter what I was doing, the animals were always my motivation."
"I went to Long Island University where my undergraduate degree was in human psychology," Warren recalls, "but I basically got kicked out because I released all the animals in the laboratories. There were thousands of guinea pigs and hamsters and rats. And they were doing research on hallucinogenic drugs on rats and mice. So I broke into the school at night and let all of the animals loose. I got into a lot of trouble. And I spayed and neutered every cat. They also had stables at the school where there were stray animals. I would take them out at night, have them spayed, bring them back and release them, and no one knew they were spayed or neutered."
"All through school I worked with veterinarians and humane societies with whatever dog or cat or animal they had that was misbehaving or could not be adopted because of a behavioral problem," Warren continues. "I would analyze and figure out a way to resolve it. I also trained for years overseas, studying in Europe as well, and got a good part of my education in Germany."
The Hugs and Kisses Approach
Known as a pet expert, it’s difficult to give Warren one title. "To this day my mother asks, ‘what is it you do for a living?’ People describe me as a pet therapist, a pet psychiatrist, or a pet behaviorist. I think of myself as an animal social worker. I say that because I’m a firm believer that unless you work with the entire family, you’re not going to get any type of consistent result. Social work means working within the entire family or community. So that’s what I try to do, work with the animals and the humans as well."
"For example," Warren explains, "you have the husband who tells the dog to jump up. The wife tells the dog to get down. The dog calls me on the phone and says ‘isn’t that the definition of neurosis?’ You have to work with the whole family."
"Most people in the animal field focus on the negative. If the animal is doing something wrong- it’s correct, correct, correct. I often joke that when I go to homes and say "No," the pet comes, thinking that’s his name because he’s heard it so often."
"Here’s an example: why is a 12-week old dog digging? Either it’s bored, or it’s lacking exposure or socialization. I would increase the exercise and find a place in the backyard for the dog to dig. Listen, he likes to dig. It’s no big deal. I’ll give him a sandbox and teach him to dig here. So rather than focus on correction all the time I try to take what the animal has and focus on that. Just like the child who wants to be a musician. The parent who focuses on his musical background is going to have a child that’s going to be successful in music. I think the positive is the way to go."
"Do I ever correct an animal?" he asks. "Absolutely. Do I get mad at my dog or cat and yell, no, knock it off? Sure, I do. But the bottom line is to focus on the positive with hugs and kisses."
"I don’t believe that you can take an animal into a human environment, treat it like an animal and expect it to respond like a person. When you take an animal into your home it has to become a legitimate part of the family. Celebrate its birthday; buy it Christmas and Hanukkah presents; talk to it; watch tv with it; share its emotions. I believe in equality and letting the pet be a pet. Let a dog be a dog. Let him dig a hole. What’s the big deal! So he grabs a sock once in a while! I broke my father’s tools and my mother’s tchatchkes when I was growing up. Who cares! It’s part of being an animal! Everyone wants perfection. If you want perfection, get something with a battery!
"I focus on the positive," he continues. "I honestly believe that by giving the dog or cat more attention for being good than for being bad will give you a much more positive response. That’s what I call my hugs and kisses approach.
On Adopting Animals
Prior to moving to L.A. three years ago, Warren had a farm in upstate New York with 70 to 80 animals that he wouldn’t leave until they died of old age. "I had 2 pigs- one was 1200 pounds, the other 900 pounds; 6 chickens, 6 ducks, 22 rabbits, and 9 stray dogs and assorted cats," Warren enumerates. "It was as if there was a big flashing VACANCY sign at my farm. That’s why I bought it- for the animals."
"I’m down in animals right now only because we just remodeled my house. At the moment I just have Rio, a German Shepherd rescued half-an-hour before he was to be put to sleep in Seattle. He’s now 8 years old. With the house re-done, however, I’ll probably just adopt 6 dogs in one day and bring them home. I’ll visit my friends at H.A.R.T., up in Fillmore, and get some older dogs. H.A.R.T. is a great organization because they take the animals no one else wants. I’ll also get some cats and bring them all home at the same time. That’s my theory - go through the aggravation for a week or two, then it’s over and done with. And adoption is definitely the way to go because I do believe that once you adopt a dog or a cat, it knows you saved its life."
What Question Is He Asked Most Often?
"The most common question I get is, ‘is it fair to have a pet now that I’m out of the house 8 or 9 hours a day?’ The answer is absolutely yes. It’s not the quantity of time you spend with your pet that’s important; it’s the quality. For example- I have incredible hours. But I’ll get up at 6 in the morning and go out in the yard with Rio for an hour, and as soon as I get home, Rio gets my first hour also, and my last hour too."
"We’re living in a latchkey pet society these days, so ‘how do I keep my pet occupied when I’m not home?’ is another question I’m often asked. The whole concept of Doggie Day Care is great. The dogs are socialized there. A good day care center will put the big dogs with the big dogs and the little guys with the little guys. And they’ll have naptime in the afternoon. I think it’s a great idea… as well as pet sitters. I like the concept of people coming into the home to take care of the pet."
About Pit Bulls
"There are a lot of people making decisions about animals that should stick to their politics and get out of the animal’s face. I am pro pit bull. I do not believe that god created any animal to be bad. I think that people create bad animals. If you take a cocker spaniel and put it in a crack house, you have an aggressive cocker spaniel. Take a pit bull and put him in my house, and you have a great dog."
Warren established The Hugs and Kisses Animal Fund as a memorial to his late wife, Faye. "I’m on the board of directors for some of the largest Humane Societies in the country," he explains. "A lot of these organizations have tremendous amounts of money with PR people working for them full time. But the people that really do the work are the "little mom and pop organizations" that have a white elephant sale once a year to raise fifty bucks to spay an animal. They don’t have the time or the knowledge to raise money. With my ability to reach so many people on a regular basis, I set up The Hugs and Kisses Fund to become a kind of United Fund for Animals. Eventually non-profit organizations registered by the IRS can send requests to us and we’ll help by giving them money. We’re still about 8 months away from doing this because we are still in our fund-raising process. But when we’re ready, we’ll absolutely let The Pet Press know."
Memoirs Of A Pet Therapist
During his many years on TV and as a trainer back east, Warren Eckstein has seen a lot of humorous and amazing things. "On Regis and Kathie Lee alone, I cost that show 5 couches because of pigs or llamas or whatever peeing on the couches. And I trained all the dogs for the mob in New York; all the Mafia were my clients. They used the same doctors, the same attorneys, and I became the animal behaviorist for the mob. We’re talking Gambino on down. Some of their pets were guard dogs, but a lot of them were just Fifi and Fluffy that they hung out with."
"I think the most important aspect of my work is in the message," he adds, "about adopting, and spaying and neutering. The radio, TV and newsletters I do allow me to reach about 12 million people a month. But if I can be responsible for a couple of thousand dogs or cats getting neutered and spayed, or someone knowing to take their dog to the vet, or making someone feel better over the loss of a pet, or adopting a pet… that’s the most rewarding part for me. The TV and radio are fun… it’s all a good part of what I do. But I would give it up tomorrow if I could put every Humane Society out of business!"
(Warren Eckstein can be seen on NBC’s Later Today at least twice a month, as well as the Weekend Today show at least once a month. He also makes regular appearances on Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee. His latest book, available in bookstores now, is his autobiography,"Memoirs of a Pet Therapist." Here in L.A. The Pet Show with Warren Eckstein can be heard every Saturday morning from 6am to 8am on KABC-AM 790 Radio, and you can visit him on the internet atwww.warrenshugsandkisses.com.)
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