Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An Interview with Tracie Hotchner

I had the good fortune to talk with Tracie Hotchner, author of THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know and web and radio host of Dog Talk and Cat Chat. While we talked, she was massaging her dog’s knee. Scooby Doo, one of her two Weimaraners, had recently had knee surgery. Tracie had met with Jody Chiquoine, canine clinical rehab consultant to Luke and The Boys and owner of Fitter Critters and had learned some massage techniques to help Scooby Doo.

I asked her how she became so interested in and committed to companion animal issues. She told me she’s “an investigative reporter who wanted to get facts to people about how to care for their dogs and cats. What are the right ways to feed them, what are the right ways to exercise them, what are the right ways to meet their psychological and physical needs?”

She sees herself as “a consumer advocate for dogs and cats and the people who share their lives … I’m there to tell you the truth. To not be biased, emotional, hysterical. My intention is to be as balanced as possible.” She said she feels incredibly lucky that she has been able to create her radio shows and the web site that goes with them. “They’re a place where people can come and read something that is transparent, unbiased.” The information she provides is based on material she’s researched, and if anybody gives her new information she’s thrilled to learn more. Her point is to be as flexible and knowledgeable as possible. “Nobody has the last word on anything” she said. “If you’re being led down the garden path and sold a bill of goods, I’m there to tell you about that … you need to know what’s being done to your pets and the pets of others in America in the name of something that may in fact just boil down to commerce.”

I asked her to comment of the Menu foods calamity. “You know, I had already written the truth about how pet food is made… Big business definitely has its hooks into places that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.” She went on to say she thought, “The food recall was actually a real blessing in disguise. I think it was the first time that people really stopped and said, ‘What am I putting in that dog’s mouth?’ … I think it saved a lot more deaths down the road and a lot more illness, even for people. None of us was really very clear how little food is made in America anymore and how much [food comes from] countries where they have a completely different value system — be it about animals or about people.”

So, how did she come to know about 2Dogs2000Miles? “…through The Honest Kitchen.” As she was on the road publicizing her books, she gave out samples of their food. Her dogs have been eating The Honest Kitchen food as part of every meal for many healthy years. “It was a way for people to see the diametric opposite of commercial dog food — something virtually unprocessed and completely healthy.” It was the Honest Kitchen’s owner, Lucy, who got in touch with her and said they were providing food for Luke’s dogs. Was there any chance that she could help get the word out about his walk? So that’s how Tracie came to know about 2Dogs and Luke, Hudson, and Murphy.

What is her advice to people whose dogs are about to go through or are going through chemo? The first advice she would give people, particularly those who own breeds that are at higher risk for cancer is, you have to have pet insurance. “You cannot make the decision to have a high risk breed in a vacuum. For an average of $30.00 a month [per dog] you will get up to $100,000.00 worth of any kind of medical care [the animal] needs. In a country where half of all dogs of every breed over the age of 2 are going to get cancer, when people say ‘I can’t afford it’ all I can say to them is you can’t afford not to.” Without insurance “you’re making decisions based on your pocket book. And you always have to say about cancer, if it wasn’t going to cost me anything, what would I do? The answer isn’t always, well, I would lay it all down. It isn’t always that. So my advice would be to anybody with any dogs who haven’t had cancer, get insurance immediately, with a cancer rider.”

Her second piece of advice: “Get a second opinion from another oncologist. Somebody has to tell you what the up side is of giving chemo. The really good oncologists are learning something new every single week. Your own vet doesn’t know it. It’s not realistic to ask your vet to know it. You have to take the animal to an oncologist. You have to find out what you can buy in terms of quality lifetime. They now give drugs that accompany the chemo that basically take away any of the down side in terms of nausea, and all those issues that plague people so badly.”

But, she also made this point: “Are you prolonging a mediocre quality of life? Stop a minute. Let’s talk about quality end of life care — where you stay home all day and feed them steak! Spend the money on steak. Spend the money on drives out to the beach and sit together and look out at the sea. You have to look at quality of life issues. What is it you’re prolonging? Is it quality of life or is it simply life because you cannot bear to let go? You have to put the dog’s quality of life before your own emotions. You have to be thoughtful in figuring out what you’re doing.”

Before we ended our conversation, I asked her to tell me something funny about her dogs, her two Weimaraners, Scooby Doo and Teddy, and her Collie Mix, Jazzy. (pictured above)

“Weimaraners are an extraordinary sort of dog. What would it be like to have a dog that would be totally fine if you left the room? I don’t know what it would be like to not have two, three dogs following me at all hours in any room I come and go from. It’s quite interesting to be a Pied Piper. It’s the nature of the breed. You cannot exclude them. They’re fine as long as somebody is talking to them or touching them every waking hour. Other than that, they’re really low maintenance! With Scooby Doo – if he looks at you and you don’t look back at him, he barks as if to say ‘Look at me!’"

And her Border Collie mix? “She’s a beautiful little dog. But Border Collies rile up other dogs. They bark in this high-pitched, shrill sort of way. They feel they have to alert you to everything going on; they have to go herd the car, herd the people, and the barking makes the other dogs think there’s something up that they should be worried about. Living with an animal on high alert – one eye open, one ear cocked all the time.” No wonder her name is Jazzy.

Very special thanks to Tracie for the interview and for her interest in and support of 2Dogs2000Miles. If you haven’t tuned into her radio show, which is archived on her web site, please do so. She talks with Luke twice a week, during her Dog Talk and Cat Chat shows, and every show offers great advice on animal care. And you can hear Tracie on WLIU 88.5 FM (Long Island University Public Radio) live at 11:00 AM Saturdays (Eastern time) as well as on Sirius Satellite Radio, channel 112.

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