Ocean Beach vet and San Diego Humane Society president pens children’s guides to pet training
Dr. Gary Weitzman is an Ocean Beach resident, a veterinarian and president and chief executive of the San Diego Humane Society. To say he is an expert on pets would be an understatement. He’s literally written the book — make that, books — on the topic.
Late this summer, National Geographic Kids published his two latest books, “Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide” and “Pounce! A How to Speak Cat Training Guide,” which are companions to his previous books “How to Speak Dog: A Guide to Decoding Dog Language” in 2013 and “How to Speak Cat: A Guide to Decoding Cat Language” in 2015.
“It was natural to put these out a few years later,” Weitzman said. “The first ones are really about reading dog and cat body language, and these are how to interact with dogs and cats and train them to be our companions.”
The books are written for a young audience, though Weitzman said they’re for the whole family.
“We know that we don’t want kids to train animals without having their parents to help and to make sure that they stay safe and the animals stay safe, so it really is for the whole family,” he said.
Because of his work at the San Diego Humane Society, the books serve a greater purpose, Weitzman said. Starting children on animal training early may prevent families from having to relinquish their pets due to behavioral issues.
“My heart is in animal sheltering, and here at San Diego Humane, the biggest thing that we worry about with animals is to make sure that they are well cared for, of course, and safe for people in their homes,” he said. “Many people relinquish animals because of behavior issues, so honestly, if we start young with our kids and animals, they’re going to be better companions for us, and hopefully fewer animals come into the shelter.”
The book covers a wide range of topics, from why it’s important to train your pets for safety purposes to the value of pets leading an enriched life. It emphasizes that pet training is vital for both humans and their four-legged friends.
The training guides have come at an opportune time since more people are home with their pets during the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for things to do as a family.
“The silver lining [of the pandemic] has been the incredible bond that has developed between people and their pets,” Weitzman said. “We can’t fill the shelters — we don’t want to fill the shelters, of course. But we want to be a resource for people that need a safe place for their pets if they can’t keep them. Right now, during COVID, we have so many people who want to adopt, so many people who want to foster, in numbers that I’ve never seen in my entire 30-year career in animal sheltering. So it’s really amazing.”
Weitzman said it’s a rare time for the San Diego Humane Society in that it can’t keep enough animals sheltered to meet public demand. He hopes the trend is permanent.
“I do think that here in San Diego, where people really care about their pets and care about the environment and care about animals, people are not going to just turn around when this is over, when that day comes, and return their animals,” he said. “I think they’re going to keep these bonds and they’re going to be stronger than ever and animals are going to be a permanent part of their lives. That’s what we’re counting on.”
Weitzman himself has a dog, Betty, an almost 13-year-old pit bull/Lab mix. She’s gotten him through the pandemic restrictions, he said.
“She’s a huge comfort; she’s in the office with me every day, at home, obviously, with me,” he said. “They’re an incredible support system all to themselves. It’s definitely been a silver lining during these very strange times we’re going through.”
Weitzman believes San Diego’s natural beauty plays a big part in the city being an ideal home for pet owners.
“When I got here in 2012, everybody said this is the most dog-friendly city in the United States. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard that everywhere I’ve ever been,’” he said. “But honestly, I really do think it is and I think a major reason for that is because we’re all here because we love nature and the outdoors, and animals are a huge part of that. ... I can’t even imagine going for a hike without my dog. So I think that’s why so many of us are so attached to animals and animal causes here. We’re really grateful for that at the Humane Society, I can tell you that.”
Weitzman’s books are available through Amazon, Warwick’s and wherever books are sold. A portion of the proceeds from sales goes to the San Diego Humane Society.