Animal Speak

Patricia McConnell and Larry Meiller share memories from their former radio show 'Calling All Pets'

Photo by Martha Busse

For fourteen years, Wisconsin Public Radio’s Calling All Pets has provided answers to listeners’ most vexing animal questions. Whether your new puppy had chewed through a closet full of sling-backs, your old spaniel suddenly started napping in the bathtub, or you were just wondering how the heck to keep ravenous rabbits from devouring your radicchio, animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell and radio host Larry Meiller were there to set your mind at ease ... or at least commiserate with your plight. In October 2008, after more than five hundred episodes syndicated in nearly one hundred cities, Calling All Pets stopped producing new shows (repeats will run through June). But before the show bounded off to greener dog parks, we asked Patricia and Larry to share a few of their memories.

How did Calling All Pets start?

LM: Patricia first appeared as a guest on my daily show and was very popular.

PM: I was promoting a herding dog trial that I was helping to organize. I asked if I could come on again the next year, and the producer asked if I could broaden the scope to talk about canine behavior, knowing that I was doing my Ph.D. research on a related topic. I became a regular guest on his show and was eventually asked to do [Calling All Pets] with Larry.

What’s your favorite memory of the show?

LM: Working with Patricia, who does an amazing job of answering complicated questions in a way that any of us can understand ... and doing it in about three minutes.

PM: There are so many! If I had to pick two it would be being connected to thousands of people who believe that animals and animal behavior are important parts of our lives and working with Larry Meiller. Larry is not only as kind and delightful in person as he is on the radio, he is also a consummate professional, and he taught me so much about being on the radio. Larry is one of the best, and Wisconsin should be proud of him.

What was the oddest call?

LM: I think the oddest was the guy who called from somewhere in the southeast part of the country who had been listening to our show and had heard us talk about how animals will scent mark a territory. He said he had had a bear coming to his bird feeder, so he got out his ladder and climbed up the trees in the yard and did his own “scent marking” about seven feet up each tree. He surmised that the bear would smell the urine and, in his words, “figure there was a great big bear in the area and leave. Do you think that will work?” We asked him to call back and let us know, but he never called back. Maybe the bear got him.

PM: I asked him to send us a videotape.

What do you think was the best advice you gave on the show?

PM: Oh my, that’s tough. Out of fourteen years, perhaps the most helpful information I conveyed was that our animals, no matter how much they love us, don’t come reading our minds or speaking English. We have to teach them what we want, and do that using positive and humane methods, rather than using force and intimidation.

LM: I think Patricia did an amazing job teaching people how positive reinforcement is such a wonderful tool to use in working with companion animals. Many people also said they used the technique to good effect on their kids and/or spouses.

What’s next, post-Calling All Pets?

PM: I’m continuing to speak around the country and the world—I just got back from giving a seminar in Sweden—and have a new book coming out in November, Tales of Two Species. It’s a collection of essays about the behavior of dogs (and their people), and how an increased understanding of behavior and learning will enhance the relationship between you and your dog. I have a new website at patriciamcconnell.com and would love Calling All Pets listeners to join me on my blog at theotherendoftheleash.com, an inquiry into the ethology and psychology of animals and the people who love them.

LM: I’m continuing with my daily radio show and teaching in the UW Department of Life Sciences Communication. Patricia has promised to appear as a guest on my daily show. I’m hoping she’ll have the time to do it on a regular basis.

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