Thought you were the ultimate animal lover? Think again. Tracey Stewart, author of Do Unto Animals, devotes her life to animal activism, rescuing dogs, pigs, bees, and more. Her book, praised by the likes of Jane Goodall and Carol Haggas, is full of humorous personal stories, hands on projects, and realistic advice to help readers better know their animal companions.
In addition to advocacy and writing, Stewart is the mother of two children and the wife of former Daily Show host Jon Stewart. We sat down with Tracey to talk about her pig rescue program, the animals she's brought home in the past 5 years, and where she draws inspiration.
7x7: What prompted you to leave your job as a vet tech and focus on animal advocacy?
TS: I actually left my job as a vet tech to become a parent, which is surprisingly a lot like being an animal advocate—protecting the innocent, giving voice to those who don’t have one, sleepless nights, and a willingness to clean up lots of poop, of course.
7x7: In Do Unto Animals, you talk about respecting even the smallest creatures (earthworms, bees, etc.), How can the average person learn to approach these creatures with respect and kindness?
TS: The other day my husband and I were eating lunch at a cafe when a giant bee flew in just as the Beatles' song "Let It Be" started playing. The waiter grabbed a to-go container to hit it and I yelled out, “Let it bee!” Luckily everyone thought it was very funny and we all started laughing and singing, "Let It Bee." We’ve all been so conditioned to think of insects as pests. When we slow down and notice them, and take the time to learn more about them, we realize how much they are doing to better our world.
7x7: Talk about your pig rescue program:
TS: Charlotte’s Web was my favorite book as a child; I dreamed of being a Charlotte one day. It didn’t take long, once our family purchased the farm, to hear about some pigs in need. Our first pig, Pugsley, a beautiful, burly pot-bellied pig, had been rescued once already from an abusive situation. Unfortunately, in his new home, he was being picked on by an older male pig. I asked my husband if we could rescue him. He knew he couldn't fight it. When he arrived home that evening I asked him if he wanted to meet them. His response was, “Them?” I had determined that Pugsley might feel less traumatized by the sudden change if one of his goat friends spent the night with him. After falling in love with Pugsley, we couldn’t get enough. Pigs are a smarter, noisier dog wrapped in an adorable round body. We’ve gone on to rescue three more piggies.
7x7: Speaking of which, who does the cooking in your home and how do you make it work since Jon eats meat?
TS: The good news is that I don’t do the cooking in our house. The other good news is that my husband used to be a short-order cook, so he is a genius in the kitchen. And the really, really good news is that he is trying not to eat meat anymore!
7x7: How many animals have you brought home?
TS: Oh boy, I'll give you the last 5 years. (They are all pictured on the inside cover page of my book.) They are Ally and Steady (horses), Barkly, Smudge, Lil’ Dipper, and Scout (dogs), Pugsley, Christopher, Anna, and Maybelle (pigs), Snowy, Blackberry, and Panda Bun (rabbits), Pipsqueak and Spud (Guinea Pigs), Maple (hamster), Jolene (parrot) and Brian Williams and Jimmy Superfly Snooka (fish).
7x7: Why do you think people opt for buying pets from breeders instead of adopting from shelters?
TS: Two misconceptions are at play here. First, people wrongfully assume that shelter animals are damaged goods. So much gold gets dumped off at shelters due to people’s inability to provide consistency, love, and focus for these animals. Shelter animals with the most daunting behavioral issues like aggression and biting are usually euthanized by overcrowded and underfunded shelters, but sadly so are animals that would have been outstanding family members. Secondly, people misconceive that purchasing from a breeder gives you certainty into an animal’s temperament. Choosing a specific breed may allow you to gauge the general look and size of an adult dog, and some behavior traits will run true, but I’ve yet to parent two dogs of the same breed that weren’t vastly different. Within every litter there is a canyon-wide range of personalities. Personality and compatibility are the best predictors of a long-term love affair between dog and guardian. I adore my husband, but that doesn’t mean that I’d be compatible with every handsome, blue-eyed, salt-and -pepper-haired Jewish man out there.
7x7: Where do you go for inspiration?
TS: I don’t have to go far. My family is my biggest source of inspiration. They are curious, creative animal-lovers. It makes for lots of exploration, trial and error, and laughter. Outside of my home I would say that Farm Sanctuary up in Watkins Glen, New York pushes me to get outside of my comfort zone, a.k.a. sofa, and inspires me to do more.
7x7: Where do you go to write when you’re on a deadline?
TS: I have so many animals that I would truly have to be on a plane to get any focused writing done. On land, I feel like there is always something I could be doing for somebody. More often my writing has to happen in fits and that’s fine, it just takes a little longer.
Your spirit animal:
I’m not exactly sure of what a spirit animal is, but I immediately imagined myself dressed as a cow cheerleader.
My sweet little Peekapoo (a Pekingnese/Poodle Mix).
Gene Baur’s first book Farm Sanctuary. It was the first time I realized I could be doing a lot better by animals.
Go-to comfort food:
I could eat baked potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The tire-like formation attaching itself to my waistline is a testament to this.
Favorite SF spot:
No question, the SF SPCA. They helped me find my canine soulmate Enzo. I am eternally grateful to them.
Make sure to check out Tracey Stewart's apperance at this year's Litquake: Tuesday, Oct. 13th; Z Space (450 Florida St.), litquake.org/traceystewart