If you’ve ever seen unusual animals appear as guests on a TV talk show, chances are Jack Hanna is responsible. He’s the likable wildlife expert dressed in khaki and his trademark safari hat. I’ve been a big fan of Jack and his work for most of my life.
On a personal note, Jack was gracious in writing an endorsement for my book, Wagging Tales: Every Animal Has a Tale, when I reached out to him a few years ago. Because of his endorsement, I was invited to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for a book signing. If you’re a fan of Jack and the work he does with animals, you already know he’s the director emeritus of that organization. As an avid follower myself, I knew that Jack has always dealt with many types of wild creatures as part of his professional career. However, I knew very little about his personal pets. I especially wanted to know more about the dogs in his life. So, I recently had the opportunity to steal some time from Jack’s busy schedule for a chat.
Jack said he got his first dog when he was four years old. He is now 65 and has always had dogs in his life. Most recently he’s had two dogs in his family: Brass, a Golden Retriever, and Tasha, a Golden Lab mix.
Brass made his transition from this world last year after fighting intestinal cancer. Jack stated that his vet originally only gave Brass a few months to live, but through treatment and diet, Brass lived two additional summers. During this time, Jack and his wife, Suzi, took a lot of extra pictures of Brass and took him to special places. Jack feels that doing that helped them in the grieving process.
“Don’t get embarrassed about crying after a pet’s loss,” he said.
This is a lesson he believes everyone should understand, including children. He said that he learned this lesson at a very early age when his “Tweety” bird passed away. He feels that this helped him better understand death and deal with the loss of his uncle and father.
His dog Tasha recently had a breathing issue and needed to have a tracheostomy to open her windpipe and allow her to breathe. “She is doing really well and has gotten used to it,” he said. Suzi, who is a nurse, keeps the trachea tube clean. Other than Tasha not being able to go into the water, everything else remains the same.
Jack has a team of supporters who help him with Tasha when he travels — which is a lot. Jack travels more than 200 days a year for special appearances. And the team drives Tasha from their home in Ohio to their home in Montana in the spring and fall. “They are young people who are used to driving the 2,000-mile trip,” Jack said. They make three stops during the trip for exercise and a good night’s sleep in a motel. They’ve also driven to Florida to visit family and vacation.
Jack said that he will always have dogs in his life. However, there won’t be any new ones for a while. “I’ll wait until I retire in a few years and then get a couple of more dogs,” he said. He wants to make sure that he has plenty of time to enjoy them and give them the best life possible.
Jack said he believes in responsible breeding and feels that most breeders are reputable. He has purchased dogs from professional breeders who follow the best standards and stand behind the dogs at their kennel.
He also supports rescue groups like Rolling Dog Farm, which takes in dogs and other animals that most would consider unadoptable because of their disabilities. “These dogs have paralysis, three legs, mental issues, and many other issues,” Jack said. They take the dogs in, rehabilitate them, and give them a great place to live for the rest of their lives.
In the early 1970s, after college, Jack and Suzi owned a pet shop in Knoxville, TN. They had many types of animals and really loved the business. He said he visits pet shops all the time and finds them a great place to learn about and purchase animals, including dogs. “Most puppy mills are regulated,” said Jack. He finds that the dogs in reputable pet shops are well taken care. However, if he finds a pet shop that is not in good condition and the dogs have been there for months, he reports them to the authorities. “Pet shops are a great place for young people to learn about pets,” he said. “Pets can teach kids about responsibility, love and death.”
Jack is firm believer that pets are a lifetime responsibility and people need to understand that before getting any type of pet, whether a goldfish or a dog. You have a commitment to them — and that includes a financial commitment. Recently, a 15-year-old dog of someone on his staff got hit by a car. She took the dog to the vet, who said that one of the dog’s legs would need to be amputated. The vet wanted the $1,800 charge paid in advance or by credit card.
“Nowadays, you need pet insurance,” Jack said. He stresses that people really need to understand the financial commitment of taking care of a pet.
Be sure to watch Jack on his new TV show, Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown, airing Saturday mornings on ABC affiliates around the country. You can also see him on his Emmy award winning show, Into the Wild. The fifth season of the show will be airing this fall and in November. For more information about Jack Hanna, visit his official site.
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