New Mexico's Pet Resource WINTER 2005


COVER STORY

Steve Stucker, Dog Person

text by Nancy Marano (photo courtesy KOB-TV)

“I’m not the perfect dog owner. I’m pretty much Joe Average but I’ve come a long way, which gives me hope that the other Joe Averages out there can, too,” Steve Stucker said. Stucker, a meteorologist and on-air personality at KOB-TV, is seen daily on the early morning and noon news programs.

He took time out from his busy schedule to share with PETroglyphs his thoughts about dogs, animal groups, and the problems he thinks face animals in New Mexico.

Growing up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he always had a couple of dogs. “We never bought one. They were always strays who followed me home. We never knew much about taking care of them in those days. The dogs ran through the neighborhood and none of them was spayed or neutered,” he admitted.

EVOLUTION OF A DOG PERSON

“When my son was little, I got us a one-year-old Irish Setter,” Stucker said. “He drove me crazy. I knew nothing about caring for him. He constantly got out of the yard and caused havoc. I hate to admit it, but he went to the proverbial ‘good home in the country’ because that was all I knew.”

Luckily, Stucker’s dog days weren’t over. His son kept bugging him to get another dog. “I got a puppy for his birthday, and we tried again.” Soon this puppy drove him crazy, too. “I tried to keep her in the yard, but the neighbor’s dog jumped the fence and got her pregnant,” Stucker lamented. “There was so much I didn’t know then. I took her to the vet and my education began.”

He learned about puppy shots, booster shots, and the necessity of spaying or neutering. “The vet taught me the basics of health care, and I picked up the rest by hanging out with dog people. I was pushed into learning this stuff kicking and screaming but if I got educated, anyone can get educated.”

Incredibly his search for answers on how to handle this puppy led him into the dog training business. “I was in the sales end of media then and saw a flyer advertising simple, easy dog training. I thought I’d sell the man some advertising and get some dog training in the process. Well, I didn’t sell him any advertising but I did watch him work with a German Shepherd puppy. I was amazed at how quickly the dog learned,” Stucker said.

“We talked for a long time, and I found myself finishing his sentences. What he said made sense. He told me things I’d known for years but had never put together or understood. We worked out a partnership, and I hung out my shingle as a dog trainer.” Stucker helped run Guaranteed Dog Training for about six years. He trained thousands of dogs in the Albuquerque area and still runs into some of his students.

“It was a very gentle, easy method of training. We went to people’s homes so the dogs were in their own environment. We didn’t use choke chains or pinch collars or anything like that. The last thing we taught a dog was how to walk on a leash. By then he knew all his commands,” Stucker explained.

Hands-on work with one dog and one owner at a time attracted him to this system. “I had tried classes as a dog owner but I was a miserable failure. I’d get bored by the repetition. When I began training, I could focus on one dog in the living room with the owner helping. As the dog improved his skills, then we introduced him into groups of other dogs. It just made more sense to me because I thought it was backwards to take a poor puppy who’s interested in everything and put him in a room with twelve other dogs.”

Unfortunately no one is doing this type of training in Albuquerque any more. While he admits that many other training methods work and there are good trainers available, he still prefers the one-on-one interaction of dog, trainer and owner.


ENTER “THE WEATHER DOG”

Viewers of the Friday early morning news on KOB-TV are familiar with Stucker’s dogs. Currently, Tuffy, a two-year-old, miniature Schnauzer, Cocoa Puff, a twelve-year-old, Cocker Spaniel, and Buster, a three-year-old Boxer, have the weekly assignment of bringing you the weather. Spike, a fourteen-year-old , Beagle/German Shepherd cross, makes an annual appearance as The Easter Beagle.

“Spike was put on earth to keep me humble as a dog trainer,” Stucker admits. The dogs are learning their weather duties, but regular viewers inevitably compare them to Andy, the original weather dog.

Andy’s appearances started as a one-day gag. “Stations are always fighting about who has the most high-tech weather equipment. One week I announced that we would be featuring a brand new piece of high-tech weather equipment. It was Andy the Weather Dog. All he did was lay there and yawn. I thought it would be fun for a day, but people liked him and wanted him to come back.” Occasionally Andy was assisted in his weekly chores by Doggy Houser. Andy was so popular that when he died last year, Stucker received 2,000 emails and 500 sympathy cards.

The introduction of the weather dog led to many other animal-related spots on the show. People called in and said, “That dog just lays there, my dog could do that,” which gave him the idea for the weekly Parade of Pets segment. People send in pictures and a short biography of their pets, and Stucker gives them their 30 seconds of fame.

Rescue groups have a notoriously difficult time getting publicity for programs and events. Stucker gladly provides air time for spreading the word about what groups are doing and has people on the show with their animals to plug special events. Sometimes he is able to match viewers up with particular situations. The owner of two basset hounds had cancer and needed to be gone for six months to receive treatment. He and his wife couldn’t take the dogs with them and didn’t know what to do. Stucker told the story on the air. Soon a family called in and volunteered to foster the dogs.

HANGIN’ OUT WITH THE DOGS

Family life at the Stucker house is noisy, busy and fun. His wife, Rose, manages a household that includes three young daughters aged two, six and eight, four dogs, and a cat. Doris, a woman Stucker met through his dog training business, has lived with them for eight years, and his son is away at college.

“I used to have a lot more time for activities with the dogs. Now we just hang out. The dogs are in the house and participate in whatever we do. We’ve always had a lot of the dogs I was training in the house. Actually, my kids thought they were dogs until they were three years old,” Stucker laughed.

When Stucker met Doris’ sister, Sylvia, little did he know that training her Labrador Retriever would evolve into a long-term friendship. Sylvia was a German immigrant whose late husband was a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Sylvia and Doris lived alone so the Stuckers would invite them over for holidays. When Sylvia contracted cancer, she was concerned about her sister’s welfare because Doris uses a wheelchair. The Stuckers arranged to take over Sylvia’s house, pay it off, and care for Doris. This has worked out well for everyone. “Doris loves the dogs and spoils them every chance she gets,” Stucker said.

THOUGHTS ON ANIMAL ISSUES

Stucker has given a lot of thought to animal issues and believes that dogs in New Mexico have a pretty tough time.

“I think the biggest problem for animals is lack of education on the part of the owners,” Stucker said. “As much as I want everyone to have a dog, not everyone should have one. Many people want to save a dog from the shelter, and then they lock him up in the back yard 10-15 hours a day. The dog is no happier than he was in the shelter. Dogs are social animals who need interaction with humans and other dogs. Some people don’t have the right temperament to have a dog.”

Solutions are never easy to find, but Stucker believes education about animals and pet ownership should be tackled on multiple fronts at the same time.

“I think the shelters need to work together on programs and education. Children are really where it’s at,” he elaborated. “They have a natural love of, and instinct for, being kind and gentle to animals. Unfortunately many of them are taught otherwise in their homes. Reaching the children is the key.”

He also believes that working with the rescue groups is essential. “A big part of the job for rescue groups is not just finding homes for the animals but finding the right homes and educating the adopters. I get calls from people who say they tried to adopt a dog but the group wouldn’t let them. When I ask why, they say, ‘Well, the dog weighed 200 pounds, and I live in a one room apartment and work 10 hours a day.’ That’s what I mean about pet ownership being an educational process,” Stucker said.

“We need better enforcement of the current laws,” Stucker asserted. “We may actually have enough laws on the books now if they were enforced. Albuquerque should hire more people to enforce the licensing laws. The fees collected from people who break the law would more than pay for the additional salaries. I haven’t gone through all the points in Councilwoman Mayer’s proposed animal ordinance but I’m glad someone is getting serious about it. It won’t do any good to pass it, though, unless there is money to enforce it.”

When asked what he thinks of various breed specific legislation currently being considered, Stucker said he is against it.

Stucker takes his dogs along on speaking engagements. “I talk about the importance of spaying and neutering to end our huge pet overpopulation problem and about being kind to animals. One of the best programs I’ve ever been involved in with children and dogs is Project Second Chance, a cooperative program between Animal Humane Association of New Mexico and Youth Development Inc., that teaches at-risk youth to train shelter dogs so they are more adoptable. There are a lot of things you can teach kids with the dogs. It’s a win/win situation, and I’d like to see more programs like that,” Stucker said.

When asked what he thinks of various breed specific legislation currently being considered, Stucker said he is against it. “I understand where the proposals come from, but people bear most of the responsibility rather than the dogs. People can take any type of dog and put it in situations where the dog is led to do the wrong thing. Sadly, there are dogs that need to be put down because they don’t have a place in society, but doing that by breed doesn’t do any good. It’s really how a dog is raised and treated that determines his personality,” he said.

Stucker summed up his feelings about dogs by saying, “Dogs display all the qualities we admire in human beings. They are faithful, nonjudgmental, and give love unconditionally. Dogs are much more intelligent than we give them credit for but having a dog takes time, money, care, and love. I saw a sign that said ‘Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.’ You know, I think that’s right.”

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who lives in Albuquerque and is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.


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