Posted on Fri, Apr. 26, 2002

Licks and lessons: Dog advocate Randy Warner spreads his message that dogs and kids belong together
By Ana Davison adavison@montereyherald.com


In light of the recent fatal dog attack on a 5-year-old Monterey girl, some people might wonder whether canines and kids are a dangerous combination. But humane educator, activist and minor celebrity Randy Warner says they belong together. He's on a mission to make sure dogs are better cared for, and consequently, better behaved. "They need proper care, affection and guidance," said Warner, who lives in Arizona, but tours the country teaching children how to be responsible dog guardians.

"You can't lock a dog in the back yard and expect it to become anything but a mildly aggressive animal," he added. He firmly believes that a dog's behavior is a product of human guidance. He's rescued about 2,700 dogs in all - around 300 of them from abusive situations - and says he's only had to euthanize four who had severe behavioral problems. The rest, he said, became friendly, obedient and gentle dogs - with the right love and guidance. "It's not that difficult to get a dog to be nice," Warner remarked. "And it's not that difficult to get a dog to be mean."

Warner, who founded the organization 21st Century Cares, stopped by Monterey recently, on an educational tour that he hopes will take him through 40 states. His visit came before the fatal mauling of Victoria Morales by her grandmother's Rottweiler. But contacted at his home in Arizona after the attack, a somber Warner said he hopes his lessons can help reduce the number of tragic dog attacks. "I think my entire program is geared toward preventing situations like this," he remarked. Warner gets his point across with the help of some four-legged props.

When he visited the kids at the Salvation Army's afterschool program in Seaside, he brought with him quite a collection of rescued canines. There's Drifter, a perky-eared mutt who's part coyote, part Australian dingo; Noopy, a chubby beagle mix; Rocky, a 6-year-old dalmatian; Brady, a lab/pitbull mix and Megan, a dalmatian with a dent in her head where someone beat her with a metal pipe. Warner's well aware that "all we need is one dog scratching a child's face and it would be all over the papers." But he says he's never had any problems when his dogs meet kids. "Never once have I had an incident," he said. Drifter, Noopy, Rocky, Brady and Megan, he added, "understand that kids are nothing but fun."The kids at the Salvation Army's program were certainly appreciative of the canine companionship.There was plenty of petting, lots of licking and even a few offers to adopt Warner's dogs.


But amid the controlled chaos, he quieted down the children for some serious lessons, including a few tips on how to behave around dogs - no roughhousing, no yelling. Before he brings out his dogs, he excuses any children who might be scared. Warner said some organizations are nervous about him visiting. "Yes, they worry about bringing five dogs into an elementary school," he said. He's happy for parents to be asked to sign releases and even happier if they come along and meet Drifter, Noopy, Rocky, Brady and Megan. "I love it when parents come. They relax immediately," he said.

Although Warner also takes his dogs into senior homes, care centers for the disabled and anywhere he thinks they can make people smile, he thinks children are the key to making sure dogs are treated better this century than they were in the last. And Warner thinks that would translate into fewer dog attacks. He hopes that these kids will take his lessons home to their parents. Maybe even spread the word by forming a chapter of the Humane Education Ambassador Club at their school. He tells kids to let their dogs inside at night, to have then desexed and to be aware that a pet is quite a commitment.

After rescuing and re-housing thousands of dogs, Warner says he's heard all manner of excuses from people abandoning their pets. The dog didn't match the new decor. It barked too much. Chewed things. "I'm just tired of cleaning up other people's messes," Warner said. And in particular, he's fed up with hearing kids talk about their dog's latest litter of puppies.With more than 10 million homeless dogs euthanized each year in the United States, Warner thinks there's no excuse for what he refers to as "backyard breeding." Unless you're breeding pedigree animals, in accordance with the standards of the breed and finding them responsible, long-term homes, "you've got to get your dog spayed or neutered," he said.

As for some people's arguments that they want to show their kids the miracle of birth, "then you've got to take them to the pound to see the miracle of death," Warner said. "If you have a litter of puppies, you're part of the problem... At least a sixth of these kids will take that to heart and not have a litter," he remarked, after telling the kids in Seaside to make sure mom and dad don't let the family dog have babies. Having a litter of puppies "would be cool," said fifth grader Alex Allbarra, after Warner's lesson, "but you shouldn't because then there's too many dogs." "You shouldn't have too many puppies," added fourth grader Jaymes Gieseck. "And you should always treat your dogs with care."
 

Warner is friendly, but firm with the kids. When it comes to adults, who he says should know better, he isn't afraid to get in their face. "If you don't know what you're doing, I'm going to tell you," he explained. "I'm not necessarily well-liked, but I didn't get into this to make friends. I got into it to help dogs." Although Warner said his "heart is with the dogs," and he kisses every one he meets, he hopes his efforts to promote humane education will "bleed over to other animals." When asked why he's devoted his life to saving dogs, when humans offer plenty of problems, he points to the many studies that have linked inhumane treatment of animals to criminal behavior.

"The link between animal abuse and violence has been proven in every study ever done," he said. And, as Warner sees it, learning to love a animal, with all its faults and foibles, can only improve your relationship with other humans. Warner's message and his outspoken but enthusiastic manner have certainly attracted attention, and some measure of fame. He's been featured in Los Angeles Times and New York Post newspapers and People Magazines and been the subject of two documentaries.

Most memorably, David Letterman invited Warner to appear on his "Late Show" in 1993. "He said, 'Come to New York. Get all the dalmatians you can from the shelters and come and do my show,'" Warner said. "'We'll pay for the adoption fee, pay for their driver. We'll even buy them all lunch.'" "He thought I could get eight or 10 dalmatians," Warner laughed. But Warner rescued dozens of dogs from city shelters, then paraded the polka-dotted pooches through the crowded streets of Manhattan."New Yorkers have seen everything? They haven't seen Randy walking 51 dalmatians along Fifth Avenue!" Warner said.

Later, inside the CBS studios, Warner helped collect all the dogs in the wings, ready to surprise the audience. "We opened all the doors to the theater and pushed them all in," Warner said. "Every camera's showing dalmatians running everywhere. That was the most fun I've ever had in my life." By the end of the weekend, 39 of those canine stars had been adopted via a hotline set up by the show. It's that kind of result that keeps Warner going. "It's the only thing I think about. I haven't dated in 12 years," he laughed.

He gave up a career as a software designer and now lives in a cramped travel trailer in the Arizona desert - 62 miles from the nearest grocery store and gas station. The Bureau of Land Management lets him live on the land for free, along with Drifter, Noopy, Rocky, Brady, Megan and about a dozen other dogs he's trying to find homes for. Warner manages to keep his expenses down to about $200 a month since his only income - about $2,000 a year - comes from donations and the occasional stint as a dog trainer.

In Defense of Animals has provided some funding for his current tour, but it's far from a luxurious existence. When he and his canine pals take to the road, they're forced to travel in a battered 1983 VW camper, which caught fire en route to Monterey. While he jokes about being "the loser" of his family, Warner says it's all worth it. "I couldn't be happier. I'm proud of what I'm doing. I've saved 3,000 dogs." And educated many more kids in the process. "Dogs and kids belong together from the get-go."

For more information, visit www.21stcenturycares.org or http://64.66.16.234. To contact Randy Warner, write to 21st Century Animal Resource and Education Services, 16224 North Linda Drive, Dolan Springs, AZ 86441 or e-mail 21stcares@gmail.com. Phone: 928-767-4895.
Anna Davison can be reached at 646-4462.