Talking Animals

by Duncan Strauss

(NOTE FROM COMPASSION ARTS - The following article is a guest blog contributed by “Talking Animals” creator, producer and host Duncan Strauss. Talking Animals is a radio program that presents thought-provoking discussion about animal issues through interviews with animal advocates and others. After Compassion Arts learned that Talking Animals would be interviewing Maple Farm Sanctuary founder Cheri Vandersluis, we asked Duncan Strauss if he would write an article for our website to share the story of how he came to develop a program in the communication arts for raising awareness about animal issues. Here is that story with links below to some interviews from his radio show.)

In 2003, I launched Talking Animals—my weekly radio show about animals and animal issues—propelled by two, overlapping impulses.

The first impulse was reflected, a year or two earlier, when I had altered my professional life, concluding it was time to re-direct a career path in showbiz (primarily working as a talent manager) that was proving to be an increasingly mixed bag personally, leaving me ever more unfulfilled.

This triggered the second impulse: Thinking deeply about something significant I could add to my life, whether it was a vocation or avocation, that would involve performing public service—to which I have an almost genetic predisposition. (My parents met in the late 1930s, when they were both providing social services for emigrant farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl. Their lives—together and separately-- were marked by public service, and even though both are gone now, their influence is felt far and wide, perhaps most notably in cultivating college students as public servants of various stripes via The Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation.)

This, in turn, I reasoned would bring a greater sense of fulfillment.

When that light bulb lit up, I recognized that perhaps the answer was to combine some of my most powerful passions—animals, radio, journalism, music and comedy—and fashion a new broadcast aiming to heighten the virtues, while transcending the shortcomings, of pet and pet/vet shows, and overcoming the limitations of animal rights/vegan programs.

In my first forays on air, I learned a bruising lesson: Just because you conceived a format designed to yield a sharp, entertaining, engaging, and illuminating radio program is no guarantee that you actually have the ability to deliver that program! In my mind, those initial shows constitute one long blooper reel.

Eventually, though, I got the hang of it. And conducting interviews early on with the likes of PETA honcho Dan Mathews and Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson—I had conversations with these internationally–known figures in back-to- back shows just five months after launching the program-- suggested I was on to something with the Talking Animals approach.

That is, I’m not sure how much the punk -rock loving, chic VP of PETA and the flute-twirling progressive rock maestro would find to say to each other. But they each found a lot to say to me. And that’s the truly salient element, given that this is a radio show largely given over to the long-form interview.

Dan Matthews of PETA with Alec Baldwin

Dan Matthews of PETA with Alec Baldwin

In some ways, that’s the way it’s gone ever since—heck, Talking Animals was designed to go that way, even before the Mathews-Anderson sequence (which, truth be told, I cited arbitrarily.)

The mix of guests over, say, a month long period should represent at least two or three people who appear to have little in common, other than some involvement with animals. I do not mind strange bedfellows on the guest list. Heck, sometimes I’m seeking them.

I think that’s where Talking Animals’ educational objective and public service ambition play its strongest card.

If one week, the show features a conversation exploring an intriguing new book about dog cognition, in which a listener can make a direct association to the pooch snoozing nearby in the den, perhaps that listener is more apt to pay close attention in the following week to the expert discussing the plight of animals used in the circus, and remain open in the week after that to the suggestions of a noted vegan chef. And so on.

Toward that end, I’m pleased to say my guests have included Jane Goodall, Alec Baldwin, Dr. Neal Barnard, Temple Grandin, Anita Krajnc, Gene Baur, Kevin Fulton, Cheri Vanderluis, to name just a few, including some who hold directly conflicting philosophies.

Above photos: Gene Baur, Cheri Vandersluis and Dr. Jane Goodall

Above photos: Gene Baur, Cheri Vandersluis and Dr. Jane Goodall

I fully anticipate, as we inch our way into 2017, that this sometimes-improbable mélange of guests will continue on Talking Animals, thereby ensuring (I hope) that this whole is far greater—and richer and more meaningful—than the sum of the often disparate parts.

That’s my broadcast syllabus, anyway, and I’m sticking with it.

Duncan Strauss.jpg

Duncan Strauss is the producer and host of Talking Animals, a radio show with guest interviews about animals and animal welfare issues, animal news and announcements, comedy and songs. Some of the program’s past guests have included Dr. Jane Goodall, Wayne Pacelle (HSUS), Gene Baur, Alec Baldwin, Emmylou Harris, Cheri Vandersluis and many others. Duncan Strauss was formerly a writer for the Los Angeles Times for ten years. He has written for wide variety of television and radio programs as well as articles for The Huffington Post, Palm Beach Post and Deep Roots Magazine. Strauss can be heard hosting Talking Animals every Wednesday 10am – 11am ET on WMNF, a community oriented NPR affiliate in Tampa, Florida.

Visit the Talking Animals website and Facebook page.