The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Humane as “being marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals”. This is a good description of Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society and co-host of Animal House on NPR. Giving back to society and helping animals in need has been Dr. Gary Weitzman stated mission in life.
Weitzman, 54, grew up in Boston in an observant, conservative Jewish household. From the time he was a child, he knew he wanted to be a vet and assist others. His family attended a temple led by Rabbi Harold Kushner. Aaron Kushner, the son of Rabbi Kushner [When Bad Things Happen to Good People] was a friend growing up and it saddened Weitzman to see Aaron’s deterioration and eventual early death from Progeria.
Although he loved animals, he could not convince his parents to get a dog until he was 16, but he had many gerbils and hamsters as pets. Ironically, the dog, a chow mix, became his mother’s faithful companion. He received a B.A. in Biology and English from Colby College, an M.A. in Public Health from Boston University’s School of Public Health, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Tufts University. While in Veterinarian school, at age 25, he got his second pet dog, a greyhound. Not only did he love the breed, he also wanted to give back after having worked on 80 greyhound cadavers while in training.
He joined the Air Force in 1993 where he put his Public Health degree to use as he was in charge of food safety, workplace safety, and nuclear safety. He was stationed in both Texas and Washington, D.C. After being relocated to Wyoming for duty, he began to moonlight at an emergency vet clinic in Boulder, Colorado where he would drive on weekends. This allowed him to combine both of his passions. He then was “loaned” to the army where he managed a breast cancer research program. He served very actively for four years, and spent another five years in the Air Force reserve.
In 1997, he moved to northern California taking over a practice of a companion animal hospital in Burlingame. He stayed there until 2003 when he was then hired as the president and CEO of The Washington Animal Rescue League in Washington, DC. After selling his practice and before moving to Washington, he briefly considered studying to become a rabbi. However, a discussion with the head rabbi at a rabbinical school convinced him that was not his next path in life. Today he views himself as a spiritual person with some ties into Judaism, but not so much in organized religion.
The next chapter in his life as president of the Washington Animal Rescue League was a successful one. During his tenure there, he guided the organization into becoming a national resource for disaster and puppy mill rescues as well as leading a large, urban, homeless animal rehabilitation and adoption center through a period of unprecedented growth. Weitzman stated that he felt satisfied with all that he accomplished during the years he spent there, but he had a longing to return to California, and in May 2012, he accepted when the position at the San Diego Humane Society was offered to him. Since then, he has worked overseeing all four campuses of The San Diego Humane Society.
It has been a fruitful marriage as Weitzman has brought his boundless energy and vision to the organization. He is spearheading what he calls” The Treatable Pet Initiative”. The goal is to save the life of every adoptable animal in SDAWC shelters by targeting four key areas:
- Spaying and neutering being offered as needs based surgeries to the community targeting certain regions.
- Transporting animals from shelters that don’t have the space or resources to care for additional animals.
- Increasing the number of incoming admissions and outgoing adoptions to impact more animals and help more people in the community.
- Reaching more animals by pledging to do everything possible to keep animals in their homes by providing veterinary care, vaccination clinics, and needed pet supplies.
Weitzman hopes this will be a community initiative with collaboration and the support of donors. The final goal is “Getting to Zero”, where no healthy animal is euthanized.
Weitzman says he really enjoys his new life in San Diego. He feels that this is one of the best cities in terms of lifestyle. He lives here with his two beloved rescue dogs, Jake, a three legged, very expressive German shepherd, and Betty, a calm and sweet pit bull mix. He also believes that as the president of one of the largest shelters in the nation, they have the tools be a role model for others and lead the way in making a difference. He confided that he had never seen a shelter of this caliber and size. There are over 300 employees. Most shelters have about 30.
Finally, Weitzman is also co-host of Animal House. He answers people who call in asking questions about their pets. The show airs locally (KPBS- 89.5) on Saturday mornings at 5:00 AM and Sunday evenings at 7:00 PM. In addition, he has a new book out called, “How to Speak Dog” that he co-authored with Aline Alexander Newman for National Geographic.
Their next book, “How to Speak Cat” is coming out in September 2014. As Weitzman himself says, “I am never going to retire. I have too much to do and give back to the world”.