KDKA-AM's pet guru finds rabid audience

Amid the crowd of weekend radio shows offering advice on everything from business and finance to gardening and bird-watching, there are few -- here or nationally -- devoted to pet care. But those few have attracted a captivated audience.

Every Saturday from 8 to 9 a.m., veterinarian Dr. Mike Hutchinson turns the KDKA-AM (1020) studios into an on-air animal clinic. "Animal General" offers useful information to pet owners and a range of advice on pets' medical and behavioral problems, along with discussions on research in the veterinary field.

"Animal General" is among news/talk KDKA's most popular weekend programs. "The response has been terrific," says KDKA director of news/talk programming Marshall Adams. "Calls and letters and e-mails just pour in anytime he's on the air. So many people can relate to pets and issues surrounding animals.

"He's a terrific personality who has just blossomed on the radio."

Dr. Hutchinson started his practice in Long Island, N.Y., but the Pennsylvania native wanted to return to this area, and now his practice is based in Cranberry.

He comes to the job with a range of experience, working not just with dogs and cats but with exotic pets such as ferrets, rats, reptiles and birds.

Dr. Hutchinson was named "Rat Vet of the Year" in 2005 for his work in treating domestic pet rats. He was the first recipient of the award, which was created by several rat owners' groups.

As for his radio avocation, "I stumbled into it," he says.

He had done guest appearances on Sean McDowell's show on WDVE-FM and with former KDKA-TV anchor Jennifer Antkowiak. That led to regular guest spots on the KDKA morning show with Larry Richert and John Shumway. Dr. Hutchinson is still heard Thursdays at 7:40 a.m. on the KDKA morning news.

On his weekly "Animal General" show, Dr. Hutchinson addresses the common questions he gets in his office. While a doctor can't treat a sick pet over the airwaves, other kinds of problems can be solved with advice and guidance, he says. "Behavioral issues are the No. 1 challenge for pet owners out there."

He's a pet owner as well -- he has three dogs and four cats -- and says that makes him aware of fellow pet owners' concerns. "I was as paranoid as everybody about what to feed my pets" during last year's recall of tainted pet food.

Dr. Hutchinson receives thousands of e-mails, answers as many as he can personally, and uses them as a guideline to address common issues and questions they raise on the show.

Although "Animal General" seems like a natural for syndication, Dr. Hutchinson says he's not interested in pursuing it because it would ultimately mean giving up or cutting back on his practice. "I'm enjoying radio, but I'm not doing that for ego. I'm a veterinarian first. I love going to work."

The program also showcases animals from local shelters that are waiting for a good home.

All-news KQV-AM (1410) also airs a locally produced live call-in show, "Talking Pets" with host Nan Cohen, which airs alternate Thursdays from 8 to 8:30 p.m.

A few other cities carry pet shows that are syndicated nationally, including "Steve Dale's Pet Central" in Chicago, and "The Pet Show" in New York, hosted by Warren Eckstein. Both can be heard online as well. Martha Stewart Living Radio on Sirius Satellite Radio has several features devoted to pet owners.

There also are Internet radio shows and podcasts devoted to the topic, such as dogcatradio.com and Pet Life Radio (at www.markiac.addr.com/PET_LIFE_RADIO/PLR.html) that includes "Oh Behave!" which offers advice on behavioral issues. Pet Life podcasts are also available through iTunes.

"Animal General" can be streamed online or downloaded at www.kdkaradio.com/pages/64400.php.

Adrian McCoy can be reached at amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.