Calming an aggressive pig, dodging llama spit, nabbing a refrigerator-raiding pup — it’s all in a day’s work for Katrina Warren.
With seven years of Australian television experience under her fashionable belt, the Aussie veterinarian, Katrina Warren, thought she had seen it all. But nothing prepared her for the animal adventures she encountered on this side of the ocean in her popular TV series, Beverly Hills Vet. “Australians love their animals but in Los Angeles, people are obsessed,” Katrina says, laughing. “I went to a dog séance and birthday parties and even a bird wedding. I’m not sure if the macaws appreciated they were actually married but it was fun.”
A specialist in animal behavior, Katrina felt many of the strange situations she encountered stemmed from people’s inability to let animals be animals. “One of the most challenging cases was an aggressive pot-bellied pig. He was raised in the house like a dog but pigs are herd animals and he really should have been outside where he could root around and have a bit of a natural life.” The pig wound up spending down time at a pig camp called Little Orphan Hammies.
Another case involved a woman who carried her little dog, Spike, with her everywhere. “She simply could not put the dog down,” explains Katrina. “If she did, he would start crying. This woman had no dates or social life — she just spent all her time with Spike.” Katrina says problems like these are not with the animals, but with the humans, and trying to resolve them is really difficult because the behavior patterns are so well established. “We tried to encourage Rebecca to put the dog down for five or ten minutes at a time and just ignore him. We would give him things to occupy himself, such as raw bones to chew on. We tried to get her to take Spike to the park so he could run around and really be a dog. People need to remember that it may be fun to dress them up and have birthday parties and such but they are animals and you have to allow them to use their instincts and run for awhile, too.”
It’s something she works hard at in her own life back in Sydney. While her border collie, Toby, often accompanies her to work (he’s a television celebrity in his own right who appears on her top-rated Australian show, Harry’s Practice), she sets aside a chunk of time every day to run and play with her active canine. Quarantine laws kept her from bringing Toby to the U.S. while she shot Beverly Hills Vet, and Katrina felt a little lost without him. “I missed him so much. I was working hard and living in a hotel room and all I wanted at the end of the day was my dog. But Toby had a great time. My mom moved into my house with my cat and Toby. He has a girlfriend, an Australian cattle dog, who lives around the corner from me at home and he stayed with her sometimes too.”
Katrina’s close relationship with Toby, and the training techniques she has used with him since puppyhood, inspired her best-selling dog-training book, Wonderdog (Toby’s nickname). But even the experienced behaviorist has had inexplicable animal conduct to solve in her own back yard.
“I couldn’t figure out how my cat was getting out during the day so we set up a camera in my house. Basically my cat runs back and forth past the window until the dog, who’s in the yard outside, sees her. Then he pushes and pushes on the louvered window until the cat can crawl out. It was so funny to watch. They really love each other.” She puts Toby’s dedication to his feline friend down to good preparation and recommends anyone who’s introducing a new animal into the household to follow some simple advice. “I had Toby first so when my cat arrived I made sure I gave him as much or more attention in her company. Toby was the ‘only child’ for so long but this really worked.”
Trained in conventional veterinary medicine, her television work has given Katrina the opportunity to explore more alternative therapies, which are just starting to make their debut in Australia.
“We did a couple of great stories on the show about a horse who had chiropractic and massage and you can see how much the horse loved his massage. We’ve done stories on acupuncture, herbal remedies and animal communicators. I’ve met three or four communicators and one made the hair stand up on my arms! I say to people, ‘If it enhances your relationship with your animal, then I think it’s all worthwhile.’”
Shooting Beverly Hills Vet also gave Katrina the chance to make comparisons between L.A. and Sydney. The pet overpopulation problem and the sheer number of rescues and shelters in L.A. made a huge impact on her. “In Australia, there’s been a big push in the media over the last ten years, especially with cats, to spay and neuter, and it’s really worked.” She says Australians don’t have to worry about pet theft either, although she has met several people in L.A. who believe their animals have been stolen. What surprised her most, however, was the American desire to acquire more exotic species. “People in America seem to want animals that are unusual, animals they see in movies. In Australia, things are much more regulated. I couldn’t just walk into a pet store, for example, and buy a snake. I would need a special license.” One common thread between the two countries is people’s propensity to name their animals after celebrities. The author of Wonderpet Names, her most recent book, observes, “I’ve met so many dogs in L.A. named Arnie!”
Back home in Australia, Katrina, who put herself through vet school by modeling, is involved in a number of animal welfare organizations, and she actively promotes responsible animal care to schoolchildren. For her, education and concentrating on animal behavior are much easier and take less of a personal toll than practicing.
“I’m much better at this than being in surgery, which I found a little bit stressful. I did house calls when I was first out of school and had to do quite a few euthanasias. That was really sad because the animals were like members of the family. It was very upsetting and I’d find myself in tears. Right now, I’ve probably got the best job I could ever have.”