For Tracey Stewart, Life After The 'Daily Show' Is All About The Animals

Nov 3, 2015
Originally published on November 4, 2015 1:11 pm

The home that Tracey Stewart shares with her husband, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, is a crowded one. In addition to the couple and their two children, the Stewart household includes four dogs, four pigs, three rabbits, two guinea pigs, one parrot, one hamster and two fish (as well as three horses, though they live off-site).

"I'm crazy," Tracey Stewart, a former veterinary technician, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "It means I have hoarding tendencies."

When Stewart recently ran out of room for rescue animals, she says, "I thought, 'Why not get a barn and be able to continue ... putting animals outside of my home instead of inside?' "

So the couple did just that: They bought a farm in New Jersey and announced plans to open a sanctuary for rescued farm animals that will be affiliated with the national animal rescue group, Farm Sanctuary.

The newest additions to the Stewart brood, two pigs named Anna and Maybelle, could be considered poster children for the farm rescue movement: They were found on the side of a road after possibly falling off a transport truck.

"We fell in love with them immediately," Stewart says of the pigs. "We realized they were going to be our first ambassadors ... and they're causing all kinds of havoc already."

Stewart is the author of the memoir Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better. (Lisel Ashlock, the artist who created the illustrations in the book, was also part of Stewart and Gross' conversation. You can hear her comments in the audio link above.)


Interview Highlights

On working with animals

I always worked in design. I had studied design at Drexel University, and I had taken on a lot of different jobs. I had done well in the jobs, but I kept moving from job to job, because I kept thinking it was the job that I wasn't liking. It wasn't until I started dating Jon that he would mention to me that he couldn't understand how such a passionate person was so uninspired at work. ... He knew that I always wanted to be a veterinarian when I was young and he had suggested to me that I go back to school for that. ... He thought that I needed a job that [made] me cry, and so when I did go back, and I did get that job [as a veterinary technician], he was absolutely right; it was the best job I ever had and I truly loved that job.

On the incident during a New York Times photo shoot

A steer named Ari, who is a good friend of mine, is in adolescence, and so I was standing with my back to him, probably longer than is normal for him, while we tried to capture a shot, and so he took that as my body language saying to him that I wanted him to mount me, and so he did. So I saw one hoof on one shoulder and another hoof on the other, and I felt his hot breath down my neck, and somebody pulled me out of there very quickly. It was funny because when it happened, it happened so quickly and everybody was worried that I was hurt, but I wasn't. But then two hours later, when I stood up, I realized that that steer weighed 1,500 pounds. So it took me about two weeks to get my back back to normal. I've had other back injuries in the past, and I've never had such a great story. So I was actually kind of excited for people finally to ask me why my back hurt.

On what surprises people about pigs

I think the thing that surprises all my friends is how clean they are. They do love to go into mud wallows, but that is actually because they don't sweat, so when they heat up, they like to go into the cool mud to cool themselves off. ... But then they equally love for you to clean all that mud off them, and when they were first staying with us they were staying in my garage until I could get their barn ready, and we would take a pan that goes underneath the dishwasher and we put cedar chips in it, and both of our pigs were litter box-trained within a day, because they actually don't like to be dirty and they're very organized. ...

The other thing that we were surprised about is that they're really fast. We started playing ball with them and running the bases and our neighbors would come over and not know what was going on. They're so much like our dogs, it's amazing.

On rescuing more and more animals

It is really hard. We'll go into a store to get hay for the rabbits and then there's a sign on a bird that says he's being bullied and someone needs to save him. And then I'll look down at my daughter and say, "What are we going to do?" And she starts rubbing her hands together like, "Oh Mommy! It's happening to Mommy. She's going to take the bird." And then I see her excitement and we take the bird. There's no rhyme or reason; there's no recipe. I think we always try to get to a point where there's harmony in the house, and then once there's harmony in the house, I go out to upset that again.

On how sanctuaries rescue farm animals

Usually a cruelty case comes to the attention of animal care and control, and at that point, they will call different sanctuaries to come up and assess the situation and ... they'll try to garner all their people and spread some of those animals out, and get them out of that bad situation. ...

Usually [Farm] Sanctuary is not willing to pay for an animal because then they are supporting that industry, so they'll wait. Sometimes animals are left in dead piles even though they're alive and so they'll go in and take them then.

On her advice for people who rescue dogs

I do always tell everybody, "Look, this is going to be a transition. There's going to be hiccups." Especially when you first are bringing a dog home from a shelter, there's going to be a week of adjustment. But you have to know, when you're getting a dog that it's going to be your responsibility, to be consistent, to find answers and to stick it out, and figure out how to right the wrongs that are happening in the house. I do always feel like it's never the dog, it's always our not knowing enough.

Copyright 2015 Fresh Air. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Tracey Stewart, and her husband, Jon Stewart, who left "The Daily Show," are beginning a new chapter of their lives. They're starting a farm animal sanctuary. Tracey is the one who's obsessed with animals. She's an animal advocate, a former vet tech and has rescued and fostered many animals. And there's more on the way. Tracey has written a new book called "Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide To How Animals Live, And How We Can Make Their Lives Better." Also joining us is artist Lisel Ashlock, who did the wonderful illustrations of animals in the book. Lisel and Tracey have worked together on several projects, including a cafe called Moomah in Manhattan, which was a neighborhood place for sleep-deprived parents and their children. And they have a Web magazine called Moomah. Tracey Stewart, Lisel Ashlock, welcome to FRESH AIR. Tracey, let me start with you. You're actually starting a farm animal sanctuary. What does that mean?

TRACEY STEWART: It means I'm crazy.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: It means I have hoarding tendencies...

GROSS: (Laughter) Of animals.

STEWART: With animals (laughter). And so - because I've run out of room to rescue animals in my home, I thought, why not get a barn and be able to continue on putting animals outside of my home instead of inside? So we are - we did buy a farm. And initially we were going to just become a great adoptive family for another farm sanctuary, a more established farm sanctuary, so I would have less charges. However, in getting to know Farm Sanctuary, that organization, and through the process of writing the book, I've felt compelled to get even more involved. And then over the weekend, we announced that my husband and I and Farm Sanctuary are getting married. And so Farm Sanctuary will actually be taking over our farm. Our farm will become the fourth branch of their locations. So I'll have a lot of help.

GROSS: So I get how, like, a cat-and-dog rescue shelter works. There's cats and dogs who are strays. They get picked up. There are people who feel they can no longer deal with their pet. Those pets are brought to a shelter. How do farm animals get to a sanctuary?

STEWART: A lot of different ways, but the main way's usually that a cruelty case comes to the attention of Animal Care and Control. And at that point, they will call different sanctuaries to come up and assess the situation. And then they will then realize what they can do. They'll try to garner all their people and spread some of those animals out and get them out of that bad situation. There are times where they can go to a livestock market and try to rescue some animals there. But usually, a sanctuary is not willing to pay for an animal because then they are supporting that industry. So they'll wait. Sometimes animals are left in dead piles, even though they're alive. And so they'll go in and take them then.

GROSS: So if you get animals that have been treated cruelly - I understand how a horse is being treated cruelly, like it could be - it could be whipped. We see that a lot. We see animals like horses being used to, like, carry things, pull things. Like, how are other animals treated cruelly? I know there's a whole animal meat industry that treats the animals cruelly. But you're not, like, liberating factory farms and freeing the animal prisoners (laughter). Do you know what I mean? It's not...

STEWART: No.

GROSS: It's not that kind of thing. These are individual animals. So give us examples of, like, animals that have been treated cruelly that come to the sanctuary.

STEWART: Well, animals that have been in the farm system actually - the factory farm system - do end up, then, at the stockyard and at the livestock markets. So a lot of the animals that we are rescuing do come from the industry. And so pigs that are no longer viable for giving little piglets will then go to the livestock market for slaughter - the same for all the animals, cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys.

GROSS: So these aren't, like, stray animals. It's not like a...

STEWART: No.

GROSS: A pig walking along on the road that (laughter) has no home.

STEWART: Well, the two girls that we have - we have just adopted two girls, two pigs, named Anna and Maybelle. And they were found on the side of the road. And what it's believed happened to them was that they fell off a transport truck. So when the truck is leaving, it is packed with pigs. And a lot of them - they're not paying attention to everybody. These two little girls were able to make their way off the truck and into the woods. And someone found them. And it took her two days to track them down and wait for them to be hungry enough for her to get them to go into her house. But she did. And then, when she rescued them, she called Farm Sanctuary. And they came and got them and brought them to Farm Sanctuary. And on that same day, my family had arrived there. So in the morning, it was going to be their first day of waking up and going into a beautiful pasture. So my kids were there to let them out. And we fell in love with them immediately. So we realized that they were going would be our first ambassadors. So they've just come down to live with us in New Jersey now. And they have their own website, and they're causing all kinds of havoc already.

GROSS: So if you don't mind my asking, you know, your husband is John Stuart. And I'm sure he wants privacy 'cause everybody - you know, he has so many fans. And I'm sure he wants to, you know, have a private place to be where he's not inundated. And if you're opening up, like, the extended part of your home to the public, how strange is that going to be?

STEWART: Well, that's - initially, that's what we had to realize. And so we don't live on the property. So we live near the property. So for us, it'll be like going to work every day or going to the office. We'll be going to Farm Sanctuary, but we won't be living on the actual property.

GROSS: Got it. So how many animals - tell us about the animals you have on Farm Sanctuary and the animals you have at your actual home.

STEWART: OK (laughter). In our home, we have four dogs, two pigs, three rabbits, two guinea pigs, one parrot, one hamster, two fish. And somewhere else we have three horses. Actually, now we have four pigs. So our two pigs that were in the house are actually now over at the farm also. And that's it for now. But I have to go very slowly when I answer that question because if I forget one, my children get very upset with me. So that's a very nerve-racking question.

GROSS: I love that there's a hamster in there too. Like, what's the hamster doing there?

STEWART: (Laughter) I know. Well, the hamster came when we were on our way to actually adopt a lizard. And we ended up coming home with a hamster (laughter) which is how things go. My daughter had already researched how to convince your mother to get you a lizard. And so it had worked, and we were on our way until she saw the hamster. (Laughter).

GROSS: So in the book, Tracey, you write about how, you know, you have four pigs. And you write about how smart pigs are and how pigs love to play. You even compare them to dogs. And, you know, I've never really been around a pig. And the stereotype of pigs is that, like, they're filthy. They're not very smart. What are the wonderful attributes of pigs, for those of us who've never had a relationship with a pig?

STEWART: Well, the funny thing is - and I think the thing that surprises all of my friends - is how clean they are. I think that, you know, they do love to go into mud wallows, but that is actually because they don't sweat. So when they heat up, they like to go into the cool mud to cool themselves off. And also, because a lot of the industry pigs are white and pink - because in their later form, people don't want to see freckles or dark spots on their meat, so they've been bred to have very light skin. But that actually causes them to get sunburned quite a lot, so they love to cover themselves in mud for that. But then they equally love for you to clean all that mud off them. And when they were first staying with us, they were staying in my garage until I could get their barn ready. And we would take a pan that goes underneath the dishwasher, and we'd put cedar chips in it. And both of our pigs were litter-box-trained within a day because they actually don't like to be dirty and they're very organized. So they figured that that was the place to go to the bathroom. And then they had their bed, and they built that in a corner. And they like their toys in one place, and they don't like their toys to be dirty, so we have to clean their toys off. So the funny thing is it that they are actually very clean. And then I think the other thing that we were surprised about is that they're really fast. So we started playing ball with them and running the bases...

GROSS: Oh, you're kidding.

STEWART: ... and so then our neighbors would - no - our neighbors would come over and just not know what was going on. But they're really - they're so much like our dogs. It's amazing.

GROSS: So when pigs roll around in their feces, it's because it's the only mud that they have because they're in a confined pen?

STEWART: Yes.

GROSS: That's sad.

STEWART: They don't want that.

GROSS: And about cows, you write that they have very strong tongues. And you have to be careful when you're around them because of their tongues and their tails.

STEWART: Well, you have to be careful if you don't want to be exfoliated. But if you're feeling dry and patchy, then you might want to get to the front end of the cow (laughter). But yes, the tail is dangerous in the back.

GROSS: Is it true that there was, like, a New York Times photographer taking pictures of you at the farm and a cow kind of put its legs on your shoulders?

STEWART: Yeah. So a steer named Ari, who is a good friend of mine, is in adolescence. And so I was standing with my back to him probably longer than is normal for him while we tried to capture a shot. So he took that as my body language saying to him that I wanted him to mount me, and so he did. And so I saw one hoof on one shoulder, another on the other, and I felt his hot breath down my neck. And somebody pulled me out of there very quickly. And it was funny because when it happened, it happened so quickly. And everybody was worried that I was hurt, but I wasn't. But then two hours later when I stood up, I realized that that steer had weighed 1,500 pounds...

GROSS: Seriously, like, that much?

STEWART: ... And had - yes.

GROSS: Oh, God.

STEWART: Yeah, so it took me about two weeks to get my back back to normal. But I've had other back injuries in the past, and I've never had such a great story, so I was actually kind of excited people finally to ask me why my back hurt (laughter).

GROSS: I hate to be crude, but was the cow trying to have sex with you when it mounted you?

STEWART: I like to think that he was...

GROSS: (Laughter).

STEWART: ...Because it just helps me to feel better about myself. (LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Boost your self-esteem.

STEWART: I actually don't know (laughter). I doubt it.

GROSS: But that's a scary thing working about animals, is that, like, they do - they can hurt you even when they don't want to. And sometimes they do want to. Sometimes they get scared, and they just kind of lash out. So you do have - it's not all sweetness. I mean, you do have to be really careful.

STEWART: You do. And, you know, we have small kids, too. So there is definitely protocols in place to make sure that everybody stays safe and is always well aware of everybody's strengths and their movements and how they'd like to move through a space.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Tracey Stewart and Lisel Ashlock. Tracey wrote the book "Do Unto Animals." Lisel did the illustrations of animals for the book. Let's take a short break, and we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are Tracey Stewart and Lisel Ashlock. Tracey wrote the book "Do Unto Animals," and Lisel did the animal illustrations for the book, which are lovely, vintage-looking illustrations of adorable cats and dogs and farm animals. And Tracey and her husband, Jon Stewart, just started a farm animal sanctuary as part of their farm in New Jersey.

Tracey, the animals that you have, that you've been living with - those are the models for your new book, "Do Unto Animals." And, Lisel Ashlock, I really wanted you in on this interview because you did the illustrations for "Do Unto Animals," and they're so beautiful. I love your pictures of the animals.

LISEL ASHLOCK: Thank you.

GROSS: And I feel like every time I look at them, I have flashbacks to my childhood because I think they're reminiscent of certain, like, child - like, children's book that I had with animals. And I grew up in Brooklyn, so, you know, I didn't see animals except for a few dogs. And so, you know, my understanding of animals was from these, like, lovely little books. And your drawings of animals they're - like, they're so sweet and cute and kind of cuddly and innocent and colorful and lovely. Just - where do you get these images from? I know you model them. I know that Tracey's animals were the models for it, but they're not, like, totally realistic representations.

ASHLOCK: Right.

STEWART: Terry, can I just butt in there for a second to say that Lisel loves you so much that she just actually passed out on the ground from you saying all those things. So she's no longer here for the interview.

(LAUGHTER)

ASHLOCK: Yeah, a lot of them were Tracey's animals, my - my cat. We worked really closely with a photographer over at Animal Haven, Sophie Gamand, and she allowed us to use some of her photos so we could make sure that these specific dogs were represented, and the same with Farm Sanctuary. So all of the animals, the Farm Sanctuary animals, are actually modeled after real animals.

GROSS: On the cover, there's - like, on the left margin of the cover, one on top of the other, you know, you have, like, an adorable pig, a dog, a sweet cow, a cute bunny rabbit, a fox, I think a goose, and I'm not sure what - a little chipmunk...

ASHLOCK: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...A squirrel, a frog. There's a butterfly and a bumblebee in the right-hand - no, a snake, I'm sorry - or a worm. Maybe it's a worm.

ASHLOCK: A little worm, yeah.

GROSS: And a bumblebee - or is it a fly?

ASHLOCK: It's a bumblebee.

GROSS: And a little beetle in the upper corner. And so, like I said, I look at these and I'm reminded of, like, children's books that I had. What inspired the style of your illustration for these?

ASHLOCK: I always love looking at older, timeless, vintage - all the old botanical drawings and science posters before there was photography in science books. Tracey and I looked a lot at the old - I think they were published probably in the '60s - but the golden encyclopedia of nature books...

GROSS: Right, yes.

ASHLOCK: ...That we loved so much. And we looked at a lot of vintage National Geographic and old science books and - just something to capture that. There's something so warm about those vintage illustrated science books that just resonated for both of us, so...

GROSS: Now, this isn't the first time you've both worked together. You started working together on a kind of restaurant and space for - or cafe and space for parents and their children that, Tracey, you started in Tribeca, in Manhattan. Tell us what it was and why you started it.

STEWART: I had - Jon and I had had trouble having kids, and so it was a couple years until we finally managed to get pregnant. And I think when I got pregnant, I really was so happy, but I was also very overwhelmed. And I felt like I didn't know a lot. And I also felt like everybody was telling me, well, don't worry because you'll figure it all out, you know? It'll just come to you. And so, when it didn't, I felt very isolated. And then I would meet other moms and other women that would bolster my spirits and help me feel better. And then as I started to feel better, I thought, this has to be happening to so many women right now. And wouldn't it be nice if there was a place where they could all go? You know, the other thing was that I was living in the city and going out and having great meals and great experiences. And even when I was pregnant, I would go into places and people would offer me a glass of water and a big smile. And that all changed once I came in with a baby that might potentially be crying. And so the places that, then, I could go to in the city had terrible music and clowns. So I envisioned a place that people could go where they'd get healthy food. They'd get some wine. They'd meet other parents, and they could just casually talk to one another and feel like they weren't alone and they weren't going crazy. And then in the back, what we had was that kids could be in the back, and we would teach humane education to them. So we would research about different animals, and we would come up with a project for them to do. So the parents could sit and really relax and know that their kids were having a great time. And then they also could join them. So it was really a place where people could have, like, quality time as a family outside of their home. And it was really wonderful while it lasted.

GROSS: And, Lisel, you're pregnant now with your first. So what was your interest in starting this place?

ASHLOCK: I came on working with Tracey right before Moomah opened. So I was actually - I had been - I've been working as an illustrator for a long time but had decided to go back to grad school. So I was just looking for - I thought, I'm going to do what students do, which is get, like, a three-day-a-week job (laughter) that I don't have any responsibility to (laughter). So I literally answered an ad on Craigslist for this kind of vague-sounding position...

STEWART: Teaching artist.

ASHLOCK: ...Of an artist assistant (laughter).

STEWART: I think it was teaching artist we were calling it.

ASHLOCK: Yeah, exactly. So I went in and met Tracey and I walked into this space that was - it was almost ready to be opened, so it was very put together, and it was just this magical place. I just had never - I had no idea what I had stepped into. So - and then, I had an interview with Tracey, and it was like, who is this woman? She's so special and warm and...

STEWART: I have to jump in to tell a little bit about prior to what happened before Lisel had gotten into Moomah and sat down for the interview, which is that I had been taken off the responsibility of hiring people because I was not doing a good job. So I - when I sat down in the interview with Lisel, I was under orders that I was not allowed to hire anyone because I have a little problem with being overly empathetic. And so I had made some bad hires.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: And so there wasn't a person that had come in that I didn't think deserved a job and a chance at a better life. And...

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: ...So Lisel's interview went really long, and I think we ended up crying about three different things.

ASHLOCK: Tracey cried.

STEWART: And then I had to sit there and say, well, thank you very much, we'll be getting back to you. So she left, and she managed to get two blocks down. And I looked at everybody and I said, please, can I please go hire her? And they said, oh, go ahead. So I had to run two blocks. I ran down two blocks and grabbed her and hugged her and said, please, you're hired.

(LAUGHTER)

ASHLOCK: And that was the beginning of our...

STEWART: And I never let her go (laughter).

GROSS: My guests are Tracey Stewart, the author of the new book "Do Unto Animals," and Lisel Ashlock, the artist who illustrated the book. After a break, Tracey Stewart will be back to tell us how she got hives from Jon Stewart's cat when they first started see each other. And of course, we'll talk more about animals. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Tracey Stewart. She and her husband, Jon Stewart, who has left "The Daily Show," are starting a farm animal sanctuary in New Jersey. It's a longtime dream of hers. She's an animal advocate, a former vet tech and has adopted and fostered many animals. Now she has a new book called "Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide To How Animals Live And How We Can Make Their Lives Better."

Tracey, before you were into having a farm animal sanctuary, your first professional encounter with animals was being a vet tech. And for anyone who doesn't have a pet, the vet tech isn't the doctor at the veterinarian, but they do a lot of the work there, such as - why don't you fill in what a vet tech does?

STEWART: It's essentially - it's a nurse. So it would be the same position - so we'd be drawing blood and taking in patients, assisting in surgery, putting on wraps, really everything that the doctor is doing - not being able to prescribe medicine or do surgery.

GROSS: Now, was this - were you a vet tech before or after you had the cafe for parents?

STEWART: I was that before. So what had happened with my husband is I always worked in design. I had studied design at Drexel University, and I had taken on a lot of different jobs. I had done well in the jobs, but I kept moving from job to job because I kept thinking it was the job that I wasn't liking. And it wasn't until I started dating Jon that he would mention to me that he couldn't understand how such a passionate person was so uninspired at work and spent day in and day out doing work that wasn't very meaningful to me. And he knew that I always wanted to be a veterinarian when I was young, and he had suggested to me that I go back to school for that. The problem was that I had always wanted to do that, but I had also created a lot of rationalizations around why I shouldn't do that.

And so it took a lot of breaking down of walls for me to realize that I was going to do that. He thought that I needed a job that did make me cry. And so when I did go back, and I did get that job, he was absolutely right. It was the best job that I've ever had; I truly loved that job. And the only reason I didn't go back to it once I had the kids was because that was a job that really did require my whole heart and soul. And once I had kids, I really wanted to be able to give that to them while they were young and while they were at home. And now as they're getting older, I'm realizing that I can get out a little bit more and get back into that world which I love so much.

GROSS: So you became a vet tech because you love animals. But in a clinic, you know, in a veterinarian's office, the animals aren't necessarily going to love you back because you're going to be shoving pills down their throat. You're going to be sticking needles in them. You're going to be putting thermometers in their behind, and they're going to be angry with you.

STEWART: No, you know what's so funny? They were never angry. You know, who was angry were there parents. (Laughter).

GROSS: Really?

STEWART: No, animals were always so easy to deal with. It was always their humans that were the problem. But the animals were always, you know, very - I can't remember a circumstance where anybody was too difficult - any animal was too difficult.

GROSS: So you never got attacked? You never got injured by any of the animals?

STEWART: I never did, no.

GROSS: And how did you deal with watching animals suffer? I'm sure you had to deal with animals who had been in, like, car accidents...

STEWART: Yes.

GROSS: ...Or who'd been, you know, attacked on the street.

STEWART: Well, you know, the other thing that I was really afraid of was having to be there when a euthanasia was going to happen. And I think it was in my first week as a vet tech that a dog was going to be put down and all of the staff was very close to him. He was an older dog, and they had known him for years. So they decided it was probably best for me to go because I really didn't know him. And when I got there, I was able to console the woman who was saying goodbye to her dog and to be there for the dog and then to be there for him afterward. And I got so - I got so much out of that and they liked so much how I had handled it that I became the go-to tech for euthanasia, which had you told me that that's - that was going to be my position prior, I would have not wanted to go further in studying, you know, veterinary technology.

GROSS: You volunteered at a shelter with your two children, and you adopted animals. You've fostered animals. How many of your animals are from the shelter where you volunteered?

STEWART: Let's see, one, two, three - three.

GROSS: Was it hard - since you've described yourself as an animal hoarder, was it hard for you to not, like, keep bringing more and more animals home?

STEWART: Yes, (laughter) it is really hard. And I think what ends up happening - I mean, we'll go into a store to get hay for the rabbits, and then there's a sign on a bird that says he's being bullied, and someone needs to save him. And then, you know, I'll look down at my daughter and say, oh, you know, what are we going to do? And she starts rubbing her hands together, like, oh, Mommy, it's happening to Mommy. She's going to take the bird. And then I see her excitement, and we take the bird. (Laughter). So there's no rhyme or reason. There's no recipe. I think we always try to get to a point where there's harmony in the house. And then once there's harmony in the house, I go out to upset that again.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: And what about when you would foster pets? How did you stop yourself from keeping them?

STEWART: Well, what we would do is we would foster pets that might - that weren't going to be a good fit for us. So, for instance, my one dog is a pit bull with three legs, so we have to be a little careful with how much play he gets and roughhousing. So there was a dog named Mr. Fantastic who couldn't get adopted from Animal Haven Shelter because he was so big, and he was a total sweetie. He was a gray pit bull, but he wasn't getting out. And so that was part of the problem was he was feeling pent-up, and he wouldn't show well because when he finally got out and could run around, he seemed crazy. But when he came to our house to run and play in the backyard, you know, you could really see who he was.

But we also knew that he - we'd never be able to keep him just because the day - the daily impact of him playing with Dipper would probably to be too hard on Dipper's body. So things like that - so when an animal would come along like that that we knew there was a reason why it wouldn't be best, then that was always safe for us to take. Or if I knew somebody in my life was starting to hanker for a certain animal, I knew that I'd be able to convince them eventually.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Tracey Stewart. She's the author of the new book "Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide To How Animals Live And How We Can Make Their Lives Better." Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. If you are just joining us, my guest is Tracey Stewart, author of the new book, "Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide To How Animals Live And How We Can Make Their Lives Better." And she and her husband, Jon Stuart, now have a farm that they're making into an animal sanctuary.

In writing about animals in your book, you write about how one of the first times you were going to spend the night at Jon Stewart's place, he has a cat - or he had a cat. And the cat scratched you, and you broke out in hives. And you're very funny about it in the book, but it probably wasn't particularly hilarious at the moment.

STEWART: (Laughter).

GROSS: That must've been awful.

STEWART: It was awful. Well, you know, I'm very allergic to cats. And so when I - I would actually, when we first started dating, I wouldn't go to his house a lot. And I'm sure he thought that that was because I was very virtuous, but I knew what would happen. I knew if I went into his house that my eyes would blow up and that I would start to, you know, be covered in hives. But there was one day where we were there, and we were having a nice - I think he'd made me dinner. And he got a phone call, and it was "The David Letterman Show." So back then I thought, oh, this is important. This could be career - a, you know - a career-changing moment. I've got to keep everything together. I went into the bathroom and Stanley was there looking up at me. And so I figured this was my chance. I'm going to pick him up and love him up and show him that I am a good person and that he should be saying good things about me back to Jon. So no sooner did I reach down to pick him up that he jumped onto my face and had claws on both sides of my head. And then his back legs on my neck, so every time I would pull one hand off another one would go on. And it just went on and on and on like that until I could finally get him off. And then I was literally in the bathroom covered in hives and bleeding. And in the book, I say at that point I was full on mysterious for Jon (laughter).

GROSS: So I don't really understand how you could work as a vet tech and volunteer so much at an animal shelter and now have an animal sanctuary and be allergic to cats.

STEWART: Yeah, it's funny because when I was working, it never bothered me. I think that is because you're always washing your hands, then those allergens were never getting into my eyes. And I also think I was always so happy there that I think my adrenaline was very high, and so it never was a factor. And even with Jon and with the cats - I did, I just figured out how to manage with the hair. You know, it's like putting my pillow in the closet until it was time to go to bed and bringing it down to make sure that he hadn't slept on my pillow the whole day. And just washing my hands - and every now and then, like if I messed up, I'd take Benadryl. But at the hospital, it never was an issue. It was actually more at home.

GROSS: That's really lucky.

STEWART: Yeah.

GROSS: So I know it's really hard for a lot of people who are married to somebody famous because they get all of the attention and the applause and everything. Did you - was that an issue for you? Could you deal with that?

STEWART: Yeah, well, I'm actually very shy. I hate public speaking. So there was never any envy of wanting any of that for myself. And in fact, I would watch him do things and just be stunned that he could like to do that. But there - a couple weeks ago Gayle King came and interviewed us at the farm, and she was very sweet. And she took me aside and she said, you know, sometimes people say to me, do you ever feel like you live in Oprah's shadow? And I said to them I always live in their light. And I do feel like I do get to live in Jon's light, and I'm very thankful for that. And I do feel like because I'm in that light, I want to do really good things and meaningful things, and I recognize that he's allowing that to happen for me.

GROSS: When you found the work you really felt called to do, like - animals don't applaud. Do you know what I mean? Like - like he gets all this applause and you get all these animals who then move on. You know, like, when you were a vet tech or something or when you're rescuing, fostering animals, like - they move on, and they don't even get to continue to express their affection. So I'm thinking, I guess, of the different worlds that you've lived in - you dealing with animals and Jon being like literally in the spotlight. And...

STEWART: But I do think being in the spotlight for him never fed him. I think that he just liked to be able to think a certain way and to be able to get those thoughts out. But I don't - I think he's one of those rare individuals that didn't need the feedback and didn't need the praise maybe as much as other people do. And so I think that's why he was able to stay as healthy as he has stayed through this long career.

GROSS: And on the other side, working with animals doesn't put you in contact with a toxic world in the way working with political hypocrisy does (laughter).

STEWART: (Laughter).

GROSS: Because I know he had to immerse himself in all kinds of, you know - as the kind of referee and, you know, calling out politicians who are political and media people - politicians who are hypocritical and media people who are hypocritical. It could get to be a very toxic environment.

STEWART: Yes. And I think for him, you know, now being retired, to not have that is so refreshing. And I mean, to see him - he has color in his face. He sits out back and looks at the water with a huge smile on his face. And our friends and our family will come and say, oh, great, now we can talk politics with you. And, you know, he has no interest in doing that whatsoever. So if anybody's coming for our Thanksgiving, do not bring up politics. He is just so happy and so light. I think he really did have to - he had to take in all of that information day in and day out and then not be able to just let it go, but to be able to then turn it into something else and possibly make it funny. And, you know, I think that's very draining for an individual to have to do for as long as he did it.

GROSS: Tracey Stewart, thank you so much for talking with us.

STEWART: Thank You.

GROSS: Tracey Stewart's new book is called, "Do Unto Animals." After a break, Maureen Corrigan will review a posthumously published novel by Oscar Hijuelos. I also want to let you know that tomorrow on our show, my guest will be Cecile Mclorin Salvant, a jazz singer who was voted Best Vocalist in the NPR 2013 Jazz Critics Poll. She won four categories of DownBeat's 2014 Critics Poll, including Jazz Album of the Year. Here's how she sounds on her new album. This is "Something's Coming" from "West Side Story."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETHING'S COMING")

CECILE MCLORIN SALVANT: (Singing) Could be. Who knows? There's something due any day. I will know right away soon as it shows. It may come cannonballin' down through the sky, gleam in its eye, bright as a rose. Who knows? It's only just out of reach, down the block on a beach, under a tree. I got a feeling there's a miracle due, gonna come true, coming to me...

GROSS: We'll be back with Maureen's review after a break. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.