The Jane Fondas of Pet Exercise, Warren and Fay Eckstein, Think Even Birds Should Do It

updated 11/26/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/26/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

First, you must understand that pet aerobics is not a plan to pump cat instead of iron. Second, you must accept that it is not a joke. Then you are ready for the theory: Animals need exercise as much as people do, and a two-mile run, followed by some push-ups or jumping jacks, can make Rover feel like a brand-new dog. It can also cure him of such nasty habits as chewing furniture and biting mailmen. "Clearly, a dog or cat who leads a sedentary life is not a healthy pet," writes Warren Eckstein in his new book, the aptly titled Pet Aerobics (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $14.95). In this book, which Eckstein wrote with his wife, Fay, one discovers that all animals, regardless of age or species, can benefit from his program. For example, Eckstein's late cockatiel was a roller skater and his half-ton pig, Corky, was once a champion skateboarder.

His two gerbils (who are still alive) also get exercised. He puts them in hollow, clear plastic balls and watches them roll around burning up those calories. Eckstein says aerobics can also enhance a pet's relationship with his master: "By working out together, you really learn to be friends."

Eckstein, who has a college degree in psychology but is not a veterinarian, has worked with 22,000 animals in a 16-year career. "Most people don't listen to their animals," says Eckstein, who has trained dogs for Lily Tomlin, David Letterman and Cheryl Tiegs. "But I sit down and talk to them. It's amazing the answers you get back."

At their home in Oceanside, N.Y. and their farm near Albany, N.Y., the Ecksteins are never lonely for animal chatter. With seven dogs, 26 rabbits, three ducks, three chickens, a guinea pig, one hamster, two pigs, four birds, the gerbils and countless cats, "our bed gets pretty crowded," says Fay laughing. Both husband and wife believe that pet aerobics could be America's next fitness craze. "In the 1960s John F. Kennedy said that the American public was out of shape and that people had better do something about it," says Eckstein. "Now we're saying the same thing about pets."

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