OCSA: Steve Dale, as a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant (CABC), in the past few decades, you have reached more pet owners than any other pet journalist in America, how did you do that?
Steve Dale: I began to write and broadcast about pets full time around 22 years ago. From the start, I was all about reaching people and helping people with pets that had behavior problems in particular. I assumed if I could reach enough people, I could also make a living. I started by being syndicated through the Chicago Tribune. It was huge at the time. Today, I reach people through my blog, writing for pet publications, hosting a show on WGN radio and hosting two syndicated radio shows. I’m also quoted as a “pet expert” in popular press and I speak at many veterinary and animal welfare events around the world. I’ve been very lucky but the best thing that ever happens is when someone comes up to me or emails saying that I’ve helped them with their pet(s). It’s the best feeling ever when veterinary technicians I’ve met say I inspired them in some way, even to go into their profession. That’s so gratifying!
OCSA: How did your love affair with animals start?
SD: As a kid, we watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins and Dr. Lester Fisher’s TV appearances on local TV, mainly with Ray Raynor on Channel 9. My dad and I always watched those shows together.
OCSA: When and why did you become involved with Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness (OCSA) and our mission of “Fighting Ovarian Cancer with Animal Passion?”
SD: For years – before it was a cool thing to do, I spoke about One Health. The same is true for a journalist colleague of mine, Darlene Arden. When OCASA’s mission was described, I got it – instantly. Or at least I think I did. Also, I was asked to speak at an event which would be attended by Dr. Shelly Rubin, Dr. Ron DeHaven, then AVMA CEO and Dr. Roger Mahr, CEO and Co-Founder of the One Health Commission at the time. I mean, these are legends in veterinary medicine, and the cause, Ovarian Cancer, how could I not say, “Yes, I’m honored.” And I was honored.
OCSA: Can you tell us about the very special relationship you had with Advisory Board member Darlene Arden?
The best. I mean she wrote about pets beautifully, dispelled myths people had, and was always on the forefront. I believe her book about Toy dogs still stands as the best of its kind. In my field, she was a superstar. And aside from her writing ability, she was great on the radio.
For nearly 20 years we were colleagues and friends. She sometimes interviewed me, though I will say I interviewed her far more often for my platforms. I wrote cover lines or blurbs for a lot of her books, and would not hesitate for a second if she asked.
Personally, she told it like it is – and was at times fiercely competitive.
She had a keen sense of humor. She could have been a stand-up comic. She was so funny in a sharp and sarcastic way. Even when she was sick, she would joke about it and was often self-deprecating.
Years, ago I had begun a fund with the Winn Feline Foundation named for my cat Ricky so more could be understood about the very common heart disease which Ricky died of. Little was known about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy many cats were dying from this disease. The Winn Feline Foundation is a non-profit funding cat health studies. Darlene loved that idea and when her mom died, she did the same – naming a fund in her mom’s name with American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. The fund’s goal is to study dog behavior. I knew she would want to do the same in her name when she died, and OCSA was the perfect fit.
It was the right organization at the right time because she died of Ovarian Cancer, but also because she wanted to support the One Health pursuit OCSA is so passionate about. There’s no doubt that dogs can be trained to detect Ovarian Cancer, but now what? What happens from here? It turns out there is an answer, and the Penn Vet Working Dog Center knows it – all they need are the finances to support their efforts so they can do the work. That’s where the fund in Darlene’s name comes in. If it happens as expected, there will be a blood test for Ovarian Cancer, saving countless lives and dogs will have made it all possible – and it will at least, in part, be funded in Darlene’s name. She would then say, I died for a reason. It is within reach. I hope people consider contributing.
OCSA: You and your wife Robin seem to connect with so many animal loving people around the country and the world…is there one unforgettable adventure you would like to tell us about?
SD: Mountain gorillas in Rwanda Africa. What a privilege to get within a few feet of them. To just sit and watch them do what they do, eat, groom one another, sleep. It was incredible and awe-inspiring yet challenging to put into words.
OCSA: Last but not least, can you tell us about Ethel, Hazel, Roxy and Cosette?
SD: I’m sure they would agree that is the first question you should have asked.
Ethel was dumped with a litter of puppies at Chicago Animal Care & Control when she was only a few months old. A worker there contacted me about these Australian Shepherd puppies – knowing I love Aussies. Ethel turned out to not be an Australian Shepherd at all, or even Australian. Who knows what kind of mix she is. Who cares? That was 10 years ago.
Hazel is a Chihuahua/terrier mix who was at the Animal Welfare League of Chicago. I was there with a friend for another purpose, and happened to hear this pup crying and shaking in a corner of her cage. I thought, ‘her time must be up. She must have been here for days or weeks.’ I took her out, she jumped on to my lap, and I instantly began to text my wife saying, ‘I think you will like what I have found.’ It turns out that Hazel had been there for less than an hour.
Roxy is our 13-year old Devon Rex cat, who at times eats more than everyone else in our home combined. Roxy is well-known, appearing in many veterinary videos – but not as well-known as our skink.
Cosette is the oldest member of our home; she’s a 20-year old Northern Blue Tongue Skink. I liked the idea of bringing a bit of the natural world into our concrete world. She may be the most famous Northern Blue-Tongue Skink around, even once appearing as the cover girl on USA Weekend. In her younger years, she made school appearances. Today, she sometimes goes to movies paying senior rates, or just hangs out playing shuffleboard.