My Story: That’s What Veterinary Friends Are For


I am so incredibly lucky to call so many heroes, my friends. On August 24, I am the Keynote Speaker for the DVM360 Veterinary Heroes Dinner at the FETCH Veterinary Conference in Kansas City.

I’ve been writing/broadcasting about companion animals for – believe it or not – about 30 years. I’ve been honored – it seems every which way, by my colleagues, animal shelters, and twice from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). However, the greatest compliment of all came from the former CEO of the AVMA Dr. Ron DeHaven when he introduced me saying, “Steve Dale has sent more people to see a veterinarian than anyone in the media as far as I know.”

You think veterinarians have it easy? The suicide rate in veterinary medicine exceeds all other medical professions. Because of the growing intensity of the human animal bond veterinary professionals are too often a target of rage, sometimes from clients with unrealistic expectations.

No other medical profession deals with death on a daily basis as veterinary professionals do. And while euthanasia is most often an act of love, it’s still incredibly emotional. Vet professionals may try to wall off some of that wave of emotion, but there’s one problem – they’re human.

And still so many clients complain – and do so about all sorts of things, most often pricing. And while veterinary care doesn’t come without a cost, I argue it’s the best bargain in medicine. For example, cancer treatment for a dog might total or exceed $10,000 – that’s not cheap. Here’s where the bargain comes in, though….for the same exact cancer treatment for an identical cancer in a person, a similar surgical procedure, say a five-day hospital stay, identical chemo drugs, and equal medical expertise, the cost in human medicine will easily total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While there are human physicians who do things like offering personal cell phone numbers, in veterinary medicine this is still common.

I haven’t even mentioned that licensed, registered and certified veterinary technicians do and for so little pay. If human nurses are heroes (as polls suggest) – and I won’t argue – then the techs in vet medicine are superheroes.

I was covering entertainment for the likes of People magazine, USA Today and the Chicago Tribune, but still began to write about pets when an opportunity came along from Tribune Media Services to author a twice-weekly syndicated column, I didn’t know what to say. I knew where my heart was – but was undecided. I listened to advice from Oprah Winfrey who told me, “I ask myself do I really make a difference? If I didn’t think I am making a difference, helping people – I really don’t know if I would do this. But if inside my soul – I know that God gave me this blessed opportunity for a reason.”

And Lucille Ball, offered this advice, ““Do one thing, then learn to do it better than anyone. Work hard, learn all you can about your craft.  You don’t get lucky, you make your own luck. And you may become the best at what you do – what you love to do.”

After thinking about the Tribune job offer while trapped in an elevator, I accepted – and the rest, as they say, is history. Or at least, my story.

And look I’ve had the opportunity to get to know, true friends with legends the likes of the grandfather of veterinary medicine, the late Dr. R. K. Anderson; champion for cats and a founder of the American Association of Feline Practitioners the late Dr. James Richards, gentle handling pioneer, applied animal behaviorist the late Dr. Sophia Yin; the most influential veterinarian of my time Dr. Marty Becker; pioneer of pet hospice Dr. Alice Villalobos; the researcher who broke the feline infectious peritonitis code Dr. Niels Pedersen; the father of veterinary cardiology and patient care as true caring Dr. Stephen Ettinger; private practitioner of any year Dr. Sheldon Rubin – who taught me so much – and the list goes on and on. My life has been blessed – as these folks – names you likely may not know have contributed so much to better the lives of companion animals.

Please consider what veterinary professionals mean– even if you may grumble every now and again, after all us pet parents are human too but then so are the professionals who care and truly do care for our pets.