Pets' Year in Review: Steve Dale's Columns


More than anything else, I hope my newspaper columns helps families, afterall pets are considered members of the family. 2014 included columns on many topics I was proud to elevate to a public platform.

Journalist Julia Szabo spoke with me about her book,  “Medicine Dog: The Miraculous Cure That Healed My Best Friend and Saved My Live,” (Lyon’s Press, Guilford, CT, 2014; $16.47), and about how her hobbled arthritic dog might have been euthanized because there was nothing else she could do to relieve her dog’s pain, until she discovered stem cell therapy. From barely being able to cross a street, Szabo said that within a month her dog was acting like a puppy again.  Sam lived three more years.

The same type of stem cell therapy that saved her dog also saved her. Suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, she landed in the Emergency Room and was near death; doctors only offered solutions which would dramatically impact her quality of life. Szabo sought stem cell treatment, and her medical issue soon disappeared. “Stem cell therapy saved me,” she said. “My life is now normal, and I love it. But I also think about all the animals, and people who might benefit and are unaware of stem cell treatment, or who can’t afford it.”

Vicki Santo, widow of Hall of Fame Chicago Cub Ron Santo, launched the Ron and Vicki Santo Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation to train service dogs to alert for insulin spikes and crashes. “No doubt these dogs can save lives,” Vicki said. “Ron lived to make a difference in people’s

lives, and he loved dogs. He would have loved this idea.”

“The Problem with Pit Bulls” was the headline of a Time magazine story that I took issue with this past summer. The story was unfortunately filled with inaccurate descriptions of dogs referred to as pit bulls.  The social media backlash was fast and furious, but I stand by my words.

Simultaneously, I was co-authoring (with veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sagi Denenberg) an American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior position statement regarding breed bans or breed specific legislation (communities banning or restricting ownership of dogs referred to as pit bulls and often other breeds). We determined breed bans actually do not work to lower dog bite numbers, which is the purpose of breed specific legislation (BSL).

It turns out cutting edge genetic testing has proved that dogs with a “pit bull look” are mostly merely mixed breed dogs, often with no real pit bull in them.  So what are community officials really banning?

Moreover, how at risk are people from dogs bites of any breed or mix? While one serious dog attack is one too many, the sad truth is that people are far more dangerous to people than dogs are to people.  Over 1,500 children died of child abuse and/or neglect within their own families in 2010 (according to the Administration for Children and Families), and there were over 16,000 homicides in the U.S. in 2010 (according to the CDC). Sadly, in some major U.S. cities more than 27 people can die of homicides in a month.  That’s about how many dog-related fatalities there are annually in America, and most might have been prevented. No matter, the alleged breed (often incorrectly assessed) is greatly irrelevant. The AVSAB BSL position statement is free to download.

I interviewed several celebrities in 2014, including actress Katherine Heigl. Heigl and her mother, Nancy, founded the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation in 2008 in memory of her brother, who was killed as a teenager in a car accident. “He was a compassionate and very kind person who loved dogs and cats, and all living things,” said Heigl. “His short life inspired us to try to do more to help end the plight of homeless animals in his memory.”

Entrepreneur and actress Kathy Ireland launched her Loved Ones collection for pets, which includes all sorts of pet products from dog beds to cat toys. She told me how she was inspired by her friend Elizabeth Taylor. Pups Gracie and Delilah were left to Ireland and her family when Taylor passed away. “It was a blessing to be mentored by this amazing woman,” Ireland said.

I had to the honor to speak with Joan Rivers about a month before she passed away.

At the time, her Pekingese Max has just died, and she was planning an outlandish funeral.  I asked her if there is “another side” who would she want to see when the time comes– and was expecting a show biz answer. Instead she said, “All my dogs.  Dogs are easier to love than people; they’re certainly more dependable. Once they love you, that’s it. A true friend in life is a dog.”

©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency