After more than 20 years as a full-time pet advocate and national media personality, Steve Dale might be compelled to slow down. But that’s not his way. When reached by phone earlier this month, the Chicago-based journalist had just returned from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s annual convention, where he served as a panelist, attended workshops, and gathered media for his radio shows (Steve Dale’s Pet World and The Pet Minute) and his YouTube channel.
“Every year I go to more veterinary conferences, I suspect, than most veterinarians,” Dale says, adding, “I love to learn. I’m proud of all the continuing education I get.”
Consequently, Dale — who is also a certified animal behavior consultant and a member of various nonprofit boards — is a wealth of knowledge on today’s leading pet-related issues. Those range from proposed pediatric spay and neuter to non-anesthetic dentistry to the growing prevalence of Lyme disease in dogs and their owners.
And, of course, there’s the problem of puppy mills.
“I’m appalled that in 2016, puppy mills aren’t only existing still in America, but because of the Internet in part, they continue to thrive,” he says. “And if I knew a magic answer, I’d snap my fingers and make it happen.”
Dale certainly has respect for the complexity of the issue. When it comes to oversight of commercial breeding facilities, he’s not sure who should handle it — though he’s pretty sure it should no longer be the Department of Agriculture.
“It might have made sense 75 years ago,” he says, “but today, half the people in America, according to the American Pet Products Association, [nearly] 50 percent of people sleep with a pet. … They’re not agricultural animals. They are not cows or pigs. They are parts, members of our family.”
And then there is the problem of online mills disguising themselves as rescues, sometimes even behind a 501(c)3 status. “How do you navigate all that online?” he asks. “I don’t know. But I’d say ideally, go to visit the place before you rescue or adopt the dog.”
Dale says even veterinary professionals — whom he holds in the highest regard — sometimes don’t understand “the complete puppy mill story.” That’s why he helped establish Veterinary Professionals Against Puppy Mills.
Despite all the challenges, Dale’s support of A Voice for Lil Olive can only help the situation. And his track record in pet advocacy illustrates three points that should give other Olive supporters hope.
Dale recalls doing a radio interview with Illinois’ Cook County sheriff a few years back, after officers arrested people who’d run a dogfighting site next to a daycare center. “I said, ‘This is worse than a felony. There’s got to be a worser felony.’ And he laughed and said, ‘A worser felony doesn’t exist, but there is language that’s called an enhanced felony’ — which means, in non-legal terms, they can add time to the penalty. … So I said, ‘There ought to be an enhanced felony for dogfighting if you’re near a daycare center or a playground, or a school.’ And that’s exactly what he did. He worked with some legislators who wrote up the legislation.”
In 2002, Dale’s beloved cat Ricky — whom, it must be noted, could play the piano — died of feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). In response, Dale worked with the Winn Feline Foundation to create the Ricky Fund for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Research. As a direct result of the $100,000-plus he’s raised, a test has been created to find a gene defect for HCM in two cat breeds.
On Dale’s blog, you’ll find a moving tribute to Chaser, his longtime Brittany companion who died in 2006. In it, he writes that a single look into that dog’s eyes moved him to tears and convinced him to pursue a job as a Tribune Media Services pet columnist — the move that launched his awards-studded career.
“It was a dog,” he says, “that changed my life.”
Copyright 2016 Shelter Island Films
A Voice for Lil Olive is a new documentary from award-winning filmmaker Pete Schuermann. The film explores the special bond between pets and their families, and how rescued dogs change lives. The film's mission is to make people aware of and to change attitudes about rescued pets through the telling of Lil Olive’s tale. In this way, she becomes the voice for so many dogs and animals in need.