When Steve Dale was a child, he would turn the volume down during baseball games so he could announce the game himself, dreaming of a day when he could broadcast his voice to millions of people. Then, when the kids show Ray Rayner came on he would turn the volume back up again for the Ark in the Park segment, when the local zoo director would bring on special animal guests.
Since I was eight years old, I’ve wanted to get into radio, he says. And since I was 8 years old, I’ve been very interested in animals.
Now all grown up, Dales radio hit, Pet Minute, is a popular daily blast of rapid-fire news bites and interviews with authors, vets and other pet-related celebrities. His one-hour syndicated radio show, Pet World, is a weekly treat for listeners on more than 100 stations across the United States and Canada.
In diligent pursuit of his goal from a young age, Dale interned as a college student at the Chicago radio station WCFL, where he pulled wire for a popular show called Radio Stories. He worked at WCFL for six years, studying with some of the best names in the business and gaining invaluable hands-on experience working on wacky animal stories. But then, suddenly, the stations programming switched to religion, and Dale was fired.
In the years after losing his WCFL job, Dale turned to writing, penning restaurant reviews and other pieces for the Tribune and other Chicago newspapers. As his stature grew, he tailored his subjects to his own best interests.
It seemed no matter where I was or what I was doing, somehow, someway it would involve animals, says Dale. For 10 years or more, any feature that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, zoo or aquarium-related, was by me. Along the way I began writing for other animal magazines (including CAT FANCY) and gained more knowledge and contacts. Lucille Ball once told me to learn all you can. By soaking up all that knowledge you can become the best.
And so Dale soaked; he researched, wrote and talked with experts, until without ever earning a veterinary degree he became a sought-after expert himself. He was invited to be a guest on the Bob Collins Show, the most popular radio show in Chicago at that time. The segment was so successful it led to a series of segments, and soon, Dale was offered his own show by the stations (WGN) program director. To make a good impression at his interview with her, he brought a plush dog, because I knew she didn’t have a pet. She thought that was very funny. The ploy worked, and Pet World was born.
These days, through Pet Worlds blend of interviews, commentary and advice to callers, Dale entertains millions of listeners with his good humor and boisterous spirit. Dale insists his ultimate goal is to make a difference, and strives to use his profession as an outlet to educate people about proper pet care.
My goal is that in some small way I can matter, he says, whether its through that listener who writes and says I took your advice and the cat isn’t missing the box anymore, or if its through the money I’ve raised for the Ricky Fund.
The Ricky Fund is Dales fundraising project to benefit research of feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (also known as HCM), an untreatable heart condition that is fatal to cats. The fund is named after Dales late, beloved Devon Rex, Ricky, a socialized cat with HCM who loved to accompany Dale to the bank and other errands.
One day Ricky was doing what Devon Rexes love to do, eat, and he just dropped, says Dale. I’m sure everyone in the building heard me scream Ricky taught me everything I know about cats, and through his name we’ve raised $65,000 dollars for HCM. A doctor in Washington has identified the gene responsible for this disease, and a doctor in UCLA is helping her with the medicine that might actually treat it.
The Ricky Fund is but one branch of Dales great multimedia tree, a vast enterprise with every twig devoted to improving animal welfare. In addition to his work in radio, Dale runs two large, helpful websites, writes a syndicated newspaper column, Pet World, edits the veterinarian newsletter, Pawprints, lectures and leads animal behavior workshops all over the country. He even runs Kitty Kindergarten classes, where students learn how to have a stronger relationship with their cats, through everything from trimming nails to proper litter box placement. Dale is also frequently invited to speak at vets conferences all over the country about his work with strengthening the bonds between people and their pets.
Its amazing that I get to speak at veterinarians conferences. I’m humbled. I’m in awe. I’m grateful. I think cats are second-class citizens in the U.S. More are relinquished to shelters than dogs, more cats are just left to fend for themselves outside, and more cats are abused than dogs, and this has all got to change.
In person, Dale laughs when things are funny and tears up when things are sad, as when he talks about the deadly kitten virus Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). His voice is strong and confident and excitedly bounces among all types of animal-related topics, but always returns to the subject of improving the lives of animals everywhere. He has the energy of that 8-year-old Steve Dale who fiddled with the TV volume knobs and never dreamed how harmoniously his passions would blend into this perfect career. Grown-up Steve Dale knows full well what he’s capable of and has only just begun.
Justin W. Sanders is a freelance writer living in Portland, Ore., with his two cats Squeak and Purrlina.