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Will They Remember Me?


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I wonder if people will remember me.

In no particular order, all of the following happened within the past 10 days.

I called the Chicago White Sox and mentioned to the marketing people that I’m the guy whose idea it was back in the late 1980’s to begin a dog days promotion, allowing dogs to come to a major league baseball game. Today, most major league and about every minor league team has at least one similar promotional event every season. And, it was pretty much all my idea (partnering with the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association). Truth is, nice as they were, the marketing people at the White Sox didn’t know, and didn’t seem to care that I was the guy responsible for this hugely successful promotion.

A young pet writer wrote me asking for advice, and I mentioned a man who in some ways was a mentor to me, Mordecai Siegal. She had no clue who this guy was. Morty authored 33 pet books. Try that today! Many of those books sold quite well, and many still remain available. Back when he began his book writing career, publishers weren’t so convinced prescriptive books about dogs could sell. He proved them wrong. Siegal was a longtime president of the Dog Writer’s Association of America, and was a big deal among my colleagues.

With the late Mordecai Siegal.

And Siegel’s mentor was Roger Caras, the first “pet reporter” on national TV (ABC). He authored 70 books, and was president of the ASPCA for a time.

So, if people don’t remember those greats, I wonder if they’ll remember me. Does it really matter?

(image by Josh Feeney)

I was at the Mondog Dog Beach for an appearance about a week ago, and was talking to a volunteer instrumental in the upkeep of the dog beach. She had no idea that I was the one who first went to the Chicago Park District (following Wrigley Field’s successful “experiment”) and led the charge to create dog parks and beaches in Chicago (dog friendly areas).

If I am counting correctly, I received six emails or Facebook messages over the past week regarding Tree House Humane Society. All came from people commiserating that they gave dollars (some of those folks significant dollars) to the cat shelter with one focus and promise. And they feel that shelter has broken the promise, and I am right there with them. After about 11 years on the board of directors and around 15 years of involvement, I thought it was my chance to leave something (I gave dollars with an agreement to have a room established in my name). Since I have broken ranks, I doubt that will happen. The new building, which was supposed to include a real cat café, was my dream, and the dream of so many others. The building happened, but the dream became a nightmare—my worst experience by far in animal welfare. (Incidentally, I do have exciting cat café news to share tomorrow, and how I am determined to help right a wrong).

However, I am proud to be on the board of directors of the Winn Feline Foundation, a nonprofit funding cat health studies). At the Winn Feline Foundation Symposium, a prominent cat breeder came up to me and said, “So you’re the Ricky Fund person?”

With Ricky the cat circa 1997.

I began the Ricky Fund to raise money to better understand a common and often deadly heart disease in cats called feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. We’ve raised more than $100,000. While we haven’t done enough, we have been able to determine (via a simple and inexpensive cheek swab) if a gene defect causing that heart disease occurs in ragdoll or Maine coon cats. Hopefully as we continue raising money, we’ll do more.

Also at the Winn Feline Symposium on June 29, I had the honor of introducing Dr. Niels Pedersen, now professor emeritus at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. A total rockstar, he’s had his input and scientific impact regarding feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, and feline infectious peritonitis. In fact, at the symposium he revealed that he may have come up with a drug (or combination of drugs) to treat this disease, which has always been considered fatal. He was also a significant voice that will hopefully lead the charge to adjust breeding of brachiocephalic dog breeds, particularly the bulldog. Pedersen’s impact on veterinary medicine is undeniable. He’s had a hand in so many historic advents in veterinary medicine, including writing the first feline-only text of its kind, Feline Husbandry: Diseases and Management in the Multiple-Cat Environment.

Also in the room was Joan Miller of the Cat Fanciers’ Association. Joan served as the Winn Feline Foundation president for many years, and she actually began the educational Winn Feline Symposium. Her list of achievements and contributions to cats is far too long to list, but includes co-authoring several chapters in Pedersen’s classic book, which I mentioned above. Miller will receive the American Veterinary Medical Association Humane Award this month in Indianapolis, and I was asked to present it to her. What a great honor.  People in “cat circles” know these two names. I am so geeky about it, I asked for Pedersen and Miller’s autograph in the book.

I treasure these signatures and being able to call Dr. Pedersen and Joan Miller friends.

But, 10 or 20 years from now, will people remember these two giants?

I’m not seeking accolades. I’ve reached enough awards for a lifetime (and I’m out of wall space). Time marches on, and maybe it’s OK that people aren’t remembered.

But maybe it’s not OK. I know if I have achieved anything, it truly is only because I have stood on the shoulders of those who preceded me, whom I have watched and learned from.

I will say one other thing happened this week, and it’s happened several times before that. A woman in her twenties came up to me and said, “I’ve been a fan of your career since I was in college. Now, because of you, I have pursued my interest and become a veterinary technician. And I love my job.”

I’ve done my best to impact animals. But, I have much more to do.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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