The Truth About Cats and Dogs

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.  I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember.  This week on our program, we tell about pets in the United States.


Earlier this month, the Westminster Kennel Club held its yearly dog show in New York City.  Westminster has been awarding prizes to special show dogs for one hundred thirty-three years.  Dogs are judged against a description of the perfect dog for each kind or breed.  Then one is chosen as "Best in Show".  This year, more than two thousand dogs of one hundred seventy breeds competed.  The winner was a Sussex spaniel called Stump.  Stump is ten years old—the oldest dog ever to win the championship at Westminster.

The Westminster Kennel Club was the first member of the pure breed dog registry group, The American Kennel Club. The AKC recognizes dog breeds in the United States.   Every year, it develops a list of the most popular breeds. The same breed has won that honor for the past eighteen years -- the Labrador retriever.  The club's Web site describes Labs as gentle, intelligent and family friendly.  Yet not all Labs are the same.

American writer John Grogan discovered this after he and his wife adopted a Labrador retriever they named Marley.

The dog caused Mr. Grogan a lot of trouble, but also provided many stories for his newspaper articles.  Later, he wrote a best-selling book, "Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog."  Marley was happy and fun-loving.  But he was also extremely large and difficult to control.   He ate anything that he found around the house, including plastic, clothing and jewelry.   He was expelled from dog training school.  And he had an abnormal fear of loud noises, especially thunderstorms.  Unfortunately, the Grogans lived in Florida where many of these storms develop.   Marley would attack the furniture, walls and doors until his feet bled if he was left alone in the house during a storm.

John Grogan, his wife Jenny and their three children all loved Marley even though the dog almost destroyed their home a number of times.  John Grogan wrote that he briefly considered the possibility that his dog could be trained to be a show champion.  But he soon realized that this was not to be.


"Marley had earned a place in our family.  Like a quirky but beloved uncle, he was what he was. He would never be a Lassie or Benji or old Yeller; he would never reach Westminster or even the country fair.  We knew that now.  We accepted him for the dog he was and loved him all the more for it."


The American Pet Products Association carries out a National Pet Owners Study every two years.  The latest one shows that seventy-one million homes in the United States last year included a pet.  That is sixty-two percent of all the homes in America. The study also showed that Americans owned more than seventy-seven million dogs and more than ninety-three million cats.

The association's market research shows that Americans spent more than forty-three billion dollars on pets, pet products and pet medical care last year.  And it expects that number to increase to forty-five billion dollars by the end of this year, even with the current economic downturn.

Bob Vetere is president of the American Pet Products Association.  He says the organization has seen fewer sales of pet supplies recently.  But he says pet owners are spending their money on other things like medical services.  He says people want to keep their pets healthy longer.  And he says that special treatments developed in the past ten years are more costly than before.

Mr. Vetere also says Americans are working longer hours and hiring people to care for their pets during the day.  And, he says Americans are taking their pets with them on trips.  That is easier to do these days because more hotels and vacation areas permit pets.  For example, the Web site lists more than seventeen   thousand pet friendly hotels, campgrounds and beaches in the United States.

However, the economic downturn is creating problems for some pet owners. The Humane Society says that more people are leaving pets at animal shelters. This is because they have lost their homes and can no longer care for their animals.  The group provides money for shelters and rescue organizations to help them care for homeless dogs and cats.

Humane Society official Nancy Peterson says groups are also helping pet owners pay for pet food.  And they are placing animals in temporary homes until their owners can take them back.


The central part of the United States suffered its own economic crisis in the nineteen eighties.  The price of farm land dropped and banks no longer provided the credit farmers needed. Unemployment reduced the population. The number of people in the small town of Spencer, Iowa, for example, dropped from eleven thousand to eight thousand in just a few years.

The Spencer public library worked to help people in the town find jobs.  It created a list of jobs and offered books on job skills and training.  It also set up a computer so people could research job openings and write applications.

One cold January morning in nineteen eighty-eight, library workers found a small, almost frozen kitten in the book drop.  A book drop is the small metal door in the wall of the building where people can return books when the library is closed.  No one knows who put the kitten there or why. But it turned out to be lucky for both the kitten and the town.

The library held a contest to name the cat.  The winning name was Dewey Readmore Books. Library officials agreed to permit him to live in the building.  Dewey loved to keep people company while they chose books or used the library computer.  Soon, Dewey's presence began attracting families and school groups to the library.

The local newspaper wrote about the new library cat.  His story spread across the nation.  Dewey began receiving letters from people in other countries.  And a film crew from Japan arrived to include him in a movie about cats.

Head librarian Vicki Myron was Dewey's main caretaker.  Last year, she published the best-selling book "Dewey: The small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World."  Here she gives readers an idea of how much the cat meant to her town.


"How much of an impact can an animal have?  How many lives can one cat touch?  How is it possible for an abandoned kitten to transform a small library into a meeting place and tourist attraction, inspire a classic American town, bring together an entire region and eventually become famous around the world?  You can't even begin to answer those questions until you hear the story of Dewey Readmore Books, the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa."


Pets are important in American homes, and that includes the White House. President Obama has promised his two daughters a dog.

When it arrives, the new family member will join a long list of pets that have lived in the White House.  Some presidents kept rather unusual animals. For example, President Benjamin Harrison's son had a pet goat. President Calvin Coolidge had raccoons.

President Theodore Roosevelt's family had a pony, a sheep, a bird, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, rats and a snake.  President John Kennedy's daughter Caroline had a pony named Macaroni.  The Kennedys also had hamsters, dogs, birds, and cats.

Many presidents seem to have taken the advice of President Harry Truman who said: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

Perhaps the most famous presidential dog was President Franklin Roosevelt's Scottish terrier, Fala.  Mr. Roosevelt took him just about everywhere.   In nineteen forty-three, Fala appeared in a short movie about life in Washington during World War Two.  A statue of Fala is part of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.


Fala may have been the first White House pet to be a media star, but he was not the last.  In nineteen ninety, first lady Barbara Bush's Springer spaniel Millie told about her life in the White House in "Millie's Book." And President George W. Bush's Scottie dog Barney had his own Web cam series on the White House Web site.


Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs at  Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.