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"Martha Speaks" Teaches Young Pet Lovers How to Care for Animals

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By Robin Wallace
Teaching children to be responsible pet owners who know how to keep their best furry friends safe can be a daunting task. But this week -- in honor of April being "Pets Are Wonderful Month" -- parents and educators have a new resource: the PBS series "Martha Speaks."

From now until Friday, April 16, each day will feature pup-centric episodes shedding light on the environmental dangers pet face and how to avoid them -- from protecting animals against the icy hazards of winter to car safety tips during the summer heat.

"We hope that kids at home will find fun takeaways in these episodes and be that much more protective and loving to the pets in their lives," said Susan Meddaugh, "Martha Speaks" author and creative producer for the PBS Kids series.

Based on the books written and illustrated by Meddaugh, the "Martha Speaks" TV show follows a mixed breed dog who has a special talent of speaking -- but, according to PBSKids.org, only after "Martha eats alphabet soup, the letters go up to her brain and she can talk!"

Under the website's Frequently Asked Qestions section, the show also cautions children that this process "doesn't work with other dogs, so we don't recommend feeding your dog alphabet soup. It would probably just make a big mess."

Included on The New York Times' "Best Illustrated List" in 1992, "Martha Speaks" is based on an experience Meddaugh had with her son, who was 7 years old at the time. Niko had been eating alphabet soup and wondered what would happen if they fed the soup to Martha, their family pet dog. Would she talk?

That precious moment served as the inspiration behind the book series, now turned into a television show.

"From the very beginning of the series we wanted to highlight the positive role that our pets have in our lives," said Carol Greenwald, "Martha Speaks" senior executive producer. "To celebrate Pets Are Wonderful Month, we collected some of our favorite 'dog's eye view' Martha stories that feature fun, everyday canine antics, but also see this week as an opportunity to showcase the powerful themes of pet ownership, adoption and advocacy featured throughout the series."

Clearly, this is a message Meddaugh feels strongly about, as her family home is filled with dogs, including Kaiser, a 98-pound black lab from a shelter; Oats, a pug who needed a new home, and now has a role in the PBS series playing "Burt;" and Dudley, a stray dog abandoned at a Georgia gas station.

While the series usually focuses on teaching new words to boost children's vocabulary and reading abilities, this week's shows are a must-see for pet lovers of any age. Here is a sample of the show's upcoming lineup:

Wednesday, April 14th
Paws and Effect
When Martha gets a piece of glass in her paw, everyone realizes that littering hurts more than the environment. But what can they do about it? As Alice, Helen, and TD know, protecting the environment (and paws) is important, but it is easier said than done.

The Trouble with Teddy
Teddy, a neighborhood dog, is sick, and the vet doesn't know why. When Martha is called in to consult, even she can't diagnose the patient. Enlisting the help of the dog pack, they scour the yard for hazardous materials -- when the cause of the problem could be right under their noses.

Thursday, April 15th
Martha Blah Blah
Granny Flo decides to cut costs at the soup factory. Who would notice if each bowl of soup had only half the letters of the alphabet anyway? Martha would, that's who. As the letters are subtracted from the soup, they're also subtracted from her speech, and Martha loses her ability to communicate. Has Martha ordered her last burger?

Skits Behaves
Now that Skits is full grown, his rambunctious behavior has really gotten out of hand. Mom and Dad tell Helen she has to train Skits or he will have to be an outside dog. Helen tries all the latest training techniques with no success, until she realizes there's only one sure-fire training method: practice, lots of practice.

Friday, April 16th
Martha Ain't Nothin' but a Pound Dog, part 1
Martha loses her collar and winds up in the animal shelter. She leads an escape attempt, only to find that freedom isn't much without a family. (1st of two parts)

Martha Ain't Nothin' but a Pound Dog, part 2
When Martha's family comes to take her home, she decides she can't leave her shelter friends behind. Adopting that many dogs is out of the question, so Martha, Helen, and TD cook up a plan to find families for the pound pooches. (2nd of two parts)

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