January 23, 2009 08:35 PM

Martha, a curious, chatty mutt who learned to speak when she ate a bowl of alphabet soup in a popular series of kids books, is now teaching kids to use big words in a weekday PBS KIDS cartoon Martha Speaks. “The dog just keeps on talking,” says author Susan Meddaugh, who spoke to PEOPLE Pets from her “bedogged” Massachusetts home she shares with three canines.

Meddaugh’s son Niko inspired the original 1992 book when, at age seven, he asked his mom what would happen if the family dog ate the noodle letters. Martha was a gregarious pit-mix named after the family friend who found her.

Those alphabet letters have turned Martha into quite the chatter box on television. The cartoon dog teaches kids about rescuing animals and has a bi-lingual Hispanic mother. The writers of the show try to subtly slip 800 words into 40 episodes. For example, Martha’s human girl Helen worries if Martha feels neglected. Her father answers helpfully: “Neglected? Martha?…Neglected dogs are dogs who are forgotten or not looked after properly.”

“The key is Martha,” says Meddaugh, of the dog with a big personality and big mouth. “They’ve really gotten her. They’ve captured her.” Meddaugh says she figured “Martha would speak for all dogs and she has a lot to say.”

Sadly, the original Martha has passed away, but Meddaugh still wonders at all the dog gave her–professionally and emotionally. As Meddaugh quips. “I really enjoy being able to say: you adopt a dog from a shelter or a stray, look what can happen. This amazing dog has taken me on a ride.”

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