The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Climate, Extinction Crises: A Wake-Up Call

DEAR DR. FOX: Your recent piece about the effects of climate change is very helpful because it tells the public about the microeffects that climate change is having on the local environments that our pets inhabit.

I read the opposition letter from one of your readers that you should “stick to your own lane” and give advice only on pet care, and stay away from climate change.

Don’t let unthinking or politicized readers keep you quiet about the effects of climate change. You are doing your readers and their pets a service. -- R.P., Storrs, Connecticut

DEAR R.P.: Thanks for your words of support.

Sound science, reason and evidence-based opinion all have inevitable political consequences when they call for change in policies, governance and how the 7 billion of us should best live on this planet. We have excluded other animals, plants and microorganisms from equal and fair consideration, the latter contributing more to the common good than we do -- a realization that is beginning to dawn on the human collective consciousness.

I was very encouraged recently to see National Geographic’s beautifully illustrated publication “Secrets of Animal Communication” for sale at my local grocery store. The findings of ethologists and scientists who study animal behavior (I being one with a doctoral degree in this discipline) are presented in an engaging way to help the public understand and appreciate other creatures. Many of the species in this publication are endangered, and will soon be lost forever if we do not, collectively, address the extinction crisis.

Reading this publication will help people accept that just as we are spiritual beings experiencing life in human form, so these other organisms are spiritual beings experiencing life in other forms, and treat then accordingly. The Golden Rule may then be applied to all creatures, great and small. This publication helps advance this moral imperative.


Wally Conron, known as the first to breed a poodle with a Labrador retriever, set off a firestorm of criticism when he said he regrets creating the “designer breed” because unscrupulous breeders have capitalized on the market.

Dr. John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, says prospective Labradoodle owners should take time to get to know a dog before committing. And former AVMA President Dr. John de Jong says mixing breeds can reduce the risk of genetic or health problems. (National Public Radio, 9/27; USA Today, 9/27)

In my opinion, there can be serious problems when a seemingly healthy Labrador and standard poodle are mated to generate Labradoodles: Both parents could carry the recessive gene for hip dysplasia or other heritable diseases. Put two asymptomatic recessive carriers together, and bingo! -- many of the offspring will have the disease and suffer the consequences.

Many “designer” dogs, large and small, come from commercial puppy mill breeders who treat the “breeding stock” like livestock, confined in small cages and crates. These are defended at the state level by livestock producers and their political cronies, who fear any kind of legislation with regard to commercial exploitation of animals might impinge on their business.

Take my advice and adopt a pet from a shelter. Never buy online. If you are seeking a particular breed of dog, learn all about it first, especially any health issues and behavioral needs that might not fit your lifestyle. And above all, see the prospective pup’s parents and living conditions.

DEAR DR. FOX: You espouse various philosophical views with regard to animals and the environment, and sometimes are critical of some religious traditions, notably how animals are ritually slaughtered.

May I ask which religion you follow or are you, considering the state of the world, an atheist? I have just about lost my faith and was raised Christian. -- Y.L., Fort Myers, Florida

DEAR Y.L.: No, I am not an atheist; as I spell out in my book “The Boundless Circle: Caring for Creatures and Creation” (published by the Theosophical Society), I embrace panentheism.

This is not pantheism, but rather holds that God or the Great Spirit is in all, and all is in God or the Great Spirit -- or whatever we choose to call the divine, universal, numinous presence deeply felt in moments of communion with another being or in nature.

Philosopher Martin Buber called this the “I-Thou” relationship, as distinct from ”I-It.” In relation to this concept, theologian Thomas Berry asserted that the universe is not a collection of objects, but a communion of subjects. Philosophers such as Joseph Campbell alluded to the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans,” the awakening of our sense of awe and wonder. This spiritual sensibility is the basis of religious rituals, practices, faith and beliefs. But I reject all religions that are anthropocentric and fail to extend the Golden Rule to other sentient beings.

Embedded in human DNA is our ancestral, evolutionary history, and we share many genes with other species, affirming our biological kinship. To believe that only humans are created in God’s image to rule the Earth is a misconception with tragic and self-limiting consequences if that God is not one of absolute compassion, with loving concern and care for all creatures great and small.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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