The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Canadian Government Ends Whale and Dolphin Exploitation

DEAR READERS: In a major step in recognition of animal rights and the bioethics of exploiting animals for human entertainment and money, the Canadian government has voted resoundingly for the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act. This new law prohibits the capture, breeding, trade and possession of orcas, porpoises and dolphins.

Such a humane, civil society initiative is needed in many countries, including the U.S., to protect these extraordinary, highly intelligent and empathic mammals. Further protection is also needed for those in the wild, where many are dying from ingested plastics or from being tangled in floating nets. Others are starving as a consequence of over-fishing and warming waters resulting in declining fish stocks. Sonic booms from deep-ocean oil and gas prospecting and naval sonar activities may also damage their navigational senses, leading to mass stranding.

DEAR DR. FOX: After reading your article on shelters, I was deeply moved -- to the point that I decided that I would adopt at least three dogs.

I have for the last 30 years always had a dog in our family, as many as four at one time. Slowly, we were drained of savings for their care (because after all, they are family). Our credit card debt also soared from some of the illnesses they got. I have looked into pet insurance and honestly, on a fixed income, the $30-$50 a month is not an option. Even the low-cost shelter vets are insanely costly.

If there were an option, I would have found it by now. If more of us pet lovers could afford the vet bills, maybe the shelters wouldn’t be crammed full. I have thought of fostering, but I don’t think I could give up a dog after falling in love with it.

Any alternatives to the high cost of pet ownership would be appreciated. -- M.G., Jupiter, Florida

DEAR M.G.: Yes, caring for a dog or cat cannot be done on the cheap when it comes to quality food and regular veterinary wellness evaluations.

People do not want to pay for behavioral advice, but that should be part of the bill, and is an essential part of owner-education and optimizing the human-companion animal bond. Obesity, dental problems and, later in life, cancer, are the big afflictions of dogs and cats, which annual veterinary appointments can help address and potentially prevent.

Some people advocate pet health insurance, but that has not caught on here or in Europe. Some veterinary practices have their own insurance policies, but often insist on frequent appointments, and may seek to sell more than is justified by the animal’s health.

For those people with little savings and on a fixed income, their responsibility to secure proper veterinary preventive care and treatments when needed may be compromised. One option that has been long established in many locations in the U.K. is the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. People can take their animals there for treatment, bringing along their tax returns to show they need charity support, which is provided with the best affordable care for their animals. In the U.S., some local animal shelters have their own veterinarians or contract with local practitioners to provide low-fee services.

Clearly, the veterinary profession does care; treatments are often very costly, along with diagnostics, and appropriate veterinary care standards cannot be short-changed. How do you think veterinarians feel when clients insist on having their animals, who could be saved by the veterinarian, euthanized because they do not think the animal is “worth it,” regardless of whether they can afford treatment? Many clients are unduly demanding, and even expect vets to charge little because the animal only cost them a few dollars in the first place. Yet many veterinary treatments and diagnostics are virtually the same as in a human hospital or as prescribed by the family physician.

Not all U.S. veterinarians are aware of the fact that the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Foundation has a Veterinary Care Charitable Fund. According to AVMA President Dr. John H. de Jong, the fund “provides veterinarians a simple and effective way to offer charitable veterinary services to clients facing personal hardships, as well as a means to support animals injured as a result of abuse or neglect.”

(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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