The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Why America Should Protect Wolves

DEAR READERS: This is part of the testimony I gave on June 25 at the U.S. Department of the Interior public hearings in Brainerd, Minnesota, urging the Trump administration to protect wolves and keep them on the endangered species list.

The existential values of wolves far exceed their material value to the trapper, the self-gratification of the trophy hunter, and the environmental and ecological sustainability value of free-range cattle and sheep. These existential values are derived variously from sound science, veterinary bioethics, cultural anthropology and public sensibility.

-- Wolves are of environmental value as apex predators, with their many ecological services optimizing sustainable biodiversity.

-- Wolves are of wildlife health value, removing sick, infirm and aged deer and other prey; keeping herds healthy; and most probably limiting the spread of Chronic Wasting disease (CWD) and other contagious and infectious diseases.

-- Wolves are of forest and woodland regenerative value, preventing over-browsing by deer and other cervids through control of numbers, allowing saplings to survive and thrive.

-- Wolves are of public health value, their trophic effects on ecosystems helping reduce the incidence and extensiveness of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

-- Wolves are of value to smaller, commensal carnivores like the red fox in limiting the incursion of prey-competing coyotes and feral dogs into some ecosystems.

-- Wolves are of value as an indicator species of ecosystem health.

-- Wolves are of symbolic, recreational, educational, scientific, heuristic, artistic and spiritual value to civil society.

-- Wolves are of totemic and religious value to indigenous peoples, and others of like mind, who treat them with reverential respect.

-- Wolves are of intrinsic value in and for themselves as emotionally and cognitively intelligent, sentient, social beings with rights, interests and entitlements as an indigenous species.

From a bioethical perspective, these existential values call for the protection of wolves from human depredation and habitat encroachment.

With livestock keepers being compensated for veterinary-certified losses -- provided they have incorporated non-lethal methods of predator control and prevention in their animal husbandry -- fewer wolves would be killed, both legally and illegally.

Deer-hunters, and others who see wolves as competing for and depleting state-managed deer herds and deer on private land, need to step back and refrain from eating any meat that hasn’t been tested for CWD (arguably an anthropogenic disease). It also shouldn’t be fed to dogs, cats and other animals known to be susceptible to prion diseases like CWD.

It is not too late to care for the whole, which some call holy. As Henry David Thoreau declared, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Every state should foster their wolf populations in viable, protected and monitored habitat areas of the wolf’s original range out of enlightened self-interest. The federal government can enforce the same for Canis lupus and all subspecies throughout the United States.

DEAR DR. FOX: I hope you can help us with a dog problem.

My daughter’s friendly 3-year-old purebred Pomeranian comes up to people, wagging her tail furiously and squealing to be patted. But when anyone reaches down to pat her, she squats and pees all over the floor, carpet or whatever she’s on. It seems to be some sort of submissive posture she is taking. The dog appears to me to be rather high-strung.

This has become an annoying habit and we are stumped as to what to do about it, other than just not pat her. We hope you will have some advice! -- L.R., Rio Linda, California

DEAR L.R.: You are correct in your interpretation of this dog’s behavior.

In the exciting social context of meeting and greeting people, I term this reaction “submissive urination.” It is associated with a ritual, instinctive display of ears-back, tail-wagging, body-flattening, rolling-over behavior -- and indeed, the urine can sometimes fly!

Many dogs show this kind of behavior when they are young, and eventually grow out of it. Its persistence may indicate a genetic component similar to Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans: a kind of persistent infantilism. There is not much one can do, except advise people not to gush over the little dog, essentially ignoring her until she calms down.

Don’t let anyone persuade your daughter to try any kind of medication to control her dog’s behavior. It comes with the breed and the lineage!


Domestic dogs have a special set of muscles around their eyes that wolves lack, and those muscles operate together to widen and open the canine eye, contributing to a larger, drooping appearance that many people find irresistible.

The muscles, called the retractor anguli oculi lateralis and the levator anguli oculi medialis, appear to be an evolutionary adaptation that arose during domestication, possibly as people selected dogs they found more appealing. (The Atlantic, 6/17)

(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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