The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Animal, Environmental and Human Well-Being All Connected

DEAR DR. FOX: I read your testimony to our government to keep the wolf on the endangered species protection list. Love it! So beautifully written.

I am always saddened by how little people actually hear and take in. To give you, and others, only three minutes to testify at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s public hearings is absurd, and disgusts me greatly.

I am glad, though, that are you are still at it, and I know you will never give up. There are some who can hear you, and all we can do is pray for the rest of them to wake up! You will perhaps never truly know the full magnitude of how your spirit has served! Bless you. -- P.H., West Fork, Arkansas

DEAR P.H.: I appreciate your good words of support and consolation. But I am not a lone voice, since recent polls indicate that the majority of Americans want the gray wolf protected.

The status of wolves and other wildlife in North America is indeed perilous. The peril began soon after the incursion of settlers two centuries ago, who started exterminating indigenous peoples, animals and plants. The University of Washington Press has reprinted Murray Morgan’s 1950 book, “The Last Wilderness,” in which he wrote: “It was strangely like war. They attacked the forest as if it were an enemy to be pushed back from the beachheads, to be driven into the hills, broken into patches, wiped out.”

With the climate crisis we face today, the Hopi prophecy that “when the trees are gone, the sky will fall” seems to be coming to pass.

Morgan’s statement affirms the warlike, adversarial state of mind that I witnessed while growing up in the industrial north of England, surrounded by William Blake’s “Satanic mills.” Still today, many rural communities will support any initiatives that exploit natural resources, especially fracking and mining, if the companies provide jobs for them -- regardless of the long-term hidden costs. I sympathize with them: the rural communities taken over by factory farms; the out-of-work farmers having to care for their ailing elders, many of whom are dying of cancer because of constant exposure to agrichemicals.

I remember pulling over while driving in Iowa, after a tour of Iowa State University’s prototype meat irradiation plant, to save a remnant member of a once-abundant indigenous species: the soft-shelled swamp turtle. I got out of the vehicle and looked back at where I had come from, remembering what I had just seen and felt. I breathed in the heavy, tainted, almost fetid air of that humid summer evening and wept as I set the struggling turtle, so vulnerable in the middle of the road, beside the ditch a few feet below the elevated highway -- the last vestige of her wetland habitat.

Once-thriving towns are now rife with unemployment, depopulation, poor health care services, depression, suicide, crime and drugs. Farmed- and companion-animal veterinary care is lacking in more and more rural communities. There are political and economic solutions, but they are not seen as profitable by most government leaders and their corporate supporters.

The recovery of quality of life for rural communities is inseparable from environmental quality and viable economies that are sustainable for generations to come.

DEAR DR. FOX: I’m 66 years old and a life learner; your column is a daily source of education for me. I’m a pet owner, but your advice goes well beyond this, advocating for environmental and wildlife concerns. Keep it up. -- B.C.S., Nassau, Bahamas

DEAR B.C.S.: Thanks for your encouraging words. I do get occasional letters from readers who do not like the “political” content of some of my syndicated columns. But what I call “biopolitics” is a central aspect of animal health and well-being, just as bioethics links us to a more responsible and humane environmental and planetary stewardship.

Former editorial writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, James P. Lenfestey, wrote on Aug. 27 about the death of multibillionaire David L. Koch in an article entitled, “A shameful legacy of outsized anti-science influence.” Not mincing words, Lenfestey wrote that “there will be a special place in the annals of the hell of a hotter Earth for him and his brother Charles.” Both have provided funds to support various vested interests to discredit research, by myself and others, in animal welfare science and advocacy of humane treatment, animal rights and environmental protection.

(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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