The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Coping With a Feral Cat Problem

DEAR DR. FOX: I have a friend who has many feral cats in his backyard. A previous neighbor (who has since moved away) used to feed these cats, leaving a problem for my friend. Being a good Christian, he just couldn’t cut off their food source. You can imagine the major problem he now has. Is there any agency or organization that handles these kinds of problems? -- J.H., Matawan, N.J.

DEAR J.H.: Yes, being a “good Christian” -- or good Samaritan, or whatever you want to call acts of compassion -- can indeed have adverse, unintended consequences. Sometimes we do more harm than good, which supports the truism that “no good deed goes unpunished.” Yet it is also true that “evil flourishes where good people do nothing.”

As I learned helping my wife at her animal refuge in India, one can become a “captive” of one’s compassion, and we must be courageous and prepared to accept the burden of having to euthanize healthy animals that have no place to go when the ark is full. Deanna reduced that burden by neutering and vaccinating all the dogs in surrounding villages and tribal settlements.

Now, those dogs were not wildlife predators, and were either indifferent or protective around chickens, calves, lambs and baby goats. But cats everywhere are predators, so neutering them to stop them from multiplying is only a partial solution. Your friend who inherited a feral cat problem on his property could enlist the help of a local humane society and the municipal public health authority.

Each cat will have to be trapped, if not amenable to being picked up and put in a carrier. A local animal charity or fundraising drive could help defray the costs of the necessary veterinary services.

After that, some cats may not be adoptable after all, and would be euthanized. Perhaps your friend would consider setting up a large cat enclosure on his property, or at some other location, for these cats to live out their lives in security and comfort. For this, he could seek the support of other cat lovers in his community.

This is a problem in so many places. Now that we know cats can be infected with the COVID-19 virus (for which there is no vaccine yet), and with the plague and rabies (for which there are), public health authorities need heightened vigilance regarding free-roaming cats.

A VISIONARY STATEMENT AND APPEAL FROM TWO DOCTORS

The following is excerpted from “What the COVID-19 Crisis Is Telling Humanity,” by D.O. Wiebers and V.L. Feigin, which appeared this summer in the journal Neuroepidemiology.

“The time has come for us to rethink our relationship with all life on this planet -- other humans, nonhumans, and the Earth, a life form in itself. What is good for nonhumans and the Earth is virtually always in the best interests of humans, given the profound interconnectedness of all life. All that we do depends upon abundant plant and animal life, as well as clean air and water. Each of us can have a positive impact upon these fundamentals by demonstrating and inspiring an enhanced mindfulness, beginning most basically with what we eat and how all of our daily choices and actions may be affecting animals and natural habitats. Ultimately, the survival, not only of other life forms on this planet, but also of our own, will depend upon humanity’s ability to recognize the oneness of all that exists and the importance and deeper significance of compassion for all life.”

I would add that we urgently need much greater international collaboration and coordination to end this pandemic, and to establish policies and practices to prevent future pandemics. We need much more involvement of the veterinary profession, and of wildlife and conservation experts, in these processes.

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com 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.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)