The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Part 4 of 5: Musings of an Octogenarian, Vegetarian Veterinarian

DEAR READERS: Bill Neidjie was an aboriginal elder and spokesman for the Bunitj clan of Australia’s Northern Territory, and I quoted him in my 1996 book “The Boundless Circle: Caring for Creatures and Creation.” His words give us some insight into the kind of pan-empathy that is called for in planetary stewardship, healing and restoration:

“If you feel sore -- headache, sore body -- that mean somebody killing tree or grass,” he said. “You feel because your body in that tree or earth. Nobody can tell you. You got to feel it yourself. ... Tree might get sick ... you feel it.”

Through such empathy -- which calls for endurance, courage, self-sacrifice, bioethics and sound science -- humankind may begin the Great Healing: restoring the One Health of people, animals, plants and the environment.

One day, in the Forever, perhaps we will be able to hear the songs of myriads of insects in the jungle night and the dawn choruses and choirs of waking birds. In such restored and protected glory, we may walk in humility and grace and be worthy of our self-anointed title of Homo sapiens -- “man the wise.” Or will it be a virtual world devoid of virtue? One with desecrated, polluted, chemical wastelands of genetically engineered agribusiness crops feeding an electronically wired subspecies, Homo technos -- “technocentric man”?

I prefer the biocentric, but the choice and fate of future generations is ours to make: to listen to the Earth, and care, or not. No democracy or civilization can function long if it is not first and foremost biocentric. We must feel for the trees like Bill Neidjie and practice the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment, who said, “It is in giving that we receive.”

The challenge to modern civilization, as it was for past ones that failed, is to put the principles of One Health into politics and into practice. This includes respect for the land and all who dwell therein -- plant and animal -- because creating dysbiosis leads to dystopia and dysphoria. Indeed, many find euphoria in the living presence of a natural ecosystem, an ancient tree or a beloved dog. Animals and nature can heal us, as I detail in my book “Animals and Nature First,” but not if we do not care for them.

We must break away from our virtually unbroken human history of violence against the natural order, as well as against our own kind and other species. We all, ultimately, suffer the consequences: The common good and the good of the Commons are inseparable.


Wildlife trade and exotic animal farming put the world at risk for zoonotic disease pandemics and should be stopped, according to animal disease experts such as Wildlife Conservation Society Chief Veterinarian Christian Walzer. China restricted wildlife trade and farming after COVID-19 spread worldwide, but mink and raccoon dog farms are still allowed, and international gangs continue to traffic wildlife. (Full story: Reuters, 4/1)

DEAR DR. FOX: We are all saddened by the fact that we generally outlive our dogs. But what is sadder still is when our dogs outlive us.

I’m helping a friend look at adoptable dogs online, and many old dogs are available because someone died or got too sick to care for them. It breaks my heart to think of those good dogs having had so many years of safe and stable homes, and then having to start all over in their declining years -- in a world where everyone wants a puppy or a young dog. As I am in my retirement years and have old dogs, this strikes close to home for me.

Please encourage people to make provisions for their dogs in case of their death or disability, and, when adopting, to give those senior dogs a second look. Think twice before adopting a dog who is young enough to outlive you. Sometimes, the best choice might be an older dog. I hope you’ll address this in your column. -- M.D., Springfield, Missouri

DEAR M.D.: Addressed herewith! Many older dogs are in need of homes, if you check around local shelters and dog rescue organizations. I strongly advocate adopting all such dogs with a known history and veterinary records -- because of possible ongoing health issues -- after a through wellness examination.

A great advantage of adopting an older dog is that their temperament/personality is fully developed, and they are generally leash-trained and housebroken, so you have less work to do and fewer “growing pains” as you would with a puppy. I advise all ambulatory retirees to consider adopting an easygoing, easy-to-handle, affection-seeking older dog for company that will get them outdoors for some regular walks.

I call my dog Kota my “good medicine dog.” For many, the company of dogs is far more effective than taking antidepressant and antianxiety drugs, and can help lower blood pressure as well!

(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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