DEAR DR. FOX: Our precious male cat, Patches, was the pet of the week in our newspaper. My husband was recovering from heart surgery at the time, and he spotted our new pet. Patches was about 18 months old when we adopted him -- a puffball of white and gray patchy fur.
We noticed three things about him: First of all, he didn't make sounds. Second, he was terrified of anything that looked like a broom or dust mop. Third, his paws hurt him if you touched them.
Those clues told me that he had had a less-than-happy past and that his declawing procedure had been a botched job. His paws were tender his whole life. The other things, like making sounds, appeared after we talked to him and soothed him. I think he conquered his fear of the household equipment.
I always felt sorry that he had been declawed. In fact, I think they cut off half of his front paws. It is an atrocity that this remains common practice. -- E. and M.H., Estero, Fla.
DEAR E. and M.H.: I appreciate hearing about your adopted cat Patches, and I trust that your husband made a full recovery from his heart surgery ordeal.
Cats can be excellent heart therapists, helping slow down the human heart rate and blood pressure. Many cat owners tell me how relaxing the cats' contented purring can be, and more doctors are recognizing the therapeutic value and healing powers of companion animals.
Studies have shown that people with an animal in their homes enjoy a faster recovery after major surgery and have fewer relapses. Having a companion animal can help ward off depression and thoughts of suicide. Children benefit from having fewer allergies when exposed to animals in the home from an early age.
I believe that you are correct that Patches had a trauma-filled life before his adoption. Never purring or making other vocalizations can be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder in cats, which Patches confirmed by starting to speak when he felt secure in his new environment.
As for his tragic paw mutilations, I find it abhorrent that cats continue to be declawed by veterinarians, even when purportedly less painful, more advanced surgical techniques are used. I document many of the harmful consequences on my website, DrFoxVet.com. Laypersons will also do this claw-removal using physical restraint and wire cutters, which I regard as felony animal cruelty.
DEAR DR. FOX: Do most pet owners really care about what is happening to animals around the world?
There is so much animal abuse and suffering, and I believe that anyone who has an animal as a pet has a duty to help all animals. Same for those who eat them. They should not be supporting factory farms and fast food outlets that serve meat from abused animals.
I am a vegetarian, I support animal rights and I foster cats for adoption. Some of my friends and relatives think I am nuts, but at least my boyfriend supports me. Is there any real hope for change? I have supported some of the big animal welfare and conservation organizations, but I stopped after they sent me expensive publications soliciting more donations and I learned about how much goes to salaries and travel expenses rather than to programs to help animals.
What organizations would you support, and how can individuals like me make a difference? -- R.E., Falls Church, Va.
DEAR R.E.: If more people felt as you do and acted accordingly, I might hold more hope for a viable future for our own kind.
The physical, mental, social and economic well-being of future generations is dependent upon how well we treat the environment and fellow creatures. These connections are being recognized by various authorities under the banner "One Health." I discuss this in my books "Healing Animals and the Vision of One Health," and "Animals and Nature First."
We can all make a difference by changing our dietary habits and reducing meat consumption. Try supporting local farmers and organic agriculture, your local humane society, local Audubon Society chapter and clean water and conservation initiatives. You can also recycle, encourage humane and environmental education in grade schools, don't use pesticides and donate to organizations like the Animal Welfare Institute, Sea Shepherd, Earth Island Institute, Greenpeace International, Environmental Working Group, Union of Concerned Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council -- just to name a few!
A few readers, including those who believe that climate change is a fabrication of extremists, have complained about this column, insisting that I should stick to pet health issues and not get "political." But the politics of extinction and human and animal health cannot be ignored. I see it as my professional duty to do what I can to help heal our relationships with other animals and the natural world for the good of all.
CHICKEN DOG TREATS MADE IN CHINA LINKED TO 900 COMPLAINTS
Since November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received 900 complaints of illnesses and deaths of pets who ate chicken jerky treats made in China. Extensive FDA testing since 2007 hasn't identified a toxic agent in the treats, and reports from FDA visits to manufacturing plants in China haven't been released. I urge all concerned to visit my websites, DrFoxVet.com or facebook.com/drfoxvet, to consider my theory that treatment of this product in China by irradiation may be the issue that the FDA must address. I unequivocally advise against purchasing these imported treats -- from several brands -- and safely dispose of any you may have in your home. Visit the FDA's website, fda.gov, for more information.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 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 DrFoxVet.com.)