DEAR DR. FOX: You may have written about this some time back, but I hope you'll mention it again.
Isn't it inhumane to keep birds in a cage? Pet stores still sell them, and people still keep them in their homes. Why don't animal rights groups speak up on the subject?
I hope, as a compassionate person, you agree with me. Why can't humans let other animals on our planet have their freedom? We just can't leave other animals alone, can we? To humans, other animals exist solely to be eaten, used in research or to be exploited for our amusement. -- C.E., Naples, Florida
DEAR C.E.: Your concerns, which I voiced several years ago in my book "Inhumane Society: The American Way of Exploiting Animals," are shared by more and more informed people here in the United States and abroad.
Collectively, we are beginning to examine, from the animals' point of view, the costs and consequences of keeping/using/exploiting them for various (and primarily selfish) purposes.
Looking specifically at birds in cages (still an accepted practice in most cultures), it is a lucrative business for the pet industry. But for the birds, it too often means a shorter life, which may be a blessing; skeletal, metabolic and endocrine diseases from lack of physical activity; and abnormal behavior such as feather-pulling and self-mutilation.
The solution is not to let the birds go free, as some people do, but to provide larger flight cages and safe flight rooms; give solitary birds the company of their own kind; and adopt from a shelter or refuge and never purchase birds from breeders, importers and pet stores. The bird trade must become extinct.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a wonderful 15-year-old indoor tabby cat, Tyger, whom I adore. I am 77 years old, and this wonderful cat nurtured me after my husband's death. We had two Siamese and two tabbies, and Tyger is the only one left -- the other three died of old age. Here is the problem I have:
He doesn't eat like he used to. He has teeth, but he doesn't eat much of his wet food. Instead, he just licks the food dry of its gravy. I have tried so many different wet foods, from cheap to very expensive, and it is the same -- he just wants the gravy. He does get a good dry food, and I always keep clean ice water ready for him. I would like to give him a bowl of gravy, but pet foods don't supply such a product, and I'm afraid the human cans of gravy have too many preservatives, etc. for him.
Can you help me? I can't do much, if any, cooking; I am in an assisted-living facility and confined to my wheelchair. When I can sit and rest, he curls up on my shoulder and kisses me on the cheek and sleeps like a baby would.
I don't know what to do. He does fine with the litter box and goes regularly. He hears me well and minds me beautifully. Is the dry food enough? Am I just being overprotective? I live near my daughter, and she says he will be OK and that this is just my fear of losing him -- and maybe she's right.
I haven't taken him to our vet in several years, but he goes nuts when he has to go, and I'm afraid he will not live through it again.
Thank you for your consideration of my problem. -- K.P., Naples, Florida
DEAR K.P.: I understand how important it is for the elderly and those who have lost their spouses to keep their animal companions with them in assisted-living facilities, and I am glad that many facilities allow for this.
You should call around and find a veterinarian who does house calls so your cat's teeth, kidneys and general condition can be evaluated without the stress of a trip to a veterinary clinic. Try flavoring his drinking water with a little boiled chicken juice or meaty Gerber baby food to encourage drinking. Most commercial gravies, as you point out, are too high in salt and other potentially harmful additives.
On a personal note, it is known in our neighborhood that my wife and I rescue free-roaming and feral cats, and we were recently the victims of a "dumping" -- also known as animal abandonment. A part-Persian, part-Maine coon cat was left in a crate by our door with no note of explanation. His coat was a painful, matted mess. We saw to his veterinary needs and discovered he was microchipped. This lead us to a person who was staying at a nearby assisted-living facility. We found a good home for this abandoned cat.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)