DEAR DR. FOX: I read your article about releasing cats to live outdoors, and it brought up some questions. You say that it's inhumane to catch and release, but isn't spaying or neutering a cat better than to leave it in the street without doing so?
I am currently in Iran working on a project, and I have brought in two cats from the street. One is approximately 2 years old, and in the last few weeks since I brought her in, she has become depressed and gained weight. I try my best to play with her a few times a day, but I cannot possibly provide the same stimulation she would have outdoors. Also, she is in heat and extremely frustrated, but I plan on having her spayed soon.
The other I found last week. She's a 2-month-old kitten who I found stuck in the wheel well of a car. She was freezing, muddy and scared, and I took her to the vet, who told me she had a disease of the eyes, which she is being treated for. I'm trying to introduce the two of them, and the big cat is extremely upset about it. I'm doing the proper introduction with food bowls on each side of the door of the kitten's "safe room," but the big cat hisses at the door and is highly agitated.
Meanwhile, food, toys, vaccines and surgeries cost me nearly $1,000, and my freedom is limited because I can't just pick up and travel. Also, I'm not getting much in return. The big cat, Pishy, never curls up in my lap, and I feel guilty if I am too tired to play. And the little kitten is too scared to want to be cute and cuddly.
So here I am, sacrificing so as not to be cruel to these cats, but I'm being cruel to myself. If I have them both spayed and vaccinated and release them, won't they be better off than they were before?
Tehran doesn't really have shelters. Cats fight over garbage scraps, and there are larger colonies in northern parts of the city where there are fewer cars, better climate and wealthier residents with better scraps. But animals are not valued as much and are often abused by people who don't know better. Many people do make it their mission to regularly feed them, allow them into their yards and watch after them. Still, I often spot the neighborhood cats with scars from fighting with other cats. Because of this, disease, starvation and, of course, cars, the overpopulation really concerns me. Almost every street has ferals. I've been thinking about starting a catch-and-release program with some local vets and the help of the government, but it's a new idea here.
There is a big yard attached to my apartment complex. I could create an outdoor home for them, but there is already a colony of cats there. My heart breaks for them, but my life and house are a mess now. Kitty litter is everywhere, there's fur all over the couches and carpets -- and I'm highly allergic! I can't breathe well, and if I touch my face, it swells up.
I'm in the middle of an "ethical dilemma," as you put it, and I'm not sure what to do. -- G.G., Tehran, Iran
DEAR G.G.: I understand fully your predicament. Some street (feral) cats, especially those who were naturally selected for generations to be independent, free-roaming hunters, often do not make cuddle cats, even when taken in at a very early age.
While I am generally opposed to trap-neuter-release of cats in the U.S. and other developed countries (unless the cats are closely monitored and in relatively isolated places), the situation is rather different in developing countries, and especially in poor villages and urban slums. There, cats and dogs are part of the community and can provide significant public health benefits -- provided they are vaccinated against rabies and their own communicable diseases, treated for parasites and are neutered and ear-notched (for identification) to limit overpopulation and suffering through attrition.
My wife, Deanna Krantz, operated an animal shelter in rural India with full veterinary services, where community-fed cats and dogs were neutered, vaccinated, wormed and given back to the owner or returned to the streets. I think this would be a wise decision for you, and your efforts to help these animals should be applauded.
DEAR DR. FOX: My son's dog, a 7-year-old Lab-shepherd-pit bull mix, was just diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Because of her age and weight (about 10 pounds more that it should be), she's been prescribed budesonide, which is compounded especially for her at the pharmacy.
I know how serious this disease is in humans, and I assume it is just as serious in dogs. How would she have developed this? The vet told my son that as long as she takes the budesonide, her ulcers will heal, but I'm as concerned about long-term steroid use in this dog as I would be in any human. -- J.O., Jackson, New Jersey
DEAR J.O.: Crohn's disease in dogs, generally referred to as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is all too common today, as emphasized in the book that I co-authored, "Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Cat & Dog Foods." There are ingredients in many pet foods that contribute to this problem.
I am not averse to relieving the symptoms with the steroid anti-inflammatory drug that was prescribed for your dog, but the next step is to wean your dog gradually off this medication and transition her onto a wholesome diet as per my home-prepared recipe posted on my website, DrFoxVet.net, along with probiotics, which can really help with this chronic malady.
(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.
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