DEAR READERS: Many readers have shared with me their suffering for animals -- be they ailing or deceased companion animals or wild species being killed by humans and their habitats destroyed. I embrace these people, perhaps the last of the truly compassionate and empathically connected of our species. I suffer with them, and I wish to assure them that they are not alone. I am fortunate to have a supportive partner, my wife Deanna Krantz, who has dedicated her life to animal rescue and animal and environmental protection in the United States, Africa and India, giving her wisdom and support to my writing of this column.
The increasingly disconnected state of modern society, beginning with children's limited exposure to animals and nature, is having harmful consequences for the Earth's life community. Examples: Companion animals being treated as disposable commodities and status symbols; billions of farmed animals being kept under deplorable conditions, which, if they were not being kept for our consumption but as pets, would lead to immediate charges of felony cruelty; wild animals being treated as a "harvestable resource" for recreational hunting and commercial trapping.
There is a worldwide community of kindred spirits who support various organizations and causes dedicated to helping animals and to conservation, restoration and protection. Many contribute as individuals, who examine and change their lifestyles and consumer habits. Some turn costly recreation for personal enjoyment into animal and Earth-saving re-creation for the greater good of all life. The Internet is an invaluable resource in this regard, helping make public rallies, demonstrations and civil society initiatives more effective in turning the tide to prevent the slaughter of whales and elephants for their ivory. Animal lovers can also link with support groups for those mourning the loss of a beloved animal or seeking to find a companion animal for adoption.
DEAR DR. FOX: I am the writer who "disgusted" you when I wrote to you asserting, "people who cannot afford to keep a pet shouldn't have one." Next time you choose to quote someone, have more integrity than to quote only pieces of a letter that suit your agenda. My letter gave you some examples of animal neglect and abuse by people who obviously could afford to take care of a pet but refused to do so. I am in rescue, and I know the facts.
Of course some people have financial reverses and emergencies, but many adopt and buy animals with no intention of providing care; they later dump these creatures in bad physical condition. If you did your homework versus bury facts, you would ask shelters and animal control about the animals they take in and seize for abuse and neglect. A friend who has had animal control oversight for over 30 years in my area wrote, "We get the calls when the animals are dying (because they) had no vet care ever. Also, resources that provide assistance are not available on a moment's notice. Vets are also feeling a financial pinch in this economy." Until people are accountable for their actions and accept responsibility for lives dependent on them, there will never be a fix for the pet overpopulation. Or the world. -- M.G., Rockville, Maryland
DEAR M.G.: My apologies for misunderstanding your letter, which I sincerely regret. I am glad that you have clarified your concerns with the reality of animal neglect and abuse by owners who do not care, have sufficient funds to keep their animals healthy but do not provide veterinary treatment when called for by the animals' evident condition.
However, I never "bury facts." If you would care to check my website and my book "Inhumane Society: The American Way of Exploiting Animals," you will see that I take to task those who do not take good care of animals. But the fact remains, there are people who cannot afford to care for their animals and who know they can and should -- and they need help!
It is a matter of conscience for neighbors who witness animal cruelty or suspect abuse or neglect to report it to the local authorities. But neighbors are often scared or do not want to stand out from the crowd. When there is community support for people on the lookout for animal neglect and cruelty, and local police and animal control who are familiar with and willing to enforce animal protection and anti-cruelty laws, then there are grounds for hope. Judges and prosecutors often need a push in this direction; many cases of animal neglect are treated as mere misdemeanors rather than felonies. In many instances, with a little investigation, there may well be spousal and child abuse in these same homes where animal abuse has been documented.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF ANIMAL COMPANIONS
Research funded by the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation (some of whose funding comes from the pet industry sector, with vested interests in promoting pet ownership) found that pet ownership results in annual savings of $11.7 billion in health care costs, which the authors attribute to a lower rate of obesity among owners and lower medical care utilization. Nevertheless, the benefits of pet ownership can't all be quantified, according to co-author Terry Clower. "What we didn't calculate is how much better you feel, (when) you come home after a tough day at the office and your pet is waiting for you. But there's value to that," he said.
(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.net.)