TO GRANT SIZEMORE, DIRECTOR OF INVASIVE SPECIES PROGRAMS AT THE AMERICAN BIRD CONSERVANCY: I am writing to express support for the idea of community-by-community cat sanctuaries to keep as-yet unadoptable cats in a safe environment to better protect cats, wildlife and the public interest. Your call for cat sanctuaries or confinement in some enclosed space to contain feral cats (after trapping, neutering, vaccinating and parasite-ridding), as quoted in an April 8 Washington Post article by Karin Brulliard ("The cat people vs. bird people war has made it to federal court") is where all cat lovers and bird lovers should converge.
I also want to share with you my review of the feral cat issue from a veterinarian's and animal welfare professional's perspective: "Releasing Cats to Live Outdoors: Humane, Environmental and One Health Concerns." It is online at DrFoxVet.net.
I believe that we are now facing a pro-life and feel-good "Samaritan" sentimentality in the animal-loving community, whose location-indiscriminate trap, neuter, release (TNR) efforts are doing more harm than good by releasing cats to live outdoors without supplemental food and veterinary care.
The Post article reported on a clear example of this feel-good sentimentality gone awry. Undoubtedly started with the best of intentions, feral cat colonies maintained at New York's Jones Beach State Park as part of a TNR program are adjacent to nest sites for threatened piping plovers and, as such, are entirely inappropriate.
Unfortunately, there are organizations that promote TNR at all costs and actively oppose humane, wildlife-friendly strategies. The organizations that you named in our recent phone conversation -- such as Ally Cat Allies, Best Friends Animal Society, the Humane Society of the United States (of which I was once a vice president), and PetSmart Charities -- need to be held accountable. They support shelters' and municipalities' efforts to "save" feral cats, often exploiting them as "working animals" in inappropriate situations, or forcing them to endure a miserable existence in inclement conditions as a competing and opportunistic predator. The consequence of these conditions is promoted as "natural attrition," which too often means an inhumane death caused by vehicle collision, exposure, disease or coyote attack.
It is time to re-evaluate the "no kill" policies that incentivize these terrible outcomes for cats and wildlife, and it is time to work for responsible solutions such as feral cat containment.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have two golden retrievers: a mom (Megan, 6) and her daughter (Lily, 3). They've barely spent half an hour apart since Lily was born. They argue and playfight a lot, but are also soulmates and get stressed if we separate them for any reason. Thinking ahead to when one of them passes away, we are worried about how the other dog will take it, and want to have a plan in place.
Assuming Megan passes first, should we let Lily see Megan's body? Not the death itself, but I have heard that seeing the body might help the second dog to understand that the first dog is gone and not coming back. Or would it be kinder for Megan to go into a room and never come out? I feel like this is a very important decision, but I'm torn as to what to do! --Holly R., Birmingham, Alabama
DEAR H.R.: Your proactive consideration of how to help the surviving dog cope with the emotional loss and grieving process is commendable. Some dogs (and cats, and even humans) may show no overt signs of grief/mourning when a close companion either dies or is no longer living with them. Others can grieve for weeks and may never be the same, notably the shy ones who relied on their companion for emotional support.
As described in my book "Dog Body, Dog Mind," many dogs will benefit from seeing their canine companions laid out in a quiet room after they have died. It evidently provides some closure and realization of mortality that dogs seem to comprehend. And my book "Animals and Nature First" deals with the spiritual and metaphysical aspects of death, which you may find inspiring. When we are in tune with the animals, they can indeed teach us much.
"My Dog Is Dying: What Do I Do? -- Emotions, Decisions and Options for Healing" by Wendy Van de Poll, Center for Pet Loss Grief, 2016
Many dogs are diagnosed with cancer and other incurable diseases that can be emotionally devastating for their loving caregivers. This book, and the free additional Pet Grief Support Kit downloads the author offers, will help many people make this time with their canine companions meaningful and bearable, and facilitate their grieving and recovery when death comes. The author is writing a second book in this series, as well. For more details, visit centerforpetlossgrief.com/my-dog-is-dying-what-do-I-do/.
Grief can be physically, mentally and spiritually crippling, but it can also empower. That is my hope for those who feel the suffering of fellow creatures, wild and domesticated, worldwide; it can move us to help and make a difference.
(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.net.)