DEAR DR. FOX: Your articles about feral cats make me angry every time you write them. You are undoubtedly a knowledgeable veterinarian, but you need to stick to animal health issues and leave local politics out of your articles! You are not an expert in this area! Your comments about cats and birds incense people and cause hard feelings among neighbors. I have been active in trap-neuter-release (TNR) for many years, and I have a colony of ferals living on my property.
Dog walkers have harassed me and my friends for feeding the cats. I’ve also had two of my ferals poisoned (perhaps only by coincidence) after one of your articles.
TNR helps to stop reproduction of homeless cats and helps the community in which they live by ridding it of moles, voles and other destructive animals. You need to stick to advice about animal care.
P.S. I have 50 to 60 birds at my feeders every day. They coexist with the cats nicely. -- C.D., Fairfax Station, Virginia
DEAR C.D.: I appreciate your dedication to caring for homeless cats, but I respectfully disagree with you that it is acceptable to allow cats to roam free just because they are regarded as being "feral."
You castigate me for dabbling in "local politics" and urge that I stick to giving advice just about animal care, but animal care includes animal welfare and ethics, which can have local, national and international political and legal consequences. As a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and ethology/animal behavior, I have written extensively over the years on these matters, and the bioethical basis of my philosophy is reverential respect for all life. The human-centered pro-life ideology extended to keeping cats alive and free-roaming outdoors is a wrong-minded perversion of this ethic.
Every community can aim high in this regard. Dogs are no longer allowed to roam free, and neither should cats. Many, if not most, so-called "feral" cats are lost strays who, when rescued, can become sociable indoor cats in a few days or weeks.
Our latest cat rescue on our property here in Minnesota, whom we had seen outdoors since May and in 20-below temperatures this December, turned out to be a total cuddle-puss and will be in a new home by the time this column appears in the paper. His veterinary care bill was $1,400, which included partial amputation of a crushed tail.
Obviously, cats who are neutered and then released outdoors are not going to breed, but they are likely to suffer far more than indoor cats (and those unadopted ones kept in enclosed sanctuaries) from injuries and disease, kill wildlife, and pose a public health risk from some of the diseases they can transmit to humans. Cats are the primary source for toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the United States. More than 60 million men, women and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness. However, women newly infected with Toxoplasma during pregnancy and anyone with a compromised immune system should be aware that toxoplasmosis can have severe consequences.
I wish you and all those well-meaning cat lovers who care for "feral" cat colonies would extend their compassion and respect for cats' lives to embrace all species, including moles, voles and other "destructive" animals, and give every stray cat a fair chance to become an indoor companion animal -- safe, secure and well loved. In our relationships with other animals, we must examine socially accepted norms and cultural ideologies and abandon those that cause more harm than good.
This is the last word that I will give in my column on this issue, and I hope others involved in TNR will put compassion first and think twice about the inevitable cruelty and animal suffering in the misguided and wrong-minded pro-life cult behind TNR.
U.S. PET OWNERS SPENT $63 BILLION ON PETS IN 2016
Americans' spending on pets reached a new high of $63 billion in 2016, according to the American Pet Products Association -- more than twice what owners spent on their animals in 2001. Spending on food was highest at $23 billion, with veterinary care next at $15 billion, then $14 billion for supplies and over-the-counter drugs and $5 billion for pet boarding and grooming.
NATIONWIDE: OBESITY CLAIMS FOR PETS EXPANDING
Pet health insurer Nationwide says policyholders filed 1.3 million claims for pet ailments related to obesity in 2015, accounting for $60 million in costs for veterinary care. Arthritis was the most common dog obesity-related claim, with an average cost per claim of $295, while bladder and urinary tract problems were most common among obese cats, costing an average of $442 per case.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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.)