Dear Dr. Fox:
I was dismayed at the recent letter in your column regarding a paraplegic dog. I am grateful there are people who will take care of a compromised animal, but there is a limit. I was disturbed when the owner wrote that the dog, Chuckie, screamed in pain for four weeks with a slipped cervical disc.
Tommy, our beloved 8-year-old border collie mix, was diagnosed through an MRI with an inoperable tumor on his spinal cord. Tommy appeared to have a weak leg, and he began to cry out occasionally as he climbed stairs. Our vet recommended an MRI immediately. After the diagnosis, the veterinary specialist said that Tommy was being quite stoic by not crying out more often, given the location of the tumor. We knew he was not himself, but what we did not know was the level of pain that he lived with that last month of his life.
I question the motives of the owners: How “during four weeks of screaming in pain” did they not decide that perhaps it was time to let Chuckie go? Who knows what pain he endures now?
I was saddened to see that their own motives have overtaken their empathy for what might be in the best interest of Chuckie.
M.J., Manchester, Mo.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I was dismayed by the excessive treatment the letter-writer has gotten and is getting for a paraplegic dog. I love animals, have taken good care of my pets, and I have volunteered and donated to the Missouri Humane Society, so it isn’t that I’m anti-animal. But I think what the writer has done for this one dog is too much.
Just think of the hundreds and hundreds of dogs in shelters and the care some of the healthier ones could get if the writer stopped at sensible treatment for that one dog. Actually, that dog is getting better and more extensive care than some children. Enough is enough in trying to help a pet.
R.B., Kirkwood, Mo.
DF: The money that caring people sometimes put out for their beloved animal companions, especially with advances in cancer treatments and stem cell therapies, can be very considerable. Are they being selfish? What, then, of their love and concern? Some do choose instead to opt for euthanasia, especially when there is a low chance of recovery, and give a large donation in their animal’s name to their local animal shelter or rescue organization.
We cannot compare the quality of medical care and what might be spent on a child in a poor village with a toy poodle in New York City suffering from comparable conditions, nor their chances of recovery. Such situational ethics are confounded by other social and family priorities, availability of services and, where there is a choice, just how much one is willing to spend and can afford in the hope that the loved one will recover. It is a tragedy that in the United States, families can be bankrupted by the medical bills for one family member under cancer treatment.
Just as we see with people, dogs do vary greatly in their pain tolerance: Some are more stoic than others; some might border on hysteria because of fear, as well as pain. This is where the experienced clinical eye of the veterinarian is invaluable to determine the best course of treatment, as well as the animal’s quality of life and the chances of a total or partial recovery.
Regardless of cost and affordability, and the fact that some caregivers might seek to extend an animal’s life for personal reasons rather than for the animal’s sake, all involved have a duty to make the animal being treated as comfortable as possible and to give it a chance when there is a strong will to live. Being nursed at home or setting up in-home palliative care with a visiting veterinarian might be preferable to long-term hospitalization, during which recovery might be protracted or arrested by separation anxiety and the loss of the will to live.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I am viewing the video “Cat Behavior and Psychology,” which was posted on your website in September 2015, and I just had to write to you regarding your comment about cats being sensitive to red and green. I was extremely glad to hear you say it, but it makes me wonder, why do animal experts say cats do not see or recognize the color red?
I can’t tell you how many articles I have read by animal “experts” who all say this, but I questioned it when I observed my cat playing with a toy that holds two plastic balls, one yellow, one red.
I noticed that she paid no mind to the yellow one going round and round, but concentrated on the red one. The plastic balls are exact duplicates in size and consistency; the only difference is in the color. I wrote to these animal experts regarding this, but I never received responses. Surely they should know what they are talking about. But the behavior I see in my cat says otherwise. You are the only one who says that a cat recognizes red.
DF: All “experts” in virtually every discipline and specialty need to have some resources on hand for continued professional development — and they must engage in routine fact-checking.
According to the entry on this issue on the resource Wikipedia, “Cats can see some colors, and can tell the difference between red, blue and yellow lights, as well as between red and green lights. Cats are able to distinguish between blues and violets better than between colors near the red end of the spectrum. A 2014 study found that, along with several other mammals, cats’ lenses transmit significant amounts of ultraviolet light, which suggests that they possess sensitivity to this part of the spectrum.” (Sources include the Journal of Neuroscience; see the Wikipedia entry “Cat Senses” for details.)
Like people, nonhuman primates and dogs, wolves have a sense of fairness, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology. The finding suggests that dogs’ sense of fairness is not a product of domestication, but rather their shared ancestry with wolves.
Canines of both species that did not receive rewards for completing the same task that brought rewards to packmates stopped performing the task, and one wolf “was so frustrated he even broke the apparatus,’’ said study leader Jennifer Essler of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.
These findings might help answer questions concerning jealousy, remorse and guilt, and they certainly affirm that the evolution of social conscience was an essential aspect of group (pack) cooperation, along with altruism.
Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Send letters to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.