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Animal Doctor: Trap-release-neuter programs for feral cats are often misguided, critics say

Dear Dr. Fox:

Thank you so much for sharing the letter about Inky, the friendly cat that was abandoned. I am the director of the Danville Area Humane Society in Danville, Va., and also the humane investigator. We are very much opposed to trap-neuter-release programs and are facing outrage from the pro-TNR folks.

After I send this e-mail to you, I will write our response to a recent letter to the editor in our local paper proclaiming that we “kill” cats just to make money. We have an endless supply of pictures that tell one thing: The streets are not safe for cats.

In Virginia, we actually had to fight a legislative battle two years ago when TNR proponents wanted to trap, neuter and release cats onto private property without the owners’ permission. In addition, proponents said that the cats would not need to be fed, watered, monitored for health issues, etc. Yet they wanted me charged with cruelty for euthanizing shelter animals.

When people are mistreating animals, we can seize the animals and take the owners to court. Now, many people who think the only measure of progress is in having no euthanasia in a shelter hail the “no-kill” operators as heroes, and we are the scum who do nothing but kill, kill, kill.

We are on call all day, every day, and we leave at a moment’s notice to rescue animals from trees, sewers, the middle of the road and so on.

P.D., Danville, Va.

DF: I appreciate readers’ feedback on the issues concerning the health, well-being and rights of domesticated and farm animals.

There is less fiduciary corruption in the fundraising activities of the larger national animal and environmental protection organizations than there is a lack of vision and accountability for their actions and interventions, which are supported by a sentimentally motivated but misguided public.

These groups hold feel-good conferences and consultations with “experts,” but the reality of having to exercise humane stewardship, which on occasion includes the killing of animals to help reduce animal suffering and restore ecological integrity, cannot be ignored.

Playing on public sentiment to raise money to “protect” feral cats, including dumping these animals instead of euthanizing the unadopted and unadoptable, and putting local animal shelters that must euthanize in the spotlight of public condemnation, is wholly unethical and self-serving.

As a culture, we hold such an abhorrence of death that we bankrupt the health-care system by preventing death in the elderly and already dying. When it comes to euthanasia, we do a better job in most animal shelters now that decompression chambers, curare-like injections that paralyze and suffocate, and carbon monoxide from gasoline engines have been outlawed. In fact, we kill these animals in a more humane way than we do our own kind: In Ohio recently, a death-row inmate’s suffering was protracted by the use of inappropriate drugs.

I take my hat off to all who work in animal shelters across the United States and who take the animal “garbage” of a disposable society and must kill more than they can ever hope to have adopted. This killing is a reality. It can be reduced, but not subverted or lambasted by those who seek to capitalize on the animal population crisis in many of our communities.

The much-lauded TNR method of “helping” feral cats, which might work in a few locations where there is no threat to wildlife, is neither a panacea nor an appropriate response to the population and homelessness crisis that we face as a society today, whether it’s the dogs in the streets of Detroit or the cats in New Orleans.

I advise my readers to support their local animal shelters: Adopt one or two animals rather than buying one from a big commercial kitten and puppy-mill breeder or online outlet, volunteer and get on the board!


Dear Dr. Fox:

We are at our wits’ end with our 14-year-old Chihuahua and rat terrier mix. He is having some sort of reaction and, according to our vet, is producing too much yeast.

We have been taking him to the vet for a monthly allergy shot, bathing him weekly with Pharmaseb shampoo and feeding him Hill’s Prescription z/d food, in addition to a small amount of homemade chicken and vegetables.

His whole belly is like alligator skin, and he is losing hair on the top of his back. Besides the expense of the monthly trip to the vet and the shot, the food is expensive, too. Now the vet is suggesting an allergy test that would cost $500, along with keeping my dog on a serum for the next several months, which would cost $325 every three months.

Is there anything else we can try? I am desperate for help and a solution. This poor little dog spends three-quarters of the day scratching. His ears are also inflamed. Is this an immune system problem?

J.F., Palm Beach, Fla.

DF: Your poor dog is suffering indeed. First, has mange, a skin parasite, been ruled out? Next, consider hypothyroidism, which in older dogs is often combined with Cushing’s disease, both of which the veterinarian should have checked for.

The possibility of an underlying food ingredient allergy or intolerance remains. One of the problems with these expensive prescription diets is that they often contain additives and other ingredients, as well as contaminants, and might end up doing more harm than good.

I would put your dog on a “detox” diet of three parts boiled brown rice or quinoa, two parts ground lamb or white fish, and one part chopped green beans for three to five days. After that, gradually switch him to a boiled potato and white fish diet with a pediatric multi-mineral or multivitamin tablet and a few drops of fish oil mixed in. Also, give your dog probiotics and a bath using Selsun Blue medicated shampoo, followed a week later with a soothing oatmeal and aloe vera or chamomile shampoo.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My 7-year-old yellow Labrador has a bad habit that is driving me crazy. When she is in the yard playing with a ball or stick, she stops playing and starts pulling out the grass with her teeth. She does not dig holes.

She does this when she is alone and when I am out there with her. When you try to correct her, she thinks it is a game, runs across the yard and does it again.

What can be done to correct this behavior? We cannot put her on a leash every time she needs to go out or prevent her from running around. Do you think an electronic training collar would help, or might it do more damage to her mental state?


DF: Is your dog eating some of the grass or just snapping it and pulling it up?

If she is eating some of the grass, you must know that is normal dog behavior. Give her a small unmowed patch of couch grass to nibble on. This could be good for her digestive system and urinary tract. Dogs with some internal irritation or discomfort will often eat grass, and not always to trigger vomiting.

If this is more a redirected play behavior, throw her some sturdy squeaky toys and 18-inch ropes with a knot on both ends, which she might especially enjoy being able to retrieve and “kill.”

Never use a shock collar. For details, see my short article “Dominance Training” on my Web site,

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. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2014 United Feature Syndicate


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