The Washington Post

People who are cruel to animals pose a danger to society as a whole

Dear Dr. Fox:

I commend you for writing about the media’s exposure of cruelty to animals in your column, which I read in the Asbury Park Press. I agree wholeheartedly, and I want you to know that this newspaper has been publishing stories about dog abuse, neglect and cruelty with heart-rending photos of the victims, as well as photos of the felons whose court judgments resulted in jail time and heavy fines.

People in this area have responded with donations, gifts and public court appearances on behalf of dogs such as Danny, a pit bull found in the coldest weather in decades. I hope that parents will show such photos to their children and impress on them that all animals are to be cared for with food, clean water and warm shelter. These felons obviously were not sensitized by their parents.

C.G., Asbury Park, N.J.

DF: I really appreciate your informing me that your local newspaper gives good coverage of animal welfare and cruelty issues.

I am glad to see more newspaper editors realizing the connections between animal cruelty and family violence, and cruel forms of animal exploitation and a dysfunctional society. Through public awareness via a responsible and responsive media, change can be accomplished.

We’ve seen this cruelty in puppy mill breeders, dog fighting and, in some medical schools, live animals, including many former pets, being used for student training procedures.

Children who engage in animal torture, in the absence of appropriate therapeutic intervention, can become sociopaths and psychopaths. But what of those who are growing up in a culture that still condones widespread animal cruelty and exploitation?

Kids see wolves being killed for sport; whales being harpooned; elephants being chained, beaten, forced to perform in circuses and slaughtered for their ivory; and tree-swinging, socially and emotionally dependent monkeys being put alone in small cages, ostensibly to find cures for diseases.

Do most empathic children suffer from what psychiatrist Jonathan Shay calls “moral injury,” which is part of the post-traumatic stress disorder complex seen in our nation’s war veterans? Or, worse, do they become desensitized, indifferent to the suffering of others, human and nonhuman?

Ignoring animal mistreatment because the victims are animals and because of more pressing community issues such as homicides, sex crimes and drug addiction is ethically unacceptable and shortsighted. Prosecutors, educators, newspaper editors and others in positions of responsibility should see the connections. It is time to change how animals are regarded and treated — for their good and for our own.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I have an 8-month-old beagle mix and a 16-month-old shepherd mix, both spayed. I adopted the shepherd at 10 months old and the beagle at 13 weeks.

They have peacefully co-existed, for the most part, for four months, playing, wrestling and sleeping together. Only on occasion do I have to break up a spat over a toy.

Yesterday, our shepherd mix mounted the beagle from behind on numerous occasions. When I say “no,” she stops but then starts up again.

It has happened again today, at least 10 times. The beagle does not seem to be distressed by this; in fact, it looks like she encourages it because she will back her rear end toward the shepherd before they do this.

I want to stop this behavior, because they both go to cage-free doggy day care, and I don’t want it to become a habit. Do you know why this behavior might have started? Is this normal?

C.D., St. Louis

DF: I recall a fellow who would come to our off-leash dog park with his neutered male Sheltie, with which my neutered dog Batman was in love. Batman would periodically mount the Sheltie, and they would happily engage in sex play while the man jumped up and down, in a rage. He said Batman was a pervert.

This is a normal part of the dog’s behavioral repertoire, and is best left alone. If you are uncomfortable, use a clicker or squeaky toy to distract and redirect their behavior.

When both dogs are consenting, there’s no problem. But mounting can also be a kind of dominance display or testing, especially when the mounter is showing signs of aggressive intent and the one being mounted protests. If he or she does not submit but turns defensively, a fight may ensue.

For details, see my e-book “Understanding Your Dog,” available on my Web site,

Response from C.D.: Thank you for the response. I am much more relaxed now regarding their behavior. I realize that we are the ones who were uncomfortable with it, not the dogs, which appear to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I have read your recent columns regarding trap, neuter and release programs with interest. I agree that trapping, neutering and returning feral cats to a place where they do not get good care is inhumane, but not all TNR is the same.

There are caregivers who provide food, warm shelter (including heated cat houses) and veterinary care for feral cats. I work in an animal hospital, and I have seen caregivers provide better care for their feral cats than some pets get. You should not lump all TNR advocates into the same boat.

There is also another alternative for these cats that doesn’t seem to get much attention. Feral cats make superior barn cats. Anyone who has horses or other livestock knows barn cats are necessary to keep rodents out of the feed.

Releasing spayed and neutered feral cats into horse barns is a win-win for everyone. The cats get a good place to live, and the barn owners get rodent control. Over the years of being fed by people, many eventually become tame enough to become house cats when they get older.

Rodent control for horse stables is a necessity. Rodents carry hanta virus, typhus, salmonella and plague. There are two choices: cats or poison. Poison is more expensive, and it is also harmful to wildlife, pets and children.

Many horse owners are quite willing to feed and provide veterinary care for the cats in exchange for the poison-free rodent control they provide. This is a great option for these cats, and one I rarely see mentioned in any discussion of TNR.

T.B., St. Louis

DF: I appreciate your contribution to this debate concerning the well-being of TNR cats, which I will stop featuring in my column. The bottom line is that some animal shelters are using TNR as an excuse not to take in cats and to pass the responsibly of dealing with unadoptable cats to others.

I agree with you that many such cats might do well in the farm-barn environment as “working” animals, helping keep rodents under control. The problem is that they can pick up diseases from rodents, such as toxoplasmosis, and roam out of the barn area and kill other wildlife. I have seen much suffering in barnyard cats not given veterinary care that are allowed to breed, but those days are now almost gone in an age of modern factory farms.

The old barns that remain are mainly kept by hobby farmers and small local producers. I would not want barn cats using my vegetable plot as their litter box, unless I wanted to pass on toxoplasmosis to my customers. And cats can pass plague and other diseases on to people.

A well-cared-for TNR cat colony in a good horse stable facility could offer an excellent quality of life for the cats and provide some valuable services, but monitoring the health of the cats is paramount, and to do so effectively they must be approachable and easy to handle, and therefore adoptable.

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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