|MF: Mike Fry |
BN: Beth Nelson
Dr. Michael Fox: Dr. Michael Fox
MF: We’re always thrilled to have our next guest on the line. He’s a syndicated columnist, author, veterinarian, and bioethicist. He understands animal behavior. He understands medicine. He understands our interaction and connection to animals in ways that most people can hardly even conceive of. He’s a big thinker, and we just love having him on the show.
BN: And communicator, I just would like to add to that long list of things. He has really taken it upon himself to try and share his knowledge and learning over the years with the broadest possible audience through his writing, his books, his articles, and his presentations nationally and internationally. We are so grateful that there are people like Dr. Fox in our world standing up for what they really believe. We want to welcome you.
MF: Welcome back to Animal Wise Radio, Dr. Fox.
Dr. Michael Fox: Thank you. Always good to visit with you all. Fantastic.
BN: We should also mention just at this moment that he continues to reach out to people through his web presence at www.drfoxvet.com. There’s lots of articles – good information about nutrition, resources, and he’ll answer questions too from people who submit them. We’ll remind you of that website.
MF: We’ve invited Dr. Fox on the show today to talk about some challenging topics that are in some ways interrelated in my head. Before we get into talking about end-of-life decisions, how our humane organizations have in effect industrialized killing on a mass scale, and what are some of the implications of that, I wanted to just touch on some of the incredible depth and breadth of your work.
When I go out to your website, DrFoxVetet.com, Dr. Fox, I’m just blown away at the number of topics and the incredible depth that you have with each one. If people want information about genetically modified organisms, or if people want information about pet nutrition or vaccinations, there’s so many topics, and you’ve covered them in such depth. I’m just am curious to know, how do you do that? You just blow me away.
Dr. Michael Fox: I’ve never had the responsibility of having to run a veterinary practice. I did some temporary locums in my youth and worked as a house surgeon at the Cambridge School of Veterinary Medicine, and worked as a volunteer vet at the Humane Society in St. Louis, but I’ve never had to run a practice. I’ve been in either academia as a Professor of Psychology at Washington University where I was also doing animal advocacy work, or as an executive with the Humane Society of the U.S. for most of my professional career.
I’ve been able to devote my energies to a host of animal issues from the suffering of cattle in India, where the most sacred animal suffers the most in that terrible continent, to the puppy mills. I was one of the first to investigate with Herm David the puppy mills in the Midwest back in the early 1970s, to being Chairman of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Laboratory Animal Care and Housing and Behavioral Needs for Dogs and Cats. Then I got involved in exposing the horrors of factory farming, which really blew my socks off when I realized how far my own species will go to exploit animals for the almighty buck.
BN: Dr. Fox, just a question about your own personal history – you grew up in England, if I remember correctly – when did you start to look at just how or where our food comes from and how it comes to us, and how to supply yourself nutritionally?
Dr. Michael Fox: I guess when I started looking at the factory farms. I had not yet decided to become either a conscientious omnivore – eating free-range animal produce and knowing where the produce came from, to becoming a vegetarian or vegan. That took a while to sink in.
Then, I made the environmental connection between the importance of eating low on the food chain, regardless of whether the animals are raised humanely or not, because of the amount of land that is needed to raise the feed for poultry and other farm animals that were actually reducing biological diversity and competing with wildlife.
I remember going to the University of Iowa in Ames to see their meat irradiation facility, and decided to drive around afterwards. I was on this high road, and suddenly there was a turtle crossing over, and I realized that this high road was a dam between the fields that had been drained that used to be wetlands. I realized that all this biological diversity had been destroyed just so people can raise corn and soybeans so they can eat more beef and pork.
MF: We’ll have to take a quick break right there. We’re going to come back with more of the conversation with Dr. Michael Fox.
MF: On the line we have Dr. Michael Fox, syndicated columnist, author, bioethicist. You can find more information about him at www.drfoxvet.com where there’s a plethora of information about nutrition, vaccinations, and all kinds of important information about keeping your pets happy and healthy. Oftentimes, he’s going against the grain of convention. He was explaining in our first segment about an experience that he had visiting a meat irradiation facility, and after touring this facility you were driving around and you came across this turtle. Can you finish up that story? I find it really fascinating.
Dr. Michael Fox: I realized that it used to be wetlands, but it had all been drained to raise corn and soybeans to be fed to cattle and pigs kept in these factories. I just started putting all the pieces together, and then realized that people using this produce as their main source of nutrition were actually not only harming their own health, they were harming the environment and contributing to animal suffering, because this was all part of the industrialized production of animals on these factory farms or confinement systems.
I lectured widely on this to the pork producers, to the Cattlemen’s Association, and finished up at the University of Rochester and gave a talk there connecting the dots between the cruelties of factory farming and consumer health issues. The graduate student who invited me was very embarrassed because they were not allowed to sell any of my books. They’d apparently had a notice from the authorities running the Mayo hospital that none of Dr. Fox’s books should be made available in the University bookstore or in the main bookstore in town. This was back in the early 1980s, and it was highly political.
MF: You were one of the first to be saying things that are now widely accepted, and you were saying them way before …
Dr. Michael Fox: Yes; it was Michael Pollan and some of the others. I’ve forgotten the poet who said, “Tell the truth, but tell it slant, otherwise you’re going to dazzle the people and blind them.” I tended to be rather out there, just showing it with all my slide presentations and so on.
I was also involved during that time, of course, with the mass euthanasia that was going on, a mass killing in some of our animal shelters, and a nasty one at that time was the decompression chamber.
MF: Dr. Fox, I realize much of the work you’ve done is really about the industrialization of our animals, whether you’re looking at the genetically modified organisms issue, our farm animal issues, but I would argue I’m finally realizing that even in our animal shelters we’ve created an industrial way of mechanizing death at many of these places.
It’s recently come to the news here in Minnesota, because the Humane Society of Goodhue County has recently been uncovered to be using a gas chamber – a carbon monoxide chamber to kill animals in large volumes. There’s been a fair amount of outcry about it, and we just wanted to talk about that large-scale killing issue in our shelters.
You mentioned in the first segment something about psychology, and I’m just curious if you see a connection between the psychology of mass killing in shelters and what that does for the people, the workers, and our society? What does it say about us as people?
Dr. Michael Fox: I think it ties in tangentially with these school killings that we’ve seen. There’s a dehumanization, an alienation process going on. There was a story in England where a young man was working in a pig factory, a small slaughterhouse in the village. One pig broke loose, ran into the village, and he started clubbing it. He was surrounded by people who pulled him off, and he was held up in the court for animal cruelty. He told the judge that the only way that he could work in this small slaughterhouse was to treat the pigs as though they were just things, objects, to protect himself.
This can happen in any of these mass animal factory production systems. Whether it’s mass feeding or mass slaughtering of animals, or the mass killing in animal shelters. The individual hands-on killing takes special training. It’s still a tremendous emotional burden, and I have great respect for workers in shelters who are doing this; they are taken on the burden of a very irresponsible culture where so many families just treat their dogs and cats as throwaway objects, no better than the boy in the English village slaughterhouse who treated the pigs as mere objects.
MF: The interesting thing to me, though, Dr. Fox, is that while I agree with a portion of what you said and having some compassion for people who do that work, and I do believe to a certain degree most of the people who work in animal shelters have the best of intentions; although we know that’s not universally true – we know that there are employees at animal shelters who intentionally abuse animals. However, we know there’s something like 100 no kill communities in the United States where animal shelters never kill a healthy or treatable animal. That’s made up of almost 200 cities. Some of them have some of the highest shelter intakes of any shelters in the United States per capita, and they’re not killing healthy animals. That tells me that these shelters that, for example, Goodhue County Humane Society, they don’t have to be mass killing animals. They have alternatives.
Dr. Michael Fox: The alternative is that they have to set up a whole system of public relations, public education, advertising animals through the local media, television, radio, and really start working at the grass roots, rather than just treating the co-called overpopulation as a symptom of a throwaway society.
Dr. Michael Fox: You’ve got to get behind the ball and encourage people. I was just communicating with a friend in Mississippi where she helped set up a cat shelter. I love one of their beautiful posters that reads, “Cats are like potato chips – you can't just take one.”
BN: That’s a great idea!
Dr. Michael Fox: Yes.
BN: Dr. Fox, even though this is kind of a hard question to talk about or to ask, I want to at least raise the subject of the gas chamber as a choice that some shelters use.
Dr. Michael Fox: There should be absolutely no choice. I worked on the standards way back with the panel of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and even if you filter the carbon monoxide from a gasoline engine or use it from a cylinder so there are no irritants, some of the animals are going to panic, even if you have them in separate cages so they’re not crawling over each other when they start collapsing. Some are afraid being confined. Some have never been in the enclosure in the chamber with other animals. It’s actually petrifying last few minutes.
It’s simply not acceptable. We have ways of doing it now. The most humane, the most immediate is with a captive bolt pistol, but there are all kinds of issues of safety and the trauma on the operators for that and so on. That is the easiest way, but not socially and perhaps aesthetically the most acceptable. But you don’t finish up with a dead body that is loaded with chemicals such as phenobarbital, which is the anesthetic that’s generally used for euthanasia, and these animals being recycled through rendering plants into pet foods and livestock feed. Horses are euthanized with barbiturates sometimes, and that can finish up in animal feed, and could possibly cause problems. There are many complicated variables to discuss here.
MF: The other part of it to me, Dr. Fox, is that just by simply making it so “easy” to kill animals in large mass by using gas chambers, I think having that process be difficult is the way that it should be. It shouldn’t be so easy to kill a large number of animals. We shouldn’t make that an efficient process in our animal shelters, just from a purely philosophical perspective. We shouldn’t make it easy. It should be the hard choice.
Dr. Michael Fox: I think from a philosophical, ethical perspective, it should be challenged and it should be outlawed, because it’s just a way of sweeping up the streets of surplus, unwanted life. We should not have that situation in the first place. Spay/neuter, educate for responsible ownership. Animals that are properly raised don’t have behavioral problems. They don’t become nuisances so that people want to get rid of them. The better animal shelters have educators and behavioral therapy advisors and so on, and this is the way we need to evolve for our own good, as well as for our animal companions.
BN: You’re so right in that there are many tangential topics that tie to this question of mass disposal, and one that I can't stop thinking about is how so many people are eager to do large transports of animals from one part of the country to another part of the country thinking that, “Minnesota is a no kill state,” which is totally not true, and here find out that not very far away in a county that’s not very far south of the Twin Cities metro area, that they think there’s nothing they can do with what they believe to be a surplus of animals, and we know that in our own backyard in the Twin Cities there are imports coming in from all over.
MF: Georgia, Kentucky.
BN: It’s that philosophical thing of how do we call a timeout and ask for balance in the rescue community, in the sheltering community, and ask everyone to look at how they’re doing their work and to see if they can just stop the madness.
Dr. Michael Fox: More openness and transparency with the different organizations working within counties and within states, to have an annual summit meeting and just lay things out on the table. Whenever we get into volunteer organizations, we have egos involved. “This is the way I do it, and I’m not going to communicate with anybody else,” and so these situations keep perpetuating. When it moves to a more bureaucratic state level, God help the animals. They’re all into managing the wolf as a trophy animal for recreational hunting and commercial fur trapping again. I would tremble putting any authority at the state level for companion animals, but some liaison could be facilitated perhaps through state authorities from a public health view point, then bringing the various licensed shelter operators – they all have to be licensed – together for an annual summit so that we can really get a sharing of local problems and therefore find the solutions in a better way.
MF: As always, Dr. Fox, you have had just a great perspective on the issue. I’m curious to see, there’s a new Facebook page that’s popped up specifically around the Goodhue County Humane Society to get them to dismantle their gas chamber. It’s worth noting, in many states they are illegal; they’ve been banned already. There’s a petition going around the Internet and Facebook asking people to ban them nationally. It will just be interesting to see how the conversation goes from here. Your insight and thoughts around it are fascinating.
Again, if people want more information about Dr. Fox, they can find him at www.drfoxvet.com.
BN: Loads of great information out there.
Dr. Michael Fox: I’m also on www.facebook.com/drfoxvet. Onward with the good works! The more we can discuss these things in the open, the more the public is informed and hopefully the future will be better for all creatures.
BN: Thank you, Dr. Fox.
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