by Hedy Litke
Our project was illegally taken over in the winter of 2004, a consequence of putting
trust in those who were ultimately corrupted by their own self-interests. We continue
to fund a full-time Indian veterinarian, who works in the same locale where his
services are sorely needed. He reports to us on a weekly basis and has video documentation
of the suffering of our beloved resident donkey herd, and rescued ponies and race
horses that are simply let out to forage for themselves along the roadside from
village to village, even raiding farmers’ crops, and are clearly neglected and famished.
Dr. Michael W. Fox, DSc, PhD, BVet Med, MRCVS is a well-known veterinarian, former
vice president of The Humane Society of the United States, former vice president
of Humane Society International, and the author of more than 40 books on animal
care and behavior, and bioethics.
Dr. Fox is known as a sharp and eloquent critic of the biotechnology industry as
a whole and of the FDA and USDA in particular. As a professor, bioethicist, and
veterinarian, Dr. Fox has spearheaded the movement to foster the ethical treatment
of animals since 1976. Besides writing and lecturing worldwide, Dr. Fox has appeared
on The Tonight Show and has spoken about bioethics and conscious food choices on
National Public Radio, The Today Show, and National Geographic Society specials.
Animal News Center: Dr. Fox, we know you as a veterinarian,
professor, bioethicist - the list goes on. Please tell us where you were born and
what led you from your beginnings to where you are now.
Dr. Fox: I was born in England. My closest friends and
companions were dogs - strays and otherwise. Both my parents fostered my interest
in what nature there was where I lived and in creatures in general. They engendered
a sense of respect and wonder and, from a very early age, I wanted, with a passion,
to become a veterinarian.
The turning moment for me happened while walking home from school one day; it was
during World War II.
I was peeping into the backyard of a veterinary hospital, and I saw two trashcans
filled to the brim with the bodies of dead dogs and cats. I couldn't understand
why there had been such a mass slaughter. I realized something really needed to
be done for these animals.
When I was much younger - about six years old - I was playing in one of the neighborhood
ponds when I noticed a floating sandbag. I got a stick and pulled it toward me,
thinking it might be some burglar's loot.
I cut it open to find it filled with dead kittens - someone had drowned them. I
guess this was an earlier lesson to me - that while some people could treat animals
this way, I never would.
The cumulative effect of these two experiences resulted in my decision that my best
friends needed some help.
In my early teens I saw practice every weekend with a typical 'James Herriot' vet,
so by the time I got to veterinary college I thought I already had all the answers.
I attended the Royal Veterinary College, London, for five years, then interned as
house surgeon at the new Cambridge School of Veterinary Medicine, followed by a
post doctorate fellowship to research puppy development at the Jackson Memorial
Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. I moved from there to Galesburg, IL where I continued
my research, earning a Ph.D.
After three years of research I taught animal behavior, behavioral development and
abnormal behavior at Washington University in St. Louis (1967-1976). My research
of wild canids earned me a Doctor of Science degree from London University in 1976.
I joined the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in 1976. I was a vice-president
and the Director of their Institute for the Study of Animal Problems.
ANC: What were some of the problems you investigated and
what were your findings?
MF: We studied the care of laboratory animals, and [found]
that how they were kept produced experimental variables that, when not recognized,
made conclusions derived from these animal studies dubious and of limited medical
I am an anti-vivisectionist. I have concluded that on a scientific basis it is best
to study animals who are already sick and injured rather than deliberately making
them sick and injured in the deprived environment of the research laboratory.
It's an unethical thing too - why should we harm other species in order to cure
diseases we primarily bring upon ourselves? This was not a popular decision then,
nor, in many circles, now.
I also looked at zoo animals and the behavioral abnormalities expressed in this
population and especially how dogs and cats were kept in laboratories.
During much of my time at HSUS, I focused on farm animals, especially upon the so-called
"intensive factory farming" industry and how it harms the environment, harms the
family farm, harms rural communities, harms wildlife and biodiversity, and ultimately
harms consumers. In the late 1980s I focused on genetic engineering, biotechnology,
cloning and bioethics. At the same time, I was keeping tabs on the developments
in agriculture and food safety, raising questions about what goes into commercial
pet foods - again, a very unpopular position.
I left the HSUS in 2001. I continue my syndicated national newspaper column "Animal
Doctor" and hold the honor of serving as chief consultant veterinarian for "India
Project for Animals and Nature" (IPAN).
ANC: What do you do for them?
MF: My wife Deanna Krantz is founder and director. During
two of my sabbaticals from Washington University in the 1970s, I went to south India
to study the dhole, the Asiatic wild dog of the jungle. 20 years later, accompanied
by Deanna, I was invited back to give the keynote address to the Indian Veterinarian
We visited the local animal refuge and she was invited to take it over - which she
It's in Tamil Nadu in the heart of the 260-square km Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary,
in a UN-designated global biosphere reserve which is one of about 400 recognized
biodiversity hot-spots on the planet. It is rich with wildlife and a diversity of
indigenous people too - the so-called "tribal" people.
She became the first international voice for the entire bio-region to help stop
the demise of the wildlife habitat and the demise of the elephant. It has the largest
wild elephant population in India, as well as tigers and tribal peoples like the
The beauty of this project - and we need many more like it - was that, unlike these
rich organizations that hold international conferences on how to save the last of
the wild or how to foster the humane treatment of domestic animals, we were infield.
We saw to the veterinary needs of the villagers and tribal communities dependent
upon their livestock, and cared for the village dogs and few cats that are
We helped these people economically through addressing the problem of zoonotic diseases
like rabies and mange. Scabies, a particularly devastating type of mange, can leave
children permanently disfigured. By controlling the spread of these diseases, we
were protecting the wildlife as well.
Because our efforts won the trust of the people, they became a wonderful network
of informants regarding illegal practices carried out in the forest and jungles
from the killing of elephants and tigers to illegal land encroachment and cutting
ANC: Have you taken many detours in your professional
career, and did they impact your philosophical perspectives along the way?
MF: My aspirations in vet school were to work with sheep
- on the moors, a romantic, James Herriot version of vet practice. Yet once I saw
"real" practice, I realized there was no future in the kind of practice I wanted
to follow - treating the individual animal. Sheep practice is population medicine
- you treat the flock. By the time the sick individual is seen to by a Veterinarian,
if at all, a lot of people may have been making a mess of it.
I became interested in canine neurology and behavioral development while a house
surgeon at the Cambridge School of Veterinary Medicine when a little dachshund puppy
presented with hydrocephalus. My interest in neurological development in puppies
unfolded into looking at behavioral development.
But my aspirations changed when I realized the dearth of any basic understanding
of animal behavior and abnormal behavior in my own veterinary education and in the
One of the first papers I wrote in a professional journal was about "sympathy lameness"
in dogs, published in 1962. It was quite controversial at the time, with some veterinarians
saying, "What are we going to need to be - psychiatrists next?" Yet, others wrote
in saying this was very important and something they never considered - that animals
can suffer emotionally.
ANC: Is it only now that people are coming to this realization?
MF: It's catching on now. Some of my graduate students
are editing and writing books dealing with animals and emotions and awareness and
cognitive ethology; opening the window on animal sentience, on animal emotion and
This field has borne fruit after some ridicule because of entrenched anthropocentrism
and what I call "mechanomorphization" - the regarding and treating animals as unfeeling
machines. My work provides a very firm scientific foundation for animal rights philosophy
ANC: Who were some of your mentors while you were in school
MF: They were more in the realm of philosophy - Tielhard de Chardin,
Thomas Berry. And one of my most important mentors has been my wife, Deanna Krantz
- in the way in which she has turned her love of animals and respect for life into
direct action in India, against extremely difficult odds - logistical and financial.
We continue to pass the prayer bowl around - all donations will be well used.
ANC: In your book Eating with Conscience you discuss not
only factory farming but the spiritual bond between humans and animals. How does
this relate to pantheism and Christianity?
MF: The spiritual bond has become another cliché today,
but for me, Mahatma Gandhi got it right when he said, "what is spiritual but not
also political is the pie in the sky."
Panentheism - the term I use in my book The Boundless Circle - is not a new word
or "neologism" I coined myself. A German philosopher coined it many years before
It's quite distinct from the more primitive "pantheism." It essentially acknowledges
that "all is in God and God is in all."
As a world view it breaks down the hierarchic view of the monotheistic tradition,
especially the Christian tradition, that states that only man is made in God's
I see St. Francis of Assisi as a panentheist. He said through animals and by way
of nature we realize divinity.
I think lots of people with dogs and cats call them "little angels in fur." They
sense some kind of presence.
We don't have to unnecessarily mystify it, but I think we are part of a realm of
great mystery and beauty that we are defiling and exploiting and not treating with
appropriate reverence, accord and concordance - harmony. We are causing more harm
than harmony in maintaining an increasingly depraved existence.
ANC: Are there any countries that practice humane farming?
MF: It's a movement that's gaining momentum in the UK
and in a number of other European countries: Switzerland, Germany, parts of France,
and Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Sweden with organically certified produce.
The Swedes and Brits are leaders in developing humane ways of raising farm animals
and getting them out of factories.
There is strong, strong opposition in much of Europe to American agricultural practices.
Both the public sector and European economic community oppose the use of bioengineering
and biotechnology of food, the genetic engineering of food and animals and the use
of growth-stimulating hormones, especially genetically engineered bovine growth
The US claims this is market protectionism. I like to remind the marketers that
there are deeper ethical underpinnings to this public concern.
ANC:: What animals do you share your home with?
MF: Three dogs that my wife rescued. One is Lizzie, nine
years old, from Jamaica; then Xylo and Batman from the streets of India. Having
three dogs is quite different than having two because three makes them a pack -
a wonderful dynamic.
ANC: How can we reach more people and imbue them with
a sense of conscience to protect the planet?
MF: All of life is interconnected. Whether it's spiritual
or ecological, it's all the same. When we harm the environment, we harm ourselves;
when we dump poisonous pesticides out, we put them into our food chain.
Industrial pollutants like mercury and dioxin end up in mothers' milk and feeds
our babies; when we cut down trees, the mass deforestation changes our climate;
global warming/climate change increases the planet's metabolism which produces increased
CO2 and other greenhouse gases; the oceans are dying from overfishing and incredible
The present administration and other industrial nations seek to avoid any responsibility
and obfuscate any concerted action to defend the planet against these environmental
assaults, which means future generations will suffer even more.
So, we are in a very serious mess. Once people get the big picture, they feel overwhelmed,
paralyzed and depressed... but there are many avenues for action.
ANC: Do you see any hope?
MF: The first thing is to decide what you put on the end
of your fork; it's not what comes out of our mouths that counts; it's what we choose
to put in them. What or whom is on that fork can make a big difference.
Support local farming cooperatives. Buy organically certified produce. Eat lower
on the food chain.
Consider the animals in your community - the wildlife. How well protected are the
woods on your path? Are they mowing everything and spraying everything? Get together
as a community and protect what you can.
We are all part of the same life community but everyone is cocooning and isolating,
waiting for someone else to take charge. It will take a lot of effort and commitment
to put compassion into action.
ANC: Is there any hope that we'll come to our senses in
MF: Yes, I am a long-term optimist. I encourage people
to support their local humane society and local chapters of Natural History, Audubon
Society and Sierra Clubs.
Get involved - start networking - and recycling and consuming less. Much more can
and needs to be done.
As Albert Einstein observed, the problems of the world cannot be solved by the same
consciousness that caused them.
He and others also emphasized that the evil that people bring into the world is
not the main problem. The real problem is that good people stand by and do nothing.
The lack of vision, the values and corruption in government, in the corporate world
and in so-called non-profit organizations claiming to protect animals, the environment
and human rights, also need to be rectified.