Dr. Michael W. Fox
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
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
ANC: What were some of the problems you investigated and what were your
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
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
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
We visited the local animal refuge and she was invited to take it over - which
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 Kurumbas.
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 around.
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 of trees..
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.
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 veterinary profession.
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
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 abnormal
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 and bioethics.
ANC: Who were some of your mentors while you were in school and now?
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
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 me.
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 image.
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 hormone.
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
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 pollution.
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
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 time?
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
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
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.
More About Dr. Michael W. Fox
Born in Bolton, England, Dr. Fox earned his degree in veterinary medicine from
the Royal Veterinary College and his PhD and DSC from the University of London.
He currently resides in Washington, DC.
His books include:
- 'The Healing Touch for Cats/ The Healing Touch for Dogs'
- 'Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society'
- 'Beyond Evolution: The Genetically Altered Future of Plants, Animals, the
Earth and Humans'
- 'The Boundless Circle: Caring for Creatures & Creation'
- 'Eating with Conscience: The Bioethics of Food'
- 'Inhumane Society: The American Way of Animal Exploitation'
- 'The New Eden: For People, Animals & Nature'
© 2004 Animal News Center, Inc.