Wow, Dr. James Richards was really reading my stuff. He phoned and asked me about exactly how many emails and reader letters I was receiving about feline vaccine-associated sarcomas. He wanted to know specifically what my readers and listeners were telling me. This was the mid-1990’s and the Internet wasn’t quite as organized as it is today, but still there was a huge buzz spreading across Net about cats dying as a result of vaccines. As rumors spread, some people were afraid to vaccinate their cats for anything.
Dr. Jim didn’t like rumors, and didn’t think it was in the best interest of cats that owners gave them no vaccines. Still, he merely wanted to learn the truth – what was really happening. A few weeks later, Richards called back and told me that he was creating the Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force. He asked if I could work with him to help communicate in my columns and on my radio show the findings offered by his Task Force. Of course, I said “yes.”
I’ve probably interviewed Dr. Richards well over a hundred times over the years, both for print and on the air. I remember clearly when he was in the studio (his only in-studio appearance at WGN) with Dr. Ilona Rodan and Dr. Jane Brunt. He was great on-air – as always.
Interestingly, he wasn’t the typical personality type you’d expect to be doing so much media. He never sought the limelight, and wasn’t a natural performer, per se. He did what he thought he needed to do for the cats, to communicate messages to veterinarians and to the public. While he didn’t really require a stage, microphone or camera pointing in his face – not half as much as enjoyed hearing stories, countless stories, which all began, “My cat….”
I once called Dr. Jim with one of those stories, but this one wasn’t humorous. My kitty, Ringo, was dying of FIP. Well, first he helped to confirm it was FIP. Second, he made himself available 24/7, at home – didn’t matter where he was; he made it clear I could call. My wife Robin and I will never forget his kindness. I am grateful I was able to thank him.
Several months ago, Dr. Richards called to inform me Kitty Socialization classes made its way into the newest updated vaccine guidelines (so those who teach these classes will understand which vaccines are a good idea for the kittens to have before they attend). Being a very public advocate of these classes for kittys (which I called Kitty K), I was thrilled – and he knew I would be. (I also suggested Dr. Ilona Rodan, who has long offered the classes in her clinic must have had something to do with this. He admitted that was true, and laughed). I miss his laugh. His laugh was hearty, from the soul, yet there was a certain innocence about it. For him life was pretty simple. Be good. Then good things will happen.
I last spoke to Dr. Richards on the Thursday before the accident, and interviewed him about heartworm disease in cats. You can hear the interview at www.petworldradio.net.
I don’t know how many of us will actually be able say they left this world a better place. Dr. Richards did, at least for cats it’s a better place. Now, perhaps, he is in a better place. I think that’s how he believed. And Dr. Richards was usually right. I offer you the love you gave so many. . .
MAKE A CONTRIBUTION IN DR. RICHARDS’ NAME TO THE CORNELL FELINE HEALTH CENTER: http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/.
Memorial donations may be made to the Cornell Feline Health Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, Box 13, Ithaca, N.Y. 14853.