Cats Lose Their Best Friend
Cats have lost the best friend they’ve had for over 50 years, Joan Miller.
Miller, who passed away on Tuesday May 16 dedicated much of her life to cat welfare and health, as well as showing and breeding pedigree cats and playing a role to educate veterinary professionals and the general public that “cats aren’t small dogs.” Arguably she has been the most influential person involved with the Winn Feline Foundation (now EveryCat Health Foundation), the non-profit responsible for funding so much of what we know about cat health.
Miller served as Winn’s President for 16 years. She was instrumental directing Dr. Paul Pion funds to follow up on his notion that cats were becoming ill and dying from a kind of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy because there wasn’t enough of an essential amino acid called taurine in manufactured cat foods. Dr. Pion proved correct, and today pet manufacturers worldwide understand how much taurine cats require.
Winn Feline was begun 55 years ago as an organization to support studies primarily for pedigreed cats, but Miller re-directed the organization to support studies for all cats. She also labored for decades to support welfare for cats in shelters and was original proponent and leader of an initiative called Fix by Five, to spay/neuter cats by five months to reduce unwanted litters.
Miller also served on the advisory boards of the Cornell Feline Health Center and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. In 1979, Miller established the Winn Foundation’s inaugural Symposium on Feline Health, which continues to this day. The first speaker at that symposium was Dr. Niels Pedersen of UC Davis Veterinary School,
This was no coincidence – it was Miller who also directed Winn’s focus to study a then little understood and fatal disease called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). And was an early supporter of Dr.Pedersen, now professor emeritus University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. By funding researchers worldwide, particularly Pedersen for decades, Miller lived to see FIP officially transitioned from fatal to re-defined as treatable at a 2019 Winn Feline Foundation Symposium at Davis, which was – in part -dedicated to Miller.
She contributed to Pedersen’s landmark text, Feline Husbandry: Disease and Management in the Multi-Cat Environment. She was a prolific writer—it seems that she has contributed to most cat publications on the planet as well as various books, including the CFA Complete Cat Book and Feline Husbandry. Miller has worked for decades to educate the public about cats, often busting common myths.
Miller was a member of the board of directors of the Cat Fanciers’ Association, Inc. (CFA) for over 25 years, including four years as Vice President. At CFA, she served on many committees and led advocacy for many years. Miller was a cat breeder for many years and was an internationally renowned show judge for over 30 years. Miller was a pioneer at setting up enriching environments for her breeding cats.
As a spokesperson for the cat fancy, Miller fought anti-breeder legislation on Capitol Hill, as well as in state capitals, responsible for several animal welfare laws, which even supported dogs.
Among the many awards and honors that have come her way, in 2017 Miller received the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Humane Award, one of only two AVMA Awards presented to a non-veterinarian. I was honored with then AVMA President Dr. Thomas Meyer and my colleague at Winn Feline Foundation Dr. Brian Holub to present the award. In 2016, Dr. Holub and myself presented Miller the first Winn Feline Emeritus Award (now EveryCat Emeritus Award). I was honored to interview Miller countless times for print and on the radio.
At the AVMA event Miller spoke briefly, and thanked her husband Peter Keys, who was wiping away tears. Miller spoke softly and with impact. “I want people to understand that all cats are in our care: pedigreed cats, mixed breeds, community cats, and cats in shelters.”
I said, “There are many who have worked tirelessly for the welfare of cats, and some are in this room today. There are all of us, and then – in another league all together – there’s Joan Miller.”