Veterinarian James R. Richards, Passes Away

Dr. Richards and Dr. Mew

The director of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Feline Health Center and a nationally recognized expert in cat care, James R. Richards, D.V.M., died April 24, at age 58, of injuries incurred in an April 22 motor vehicle accident on Route 221, about eight miles south of Marathon, N.Y.

Dr. Richards (with some help from the resident feline mascots of the Cornell Feline Health Center, originally Dr. Mew and most recently Elizabeth I) was the human ambassador to the often-mysterious world of cats —their health and ills, their behavior and their predilections.

He was a past-president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and a nationally recognized authority on vaccination protocols for cats—which he invariably referred to as “kitties.”

He was the author of the “ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats,” the consulting editor and a co-author of “The Cornell Book of Cats,” as well as editor-in-chief and “Ask Dr. Richards” columnist of “CatWatch,” the newsletter of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Invitations to appear on network television (including CBS, CNN and Fox News) were eagerly accepted by the genial Dr. Richards, whose lap was not complete without at least one purring cat. An advocate for all cats—those without homes as well as the luckier ones—Dr. Richards served as an advisor to Alley Cat Allies, the trap-neuter-return program to manage populations of feral cats.

In the 1990s, when cancerous growths called sarcomas began to appear on the skin of some recently vaccinated cats, cats that had been recently vaccinated, Dr. Richards led the Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force through medical investigations and recommendations to cat owners and veterinarians.

Born July 19, 1948, in Richmond, Indiana, he earned an A.B. degree in mathematics (1970) from Berea College and his D.V.M. (1979) from Ohio State University. He joined the Cornell veterinary college in 1991 as assistant director of the Feline Health Center, and was named director in 1997. Dr. Richards also served as director of the Dr. Louis J. Camuti Memorial Feline Consultation and Diagnostic Service, which answers calls from veterinarians and cat owners alike at 1-800-KITTY-DR.

Arriving at Cornell after a series of appointments in small-animal clinics in Ohio, Dr. Richards was one of the reassuring voices on the KITTY-DR line. More often than not, he said, situations are not as dire as they first appear.

When an “Ask Dr. Richards” reader wondered why her cat was leaving “peelings” of claws around the house, he replied: “There’s nothing to worry about as far as your kitty’s health is concerned, but I am a bit concerned about the health of your furniture.” The peelings, he explained, were the onion-like layers that the cat sheds while sharpening its claws. “So let her continue to pull on her claws as she grooms herself,” Dr. Richards counseled. “She’s merely doing what she needs to do.”

He is survived by his wife, Anita Fox Richards of Dryden, N.Y., and two sons, Jesse and Seth. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, April 28, at the Bethel Grove Bible Church, 1763 Slaterville Road, Ithaca. Memorials in Dr. Richards’ name can be made to the Cornell Feline Health Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, NY 14853.


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