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Veterinarian James R. Richards, Cornell's famed 'kitty' doctor and authority on vaccination protocols, dies after motor vehicle accident

Dr. James Richards James R. Richards, DVM, director of the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine's Feline Health Center and a nationally recognized expert in cat care, died April 24 at age 58 from injuries received in an April 22 motor vehicle accident about eight miles south of Marathon, N.Y.

At Cornell, Richards was a senior extension associate in the Vet College who lectured on feline topics to classes in the DVM curriculum. He was also a member of Cornell Christian Faculty and Staff Forum.

With some help from the resident mascots of the Cornell Feline Health Center, originally Dr. Mew and most recently Elizabeth I, Richards 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 columnist ("Ask Elizabeth") of "CatWatch," the Vet College newsletter. Invitations to appear on network television (including CBS, CNN and Fox News) were often accepted by the genial 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 - Richards served as an adviser to Alley Cat Allies, the trap-neuter-return program to manage populations of feral cats.

In the 1990s, when cancerous growths, or sarcomas, began to appear on the skin of some recently vaccinated cats, 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, Ind., Richards earned an A.B. degree in mathematics (1970) from Berea College and his DVM (1979) from Ohio State University. He joined the Cornell Vet College in 1991 as assistant director of the Feline Health Center and was named director in 1997. 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 at 1-800-KITTY-DR. He often fielded the questions himself, frequently assuring callers that more often than not situations are not as dire as they first appear.

Richards is survived by his wife Anita Fox Richards and two sons, Jesse and Seth. Memorial donations may be made to the Cornell Feline Health Center, James R. Richards, Jr. Memorial Fund, College of Veterinary Medicine, Box 39, Ithaca, NY 14853, or through the Feline Health Center web site at /fhc/

By Roger Segelken