Although he was born in Richmond, Ind., Richards grew up on a farm in Preble County, Ohio. There were no children his age living nearby so he befriended stray cats. The kinship he formed with these felines would affect him for the rest of his life.
Richards earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Berea College in Kentucky, and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Ohio State University. He practiced at several small-animal clinics in Ohio before joining Cornell University in 1991 as the assistant director of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Feline Health Center, a leading facility for feline medical research and treatment. Richards was named director six years later. During his tenure, the center conducted research into feline cardiac disease, coronary thrombosis, hyperthyroidism and cancerous growths called sarcomas. Richards was also the director of the Dr. Louis J. Camuti Memorial Feline Consultation and Diagnostic Service, which answers calls from vets and cat owners at 1-800-KITTY-DR.
A past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, Richards regularly appeared on television and radio programs to discuss the best ways to raise and care for cats. He lectured to cat owners’ clubs around the country and served as an adviser to Alley Cat Allies, a trap-neuter-return program to manage populations of feral cats.
Richards served as editor-in-chief of CatWatch, a monthly newsletter published by the Cornell veterinary school, penned the column “Ask Dr. Richards,” and wrote and/or edited numerous books and articles, including the “ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats,” “The Well-Behaved Cat: How to Change Your Cat’s Bad Habits” and “The Cornell Book of Cats.”
In his spare time, he enjoyed motorcycling, bicycling, hiking and kayaking. Richards was riding his motorcycle in Willet, N.Y., on April 22 when he saw a cat in the middle of the road. In an effort to avoid hitting the animal, Richards was thrown from his bike and severely injured. He died two days later. The cat died in the accident as well.
“Jim didn’t know how to say no to a good cause, and was always talking about how there was never enough time to do all the things we wanted to do for cats,” said Lila Miller, ASPCA vice president of Veterinary Outreach. “He was an incredible man — brilliant, compassionate, funny, humble, kind, generous, gracious and dedicated. He was a good friend to the ASPCA, and we all are heartbroken.”
The 19th annual Feline Symposium, scheduled for July 27-29 at the College of Veterinary Medicine, will serve as a public tribute to Richards.