17 April 2015

“Stupid Tricks” Re-considered: Horses, Elephants, and Dogs. Holes In Our Hearts

By: Jon Katz
Stupid Tricks

Stupid Tricks

The World Animal Foundation reported this week that another large circus has decided to phase out it's elephants and elephant acts over the next few years. The language of the announcement was now familiar to me in it's narrowness and also for its lack of any thought or reference to the fact that most of the elephants are not being saved, but are being condemned to die.

There is, as is well known in the animal world, no place for them to go.  We have destroyed their natural world, we are now destroying the only world they have left, and patting ourselves on the back for it. This is why I love animals, they are not like us.

In our new idea of animal rights, death is better than working with people or entertaining them.

And there is no regard for their glorious history with humans, for the holes being left in our hearts and theirs.  We have lost any understanding of the real lives of animals, and we confuse this ignorance with compassion and humanity.

The foundation's language about the elephants was familiar, worth considering. "The public," says the announcement, "is rejecting the practice of separating baby elephants from their mothers and chaining and beating these sensitive, intelligent animals in order to force them to perform silly tricks."

I remember going to the circus when I was young, seeing for the very first time what people and animals could learn to do with one another. It was not a stupid trick to me, it changed my way of looking at the world.

Of course, if you do ten minutes of research online, you will quickly discover that babies are not always separated from their mothers, and most elephants are never chained or beaten. Many elephant trainers and handlers love elephants dearly, that's why they work with them, and they are devastated by the mindless rush to remove these amazing creatures from our world, rather than improving or altering their lives. There are other points of view, even if you never get to see them.

If babies need to stay with their mothers, then make it so. If elephants are being beaten – there is no documented evidence that this is so in modern circuses – then arrest the people who are beating them. Uplifting and entertaining people is the province of the smartest animals on the earth, not the dumbest, it is only in our curious time of moral inversion that we have come to see uplifting people and making them laugh is a crime, something to be banned, sneered at, stopped.

Elitism is the consciousness or arrogance or pride in belonging to a select or favored group, it is rife in the animal rights world, and especially in the campaign to remove domesticated animals from the every day lives of people. My border collie Red is a therapy dog, and he makes children in cancer wards laugh and he gets dementia patients in nursing homes to smile and cry with joy. Is this a stupid trick? Are dumb animals the only ones we should ever get to see and interact with? It is stupid to show the powerful connection animals have with people, and to see the wonderful impact they have had on us for all of human existence?

It is cruel to teach a border collie how to herd sheep? Or a seeing eye dog how to walk alongside a person who cannot see? Is that a stupid trick, or yet another example of cruelty and abuse? It is cruel to roll on the floor with a puppy, when he could be living in nature?

Is is cruel for a healthy working horse to pull a light carriage through Central Park, a beautiful space that was built for them? It is a stupid trick to carry lovers through the park, to enchant visitors with the beauty of New York, to permit children to see and touch and experience the wonder of the animals of the world, something they will never get to see in their lives if the horses are gone?

Elitism is evident in the dehumanization of the carriage drivers, who are told that driving a cab in the outer boroughs is the same as driving a carriage horse through Central park, whether they like it or not. In the mayor's refusal to visit the stables or meet with the drivers. In the discrimination in the animal rights community that makes is more and more difficult for the poor, the elderly, or the working class to adopt any of the millions of dogs and cats languishing in shelters.

And in the idea that it is stupid for animals to entertain or uplift human beings, one of the reasons, I believe, that they exist on the earth.

There is more than one way to look at stupid tricks, more than one way to stop and consider what we are doing to animals – we are driving them out of the everyday lives of people, we are  removing them from our sight and from the world. We are making a dreadful mistake that can never be undone. We think we are stopping abuse and cruelty – "stupid tricks" – when we are, in fact, simply committing the final act of destruction for the animals that have always helped us work, build our world, help us to smile and laugh and feel better.

In my discussions about the animals and especially the horses, and lately the elephants, I ask the righteous and the smug one question: Where will these elephants go when they leave their work in the circus? No one has yet been able to answer me. No one seems to have thought about it, everyone is too busy feeling better than everyone else.

Our children will never know this miracle of nature once the elephants and the horses and the ponies and the sled dogs are gone. The elephants have no other place to go, no other work to do. We are exploiting them once again, this time to make us feel better about our sad and despoiled world.

How many people over time, I wonder, have seen their days brightened and their lives enriched by the "stupid tricks" of animals who work with people and know how to touch their souls.  How many have connected to the natural world, to the earth, seen their imaginations aroused? Will children of the future experience this on Twitter and YouTube? Is sitting at a computer or riding in a vintage car the same thing as seeing an elephant in a circus or a carriage horse in New York?

We need to go the other way, to restore our connection with these wonderful creatures, to give them safe and healthy lives, work to do with us, meaning in their lives. We need to understand what abuse really is, and to wonder what is really stupid and what is really smart. These circus elephants are domesticated working animals, they have worked with people for thousands of years. Like border collies and carriage horses, they need to work, it is a part of their unique consciousness and genetics.

Doing stupid tricks can be just as noble as trumpeting in the vanished wild, if it gives them meaningful work, if it touches our hearts and lifts our spirits. There is nothing more natural than for humans and animals to live and work together, there is nothing crueler than taking them away from us and forcing them out of the world, especially in the name of love.

When the gloating and self-congratulations passes, we will all be poorer and sadder for their loss. They will leave behind holes in our hearts that can never be filled.

Posted in General

On The Red Road. When The Heart Walks Outside.

By: Jon Katz
The Heart

The Heart

On the Red Road, the heart moves outside of the body, walks alongside. This is to open the Roadrunner up, to help him feel the emotions of others, to connect with Mother Earth and the animals, to awaken him to feeling and love, to encourage humility and sincerity. This is relevant to me, personal to me. This is the path I am on. My heart was outside of my body last summer, I experienced the world in a new way. This is the message of the horses, the dogs, the animals. Take responsibility for the world, help restore it, keep the animals among us.

Posted in General
16 April 2015

On A Journey. A Good Time To Be Awakening.

By: Jon Katz
On A Journey

On A Journey

An important time for me, I am on a journey, day after day.

This morning, I leave for New York city to see my daughter get married on Saturday.

Next week, on the 21st of April, I'll go to Glenville to go stand with Joshua Rockwood as he fights for his farm and faces a court hearing on 13 counts of animal cruelty and neglect at the Glenville, N.Y., Town Court.

On Saturday the 25th of April, I will be speaking and signing books at the Westhampton, Mass., Public Library.

On May 2, Maria and I are going to Iowa for three days to speak at libraries and bookstores in Des Moines and Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. The Saving Simon book tour hits the heartland.

This is an exciting  time for me, on many levels, in many ways. It is also a time of challenge and change, lots to write about, lots to think about when I return.

My life is taking on new meaning, depth, the creative spark is alive inside of me, burning and burning. I am looking forward every day, the Road Runner on the Red Road, awakening to the world about me, and the challenges of being a human being. To find my purpose and to live it. To see that the world is at a crossroads, and I can either stay asleep or feel what is going on around me, and grasp the urgency of loving and respecting the people and animals of the earth.

It is wonderful, this sense of awakening. So many people who love animals struggle to see beyond rescuing them, but it is so important to listen to them, to continue and deepen their work with us. A good time to be a writer, a good time to be growing older, a good time to be seeing the world anew.

Posted in General

Being Banned: To Never Be Pulled Down So Low.

By: Jon Katz
Being Banned

Being Banned

I got several messages this morning saying that the Ban Jon Katz From Writing About Animals Page on Facebook had, in fact, itself been banned by Facebook.  It seems it is no longer available. I don't know how this happened, I suspect some righteous angels went to work. I am sure it will happen again, as it has happened before. Hatred is a virus, there is no vaccine.

I was not inclined to write about it again, I admit to having some fun with it, but hate is not a fun thing, not a joke, really. It is a sad thing.  I need to say goodbye to the page to ban me. It did not do me any harm, really, but it said some especially cruel and false things about me – that I starved my animals, shot them for no reason, used them for target practice. It is always strange to be the object of that.

Shakespeare wrote that we often end up hating what we fear, and Martin Luther King warned us to never let anyone pull us down so low as to hate him or her.

It is not a good thing to be hated, you can blow it off but still, hatred does not show us human beings at their best.  I know of no problem or argument or issue that hate ever solved, and I learned right away when I started writing online  that I had to be very careful not to dwell long in that world, or I would become the very thing that I hated.

It is very easy to hurt people, it is much harder to treat them with dignity.

If disagreement is common, even healthy, hatred is always irrational, never healthy. I feel anger and hurt sometimes, but sooner or later, I end up feeling sad for the people who feel such rage and spread it. Because it is sad, more than anything else.  In our world, it is very easy to say hurtful things about people, we are very rarely held accountable for the words we use. But we are accountable, sooner or later, in one way or another. My faith is this: truth will always out, will always triumph over lies.

I believe the New York Carriage Horses are proving this in their own powerful way.

When I began writing about animals, I think I forgot hatred and cruelty for awhile, I thought I had left it behind. And then I made some hard decisions about my animals and shared them, and I knew that this new world, for all of it's wonders, was a breeding ground for hatred and cruelty, as well as love and compassion and community.

A good friend taught me to pray for the people who hate me, the Quakers taught me to hold them in the light and wish them peace and compassion. And this episode, like many others, reminds me that there are good and brave people who do care about the truth and will always speak up for it. I think of them as the First  Responders of the Internet, I am touched by them. There are so many good people in the world, eager to do good, given the chance.

That is one of the great lessons of existence for me, I think, life is a double-edged sword, and the gift of spirituality is grace,  to learn to accept everything as a lesson and an opportunity to grow. I am not a praying man, but I do believe in mercy and compassion, and I think Dr. King was wise to understand that strength came from never allowing himself to be pulled as low as the people who hated  him.

I am no Dr. King, but I have learned the same lesson that he did.  There are no winners or losers when it comes to hating people and banning them.  When I decided to write about the carriage horses, and the future of animals in our world, and the farmers being harassed and bloodied, and the circus elephants, I knew I was returning to the galaxy of rage and fury. I can't say I didn't expect it. It is now, I think, a permanent part of my world. It will be as small or large and I permit it to be.  I pledge myself to not be drawn so low.

My heart bleeds a bit for the person who put up this page, and for the rage and hurt in her every word. I understand she is a good person in many ways, a lover of animals, a passionate person, and has only come to rage recently. I am no angel, I am no stranger to anger, my path is littered with mistakes and wrongdoing. But I wish a meaningful life for her, a better life, a life in which saying hurtful things about people is not her work or her amusement or her idea of honor.

And goodbye to the Ban Jon Katz From Writing About Animals Page. Mark Twain said a writer is absolutely worthless unless someone is trying to shut him or her up. Recognition at long last.

Posted in General

Meadow Tree

By: Jon Katz
Meadow Tree

Meadow Tree

Beautiful old trees are rarely found in old cow pastures, the cows would have eaten the barks off and killed them. Somehow, this one survived, next to the old stone walls that bounded the pastures. It is beautiful tree, emerging from a rough winter, a sentinel in the meadow just beginning to come to life again.

Posted in General