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20 April 2014

Resurrection Story

By: Jon Katz


I'm dedicating this blog post to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and to resurrection. Marquez was my favorite writer, a great inspiration and joy for me to read all of my adult life. He often said we are required to give birth and rebirth to ourselves many times in our lives if we wish to be alive. Not too many years ago, I gave rebirth to my life, I left a long marriage, moved away from my family, set out in search of love and meaning. I wanted to know what the purpose of my life was.

I was reborn. I found love, as I swore to do. I became a photographer, and freed a powerful and imprisoned part of myself. I committed to sharing my life on this blog, a daily journal, a daily memoir of my existence. Maria and I found one another. I began writing poetry and also facing the truth about who I was and who I wished to be. I sought friendship and found it. I sought help and got it. I began learning how to stand in my truth in the face in a time of great fear and conformity and anger. We have moved to our rightful, and, I imagine, final home. I was close to death then, I have given up on love and intimacy and the sharing of my life. I will never give up on those things again.

Rebirth is my life, the creative spark is my faith. Life does require us to give birth and rebirth to itself, I set out for New York last week in search of a publisher who values me and my work. I may have found one. I am committed to trying and save the New York Carriage Horses and thus keep animals in our world. I am dedicated to writing books that are honest and thoughtful. I am being reborn every day, it is never over, it is never done.

Easter means many things to many people, I take rebirth and resurrection from this holiday and honor it in my own life. It is a universal story, it belongs to the ages, to the world, to my life.

Posted in General
19 April 2014

Red’s Focus. Outlasting Simon.

By: Jon Katz
Red's Focus

Red's Focus

When Red is not cuddling with one of  his many girlfriends, he is watching the sheep, inspiring me to focus on my work. The donkeys, who are both curious and mischievous creatures, are always trying to throw Red off of his game, especially Simon, who tries to bully Red into getting out of his way as he does the sheep and the other donkeys. Simon is sweet, but an alpha male, he things all animals should get out of his way when he wants to eat or when he just wants to walk.

From time to time, he lowers his head and tries to spook Red into moving. Red keeps his gaze right on the sheep, he does not flinch or waver. Simon could stomp Red or bite him, but Red seems to sense that he won't.  And he doesn't. These standoffs used to make me nervous, but I know Red well by now. He can take care of himself. After a couple of minutes, Simon stepped around Red. Red never took his eyes off of the sheep.

Red inspires me to focus on my work.

Posted in General

The Carriage Horses: Can Animal Rights Survive Their Movement?

By: Jon Katz
Horses And Animal Rights

Horses And Animal Rights

As I write this, animal protestors in New York City are gathering at the Upper West Side condominium of actor Liam Neeson to end cruelty to animals by being cruel to Liam Neeson and his neighbors, a familiar irony of the people who call themselves supporters of animal rights. It's not exactly clear how shouting at Liam Neeson and his fellow condo dwellers will advance the rights of animals – has one animal been give one new right in this long and costly campaign? But then,  it seems like little about the campaign against the carriage horses has much to do with the welfare of animals.

If the fate of the carriage horses is widely understood to be a bellweather for the rights of animals all over America to remain in our towns and cities, it is also a template for the future of the animal rights movement. If they can't do it in New York, they are unlikely to do it anywhere. And so far, they are failing miserably in New York.

For the sake of animals, this is a movement that desperately needs to change, and the prognosis is not good. In the interactive age, this is an ideology  that it never changes, listens, learns or negotiates. The real message of the carriage horses may well be that the animal rights movement in its current incarnation is doomed to certain to fail, having, alienated one segment of the animal world after another, utterly disconnected from ordinary people,  stuck in this narrow and rigid dogma, shouting forever outside the windows of people who do not hear them or agree with their message.

Thought just a few months ago to be invincible in modern-day New York, they are floundering in the most public and spectacular of ways, reduced to yelling at  movie stars on beautiful Spring days. Their campaign against the carriage horses is a study in arrogance, misjudgment, hostility and fantasy.

Those $160,000 cruelty-free, eco-friendly fake vintage electric cars could well be more significant than anyone imagined,  a monument to the end of the animal rights movement as we have come to know it. It's too bad, this movement has done a lot of good for some animals, they could do a lot more good if they awakened and tried to understand why they have failed so badly in New York.

But today, this may be the least likeable and persuasive social movement in modern American history.  Take a look for yourself  at some members of this  animal rights group demonstrating against the carriage horses in New York's Central Park as they shout at drivers  and tourists and try to frighten the horses. Take a look at a video of the leader of the movement to ban the horses threatening to punch a New York Daily News photographer in the face while introducing the fake vintage car he spent a half-million dollars building.

I've met and communicated with a lot of animal rights workers and volunteers in recent years – my steer was a poster boy the Humane Society – and especially in recent weeks. I've talked to some of them,  read their websites, seen their videos, heard their plans for the carriage horses, and also heard countless stories about them.

I need to be honest here. I like rights for animals, but I don't like many of the people I see in this movement. They aren't generous or compassionate, most of them seem to have never been around animals that are not pets and don't know the first thing about what real animals need, and I never – ever – get the feeling they see animals as anything but symbols of victimization and abuse, or even want them around. Everywhere they go, the animals seem to disappear, the people seem to get hurt.

I believe there are two sides to everything, but the very idea of animal rights as practiced in New York and many other cities is a tragedy, a disappointment to anyone who loves animals. They are not credible, they do not care about facts, cannot be reasoned with, they seem to have no empathy for the people they attack, frighten, or hurt.  They are outraged by disagreement (they are protesting at Liam Neeson's condo this weekend, they say, because they are "sick and tired" of his disagreeing with them, thus is it all right to invade his privacy and home and disrupt his neighbors.) They  believe it is cruel for working animals to work.

And they  believe that more shouting and name-calling will gain them sympathy and support, that Neeson will come running downstairs in his jammies and say he's sorry, that the horses really are being abused and ought to be sent away. Is this really the best use of anyone's time and energy?

If one steps back a bit and looks at the events of the last few weeks, it seems clear that the animal rights movement is in much more trouble than the horses. It might consider urgently changing its tactics and philosophy, its agenda is sometimes just loopy. So are its goals and ethics. If it is ever to be more than a loud and nasty fringe movement, it needs to change, and soon. It turns out the long and expensive campaign against the carriage horses has virtually no support outside of the movement itself. Another self-referential bubble, just like those on cable news and in Congress.  Ordinary citizens, labor unions, the business community, all three major newspapers, tourists and visitors, lovers of Central Park have all come out in favor of the horses, not their proposed ban.

This conflict has been hard on the people in the carriage trade, but it is shaping up to be a  disaster for the animal rights movement. The carriage horses have pulled back the curtain on this loud and extreme sub-culture, and exposed it as being out of the mainstream, and without real influence beyond the politicians they fund.  A paper tiger that makes a lot of noise and accuses a lot of people of a lot of things. That is unfortunate in many ways. The idea of real protection for animals deserves something more.

This is an evolving position for me. There are many people in the animal world who dislike the idea of animal rights, they would rather focus on what they like to call animal welfare.

I am not one of those people. I do believe in animal rights.

I have long believed that animals are in need of codified rights in our world. Human beings are the earth's most ruthless and destructive predators; we have slaughtered countless species, innumerable animals, including other people. We threaten the planet itself. All living things need protection from us.  Why shouldn't animals?

The animal rights movement is necessary and important. The entry of vast corporations into the agricultural, food and service industries has triggered a terrible panoply of suffering – cows who live only on concrete, who are slaughtered rather than medicated,  pigs, chickens, goats, sheep who live in the worst imaginable conditions, confined in the smallest spaces, killed in the most inhumane of ways. The carriage horses do not belong in that category, their lives are demonstrably better than almost any Amazon warehouse worker.

The writer Henry Beston launched the animal rights movement decades ago by calling for a wiser and more mystical concept of animals. That has not yet occurred, it is more important than ever, and the animal rights movement seems to have no contribution to make to this very worthy goal. In their world, every animal is abused, every human an abuser.

As the carriage horse controversy has demonstrated, the movement by that name cannot survive or be effective in its current form.  New York is one of the toughest battlegrounds in the animal wars, yet some draft and farm horses have trounced some of the most powerful forces ever assembled against a group of animals and their owners – the mayor, the City Council President, a lazy and media, a coalition of wealthy animal rights organizations, real estate developers. The first assault on the horses has  collapsed like a punctured balloon. In the animal wars, it is the Battle Of Bull Run, a rout.

In so doing, the horses have revealed the great Achilles heel of this movement – it has few ideas for helping animals, does not help many, does not tell the truth, is disconnected from ordinary people, is hated by the agricultural and animal world, and wants almost all animals who are not pets to go away. It abhors the idea of animals working, a key to their survival, and is disliked by almost everyone  outside of its own boundaries that it comes in contact with.  A New York journalist told me the spokespeople for the animal rights groups there are the most arrogant people he has ever contacted. That is not a great blueprint for the future.

The animal rights movement as it is called today  has two potent weapons – money and hubris. The first enables them to get to politicians, the second defeats them again and again.

And the carriage horse controversy has called attention to the moral confusion at the center of this movement: with some notable exceptions, the animal rights movement in America  is not a movement that is helping animals; it is killing them and driving them away from people. It makes it more and more difficult every day for people to have animals, afford them, keep them.  It refuses to listen, learn, compromise, or even communicate beyond shouting at people on the street or insulting them online. Check out any of their websites.

Winston Churchill wrote that he would never pick on anyone less powerful than he was, but it seems that almost everyone targeted by these groups is smaller and less powerful than they are – carriage horse drivers, farmers, people seeking to adopt dogs people who offer pony rides to children, students who raise chickens for food.

A young man in Brooklyn told me this week that he was denied the opportunity to adopt a shelter dog in the city three times in recent months – once because he did not make enough money – the shelter also said his credit rating was  too low – once because he works in a full-time job, once because his apartment house  has no fenced-in yard. A life-long lover of dogs, it was a crushing and humiliating experience.

The shelter is full of dogs that have no homes. Dogs have always been den animals; they spent most of their lives centering and sleeping, as do cats, they can easily live meaningful lives when left by themselves for the duration for a work day.  They can and often are  alone for much of the day. It is simply another form of abuse that keeps a dog from a loving home because his human has suffered financial reverses or because he or she has a job. The animal rights culture sometimes seems to have left the real world. These increasingly stringent roadblocks for people seeking pets further estranges people from the idea of animal rights.

If I were worried about animal rights, I think I might wonder how it might be made easier for people like this young man to get a dog,  not harder. There are 12 million dogs in shelters in America. Are we fighting for the right of dogs to be imprisoned?

The horse carriage story has gone national, it has struck a deep chord, perhaps because stories like it occur all over the country every day.  "I feel as if anyone with a an animal can be attacked in this awful way," Cynthia wrote me from Indiana. "We have no rights, no way to protect ourselves from them."

And these stories pour into my inbox every day:

–A Los Angeles animal trainer e-mailed me this week that he had to send five horses to slaughter last month  because  Hollywood no longer want animals in their movies. Producers and directors who use animals in movies are the subjects of so many relentless attacks by animal rights groups claiming -  often after natural  illnesses -  that this work is abusive that the movie industry is simply giving up on using them. "We just don't need the aggravation," he said, "we expected to be praised for keeping animals in this work, but we are instead just attacked."

This harassment costs many dogs, horses and donkeys their lives in the name of giving them their rights, just as the groups in New York are content to kill the horses in order to save them. The movie animal trainer says she can no longer afford to keep these animals, since the work for them has been drastically reduced.

–A farmer in Kansas wrote me a letter saying he killed his meat rabbits rather than pay for a surveillance system to prevent animal rights activists from breaking into his barn one more time to try to free them, threatening his customers, putting photos of himself and his family on websites labeling them killers and animal abusers.  His family has raised and sold rabbits for food for generations, he is giving it up, his insurance company is threatening to cancel his insurance policy.

A New York City Council member – clearly anxious – agreed to speak to me on a recent trip to Central Park, he said that just about every city councilman has come to hate and fear the animal rights lobbyists, even those who say they will vote with them.

"They are arrogant, nasty and obnoxious," he said, "there isn't one of us that wouldn't dump them in a minute if we thought it was safe…" In Chicago, legislators are proposing legislation that would make it illegal to get dogs from anywhere but an animal shelter. A pet store owner in San Antonio told me that he only sells dogs from reputable, AKC-approved breeders, but he is picketed every weekend and the city is seeking to close his business.  In Santa Monica, children organized to stop animal rights protestors trying to shut down a farmer's market pony ride because they claim it is abuse for the ponies to give rides to children.

The current incarnation of the animal rights movement does not dwell too much on fact, as shocked  New Yorkers are discovering, or on the law. They make up their own definitions of things like cruelty and abuse, they are applied so randomly and arbitrarily they really have no meaning anymore. "There is no doubt about it," an animal rights demonstrator told a California newspaper writing about her efforts to ban pony rides, "a pony giving rides to children and walking them in circles is being abused."  I guess there is some doubt about it, resident got nearly 1,000 signatures in a couple of days calling for the pony rides to remain. I wonder if she has ever seen a horse that is truly abused.

But here we are back in New York City, after all this. The horses are not abused, traffic is not especially dangerous, they live long lives and are well cared for.

The myopia of this movement in New York City is stunning, especially in so sophisticated a place. They actually believed that every one of the carriage drivers would and should leap at the chance to drive a $160,000 "cruelty-free, eco-friendly" fake vintage car after their jobs were taken away and their horses seized, but they never asked a single one of them. They uniformly refuse to visit the horse stables, meet or touch the horses,  meet or speak with the owners, talk to the drivers. Instead, they attack them online, in blogs and websites, gather every weekend to shout insults at them, try to provoke the horses into bolting by shouting at them and waving placards, and they  call the tourists and children who ride in the carriages murderers and abusers.

I keep wondering how many horses might have been saved from slaughter with the nearly half-million dollars animal rights groups spent to develop their electric car.

No wonder their leader – the head of NYClass – wants to punch a female photographer who works for a paper whose editorial writers disagree with him in the mouth. He ought instead to have enough class go to the stables, bow at the feet of the horses, and ask them to teach him humility and acceptance. And then to go and apologize to the carriage drivers and his supporters for this bungled and wasteful campaign.

A veterinary association poll taken two months ago found that more than 70 per cent of pet and animal owners in America do not identify with the animal rights movement, do not believe it represents the interests of animals, and does not tell the truth about animals. The very term "animal rights" has  become almost synonymous with anger, righteousness, vandalism and threats,  the harassment of human beings and ignorance about animals and their lives. The very idea of rights for animals has become the object of ridicule and contempt.

All cross the country, the list of target animal people grows – from pony rides to chicken and dairy farmers to carriage horses, breeders of dogs,  agricultural schools with working farms, animals in sport,  outdoor cats,  movies with animals in them.  Some of these campaigns  are just, many are not, most are completely random and indiscriminate, they just leave people shaking their heads.

There are  many legitimate concerns about animals, real abuse,  and their rights -  corporate farms, the horrendous conditions facing chickens and cows and pigs supplying the fast-food outlets and franchises. Why are we seeing millions of dollars being spent to banish horses that are well-cared for, well-regulated, healthy and well-situated working with people? Why has the mayor of New York made this his most urgent priority? The carriage horses are the luckiest horses in the world, a true animal rights organization would give their owners awards for rescuing them from slaughter.

Recently, I spoke to an agricultural animal group in Ohio. To a person – farmers, academics, researchers, farm equipment suppliers – told me that they  see animal rights organizations as an enemy of animals and farmers, not a friend to them or their animals. It is insane and self-destructive to exclude farmers from the consideration of animal rights, they have lived with animals longer and more closely than anyone, they know them well and care for them deeply.

The carriage horses have spotlighted the increasingly obvious reality that their tormentors are the avatars of  an unthinking and extreme political ideology that can no longer relate to or understand the mainstream life of animals, and has little or no support among the general population. Almost three- quarters of New York City residents reject their effort to ban the horses, this after years and millions of dollars of effort.The proposed ban has met fierce resistance from a broad spectrum of citizens, businesses, newspapers, trade unions and civic organizations in the city. The mayor says he will go through with the ban as soon as he can, he is likely to be in for another beating if he is foolish enough to try.

Organizations as out-of-touch and powerless cannot deliver on their promise to gain meaningful rights for animals. They have no credibility; they must ultimately fail unless they change. And they do not seem inclined to much soul-searching.

My idea of animal rights centers on the survival of animals, not their exclusion. Animals challenge us to make room for them in our lives and in our world. I believe a successful movement to guarantee animals a safe place on the earth will by necessity unite, not divide human beings. Compassion is the core ideology of any true animal rights movement, compassion for animals, compassion for the people who own, live, work and care for them.

The animal rights movement we see represented by the screaming demonstrators in Central Park every Sunday and outside Liam Neeson's residence Saturday will not succeed in this form. It is impossible for me to find the compassion in those chants and shouts.



Posted in General

Leghorn Sunning. Essence Of Hen.

By: Jon Katz
Leghorn Sunning

Leghorn Sunning

Our Leghorn is the essence of hen, she is enjoying Spring, she has found a sunny spot by the outdoor water faucet and takes in the sun every afternoon. Then she goes and lays an egg. The essence of hen.

Posted in General
18 April 2014

Loving Donkeys, Loving Animals

By: Jon Katz
Donkeys And Children

Donkeys And Children

Our donkeys love children as do most donkeys. Donkeys are different from  horses and other animals, they are untuitive and calm and curious. They sense, smell and feel emotions and it is written in myth and lore that donkeys have loved the purity and innocence of children since Biblical Times. There was much love on the farm today, these children are our friends and are welcome here, they are the friends of animals and they love them well.

Posted in General