30 January 2015

Mother Earth’s Song Of Winter

By: Jon Katz
Soul Of A Winter

Soul Of A Winter

It has not been above freezing here for weeks and no relief in sight from the snow and the cold. Many parts of the country have it much worse. Everyone reading this has experienced the new and common reality of extreme weather, it is, to me a song of winter from Mother Earth, she is calling upon us to pay attention to her, to understand her message.

For me, the message is not to rush out and stock up on milk and bread, or to plan disaster kits to keep in your pantry or your car along with your guns and self-defense plans. I don't care to leave like that, many people do, I wish them well. For me, a life lived in fear or preparation for disaster is simply another kind of slavery, along with believing money is the key to security and peace of mind. Fear is a poison, it corrupts the soul and spirit and drains the joy from life.

I hear the song of winter, I know it is real and true, I feel it in every part of my body, I see it in the animals and their lives. My new play was greeted with a new storm, Mother Earth singing in sync with life, walking alongside of us, reminding us of God's injunction in the Kabbalah and elsewhere to be mindful of her or face the awful consequences. I am hopeful we will all hear her awful and beautiful song, I heard it tonight.

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Talk Back: “Last Day At Maple View Farm”

By: Jon Katz
Talk Back

Talk Back

After the play, David Snider, me and the actors all gathered on the stage to get some feedback from the audience and answer their questions. It's a nice idea, it brings the audience and the actors – and playwright – closer to together, there is always something to be learned. The audience applauds the actors, the actors applaud the audience.

The pressure will be up a bit on the weekend, the weather is supposed to be frigid but not stormy, although one is raging tonight. We just got out of there in time, the roads were grim by the time we headed for home. A great night for me, I think this play needs to have a life.

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World Premiere Of A Playwright And A Play: Last Day At Maple View Farm

By: Jon Katz
World Premiere

World Premiere: Taking A Bow

It was an important and exciting night for me, the world premier of the playwright in me, and of my new work "Last Day At Maple View Farm." It was a fitting setting in a small theater at the Hubbard Hall complex in Cambridge, N.Y. Of course, there was the obligatory sub-zero night and driving snow and ice storm raging outside – I can't imagine a January cultural event without it, it is almost a part of the play itself.

There was a small and brave crowd there, and the seven actors performing "Last Day At Maple View Farm" touched my heart and soul, they brought my words to life. This is a new experience for me, seeing my ideas and words being acted out by other people, by actors with their own interpretations of my meaning and ideas. I loved it. The play will be performed at Hubbard Hall, along with two or three other works Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. You can check tickets and times out at Hubbard Hall's website.

Hubbard Hall's executive director David Snider is offering new plays and readings right in the middle of winter, when we most need them up here, and this winter is a whopper. When I heard the weather forecast, I told Maria we would be lucky to get a half-dozen people to come we did better than that. We did more fine tuning tonight, I thought of things to cut and some to add, David sees each of these plays as a rehearsal, not a finished work.

More and more, I am thinking of taking this rich subject – the end of the small family farm – and turning it into a full-blown play. This version is only 45 minutes long. I'll be there tomorrow night, and at each play this weekend, David has asked me to take questions from the audience at the end of the play. Tonight meant a lot to me, I am immensely grateful to David and to the actors, each one added something richer than my words to the play. I learned a lot and grew a lot, a miracle always.

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29 January 2015

My Life With Red

By: Jon Katz
My Life With Red

My Life With Red

When Dr. Karen Thompson messaged me two years ago and told me she had a dog that God meant for me to have, I thought she was crazy. I didn't know of her faith – she is a minister – her perception, her compassion and judgment. I do now. She saw in Red a rare kind of spirit in human or animal, a sweet and trusting spirit that had, like Simon and so many other animals, been given good reason to be mistrustful.

Red has changed my life, and he continues to alter my life, almost every day. We work every day in all kinds of ways – on the farm, with sheep, in therapy work, at cardiac rehab and even in my new incarnation as a playwright. Red enters into the spirit of everything I do. Last night, he watched the actors performing my play, he entered the life of the play, just a border collie on a farm would.

The actors improvised when they saw him, they made him part of the play, they continued their dialogue and leaned over to pet and talk to him. Red grasped this almost immediately, When the actors were talking to him, he was alert and watching them, when they moved on to other scenes and lines, he lay down and went to sleep, right in the middle of the stage, all kinds of crying, yelling and movement around him.

But that, of course, is what a farm dog would do. He would ignore the animals and mayhem and take a nap, right in the middle of milking, I've seen it a million times. When Red is on the farm, he focuses on his work. He looks to see if I am heading to the car or the gate, and is always there ahead of me. He keeps the sheep away from Maria and I and the donkeys. He keeps the rams in check.

I've decided to focus some of our therapy work on cardiac rehab, it is needed and appreciated more than I realized. I've graduated from rehab but we come at least once a week to visit with the patients there, and Red makes an enormous difference there. He takes up his position on the edge of the carpet near the door and waits to receive the people who want and need him.

Some pull up chairs to sit with him, one woman has biscuits she keeps in her pockets in case he shows up. The men come by and pat him and talk to him before getting on their machines, everybody says hello or goodbye when they come in or leave. Everyone who sees him smiles or laughs, thanks me, asks me about him.

His range in my life is astonishing. He is a part of my life in the bookstore, he is loved at the dentist, they insist on seeing him at the hardware store, he has incorporated himself into all of my work but my writing, and I guess he is becoming a substantial part of that as well.

I am grateful we took up therapy work, continuing the work I started with Izzy, and to some extent, Lenore. Red has a genius for this kind of work, soon we will return to the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, I know the need is great. I have stayed away until I am far along in my heart surgery recovery, I do not want to bring any of my difficulties to them, they have enough of their own. Red has enriched and deepened my life and my experience with animals and helped me connect with human beings as well, and understand the pain and loneliness that is often in their hearts, and which can be eased and softened by a dog.

Red makes me better, it is true, I think, that if you want to have a better dog, you have to become a better human. Red makes me a better human every day. He gives me that opportunity, he leads me in that direction, he makes it possible for me to walk on that path.

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Tawni Angel’s Triumph: Saving The Rights Of Animals In Our World. And People.

By: Jon Katz
Tawni Angel's Triumph

Tawni Angel's Triumph

For me, the most painful part of writing about the New York Carriage Horses has been the often unfair and untrue allegations of cruelty and abuse made against them for years in the cruelest and often most irresponsible of ways. They have struggled to figure out how to respond, they are still struggling over how to respond. The carriage trade is tribal, there is no one leader, no unified position, these are individualists and free spirits, many elements with many different ideas. How does one respond to false allegations made without regard to fairness or fact?

If the brave and determined Tawni Angel is successful in her very just lawsuit, then she will have created a path for the growing numbers of people who are being victimized by the movement that calls itself a movement on behalf of animal rights. There are many people who abuse animals in America, and many people who do not are are increasingly accused of abuse and worse. In her struggle to keep her ponies and save her livelihood, Angel was accused of torture, neglect, cruelty, abuse, bigotry, alcoholism and of loving to shoot off guns in the woods.

It was not enough for her persecutors to take her work from her and endanger her ponies. They sought to destroy her reputation as well. In what is now a familiar scenario, timid political leaders panicked and betrayed their trust and responsibility. This is the dilemma of the New York Carriage Trade, seeking, like Angel, to preserve their freedom, property, and way of life.

I wish for them the clarity and strength that Angel has found, I believe it will ultimately carry the day for her.

_

Tawni Angel is not part of a large group or association, she lives week-to-week off of the money she earns on her popular pony rides at the Santa Monica, California Farmer's Market. Two months ago, the City Council, bowing to pressure from a small group of animal rights protestors who decided that it is torture and abuse for ponies to give rides to children, canceled her contract. She decided to fight back, she got a lawyer and sued the demonstrators for defamation of character, arguing that the animal rights activists accused her falsely of abuse, and knew that the charges were false.

Several lawyers I spoke with yesterday they believed the ruling in the first round of the court case could be significant and far-reaching, depending on how closely watched it is, and what the final ruling is. To me, it has considerable relevance to the New York Carriage Horse controversy and many other conflicts involving animal rights organizations and animal owners throughout the country.

"It could be very significant," a Boston civil rights attorney told me yesterday, "because it is one of the first times that an individual is holding animal rights organizations accountable for the specific claims they make."  In permitting Angel's lawsuit to go foward, the judge said had a good chance of succeeding. That, she said, could be encouraging to many animal owners and lovers loving for a way to fight back when similar accusations are made against them. The animal rights groups in New York have made similar assaults on the people in the carriage trade, accusing them at various times of cruelty, abuse, torture, greed, callousness and dishonesty.

The carriage trade, divided by many different factions and instincts,  is still groping for the proper way to respond.

Tawni Angel seems to have figured it out.

In the ruling, Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart-Cole ruled that  Angel had demonstrated a "sufficient probability of prevailing" on the question of whether she had been defamed. The judge found that there was “sufficient evidence” that the target of the lawsuit  had made false statements about Angel’s treatment of the ponies with “actual malice,” knowing the statements were untrue.

At the heart of Angel's lawsuit is a report by the Santa Monica Police that found that Angel's ponies were "healthy, well- watered and in comfortable conditions.” For years, animal rights organizers and demonstrators have arbitrarily sought to redefine what abuse it – generally using it so recklessly and indiscriminately that it has no meaning at all. It is most often used against people who work with animals. For the first time in most of human history, this work of animals with people – pony rides, carriage horses, farm animals,  circus elephants, – is being considered cruel and abusive.

In fact, abuse is a crime, it is not an opinion or argument. It refers to cruelty and neglect of animals to the point of grievous injury or death.

In an exchange of e-mails with me, Don Chomiak, Angel's attorney, said it was important not to overstate the significance of the ruling. "There’s a distinction to be drawn between someone saying that pony rides are animal abuse as a general concept, and a specific allegation of animal abuse made against a party based on facts that turn out to be false," he said in an e-mail. "If Ms. Winograd (the subject of the lawsuit)  is found liable for defamation per se, it will be because she alleged Tawni’s ponies had cracked hooves and that her animals were given filthy water when this was not the case, coupled with Ms. Winograd’s innuendo in citing to the sections of the California Penal Code relevant to the crime of animal abuse while discussing these false factual allegations."

Animal rights groups in New York have made literally hundreds of very specific allegations against the carriage trade that have turned out either to be false, misleading or unprovable. When a horse took a walk down Eleventh Avenue while being groomed, one group said the horse ran because it was being abused – cold water was used to groom him, even though no one asked about the temperature of the water or tested it.

When a horse carriage tipped over, animal rights groups claimed the horse was spooked by a bus, then held down cruelly by drivers eager to save money on a damage carriage, then forced to go back to work. None of these charges turned out to be true. In one celebrated case, a veterinarian being paid by animal rights organizations admitted she lied about the condition of a well-publicized horse who died of a heart attack. There was, she admitted, no evidence of mistreatment or abuse.

Just as the Santa Monica Police told animal rights demonstrators that the horses were healthy and well cared for, so have a score of equine associations and independent  veterinarians testified to the city and the public in the same way  in New York: the horses there are healthy, content and well cared for. There is enormous documentation for many sources to support that the horses are among the most fortunate equines anywhere, they are not in need of rescue.

To me, everyone who loves an animal or lives with one owes Tawni Angel support and thanks. She is fighting for  her ponies who, like the carriage horses, face a dangerous and uncertain future if they are banished. She is fighting for her way of life. She is fighting for the right of all of us to live in a world with animals, and to preserve and respect the beauty and wonder of the work animals have done together with people. It is one of the greatest and most inspiring stories in the history of the planet. If Tawni Angel wins back the right to give pony rides to children in the Santa Monica Farmer's Market the rights of all of us to live freely and in harmony with the surviving animals in the world will have won something as well.

You can help Tawni Angel by signing her petition to get her work back here: It is a good and just cause.

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