21 August 2014

Lulu’s Crossing

By: Jon Katz
Lulu's Crossing

Lulu's Crossing

We walked the sheep out to the back pasture with Red's efficient help. It is towards the end of summer, the good grass is gone, the grass is less filling and nutritious, the animals have to eat more of it and it doesn't fill them up as quickly. We are getting our winter hay delivery – 175 square bales – in the next few weeks, as soon as there is a dry spell. We need to get some fertilizer on the grass next year, can't quite get to it this year. It is peaceful back there, close to the deep woods behind the farmhouse. This year, I hope to hike back there in the winter.

Posted in General

Recovery Journal Vol. 41, Self-Awareness: A Sea Of Emotions

By: Jon Katz
Sea Of Emotions

Sea Of Emotions

Sometimes, I feel as if I'm drowning in a big sea of unleashed emotions, my heart is recovering in it's own explosion of feeling, the world seems very different to me. Some of the emotions are good, some are not as good.

The doctors told me many things about my open heart surgery, some have turned out to be true, others did not. They told me I might be quite emotional after the surgery, the operation affects hormones, blood, biochemistry, and almost every other function and part of the body. That is true.

As always, they tell me that I might feel a lot of different things, but not what that means, how long it might last, or how I might react. That is up to me to figure out.

I have always considered myself self-aware, at least sometimes. I write memoirs, have undertaken analysis, talking therapy and spiritual counseling. I have a long ways to go in my spiritual and emotional development, I have come far, but still, gauging my new and roiling sea of emotion is difficult, it is hard to see when I am in it. And I don't know if it will stay or not.

The doctors were correct when they told me it would take a long time to heal, it is taking a long time, it will take a longer time. Yet the past week or so has seen a turning point, I feel closer to normal than I have since the Spring, when I began to understand that something was wrong with me, I was struggling through every day. And I feel stronger than I have since the surgery. I walk several miles each day, ride my stationary bike for 30 minutes or so, am doing more things all of the time.

I still have to be careful how I move and what I lift, I still am subject to periods of exhaustion, there is still sometimes considerable pain and discomfort surrounding how I move and bend. All to be expected. I am strong in the mornings, not always so strong in the afternoons, but am working much longer through the day than before.  I am getting used to all of the mids, when to take them and how I react. If I am not yet normal, I can feel normal, it is not too far away. Perhaps one never completely returns to normal, I think my heart and I will always be working hard and in a new way to take care of each other, keep one another going.

But I am feeling a lot of emotion surging  within me, I am, as they predicted, suddenly emotional.  This is my way, really, i always want to think things through, my heart is suggesting a different approach – that I feel things. I feel much more anger than before, that is also common but difficult for me. E-mails, messages, lectures and arguments online that I would have paid no attention to sometimes bother me, I find myself breaking many of my rules and instincts – I have been answering them, getting upset, stewing, all of the poisons of the ill-considered life online.

It is a matter of faith for me that I do not seek to be told what to do by writing about my life, nor do  I wish to spent any part of my existence arguing about my life or my writings.  My life is not an argument, that is not why I share it.

My blog is, as always, a monologue, not a dialogue. Social media is the place for interaction with readers and others who follow my writings and photography and blog. This is always a challenge, a new test of ethics and boundaries, even before my surgery, it has become more challenging now, and I am just becoming aware of my heightened feelings. There is much unwanted advice, suggestions about what I write, demands for photos of Lenore or Frieda, angry posts about the carriage horses.

I am feeling a lot of good things as well. Love, authenticity, friendship. My kisses on the nose to Simon are more heartfelt than every each morning, my love for Red and Lenore have more depth and feeling. I connection to Maria has grown stronger and deeper, a blessing and gift I would not have thought possible. The doctor asked me about my sex life, I said it is just fine.  I believe my writing is showing more feeling and emotion too, a good thing for me.

I want to work on my newly sharpened sensitivity and anger. When we respond to angry people or spend too much time with anger, we bound ourselves to it, it becomes a part of us, we become what we dislike, it chokes creativity and faith. I imagine in a month or so, my emotions will simmer and return more or less to normal, but the doctors say that is up to me, and in a way, I hope that does not happen. I am feeling life in a new way, aware of it in different way.

Emotions are the stuff of life, of my work, of my love for Maria, of my photographs. I want to feel life, every day in every way. Anger and resentment is something else, both are cancers, poisons. I live an open life, and with an open life comes a lot of things from the outside that are beyond my control. As always, navigating the new world is much about boundaries, and I will begin right new resetting and refocusing some of mine. I learned the hard way that boundaries are the foundations of life, they are central to identity and spirituality, to peace of mind.

I am grateful for an open life, I will keep sharing it, and I welcome the attention of the world, that is really the point, isn't it? I know about anger, I have been dealing with it my whole life, from the outside and the inside. It is a part of the human condition, and every step I take towards understanding it and integrating it into my life in a healthy way is a step towards humanity, spirituality and health. I have come far, yet I am in a new space, one I thought I had already come to understand. Open heart surgery is like that, my clock is reset.

My pre-owned heart is challenging me to feel, and by feeling, grow and deepen as a human being. With that is the responsibility to be aware of what I feel, and why,  and to accept both what is inside of me and outside of me. That is my life, and my heart and I embrace it. I feel great sadness every day, great hope, great joy, great love. Sometimes, great anger as well. I have never been more eager to write and share, never thrilled so much at the rush to the keyboard. I have so much to say, I know that life is short and I wish to live every moment of it.

It is a miracle, really, to come so close to death and then walk away. Suddenly, the world is a different place, a gift, a precious hourglass.

Once again, not for the first time, and like everyone else in the world, I am stepping out of the darkness and into the light. What an opportunity. There is no fitbit bracelet to monitor my steps on this walk, to listen to the strong beating of my heart.  What a passage. This is the rainbow at the end of the road. Life occurs every day, defies and challenges me, tests and rewards me. Grace is my response and awareness to feeling. This is thee never ending, never finished test of being a fully-realized human being.

Posted in General

An Awful Truth: When Horses Die

By: Jon Katz


The Quality Of Mercy

The Quality Of Mercy

A few days ago, a message was posted on my Facebook page from a New Yorker named Craig Sheldon, it was about the New York Carriage Horses. I don't know Craig but I feel connected to him, as sometimes happens on Facebook, he seems grounded and compassionate to me, free of angry rhetoric and argument, a rational man in search of the right thing to do.

"I think what has got me passionately worked up on this issue is the same sense of injustice," he wrote. "That these people who know nothing about horses claim to know what the horses want and what is best for them. And the ultimate injustice – one that literally brings tears to my eyes – is that even if by some amazing feat, the 200 plus carriage horses were rescued, 200 plus horses who desperately need rescuing – won't be, and will go to their death. This is an injustice that we must fight."

That is an injustice to be fought, for sure, there is more than one to this story, and here is another: if the horses are banned, 300 people and their spouses, children and families will lose their work and way of life, their bread and sustenance, even though they have done no wrong, broken no law, committed no crimes.  A much loved 150 year-old tradition will be broken, one of our few remaining connections to the natural world in our greatest city will be broken as well. There will be another sad victory for money and mechanical things over the animals of the world.

And the great park, built for the horses, will be despoiled again.

A large and growing casualty list – horses and people – will rise from a needless controversy that should never have been and is not about the welfare of animals,  but human egos,  money, ignorance, and displaced rage.

When humans are both arrogant and ignorant,  horses will die.

I believe that decent men and women will always fight injustice and Craig's message focused my attention on one particularly tragic element of the carriage horse controversy.

The cruel and unnecessary death of animals might be expected  to arouse and enrage the true supporters of animals and animal rights. But there are some – including the mayor of New York City – who are so blinded by their fanatic pursuit of the carriage trade that they seem not to see, or perhaps not to care, that if the New York Carriage Horses are banned, a lot of horses will die both brutally and needlessly.

Animal rights organizations – some of whom have marched all over the land to break open fences and doors to free meat chickens from farms and rats from laboratories – will not cross the street in Central Park to keep hundreds, even thousands, of horses from being killed as the result of this controversy. In fact, they are working feverishly, raising money desperately, working around the clock to kill them.

Horses will  suffer and die because horses that are well cared for and not in need of rescue – the carriage horses – may be taken from their homes and lives and people and sent away to a dangerous world mostly because a millionaire  "animal rights" advocate in New York  decided one day that work is abuse for horses. The many horses in this country that are starving will be left to their fates.

And here is why this happened: Steven Nislick, the founder of NYClass, decided last year to give a lot of money to the city's new mayor to support his election campaign and ban the horses. The mayor took the money and promised to enact the ban. If this is not legal bribery, it is surely a corruption of the civic soul and purpose.

As Craig realizes, this fight is not really about a better life for horses, it is about horses that may die, and make no mistake about it. Some will. That's what is making Craig Sheldon crazy. He is not alone. It is there for everyone who cares about animals to see, if they will only look.

The animal rights groups advocating a ban on the carriage horses insist that every single horse already has a place waiting for him in a horse rescue facility in the United States. They refuse to say where these facilities are,  who is running them, what horses would go where, how they will get there, what kind of care they might provide to giant work horses. Nor will they say who will pay for their care, or how well funded they are. I can think of only one reason why these groups refuse to disclose the names of the alleged rescue farms eager to take the carriage horses. There aren't many, if any. And even if there are, horses will die. Every carriage horse that goes to a rescue facility will cost the life of another horse that can't get in.

Here is the problem with their claims:

- More than 150,000 horses in America are sent to slaughter each year in America, all to Mexico and Canada, (animal rights groups successfully lobbied clueless politicians to shut down the closer and more humane U.S. slaughterhouses) often on long, brutal and horrendously cruel journeys to an inhumane end beyond anything any carriage horse has suffered in New York City.  Equine rescue associations estimate that there are more than 100,000 horses – and many donkeys – on waiting lists in America for horse rescue farms and preserves, it takes, on average, between one to two years for the lucky horses to find a place, the vast majority – 150,000 – go to slaughter.

The road to slaughter for the horses is brutal, often occurring in hot and crowded trailers and boxcars traveling long distances for days in heat or cold without adequate food and water, the horses are jammed into crowded corrals and stalls,  killed in frightening circumstances by having nails drilled into their head. Their death is neither quick nor painless. Could it really be so that the carriage horses would be worse off in Central Park than on those trailers? Why would any rational animal lover wish to cause an animal to die like this, even one single horse?

There is a great crisis in the equine world now, people are abandoning horses in record numbers because of the struggling economy and the rising cost of hay and veterinary care. Horse rescue facilities are struggling to handle this equine holocaust in a time of dwindling resources. Horses are starving and freezing and dying of exposure and illness all across America, many are desperately in need of rescue, food, shelter and medical care. The horses cry out to us, and our humanity and compassion, to stop such needless suffering.

Against this backdrop is the lunacy of the New York horse ban. Some of safest horses in the world, the well-fed, healthy, profitable (which often means good care) and intensely regulated horses of New York will, if they are banned,  be taken from their  homes and removed from their work and the city and sent out into this maelstrom.

"We can't take these carriage horses," Eugenia Cunningham of Finger Lakes Horse Rescue in New York told me on the phone yesterday, "we have no room and no money for these big horses, and if we had room, these are not the horses we should take.  We would take old and sick or starving or abused and beaten horses. These horses appear to be sheltered, safe, supervised and well fed. None of them appear to be beaten or starved. We have a year long waiting list, a year at least for horses who are desperate and dying. Those big horses are not the horses that should go to rescue farms, they are not ill or in imminent danger of dying. They need one or two large bales of hay every day, that's three times what sick old horses need. If we took them, we could never afford all the hay a 2,000 lb horse would require year-round and your gentleman Facebook poster is correct, if we took these healthy horses, many other horses would die because we could not take them.  I can take three horses for every work horse. Lots are dying now, it is an awful time for horses."

Abuse is a crime, not the opinion of animal rights organizations in New York. If you care to see photos of true abuse and understand what real abuse means to animals, (be warned) you can see these posted by the Land's End Horse Rescue Farm. The truth wants to be free and deserves to live.

As Eugenia and everyone else in the horse world knows, there are very few horse rescue farms with enough grass or lots of extra money to feed big work horses, especially these days. Most are broke and begging for money.

More than a dozen horse rescue farms in New York State have closed down this year already, many more across the country. One New York newspaper estimated it would cost more than $20 million to feed the New York Carriage horses for the rest of their lives – reporters talked to several hay suppliers – and that is assuming that hay and feed and medical costs do not rise in the future.

I told Eugenia that the Clinton Park Stables in New York feeds 78 horses with 20 tons of hay every month – plus feed and medical care – and that the carriage horses eat between one and two bales of hay each day. "I know very few horse facilities that can take on healthy horses that eat that much," she said. "I sure can't. The horses that need rescue can't eat that much, usually." The California Equine Association says that big draft horses eat between 500 and 600 bales of hay each year.

Beyond that, there is the question of who owns the horses, who gets to decide where they go. The animal rights groups seem to think they have the right to seize the horses and then force the carriage trade to sent them to rescue farms where they will do nothing but stand idly around all day.

They also think the drivers ought to cheerfully accept being forced into driving "eco-friendly, cruelty-free" vintage electric cars, which cost about $160,000 apiece to manufacture. The mayor and his animal rights supporters are reportedly proposing legislation that would forbid the carriage trade owners from selling the horses anywhere where they might be asked to work, as they have been bred to do and been doing for many centuries.

Lawyers and free citizens with property might say otherwise. The horses are private property, many are among the most valuable things the people in the carriage trade own, if their work is taken from them, and their livelihood, many may need to sell the horses in order to receive some income, others swear they will never give their horses up.

But the carriage horses – and the horses everywhere that are actually needy – will certainly be in a dangerous and vulnerable position if they are banned, no one can guarantee safe lives for them, or even survival. It is utter fantasy – an especially dishonest one – to claim that none of them will suffer or be killed, sold for slaughter, or sent to places that might go under or  cannot take care of them for the rest of their lives.

If they were simply left alone, they all could live, the average life span of a carriage horse is over 15 years, Eugenia says few of her rescue horses live half that long. The logic of the mayor and his supporters says horses need to die in order to be saved. None of these horses needs to die, or cause the death of another animal.

For me, human suffering is as or more important, it has been lost in the furor over the horses.  If the ban is executed, hard working, law-abiding , tax-paying people will be out of work, they will need to find a way to feed their families, and quickly – few of them have lots of money in the bank. Some will surely sell the horses, I could not blame them. Many of these people have ties to the horses that date back hundreds, even thousands of years in Europe, Africa and Asia. The idea that they are animal abusers because they work with horses is a disgraceful slander.

So there it is, this surreal moral cloud, the controversy from Wonderland, the mayor as the White Rabbit, the animal rights officials playing the Queen Of Hearts.  Yes, Your Majesty, the horses will be saved, but first, let's kill them and lots of others to do it so they will not be abused. This is the great injustice Craig and others speak of, in which horses die awful deaths in order to be saved from safe and healthy and productive lives. And all  this in the name of animal rights, of loving animals.

These are not the horses that need to be saved, these are not the people who abuse animals.

I appreciate Craig Sheldon for caring about injustice, when horses die like this, the heart is right to cry. And decent men and women are called to account.

My new e-book, "Who Speaks For The Carriage Horses: The Future Of Animals In Our World," is now available everywhere digital books are sold for $3.99.




Posted in General
20 August 2014

How To Get A Lifetime Dog

By: Jon Katz
Getting A Lifetime Dog

Getting A Lifetime Dog

I was talking to a friend today who was thinking about getting a new dog, she had the sense it might be the lifetime dog she has always wanted but wasn't sure. We talked about how to get a lifetime dog, how you know.

We had a great talk. Unlike so many people who get dogs, she didn't have a rigid or fixed idea about how to get one, she was open to a process of self-awareness, thought and some old fashioned homework. Americans spent more time researching cellphones by far than they do thinking about how to get a dog in the right way.

I have often written about the "lifetime" dog, some people call it a "heart" dog, and as often happens, I have changed my mind several times about it. Open minds change. I thought for years that you could only have one. I thought my lifetime was Orson, and then Rose, and now Red. I see that you can have more than one.

I told my friend that first, she needs to give some thought to why she wants a dog, how she wishes to live with a dog, how she wants it to fit into her life and mark the passages of life. Her kids will be leaving in a few years, she is beginning to think about life beyond parenting and domesticity and her career. It is important for her to understand where she is in life, dogs do not come in a vacuum, we need to know about them and how they might fit into our plans for life.

When I got Red, after months of uncertainty, I began to see his role in my life. Herding sheep, a ride-along dog (I bring my dog a lot of places), a dog I could write about on my blog and books, a therapy dog. A smart and responsive and trainable dog. I identified with his story – he needed a home and had been through a rough time. I understand that, I bonded with that in him.

Many people will only get a rescue dog, they seem sometimes to want the rescue as much or more as the dog. Red is a rescue dog, so is Frieda, but that is not enough of a reason for me, I needed to know about his background, his breeding, his temperament. If he were to do the things I wanted him to do, I had to be careful and thoughtful. Getting a lifetime dog is rarely about impulse, it takes some good and hard work – thought, self-awareness, research and training.

Dogs are different, breeds are different, dispositions are different. Dog aggression is epidemic right now, dog bites are up 47 per cent in America, according to the Center for Disease Control (CD) most of these bites are on the faces of young children, who are low to the ground. It is worth taking time and giving thought to getting a dog, especially a lifetime dog, a dog that bonds powerfully to us and marks the most important parts of our lives.

I told my friend she might consider spending some time with the dog, doing it alone, giving the two a chance to bond and see if the bond has any depth to it. Getting a lifetime dog requires a lot of thought, and much of it is about us, and not them. My friend is eager to do good in the world, she is very drawn to a particular dog and that, I thought is a good sign. Every year, millions of dogs are returned to shelters, many more live in conflict and uncertainty with their humans.

There is no one way to get a dog other than this: a dog that works best for you, your life and your family. A dog is not a moral decision, it is a very practical one, and dogs deserve our utmost consideration before we bind them to us for life. I have had three lifetime dogs in not too many years, I am getting strong and confident about how to do it. I was blessed to encounter Dr. Karen Thompson, who sensed that Red and I were made for one another and who talked to me patiently for months until I sensed that as well.

Sometimes this happens in rescue, sometimes at a shelter, often from a good breeder. There are many, and they keep alive some of the best traits in dogs, they are the source of many lifetime dogs.

A lifetime dog is a wonderful gift to dog and person, it is such a comforting thing, a powerful bond. Red has been by my side every minute since my surgery, I cannot say what that has meant for my healing. He walks with me every day, staying by my side, heeding my commands, joining in my work to heal my heart. And in so many ways, he is a piece of my heart.

Red brightens many more hearts than mine. He comes with me to the dentist's office, the bookstore, the farmer's market, he is a therapy dog who works with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, for the past month or so, he has been my therapy dog, he is very good at it.

A lifetime dog is one of the most powerful gifts a person can give themselves, it is worth time, thought and hard work. I no longer believe one can have only one lifetime dog, I think I will  have one until the end of my life. I wish the same for everyone.

Posted in General

Me, George and Thomas Paine

By: Jon Katz
Me, George And Tom Paine

Me, George And Tom Paine

I had lunch at the Round House Cafe today with George Forss and his lover, the artist Donna Wynbrandt. George is finishing up his Kickstarter Project, a collection of his brilliant photographs called "The Way We Were," (I am happy to be working on the introduction) and Donna has begun work on a new book about the life of the writer Virginia Wolff.

I had a cup of vegetarian chili and the egg sandwich with tomato and avocado (and egg, of course) and George had the BLT w/avocado, which he said was the best BLT he had ever had in his life. I had a ginger cookie, as well. I was surprised to learn that George is, like me, an impassioned and lifelong follower of the revolutionary writer and philosopher, Tom Paine, the author of the pamphlet "Common Sense," which became the country's first best seller and helped spark the American Revolution.

Paine has always inspired me, I think of him often when i write about the New York Carriage Horses, he would have been right alongside the drivers, fighting the gross injustice being done to them by politicians, millionaires, ideologues and real estate developers. Paine would have been chewing up some streets in protest by now, the carriage drivers are not revolutionaries by nature, at least not yet.

George and I were quoting Paine's famous words back and forth to one another, and talking about his life, which had a sad and lonely end. Paine was a visceral outsider, and this, I suppose is part of the great connection and love George and I have for one another. George, for those of you who do not know, is one of the most famous photographers in the world, he is a genius of composition, of mastering the technics of both the camera and the darkroom. You can follow him on his very eclectic blog.

George had a rugged life, most of his early years were spent in welfare homes and orphanages, his mother was physically and mentally ill. He and Donna have a great and eternal love, their devotion to one another is always inspiring and moving. George will be at the second Bedlam Farm Open House on Columbus Day weekend, he will be doing portraits. Maria will be selling her art, I will be showing off Red and the sheep and conducting donkey tours. It will be more of a celebration than I thought, I think I may be able to lift things by then, but perhaps not yet able to hug. I am not that big of a hugger anyway.

I love my regular encounters with George, we talk on the phone almost every morning and stay in touch. I brought him a paper dragon from New York City and he put it on his flat screen TV. We talked about our hearts – he has congestive heart failure, and he explained that he has his own philosophy about doctors. He just doesn't ever listen to them. He said he only listens to the aliens when it comes to his health, and they have done well by him, they are wise and vigilant.

I was very happy to learn that George loves Tom Paine as much as I do, I have a bunch of great books to bring him.


Posted in General