Our lunatic border collie was on the edge of the Pompanuck Farm when a big catfish swam up to her to eat some fish food. Fate jumped back at first, and then decided that she would try to herd the big catfish. She can't swim as far as I know but this did not deter her, she stalked the fish from one side to the other and didn't give up until I yelled at her from the side. "hey, get out of there! What are you doing to do with him if you catch him!" I thought I was going to have to jump in after her, but she did eventually come out.
I explained to the boys, to Joaquin, that dogs do not talk or think in words, despite the arrogant human tendency to want to think they do. But we can have conversations with them. I explained to Joaquin – who as the same attention span as Fate, but who listened closely – that he and Fate were having a conversation about joy, love and life.
What was he telling her, I asked him. "That I love her?," he asked. Yes, I said, you were listening. Dogs can tell us a lot of things if we listen. Fate is all about joy.
Joaquin and a friend challenged Fate to a footback across a large meadow at Pompanuck, Fate got the idea right away. The boys were very fast, but Fate barely stretched to get ahead of them and when they got near the end of the line, she knocked Joaquin down by diving through his legs from the front and then circled his friend and tried to herd him. He stumbled but stayed on his feet. Fate won.
The race went back and forth for a good while, the boys collapsed in exhaustion, Fate seem puzzled as to why everyone stopped. She was not yet panting. Fate seemed to grasp the nature of the experience, she understood how to race, chase sticks in the woods, jump into waiting arms. She read the day and spread a lot of joy.
The St. John's Boys drove five hours from New York City to Cambridge to visit Pompanuck Farms and also to see Bedlam Farm and meet a pony and donkeys and working dogs for the first time in their challenging lives. St. John's is a school and residence for kids who badly need a school and a place to live. It was once called an orphanage and there was where my friend Scott Carrino lived when he had no other place to go.
Scott is conscious of returning the favor and twice a year, boys from St. John's come up to Pompanuck to swim, hike, and see the country for a few days. Bedlam Farm has become a part of the trip, we have come to love it as much as the kids do. This year was special, they came yesterday to see Chloe and the donkeys, but they really fell in love with Fate and Red.
We witnessed the very great power animals like dogs – and these two in particular – have to open people up and touch their spirits. This morning Scott called and asked me if I could come visit Pompanuck and the St. John's Boys this afternoon. Sure, I said, did they want me to finish my talk? – the visit to the farm was cut short a bit by a thunderstorm.
Scott hemmed and hawed a bit, and he said "well, sure, but can you bring the dogs?" We know each other well, I got the message. I did not give a talk.
The boys wanted to see more of the dogs, so they did, we came over in the afternoon, me Red, Fate. Fate was in her element, wrestling with the boys, swimming with them, chasing sticks, having footraces with them (she won every one.) I think she jumped on each one at least a dozen times, she knocked Joaquin over more times than I could count, herded him, took him down on the run by running between his legs and circling him.
"My God, they are just alike," said one of the teachers.
We all had a blast. There is something profoundly uplifting and healing about this kind of thing.
Red went into his therapy dog mode, he is almost mystical in his power to connect with people. The boys kept saying they had never seen a dog like him.
Red went one on one with the boys, connecting with several of them very strongly, sitting and letting himself be stroked and petted. Some were drawn to his quiet affection other than to the new Mayhem Machine in our life, the Dog Of Joy. And she did have everybody laughing and smiling, a great gift unto itself. These boys have known a lot of pain and trouble, it blew away for a bit.
Fate was her full-blown Joy Dog self, she bonded in particular with Joaquin – they were strikingly alike. They never stopped moving, running, exploring. The boys peppered me with questions about dogs, training, breeding, border collies.
None of them had ever seen dogs like Fate or Red, or known they existed. I love talking about them.
Joaquin started training Fate, he was very good at it, then the two of them raced back and forth together through the woods, I felt I had slipped into a beautiful film about love and connection. The travails and conflict of the world faded away. I took a bunch of photos and will post several of them here and also do an album on Facebook. I was very grateful and honored to be asked back by this group, they were courteous, bright, attentive and great fun to know. I hope they will make my dogs and our farm a part of their lives and memories.
I think Fate and Red touched some souls.
The mayor of the city of New York has abandoned his Kafkaesque effort to ban the New York Carriage Horses. The animal rights organizations that gave him so much money and support to do so, are enraged and in disarray. They are calling him the same names they called the carriage drivers for years, what a great irony that is.
One of their sites, No Walk In The Park may be one of the first Facebook pages to actually melt down on the Internet, there are so many outrage addicts raging against the poor mayor, the carriage drivers, and the carriage trade.
The ban-the-horse battle may be over, but the fight over their future is certainly not.
All summer, the animal rights people have been following the carriage drivers with cellphones and videos cameras and thermometers hoping to catch one working when it is above 90 degrees. Even though no driver has been cited for working a horse in weather that is too hot, and no horse has taken ill, collapsed, or required medical care this summer (the activists claim deBlasio, who promised to ban the horses on his first day in office, is now conspiring to protect them – they do seem to deserve one another), you might think that horses are dropping like flies from heat stroke.
This is the new reality of the new media world – it makes no difference if it's true or not, you just have to keep repeating it, and even some of the smartest people will buy it.
Never mind that the horses who live in nature, as the animal rights people believe the carriage horses should, are out in hot weather all the time, the natural world does not shut down when the temperatures go over 90.
The coalition seeking to ban the horses is ever on the prowl for new ways to villify the carriage trade. They have accused them of thievery, abuse, cruelty, drunkenness, homophobia, racism, sexism, and immorality. The latest front is the issue of the Disappeared Horses, the charge that hundreds of carriage horses are sent to slaughter and "disappear" when they are too old to work. The No Walk On The Park site is filled with investigations and reports seeking to account for registered carriage horses who leave the stables and vanish.
The suggestion is that the very cruel and inhumane carriage trade buys $3,000 horses regularly and then, for no discernible reason, sells them to slaughterhouses for $500. "A good working horse is priceless," wrote long time carriage driver and Carriage Trade Warrior Eva Hughes on Facebook (before she was blocked from the No Walk site), "and nobody "gets rid" of a good working horse."
I have to say I am struck by the similarities of language and imagery to the old anti-semitic stereotypes of the greedy Jew, the suggestion of pure and unadulterated and immoral money lust and greed that puts money above all human values. If you spend any time at all among the carriage trade, you will find all kinds of people, most of them quite ordinary and normal, many of whom are drawn to the work because, like elephant trainers, they love being around animals, not because they want to harm them.
The idea of the stereotype – a staple of hate groups – is to make their targets so inhuman that members of the moral community will abandon them to their enemies. It has not worked in New York, and is not likely to work now, perhaps because there are so many people in the great city who understand what it is like to be hated and stereotyped unjustly.
People in the carriage trade make a living, but you will not find any millionaires among the carriage drivers, they live in Queens and New Jersey and crowded Long Island, commute long distances, shop for bargains, borrow money to pay for their kids college, have big and long mortgages. If they were as stereotypically greedy as the animal rights people say, they would not be told by the mayor that they are entitled to the charity of the city and should drive green taxis in Brooklyn and the Bronx when they are finally banned.
The issue of the Disappeared Horses was brought into public focus recently when the gifted philosopher and author Babette Babich of Fordham University posted a message on the No Walk In The Park site expressing concern that "so many horses 'disappear" in this business (the carriage trade)," a problem she wrote was "very troublesome" and needs to be addressed. It is a curious thing, but the animal rights movement was perhaps the trendiest political movement in the country for years until many of us supporters – and many others – got a closer look at how angry, abusive of people, and disconnected from reality it has become. Movie stars, celebrities and the hip are running for their lives. Climate change is much more trendy.
Lying, harassment, abuse and cruelty, distortion and misrepresentation of spending is not moral or progressive, as Mayor deBlasio is learning the hard way. He is now experiencing the harassment the carriage drivers have lived with for years, and it is just beginning for him, as it will perhaps never end for them. Ask NYClass or No Walk In The Park to tell you exactly how many abused animals in our troubled world they have saved with the money they have collected. Do not sit by the phone or your computer waiting for an answer.
Perhaps Professor Babich hasn't gotten the word that NYClass, ("We Love Horses And Hate People") the group spearheading the carriage horse ban, is not an animal welfare organization but a hate group, by every definition of the world. You can check out the definition of a hate group for yourself, No Walk In The Park will keep NYClass in good company.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking hate groups for decades, the animal rights organizations pursuing the carriage trade so rabidly in New York fits their definition perfectly, I am sorry to say. Read it for yourself.
I cannot tell you what every person in the carriage trade does with every single horse when she is too old, or gets injured, or turns out to be temperamentally unsuited to haul people in carriages through Central Park. Some horses get sick, some get hurt, some change. They call that life, for animals, for people. Some of the horses go into retirement homes set up expressly for them – Blue Star Equiculture. Blue Star (also the Gentle Giants Sanctuary) is an extraordinary working horse sanctuary in Central Massachusetts. It is a magical and loving place, and it gives the very powerful lie to the idea that no one in the carriage trade cares about their horses.The animal rights websites cannot even bear to speak it's name, it is a mystical secret in New York City, the mayor cannot speak its name either. Check it out for yourself.
Some of the people in the carriage trade retire the horses to their farms, some of the horses are returned to auction or farms because they are not suited for work.
For years, the animal rights groups have been shouting – so has the mayor – that carriage horses are temperamentally unsuited to be in the city. Knowledgeable horse people (including the famed biologist Jared Diamond and the famous horse trainer Buck Brannaman) say this is blatantly false. But apart from that, is the carriage trade now to be faulted for not keeping unstable horses in the city, rather than keeping them working for all of their years?
Perhaps the people screaming so loudly that everyone is cruel and greedy might share something of their own lives or even better, recognize that the carriage drivers are people, just like them. Do they have unlimited resources and finances to keep large working animals alive forever without qualification or jusfitication? Is the only way to have an animal now to rescue one for life? Do the people spouting this transparent madness live in the real world of real people and real animals? It is hard not to wonder. But then, we all know the answer.
Babich is a philosopher, and it is a fitting issue that she has raised, perhaps unconsciously; a question of animal ethics in our world. What exactly, do we owe the animals in our care, the ones we live and work with? As a professor, she is well suited to spark a real discussion about the future of animals in our world. She is not, she is instead pandering to the shallow fashion of the moment, to the ignorance about animals that has so tainted the animal rights movement.
When did it become an outrage for a person who makes a living with animals to find another home for them or place for them to go when they can no longer do their work?
What do the animal rights people think will happen to the draft horses in New York if they are banished from the city and sent to mostly impoverished rescue farms, or more likely, to slaughterhouses. The New York State Veterinary Medical Society wrote Mayor deBlasio a letter last year in which they said it is "naive" to think most of the horses would not be butchered, as 155,000 American horses are every year.
Why is being put on trains and trailers for a long journey to Mexico and Canada and having nails drilled through their heads a more humane way for them to go? That is definitely not the fate of most of the New York Carriage Horses, you can go meet many of the retired horses at Blue Star in Massachusetts.
What does Babich and her colleagues in the animal rights movement think happens to horses in the wild – where we are supposed to send them (the supporters of the ban have not gotten the memo that there is no wild left). Horses in nature are not re-homed to rescue farms when they get old. They starve, die in the harsh elements, are attacked by predators, felled by disease, hunters, government bureaucrats, killed by one another.
The New York Carriages are mostly plucked from slaughterhouse-bound auctions in Pennsylvania, whatever time they get to live and work in the clean, well-supplied stables and parks of New York is better time that most of them have ever had or will ever have. How does this become twisted into being an act of unspeakable cruelty and greed, even if they are ultimately sent back if they are not suitable or can no longer work?
And the truth is, many – the evidence suggests, and most knowledgeable people testify – live long and healthy lives in the horse stables, doing light and well-regulated work, getting nutritious food and comfortable shelter every day and five weeks of vacation every year.
Has our view of animals become so distorted and unrealistic that this can really be seen as cruel and outrageous? Are human beings really to be denied the opportunity to live and work with animals because people who know nothing about animals have arbitrarily and outside of the law redefined what abuse means?
We do not owe animals eternal or perfect lives. All animals are not pets, they cannot be given the lives of cosseted dogs and cats, not if they are to survive in our world. If working people are required to keep any animal they buy for the rest of their lives and provide them with life-long food, medical care and shelter, then it would quickly become impossible for anyone who isn't rich to have domesticated animals at all. That, in fact, is what is happening all over the country, these impossible and myopic new standards for animal ethics are simply forcing countless people to avoid them or abandon them or, as is the case of horses, kill them.
This would be the result of yet another hateful and irrational assault on the New York Carriage Trade, quite often by people who really ought to know better. We need a better understanding of animals than this, if animals are to survive.
Our very idea of animal rights has become a nightmare for animals and for the people who live and work with them.
What do we owe the animals in our care? We owe them the best care we can give them for as long as we can give it. We are obliged to do the best we can for as long as we can. This is the proper ethical standard for a farmer, for an animal shelter, for a carriage horse owner. I believe it is the ethical standard for anyone who who loves animals and wishes to live and work with them.
If our ethical heads were on straight, we would be thanking the New York Carriage Trade for treating it's horses so well, for keeping them alive and in good health for so long, for finding work that spares them from being butchered for most, if not all of their lives. And for keeping them in New York City, where millions of people love them and have the opportunity of seeing them, riding in their carriages, touching them, benefiting from their great healing gifts.
If the carriage horses in New York were, in fact, being treated so cruelly, we would not need the strident ideologues of the animal rights movement to march around with their picket signs. There would be mobs of animal lovers storming the carriage horse stables and taking them apart. The so-called moral and ethical campaign against the carriage horses and so many other domesticated animals has failed, mostly because it is transparently immoral and unethical.
It is jarring to see so thoughtful and clear-headed a writer and thinker- and teacher – as Babette Babich come to think with her knee instead of her mind.
I thank Eva Hughes for suggesting this story to me.