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17 April 2015

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

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.

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
15 April 2015

Healing Red

Healing Red

Healing Red

My friend Scott Carrino and Red have a powerful connection, and Scott has been helping heal the wounds in his eye that Red received last Sunday from a dog in Massachusetts. I was shock the other night when Scott held Red and Red seemed to settle, his woulds seemed to heal. It's hard to describe, but I saw something passing between them. Scott, who now runs the Round House Cafe,  is a healer, a former massage therapist and  Tai Chi master.

He understands pain and injury, he has experienced it at different times in his life. Red is a healer also, a therapy dog who connects with people in very moving ways. So these two connect, energy passes between them, I see it even if it is hard for me to explain. I have held Red a lot this week myself, I can't see it, but I feel it.  I saw this healing again today, we ran into Scott on the street. Red surrenders to Scott, he leans into him, and it is clear this is a healing process, I am fortunate to be able to see it and to share it.

Animals belong with people, there is nothing more natural in the world than that.

Posted in General

Recovery Journal: When The Heart Is Pierced On The Red Road

When The Heart Is Pierced

When The Heart Is Pierced

We walked through the cemetery this morning – it was closed for the winter – and I saw that we were walking on a red gravel road, and I felt a chill run through my body.  Maria was reading the messages on the tombstones, as she always does.

Red saw it, he felt it, he ran to me. This morning, my friend Pamela Rickenbach had just messaged me about another red road, about the Roadrunners. I thought there must be a connection there, a sign. Pamela is a mystic, the spirit lives in her, it draws people and animals to her.

She was writing about my heart surgery and she told me of a Native-American belief called the Red Road, which is a road we take to remind us and restore a deep sense of belonging to the animals and the earth that most of us have lost in our rush for money and security, our orgy of conflict and confrontation.

The Sundancers on the Red Road have their chests pierced and opened to let in the light from the Creator in order to serve him and the world.  The light enters their body and awakens them. Pamela said it came to me and my opened heart, another stop on the long and winding hero journey for me. And what is the hero journey if not the Red Road? In open heart surgery, my heart was stopped, I left the world for some time,  and I traveled to the other side, a transformative experience.

It is hard sometimes to talk about this or even write about this – writing is rarely difficult for me – but the people who run the world have trivialized and ridiculed Mother Earth and true spirituality, they have forgotten the animals and the earth and call us to our darkest sides. On the new Facebook Page to ban me, I thought it was telling that the first thing the creators of the page did was to jeer at  my Native-American mumbo-jumbo and also at Maria for showing her emotions in tears. The Native-Americans warn that our time is running out. We can choose harmony or we can choose ruin.

They say the horses have come to warn us.

What could be more threatening to the prophets of darkness and the guardians of the old order than spiritual mumbo-jumpo from the Indians and from ranters like me, all talk of harmony and the earth and the haters and the war-makers?

So we are at a crossroads, we each will have to decide who we are and who we want to be, and what road we just to travel.

The lessons of modern times teach us that the people with the most important messengers are driven to the edge of life and ignored and trivialized, the people preaching anger and greed and division get to speak for the world, get to be heard. It is the ones who are ridiculed, the ones on the margins, that have the messages we most need to hear as our world begins to crumble around us and the animals are driven away by the people who would save them.

That is the nature of the Red Road.

I would have done that myself a few years ago, I have much cynicism and anger in me,  jeering was a song of mine. I am changing my song.  Anger and disconnection  was my path in life until my world came apart and I was forced to see the world anew.  I don't believe that I can or should become a new person, just liberate the one that is already there. I don't have to throw my soul into the trash.

I love the story of the Roadrunners and the Red Road. I am so grateful that my heart was pierced, and the light began to come in, and penetrate my soul and open my eyes.

I will be honest with you, it was the horses in New York who did this for me, who started it. They began speaking to me, and I began hearing them. Do not let them forget us, they said. Do not let them lie about our lives and our people. Do not let them succumb to their ignorance and blindness and greed and take us away from people and from the earth.

I believe the road was paved for me by the animals I have lived with. By Simon, the dogs, the other donkeys, even the chickens. By Red, a guide to the Red Road. This, say the Native-Americans, is the great song of life, of the people, plants, stones and animals. And by Maria, and her deep love of the natural world and it's mysticism and spirituality. I have always sought a spiritual life, every day of my existence for as long as i can recall. The animals have things to tell us, if we can learn to listen, if we can keep them among us.

We are not different things, we are all a part of one thing.

I have been on the path to openness a long time now, it began when I came to my cabin on the mountain at the turn of the century and answered the call to change, to live in nature, to find love, to talk to the animals. I am happy to be a Roadrunner on the Red Road, and hope to walk it to the end of my days.

Posted in General
14 April 2015

Reinforcements For Red. Donkey Herding.

Reinforcements For Red

Reinforcements For Red

Red got some reinforcements today when we went out to feed the animals. Lulu decided to join in the sheep herding, it's something donkeys do every once in awhile. I think Lulu and Fanny are endlessly fascinated by Red, and they sometimes seem to be trying to herd the sheep along with them. They are also extraordinarily intuitive and sensitive creatures, they may well have noticed or smelled his injuries or sensed his discomfort and decided to help him. You never know, animals never cease to amaze and fascinate me.

Posted in General