28 March 2015

A Kind Of Sweetness

A Certain Sweetness

A Certain Sweetness

Animals show affection in different ways. Dogs offer themselves to their people, and give affection readily, they often need a lot of it. And people give them a lot. Cats are indirect creatures, they show affection when they feel like it, and in ways that are comfortable for them. It always has to be their idea, not yours.

Chloe has a kind of sweetness, and a kind of feistiness, two qualities also evident in Maria. Each wants their own way, but is full of love. A good pairing by Eli Anita-Norman.

Equines are close to cats in some ways. They sense emotion quickly, you can see them reading people, scanning them, using the powerful instinct of the prey animal to decide if they are friend or foe. Horses and donkeys present themselves to you. If they like you, they tolerate you. They receive affection they will be touched, brushed, ridden, spoken to. Like donkeys, they will take advantage, they will nose you out of the way if you let them, push you around, pick your pockets. It is, like any good human-animal relationship, a ballet.

Every good animal trainer or partner learns how to be clear while being calm and positive. Not always an easy balance, Maria comes to it naturally.

Maria and Chloe just work together, it will be a pleasure to see and to photograph you

Posted in General

Getting To Know Chloe

Getting To Know Chloe

Getting To Know Chloe

We visited Chloe today and Maria is going to see her tomorrow and ride her for the first time. She is getting set, she has a trainer and teacher, we have a great farrier, she has a saddle and tack. Chloe and I did some bonding this afternoon as well, although she is very clearly Maria's horse. We have seen this again and again, the special and very spiritual beauty when an animal and a human choose one another at the same time.

And since we had a pony and have had donkeys for years – they are equines – we are set up, we have pretty much everything we need.

I can see that Chloe is the perfect animal for Bedlam Farm. She is even-tempered, grounded, experienced, she lives with three donkeys and some pushy horses, she can  handle herself. She is independent-minded, but she also loves attention and is affectionate.

Like Maria, she is feisty, can take care of herself, likes attention and also some space. I am certain Lulu and Fanny – both also females, obviously –  will accept her, Chloe is twenty years old, she has been around and seen a lot. She was pulled out of a mudhole and Ken and Eli Norman have been looking for the right home for her. Maria is moving slowly and carefully, another month of visits, grooming, riding lessons and some horse wisdom from people who know horses well.

This feels very good. Maria has pined for a horse since Rocky died and Chloe has been seeking her person. A kind of marriage, a kind of bond that is taking shape and is already quite evident. Maria is easy around Chloe, the two of them communicate well already, Flo is like Maria in several respects, one is that when she needs attention, she lets you know. But Maria is clearly the leader, she has no trouble setting the agenda, and making sure Chloe follows.

Chloe loves to be groomed, Maria loves grooming animals. She brushes the donkeys twice a day.

We are hoping to have Chloe by May. First ride tomorrow.

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Me And Judy: “They Will Live As They Were Meant To.” The Destroyed Worlds Of Animals.

Letter To Judy

Letter To Judy

A woman named Judy posted a message on my Facebook page last night  – she was responding to my writing about Joshua Rockwood –  asking me if I was in favor of the use of elephants in circuses to entertain people. I said I was not sure when it became a crime for animals to entertain and uplift human beings, they have been doing it for thousands of years – just watch the children and the horses in Central Park –  and we humans have greatly benefited from it.

Most of us could really use some entertainment now. Just look at the news.

My therapy dog Red entertains dying children in hospitals sometimes, it is a beautiful and precious thing to see. It would be a difficult thing to explain to them that he was being abused by taking him to see them.

Judy answered me right away, she replied that the elephants were fortunate, they would now live in their natural world, as they were meant to live. I was struck by the message, because it speaks to the plight of animals in our world, from the New York Carriage Horses to the elephants in the circus to the animals on Joshua Rockwood's farm to the dogs in our beds and backyards.

And it speaks to the fact that in our time, the people who speak for animals seem to know nothing about them.

I asked Judy if she knew where this natural world for Asian elephants might be, and who was going to take them there, and care for them when the rains came and the poachers came and the bulldozers came to take their land. She did not reply.

But she said something else. Elephants, she said, were meant to live a natural life. They were not put on the earth to do stupid tricks to entertain us. I said I agreed, they were put on the earth to live their lives, naturally, and in nature.

But we have destroyed their natural world. We are eager to talk about abuse, but we are not so eager to take responsibility for what we have done to them. We have lost touch with them and what they need, we have fantasized their often brutal and cruel lives in the wild, even as we relentlessly destroy it.  And we have found another world for them to inhabit, one with shelter and food and attention and purpose. We cannot offer them their natural life any longer, or even a perfect life. But we can offer them a new world, new work. It seems to be what we do.

And then, we traumatize them and the people who love them, and we destroy their world again.

I asked Judy if she worried about what would become of the carriage horses in New York, and the ponies in farmer's markets, and the horses in Hollywood movies and the elephants in the circus and the chickens and cows on the farms once we banned their worked and harassed and persecuted and  arrested all of the people who own them.

She did not wish to talk about it, she refused to talk about it. I have yet to meet any of the people who rejoice at the banning of animals who have given much thought or taken much responsibility for what will become of them after we have exploited them once more, this time to help us feel better about our destructive and oblivious selves.

Animals are sadly at our mercy, they pay the price for our shallow and selfish – and very selective – ideas about morality. We live in a culture drunk on judging others, shy about looking in the mirror.

My border collie Red was meant to live in nature, to live outside in caves, to have sex, run free, eat rabbits. He does none of those things. He exists now to keep me company and move my sheep around the pasture and to be photographed. Is he living the natural life he was meant to live? What is sheep-herding with dogs, but another "stupid trick" to entertain us on television and country fairs and trips to Ireland?  And what of the sheep, is it their natural fate to be chased around by dogs so that human beings can hang blue ribbons on their walls?

I suppose they will come after the border collies one day, but to understand the carriage horses and the elephants in the circus, one has to understand that the elephant and the border collie – and the cat sleeping in our lap, and the pig in the pasture – are doing the very same thing.

We tolerate the one because we love it, we ban the other because it is far away and we believe everything we wish and need to believe and we know nothing about it ourselves.

Am I cruel and immoral for permitting Red to live a life that gives me pleasure, that entertains and uplifts me every day? I love Red and my life with him. And I love herding sheep, it greatly entertains and grounds me, I bet Judy loves to see the photos. And I imagine Red is living a better and longer and safer life than his ancestors in nature, safer, healthier and much longer. Much like the elephants and the carriage horses. Why is this an adorably wonderful thing for him, but not for the elephants in the circus, or the carriage horses?

Why is it so much easier to wag our righteous fingers at other people while never taking responsibility for ourselves and what we have done to animals and their natural world? We know animals only through the prism of their occasional abuse – are we forgetting that American dogs lead the best lives of any animal on the earth? –  because that makes us feel good, yet we sit on our hands and look away while the world they lived in is destroyed bit by bit every day and our political leaders hide their heads in the mud.

Are the people who love to ride horses and cuddle puppies abusive because they are allowing animals to entertain them, rather than leaving them to take their chances in the mythical wild, where they die  young of disease, exposure, from predators and starvation?

Like most Americans, Judy knows nothing about horses or elephants.  Our children never go outdoors alone, they spend their lives behind screens, they will know even less than we do about the natural world. They desperately need to see elephants in a circus, and carriage horses in Central Park, and ponies in farmer's markets. These may be the only animals who are not pets that they ever see.

We live in a world utterly disconnected from nature and animals, yet the more ignorant and distant we are, the more willing we seem to be to tell other people what to do with animals and how they ought to live. Our only idea for animals is to stop often fantasized notions of abuse and trash their few remaining worlds,  and then leave them to the fates. And we know what happens to animals left to the mercy of human experience, they vanish from the world. Judy does not want to talk about that, it makes black and white a bit gray.

She is certain she knows where the elephants ought to go, but does not  know that the place she thinks they ought to go does not exist any longer. Thus, she is not a person who ought to be deciding their future or making moral judgements about the people who own, work and care for them. That is the malignancy that is sadly rotting the soul of the animal rights movement.

I wanted to tell Judy that In the past month,  I've received a score of messages from animal trainers  and vets and handlers in the circus, from people who have lived and worked with elephants all of their lives and they paint a very different picture than the one we saw in those videos and interviews and press releases. There are at least two sides to every story, and theirs has never been told.

They offer a very different testimony than the one that comes from the videos on YouTube of elephants being mistreated, the one all of us have seen, the one that has shaped the fate of the Asian elephants. The video is the closest experience most of the righteous have ever come to an elephant's life. The story of the elephant handlers is one I have  rarely heard, because no one bothered to listen to it.

Abuse is a crime in every state in the country, but if the people driving the elephants from the circus cannot see beyond it, then the domesticated animals of the world who have brought so much entertainment, joy, work and meaning to human lives, are truly doomed. We are destroying their shrinking worlds once more, orphaning them and leaving them to almost certain death and trauma, and once again patting ourselves on the back for having done it. There is a space in between helping animals and banning them when they are mistreated.

There is another path, a middle way: improve their lives, punish their abusers, keep them in our world. Treating animals and people with respect. That is the path of true animal lovers. Finding humane ways to keep them among us, rather than simple-minded solutions that take them away from us.

"I began working with elephants in 1980," wrote Lynn in a touching and very beautiful message last week. "They have so much to teach us if only we would listen. I worked with and for elephants in the circus. I am so fortunate to have been able to do so and am greatly saddened that others will never have the opportunity."

Elephant handlers, she says, have been criticized for years, mostly because a few awful people get all of the attention. It takes it's toll, she said. "All I can say nowadays is, "pick up a shovel. Shovel shit for a year. Then maybe I'll talk elephants with  you. As cities outlaw the bullhook, she wrote, "I've begun to realize they don't deserve to have elephants in their lives. Elephants are unlike any animal out there. The bull hook is only a tool. It has been demonized by the animal worshipers. Don't fall for it. Elephants in sanctuaries, worked in protected contact, will forever be behind bars. Circus elephants, worked free of contact with a bull hook, can be walked anywhere, loaded easily and turned loose to go where they care to."

Another perspective, one I didn't see expressed even once in all of the rejoicing over Ringling Bros. decision to get rid of their elephants over the next three years. I told Lynn she would never see the people who are happy about the elephants losing their work shoveling shit anywhere. For the righteous, Facebook is their bull hook, computers their tool, anonymous and furious blogs and videos their research and experience.

Jamie has been traveling with the circus for years, he cried for hours when he heard the elephants would be leaving. He has come to love their gentleness and their love of people and attention.  They are much loved in the circus, he said, after every performance the trainers and handlers – and children from the audience – gather in their tent to give them hay and apples. He often sleeps next to them at night, curled up under their big feet in a bale of hay. "It's horrible that they will be almost surely destroyed," he said,"there is nowhere for them to go, and they are so much loved here. And these people think they are helping them? What a world."

So we will soon be saying goodbye to the elephants, the  horses, the ponies in market, the animals on the farms too dangerous to keep, they will live for us and our children only on YouTube, we will destroy their last remaining world and congratulate ourselves on our virtue. The world will not be a better place without them, we have once again diminished our Mother, the earth, and her children.

I asked July once more if she had given any though to where the animals might go.

"They will live in the wild," she said, "as they were meant to."


Posted in General
27 March 2015

Learning To Love A Horse. Puppies, Toddies, Weddings, Music.

Learning To Love A Horse

Learning To Love A Horse

Some animals are ours, and some animals are not. Red is more my dog than Maria's, Frieda was really Maria's dog, not mine. Animals often make their own choices about who is their human. Maria is learning to love Chloe, I think, they are much alike in some ways, they are feisty, independent, and when they want attention, they let you know.

She has been visiting Chloe, learning how to brush and harness her, how to scrape her hooves and comb her. Ponies are headstrong, I gather and Maria says she sometimes has to push back, she has to be a leader. Chloe is definitely Maria's horse, not mine, this is not something that is ours, it is very much Maria's. I think that is a good thing. I have spent little time with Chloe, and I don't imagine that I will spend a lot of time taking care of her. I don't see  myself riding her.

Maria and I share many things, but we both recognize that we need our own things also. Our work is very separate, our workspaces are separate. I don't see much of Maria during the day, or when she is in one of her creative fits. When I am on a writing jag, I am holed up in my study, she rarely goes into my study, I almost never go into her studio. We are close, we live together in a small house. Independence is as important as closeness.

When she goes into her studio to work, i know she does  not need to be disturbed, she gives me the same respect when I go into my office. Tomorrow, I think we will visit Chloe, Maria is into it. My jog is to take some occasional photos, I am eager to get to know the pony, see where it goes. The puppy we are hoping for will also be Maria's, she will be her studio and walking dog. I am thinking of getting a house dog, a mutt, if I run across the right one. That would be our dog.

I love being around animals, I am not as universally loving as Maria. I love the dogs and the donkeys, Flo once in awhile. I do not love sheep and chickens especially. I like having Red, he is the right dog for me. So we will see where a pony takes us in our creative life and our life with animals.

And I am thinking a lot about my daughter Emma's wedding in April. I love Emma so much, I am excited for her. I'm not sure a parent ever sees their child fully in terms of being an adult, seeing Emma pop out into the world and open her eyes was a miracle I will never get over. Now she's a big shot magazine editor, wow.  I'm not sure what role I have to play in my only child's wedding, I guess to stand around and be happy. I'm looking for the right toast, I think I will get to do that.

She has put her life together in a beautiful and impressive way, I will cheer her onto the next thing and raise a glass to happiness and a meaningful life.

As for me, I am exhausted. I worked hard this week writing about the Joshua Rockwood story, went to Glenville twice and was up to my ears in transcripts and videos and blog posts. I am thrilled that he got the $50,000 he asked for, more will be coming. He will be able to defend himself and  hopefully get his animals back. My fantasy is that a judge will listen to the testimony, shake his head, ask what are we doing here wasting all this taxpayer money on a bunch of "Bullshit Misdemeanors", as Ken Norman called them?, and toss it out. I'm not sure the world is ever that neat, but one can hope.

We have nothing much planned for the weekend, our first at home in awhile (the book tour). Lots of sleep and lots of reading and lots of listening to all of the new music I bought and haven't yet really listened to. I also bought two Iphone games for the first time ever, I will see how that works out. Scott Carrino is sugaring again this weekend, I might get over there and drink some more hot toddies and get stewed again and shake up my blood sugar. Maybe a movie, maybe nothing. Maybe a lot of sleep and rest.

And see Chloe. I'll  have my camera on hand for that.

Posted in General

Red And Liam: Something New

In My Years

In My Years

I've been herding sheep with border collies for nearly 15 years now, I have a hard time remembering when I didn't have a border collie, my favorite breed of dog, a wonderful kind of dog. I got a border collie when I shouldn't have had one and knew little about them, I started working with dog trainers to figure them out. Now, working with sheep and a border collie is a natural enough thing to do, especially with a keen animal like Red.

I don't trial with him, it's not our thing. He is a farm dog, like my other border collies, and a valuable one. Still, in these years of working with border collies – Orson, Rose, Izzy and Red, I've never seen a relationship quite like the one Red and Liam  have. Orson couldn't herd sheep, Rose had no patience for challenge, she would have dragged Liam all around the pasture. Izzy was a sweet creature, he preferred people to sheep, hospice work was his thing.

Usually rams or wethers would challenge a dog, but intermittenly. Liam challenges Red every single day, but  gently. He stands in front of Red, defies  him, tries to stare him down, then he usually backs up or backs off. But these two face off every single day, their days begin in that way. Red gets close, goes into his killer-crouch, and waits for Liam to buckle. It's the eye that gets Liam every time. Border collies control sheep with their eyes, and Red has a powerful look.

Liam seems to want to prevail, but melts under the stare every time. It's an automatic start to the day now, something we hardly notice. I wonder if it will go on forever. Liam is a good guy, a gentle and affectionate creature. He has never backed Red off, I doubt that he ever will.

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