20 October 2014

Standoff: Red And Liam

By: Jon Katz


A working dog's life is made of many stories and dramas, some large and some small. Life is never static, it challenges the dog to make decisions, choices, his or her mind grows almost every day. Few dogs in America get to make decisions, it is hard for many of them to grow and evolve. Red decided to be still while Liam challenged him, it was a good decision. After a minute or two Liam went back to the flock. He was testing Red, but he didn't go over the line. If he did, he would have gotten his nose nipped.

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19 October 2014

“Saving Simon” And The “Orphans Book Tour”: To Be “Disappeared.”

By: Jon Katz
To Be "Disappeared"

To Be "Disappeared"

I have always disliked whining, and intensely so. I told my daughter once that she could have just about anything she wanted if she never whined, and she go a lot of good stuff and never has. When I had my surgery this summer, the first thing I told Maria was to smack me in the head if I ever whined about it, and I think I have not. I have made it a point not to whine about the radical changes in publishing that nearly overwhelmed me as a writer, caused my royalties and much of my income to vanish, and threatened my career. I have not whined about the struggle to sell the first Bedlam Farm, and hope I never do.

I dislike struggle stories, I do not mourn things that are gone, but celebrate things that are here. So I guess I was wholly unprepared to respond to my realization that my new book, "Saving Simon," had been orphaned by my publisher after I decided to switch to another publishing  house. They did not budget one dollar or schedule a single appearance that I did not more or less arrange by myself. My book tour, which has averaged about a month in duration over the last 20 years or so, was four hours long.

I read an interview with a writer talking about the bitter struggle between Amazon and the Hachette Publishing Co. Amazon is making it harder for readers to buy the books of Hachette authors, and Ursula Le Guin, a great writer, said she felt as if her book had been "disappeared," a term coined by South American mothers to describe the disappearance of their sons in dictatorial regimes. In one country, the mothers gathered in front of government builders every day for years to demand news of their sons, many of whom had been murdered and tortured.

I am a big boy, and I knew when I switched publishers – and the editor who had worked on "Saving Simon" left as well – that my book would not get much attention or support. I did not know how little, I supposed I was in denial. I do not compare my book or my life to the tragedies of the mothers of South America, yet Le Guin's use of the word struck deeply into my healing heart.

Books are personal things for me, they take years, are important and to have one "disappeared" – it is a very good term in many ways, as long as we keep it in perspective. I am working to patch together my own book tour, but I do not kid myself into thinking I can do much to save the fate of my book. I am selling a lot of copies through Battenkill Books (518 677-2515) and am planning to sell a lot more by Christmas. We are giving lots of good stuff away to people who buy the book from Connie Brooks – signed photo notecards, some free Fromm Family dog good coupons, potholders and photos as well as notecards. The first 2,000 buyers get a signed photo notecard of Simon, other incentives are offered as the supplies last. I sign and personalize every book bought at Battenkill.

My book is important to me. I got some wonderful reviews and the early responses have been more than gratifying. I don't wish to whine about my book, but I do wish to fight for it, and I do believe it is wrong to "disappear" a book contracted in good faith. I am glad I spoke up about it, not only for me but for the many writers who vanish in this way and do not have blogs on which they can make some noise about it. Every book deserves to live and make it's own way through the galaxy. Publishers should not distribute books they are not willing to support.  Everybody deserves a chance to know what books are available to them.

I have a big ego, and it is smaller now that it was a few months ago. I suppose that is a healthy thing in many ways. It is a tough thing for a writer to be "disappeared," it feels as if my identity has been washed away along with my work. It is my job to make sure that feeling does not last long, but I don't lie about it either.

I want to finish my next book, I am so eager to get to my new publisher. But Random House, my life-long publisher, deserves much gratitude from me, they have providing me the means to be a writer for three decades. And they have done a wonderful job editing and publishing my books. "Saving Simon" is an anomaly, and I want to remember that as I move on. If they are not grateful for my work any longer, I am grateful for theirs.

Some people there have expressed disappointment with me for writing about this so frankly, I do not regret it. I learned the hard way to stand in my truth and to try to live without complaint and lament. Sometimes the two overlap. In many ways, my books are my children, they are my identity. I owe them life and good faith, they have nothing going for them but me. Thanks for the support so many of you have given me, my book tour will begin shortly and will on until I drop or the world is sick of me, whichever comes first.

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Short Stories: Singing Our Songs

By: Jon Katz
Singing Our Songs

Singing Our Songs

My short story class kicked off Saturday morning, it is a wonderful group of people with some amazing ideas for stories. We are doing non-fiction and fiction this year and the stories range from life in Berlin to the meaning of the Salem Witch Trials. Lots of great ideas in between. I told the class that the only iron rule I have is that we do not speak poorly of our work, it might be listening. Red provided support to brighten the mood, his work in cardiac rehab has impressed me.

On a personal note, I was thrilled to teach this class almost entirely standing up, which is how I love to do it. Last Spring, teaching the same class, I could not stand up for 10 minutes and the idea began to penetrate my Titanium skull that something might be wrong with me. Three months later, I decided to figure it out. A couple of weeks more and I would be singing a very different song, maybe with a harp. I gave out buttons and will come with cookies next time.

I assigned one book, "The Best American Short Stories of 2014, by Jennifer Egan" and recommended three or four. Next week, the class will come with focused ideas and/or pages. We will share them and I will edit them. I'm thinking we may do a reading at Hubbard Hall from our week once the class is over. It is slated for four sessions, but I know better now. One class of mine went two years, last year went seven or eight sessions. We'll go as long as is needed for everyone to complete their stories and feel good about them.

It is important to me that the class be safe and fun, and that we support one another and that everyone leaves the class feeling good, not bad, about their writing. I loves we were wrestling with right out of the gate. There is a great mix of people, some coming from as far as Massachusetts and New Jersey, I love doing this kind of teaching. Coffee and cookies from the Round House and I'm badgering my friend Scott Carrino to sit in.

We have Delaney Meyer-Hill, a high school student, she wrote a great story last year partly in text and some students 60 years older than she is- many in the middle, a great mix of age and perspective. We even have a Mayflower family descendant. The class is going to be low-tech, I don't think we need to be on Facebook together for this, or lean on computers much. I want some intimacy, I want the class to get used to talking directly to one another, and to me.

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In Honor Of October Light

By: Jon Katz
October Light

October Light

In honor of October Light, photographer's light, poet's light, writer's light, artist's light. Thank you.

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Killing Spot: The War Against Animals And Their People

By: Jon Katz
Death Of Spot

Death Of Spot

   Friends, I caution you that This Is A Story of Sad Truths, and a sad story to research and write. You are welcome to draw your own conclusions about it. I believe the death of Spot speaks to the malignancy increasingly evident in the animal rights movement in New York and elsewhere.  How, I wonder, did people who love animals abandon and lose control of their own movement? If the death of Spot has any meaning, it is to show us that the "animal rights" movement – whether directed against Spot, the New York carriage horses or the people who own animals, has  become something heartbreaking. It is no longer an idealistic movement fighting for the true welfare of animals, it has become, in so many places, a war against animals and the people who own them.
 So I think of Spot and the man who loved him and I ask these questions writing this piece, they are questions for every person who loves animals or lives and works with them:
   Did Spot have any rights other than dying on a table with strangers away from home? Did his human being, who needed him badly and loved him and cared for him for 15 years and wished to see him through the end, have any rights? Do the carriage horses or their owners and drivers? Do I? Do you? Thanks to Danielle Tcholakian of dna/info.com for breaking this story.
   Last week, the A.S.P.C.A. in New York City confirmed that it had secretly euthanized Spot, a dog it seized in August that belonged to a homeless man in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan. His name is Jimmy Tarangelo. The A.S.P.C.A. admitted this week that they refused for weeks to answer Tarangelo's desperate calls about Spot or tell him they planned to kill his dog. They would not even tell him his dog had been killed, if a reporter hadn't called them and demanded answers,  he still wouldn't know.
  Spot had cancer.
 Jimmy Tarangelo wanted to be with him when he died.
  Spot was killed in the name of animal rights.
  Tarangelo's troubles are not over, apparently he has not suffered enough for being poor and different.  He also faces criminal charges of torturing an animal – and may be forced by the District Attorney's office to give up his remaining dog Pickles, Spot's offspring. He was accusing of neglecting his dog by unknown accusers whom he was never given the chance to rebut or see, and whose identities have not been revealed.
  Spot, says Tarangelo – he lives in a van – was under the care of a veterinarian for a mast cell tumor, a common growth that can be bloody but is not considered fatal or painful. Tarangelo showed a reporter documents supporting his claim that he had spent $5,000 to care for the dog in the months preceding his death.
 "They crossed the line when they went for the animals," Tarangelo told reporters, "they went too far."
 The A.S.P.C.A., which took Spot away after the anonymous passersby expressed concern for Spot's welfare, said the 15-year-old dog was suffering and needed to be euthanized. The A.S.P.C.A acknowledges that they refused to speak with Tarangelo after the dog was taken. They said they did not answer  his  calls because he was facing criminal charges.
 Although the dog was euthanized in August, Tarangelo only learned about it this week when a reporter called the A.S.P.C.A. to ask what had happened to the dog.
    In the animal rights movement in New York City, homeless men, like the carriage drivers, apparently are not considered moral humans who deserve to be spoken to. The people arbitrarily judged in our new social witch hunt as abusers are considered something other than human, they exist outside  of the civil and moral community whose members have ready access to journalists and politicians. It seems you have to donate a lot of money to the mayor to be heard. One can accuse the accused of anything;  take away their way of life and animals away at will. They can even kill them, these organizations appear to be accountable to no one.
 Several animal rights officials have said they believe the carriage horses would be better off dead than pulling carriages in Central Park.
   Although there is disagreement about the health and well-being of the dog, there is almost universal testimony that Tarangelo cared deeply for Spot and treated him lovingly.
 Tarangelo's neighbors were outraged and saddened when they learned of Spot's death, and of the charges pending against him. They are especially surprised by the district attorney's demand that he give up Pickles and agree not to get any other dog for at least a year. They posted a number of messages in support of Tarangelo on dna/info, the website that  broke the story.
   The neighbors have willingly testified to Tarangelo's love of the dog and his great need of him. Many said they doubted he would survive without Spot or Pickles.
  "Mr. Tarangelo is a caring and loyal to his dogs," Mellissa Kehlman, a neighbor, posted about Tarangelo. "He has been living out of his van for years in the West Village. He is not technically homeless and gives his dogs more than he gives himself. Pickles is Spot's offspring and he loves Pickles very much. Spot's secret euthanization is completely a violation of his rights as a loving owner of a dog that had cancer. One should be allowed to offer medical care and pay thousands of dollars making her as comfortable as possible. I see many owners far less responsible for their neglected dogs given back to a horrible home only to continue the neglect or worse. Mr Tarangelo gave the ASPCA a monthly donation for their cause for years. This is so sad."
 Ms. Kehlman did not get to speak on behalf of Tarangelo or Spot before the dog was killed, no one from the A.S.P.C.A. asked her or any of the other neighbors for their testimony. Neither will the mayor or any members of the A.S.P.C.A. or other groups consider the vast archive of testimony from veterinarians and equine associations and animal lovers testifying to the good care and health of the New York carriage horses. In this new universe, truth and fact are orphaned, they simply do not matter.
 Ms. Kehlman is correct. It is so sad – and wrong – and it speaks to the disturbing evolution of the national animal rights movement – and the A.S.P.C.A. in particular. For many years, the A.S.P.C.A. was a respected animal welfare organization that stayed above polarizing and partisan politics to protect animals and work for their welfare.  They did a lot of good. The group was instrumental in lobbying for better working conditions for the carriage horses of New York a century ago, when hundreds of them died every week from disease and accidents. It was the first organization in America to push for uniform standards to prevent abuse and overwork. It was loved and respected by animal lovers, a position in the animal world it is rapidly squandering.
    In a rational world, the A.S.P.C.A. would be fighting to keep the fat and happy and safe and healthy horses right where they are, rather than joining forces with groups fighting to send the horses out into an uncertain world where more than 155,000 horses are slaughtered each year. It would be fighting to help people keep their dogs.
 But there is little humanity or rationality in the escalating conflict and confusion over the future and well-being of animals, and it is the real welfare of animals that is getting lost.
 Today, the A.S.P.C.A. has fused with the most extreme elements of the animal rights movement to become a controversial and increasingly disconnected fringe political movement. It is increasingly mistrusted and feared by people who love animals and understand their real lives and needs.
 As the Tarangelo case demonstrates, the A.S.P.C.A. has forsaken animals and the people who own them for the politics of rage and disconnection. Sadly, this is the template of the movement that claims to speak for the rights of animals.
  There is no longer much difference between PETA and the A.S.P.C.A., except perhaps that PETA is more candid about what it really is and the A.S.P.C.A still tries to hide it.
  The story of Jimmy Tarangelo highlights the class issues that hover and storm around the lives and welfare of animals.  The evolving idea of animals rights is making it increasingly difficult for working people and the poor and minorities  to obtain and keep animals at all.  There are double standards everywhere. The same goes for carriage drivers, circuses, farmers, movie producers, people who offer pony rides, private citizens who need animals in their lives. A man living in a van doesn't have a chance. As politicians scramble to give animals what they think of as rights, the people who live with animals and love them seem to have none.
   Imagine the mayor or the animal rights movement (or the A.S.P.C.A.) telling media or museum workers or hedge fund managers in Manhattan that their  work is immoral and cruel, and proposing that they be banned from the city. Imagine them taking dogs away from doctors or lawyers and killing them in secret?
 People who contribute to the A.S.P.C.A. and groups like N.Y. Class, the group spearheading the carriage horse ban might think their money is going to help animals, but that is increasingly not the case.  If you call and ask these groups where their money goes, you will never get a return call. I never have.
  Animal lovers who fall for the A.S.P.C.A's slick marketing campaigns and NYClass's exploitive photos of "fallen" carriage horses might be interested to know what happens to their money. We know what doesn't happen. The horses down the road from me and you with little food and shelter will never see a penny of it.
  A friend of mine send NYClass a check for $100 every time she saw a photo of a fallen horse on their website. When I told her the horse on the website was 18 years old and had died of a heart attack in Nevada after a long and healthy life, she refused to believe me. It was easier for her to be angry that to know the truth.
  Two years ago, the A.S.P.C.A. stunned many political observers by donating  $50,000 to NY Class, the animal rights group spearheading the ban on the carriage horses and a major supporter of Mayor Bill deBlasio's mayoral campaign, a contribution many political fund-raisers believe to be illegal. It was a blatant effort by an animal welfare organization to affect politics in a city election.  More than $500,000 of the money donated to NYClass by animal lovers disturbed  by photos of horses lying down on city streets went to candidates in the 2012 city elections. If NYClass gave any substantial amount of it's money to needy animals, there is no record of it.
    In fact,  NYClass spent $124,000 on just one phone campaign targeting Christine Quinn, de Blasio's primary opponent in the mayoral raise (they have spent at least $300,000 on a similar campaign this year to pressure the City Council into voting to ban the horses).  According to Crain's Business, NY Class also gave an above-the-legal-limit, six figure donation to the anti-Quinn group "New York Is Not For Sale," and played a major role in defeating Quinn, an early frontrunner in the mayoral race. Quinn was targeted because she – a longtime horsewoman – refused to support the ban on the carriage horses.
 Animal rights organizations have become skilled at raising money through the publication of wrenching images online of dogs, horses and cats being tortured, starved or abused.
Last year, NYClass used some of this money not for saving animals but for $500,000 to build a prototype of an "eco-friendly" vintage electric car to replace the carriage horses, which the group claimed contributed to global warming by slowing traffic on their way to and from Central Park. No one knows for certain, but it appears ( a conservative estimate) that NYClass has spent several million dollars in it's campaign to ban the carriage horses. I shudder to think how many animals suffered and died for that ugly car.
    An equine rescue farm estimated the money spend on the shockingly ugly electric cars alone – the Central Park Conservancy said in a strongly worded statement that the horses, not the cars,  should stay – would have saved more than 200  horses from auction and fed them for five years.
 In 2012, the A.S.P.C.A. was forced to pay Ringling Brothers $9.3 million in a settlement after the organization was found to have paid witnesses hundreds of thousands of dollars to testify that circus elephants were being mistreated. The court found no evidence of mistreatment.
  "The fact that we could get dragged through this for 14 years," said Kenneth Feld, CEO of Ringling Brothers, "I think it very clearly a public vindication for our company that these people really misused the judicial system."
 I  know animal lovers and animal rescue workers who have actually wept at what all of this money would have done for animals in America and their owners who are truly in need of help. Every dollar we give to organizations like the A.S.P.C.A. should go to the aid of animals in need, not politicians on the make. My money will no longer go there.
 Jimmy Tarangelo, who is 62, is the perfect symbol of immorality and lost values of the animal rights movement.
  Here, the people who call themselves supporters of animal rights could have helped a man keep and care for his ill and aging dog. It would have cost a tiny fraction of the money they showered on New York politicians.
  They could have helped Tarangelo comfort his dog with medication and other treatments and permit the animal to die at home. More than anything, say his neighbors and friends, Tarangelo wanted to care for the dog as well as he possibly could and see the dog through his last days. And who gave anyone the power to take his dog away and kill it without a hearing, a letter or a telephone call?
  An agency dedicated to the welfare of animals would have helped Spot live, rather than kill him. This is what real compassion and concern for the rights of animals is about, not political power and cruelty. This is what animal lovers do every day. Instead, and without any kind of due process or an inkling of concern for this needy human being, they took Jimmy Tarangelo's dog, killed him without even letting him know or speaking to him. Beyond that, they insist he ought to lose his remaining dog as well. There are different ways to look at what is best for animals and how to treat them.  Jimmy Tarangelo is entitled to his, as are all of us.
  Again and again, I find myself asking, are these the people we really wish to decide the fate and the future of animals in our world?
   African-Americans and Hispanics, poor and working class people and the elderly have long complained of their difficulty adopting and rescuing dogs and cats, even though there are more than 12 million languishing in crates in shelters across America. The animal rights movement in this country is overwhelmingly white and middle-class – there is rarely, if ever, a person of color shouting at the carriage drivers on Sunday in Central park –  the movement does not remotely reflect the diversity of the American population or the values of most animal owners and lovers.  Many people are denied animals because they work, or don't have tall enough fences, are elderly or poor, or do not have the money for expensive veterinary care.
  Many  farmers, all over the country,  hard hit by the recession and other pressures, could dearly use  help caring for their animals – so many have released donkeys and horses and sheep on public roads rather than see them starve.
 The language and rhetoric used against the carriage trade would set the city on fire – and rightfully so –  if it were used against women, Hispanics, blacks or gays. The carriage drivers have been harassed and assaulted, they have been portrayed without evidence as sub-human, immoral, greedy, torturers, thugs, cheats and abusers, as "random People" not to be taken seriously or even spoken to – just as Jimmy Tarengelo was not spoken to.
  Even as the city has worked hard to take away their livelihood, way of live and property of the carriage drivers, no city official or animal rights organization has deigned to even speak with them or visit their stables. This was Tarangelo's fate and that of his dog and of many others targeted by this unelected, extra-judicial movement.  Are we to believe these people when they say every carriage horse sent away from New York will be guaranteed a secure home for the rest of their lives?
 The mayor and the animal rights groups have dismissed and dehumanized the carriage drivers as vulgar and helpless immigrants, they are learning otherwise.
 Tarangelo also seems to have been underestimated and dehumanized as well. He is going to fight in court to keep his dog.  I will help Jimmy Tarangelo if I can. He could be me. He could be you.
  So, here is a sad truth, it may yet have a happier ending than beginning.
The carriage horses have called us to witness the story Mr. Tarangelo, a dog and animal lover all of his life who wanted nothing more than to be with his dog for Spot's last days. He wished to be present for the dog that has meant so much to him for so long, and who now is threatened with the loss of his remaining dog. His beloved dog was killed for no proven reason in the name of animal rights.
     As this wrenching and small drama unfolds, as millions of dollars flow through the animal world and out into other places, countless animals all over New York City and the rest of America languish,  struggle, go to slaughter, starve and freeze, are denied proper food and medical care in countless numbers while the A.S.P.C.A. and their brothers and sisters in ignorance and self-righteousness take millions of dollars from good and caring people under the most dishonest of pretenses, snatch and kill the loved dogs of helpless men, work to kill horses in order to give them rights,   and claim to speak for the future and rights of animals in our world.
 My new e-book "Who Speaks For The Carriage Horses: The Future Of Animals In Our World" is available for $3.99 anywhere e-books are sold.
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