20 November 2014

Red’s Dilemma: A Flock Divided

By: Jon Katz
A Flock Divided

A Flock Divided

There is nothing a border collie hates more than a flock of sheep divided. The sheep were having their morning hay feed when Zelda decided to branch off and go into the barn, Red moved up from his lie-down position and here is where border collies get to make decisions. Does he move the bulk of the sheep over to Zelda or does he figure out a way to get Zelda back with the flock. He and Zelda got into a stare-down, she wasn't moving, he wasn't yielding.

I decided to help him out, I gave a "come-bye" (go clockwise) command and he pushed Zelda out of the barn and right to the feeder. Then, satisfied, he lay down again. Working dogs get to make decisions almost every day of their lives, that's what they get smarter and more intuitive. Few dogs in America get to make decisions any longer, they are rarely off leash outside and kept away from most people and other dogs.

I have seen Red change from day-to-day, his management of our sheep is outstanding, he is calm, firm, appropriate. He has never harmed a sheep or backed down from one.

Posted in General

What Home Is: The World Of Bedlam.

By: Jon Katz
What Home Is

What Home Is

For six or seven years, I lived in the small and pretty hamlet of West Hebron above, the intersection shown in the photograph shows the general store, called the Bedlam Corners General Store. It inspired the name of my farm, Bedlam Farm. The name Bedlam comes from the Bethlehem Hospital outside of London, on weekends Londoners went out to the asylum and threw tomatoes and rocks at the inmates.

The scene was often chaotic and the name of the asylum was given the slang name of "bedlem" which became "bedlam" and then was synonymous with chaos and dysfunction. A century ago, this hamlet was so crowded – there were inns, factories, hotels there – that it was difficult to cross there was much traffic and congestion.

It is hard to imagine now, but the corner was called "Bedlam Corner." I named my farm "Bedlam Farm" because there was much traffic and congestion in my head, and it was to get much worse before getting better. I kept the name when we moved to our new farm, even though, in many ways, it is the opposite of bedlam. I live in a different head, in a different way.

Bedlam Farm overlooked the town, the farmhouse was built in 1861, I liked having the hamlet so close, it has a general store, a strong and grounding  church. When the movie was made of my book "A Dog Year", the hamlet was sealed off, Jeff Bridges, the actor who played me, sat in a trailer in the church parking lot in between scenes. It was exciting, although strange.

West Hebron is a lovely place, but I never quite fit in there, it wasn't the town's fault, it was mine, I was too closed off and distracted. Bedlam was a good name for my head as well as my farm. When we moved two years ago, we didn't say goodbye to anyone, and no one came to say goodbye to us. A sad statement about my life, I think. Cambridge, our new town, is different, mostly because I am different. I am not alone anymore, and I have healed to a great extent, although that work is never really done.

It was a chaotic time for me, a creative time and a powerful and very painful time. I knew some people, made some friends but always felt apart there. People could not have been nicer, I was never at ease. I was alone there for the better part of my years there, my wife at the time came up every month or so, we both convinced ourselves we were supporting one another in our lives, the truth is we were just growing apart. She was – is – a very good and admirable person, she loved New York as much as I loved the country. I regret we could not figure it out. Life is different when you share it. Duh.

Bedlam Farm was a nourishing and exciting place, I came there to write books and couldn't stop. I became a photographer there and wrote children's books, I was there when the recession hit and publishing as I knew it collapsed. There was an amazing cast of animals there – Brutus the ram, Winston the rooster, Elvis the Steer, Carol the grumpy donkey, Rose, Orson, Izzy, a long list. I had a ghost out in the woods, blizzards, coyotes in the hills, lightning strikes. I broke down there, gave all my money away, lost perspective, lived in terror and confusion. I met Maria there, began my return to the world, the hero journey.  A lot of life. Yesterday I spent some time at the farm and looked out over the hamlet, and gave a nod to my former home, a place I never really felt at home in because I was so broken inside.

So much feeling, so much memory, so much emotion. Another world, another life, a million miles away, I sometimes think.

What is it that makes for a home? Love of course, and connection. I think it something inside of us, something that opens to it, something that feels known, safe and recognized. A place that says, "oh yes, me too." I think the new residents of Bedlam Farm, whenever they appear, will know they are home when they look at this sweet little hamlet.

Posted in General

At The Studio Barn, First Bedlam Farm

By: Jon Katz
Red At The Studio Barn

Red At The Studio Barn

Visited the first Bedlam Farm yesterday, how beautiful the Studio Barn looked, where I met Maria, and the meadow below, where Red and I first herded sheep together. I stood looking out at the view, taking a deep breath. How beautiful.

Posted in General

The Carriage Horses And Journalism: Anatomy of a “Hit-And-Run” Press Conference

By: Jon Katz
Truth Flickers And Lives

Truth Flickers And Lives

In October, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and NYClass, two of the animal rights groups pressing to banish the carriage trade from New York City,  held a dramatic and well-attended press conference to reveal the results of documents they had sued the New York Police Department to obtain.

The ALDF accused the New York City carriage drivers of committing more than a dozen "hit-and-runs" over the past five years. The press conference was held in a breathless way, as if a secret investigation had yielded shocking and dramatic results. The reporters bit, as they often do when accusations are made against the carriage horses.

The accusations were widely reported throughout the city, many people and stories have frequently referred to them. It was ironic, because some of the carriage drivers call the continuous stream of press conferences denouncing them "hit-and-runs:" lots of accusations, little or no evidence, no accountability, compliant journalists taking notes and recording videos for their blogs.

This week, I contacted the New York Police Department – no court order was necessary, they were happy to speak with me about the hit-and-run allegations, they  told me that none of them could be verified or were found to be true. No charges have been filed They were simply allegations,  and there was no evidence to justify taking action on any of them.

It would be accurate to say there were no confirmed hit-and-run incidents involving carriage horses in New York in the past five years if you were simply reporting the facts, rather than spinning them.

Police spokespeople told me there were no injuries or deaths reported in the police reports, and it struck me as odd at the time, since a dozen calls to police about alleged and non-life threatening hit and run accidents did not seem all that high, given the volume of carriage rides in New York.  Although there are no precise figures on total rides, the carriage trade reports earnings of approximately $15 million each year, which works out to roughly 300,000 rides. That means out of approximately 1.5 million rides over five years, only 12 people reported hit-and-run-incidents involving carriage horses, and none of those were confirmed.

I could well imagine a more fair-minded mayor calling a press conference to praise this remarkable safety record, given the slaughter and death caused by motor vehicles in the city:

I asked the NYPD how many people died in hit and run accidents in New York City in 2013.  A spokeswoman said there were 47 deaths resulting from hit and run vehicular traffic incidents that year, there were 203,390 total crashes in New York City in 2014, 17,260 in one month alone. Twenty-five people were killed in New York City in vehicle accidents last month. There is no record of any press conference being called to talk about the hit-and-run deaths that were real and were confirmed by the police and which were confirmed and did result in death or injury.

But the people holding the press conference seemed disinterested in facts or fairness. "NYC carriage drivers have committed more than a dozen “hit & runs” over the past five years," they reported at the press conference.

Although the ALDF and NY Class were careful to use the word "allegations," the press release and the press conference made it clear the animal rights groups were accusing the carriage drivers of new crimes along with the old unproven ones:  animal abuse and cruelty, cheating tourists, filthy stables (no fire extinguishers, no room for the horses to turn around) and overworking the horses.

In 2013, the ALDF held another press conference, and they accused the carriage trade of working the horses more than nine hours a day, seven days a week in extreme heat,  accusations found to be false by veterinarians and equine associations,  the police and the New York City Department Of Health. The horses do sometimes work up to nine hours a day, which is not considered cruel by horse trainers and veterinarians (most work about seven or eight, the drivers say, much of that standing in lines), and they have five weeks of vacation a year.

The horses are not permitted to work in temperatures in excess of 90 degrees ( horses in the wild do not live under temperature restrictions, many work and live under much warmer conditions than occur in Central Park. Some carriage horses do work seven days a week, some don't. It is not considered cruel for working animals to work every day, my border collie Red does not get weekends off from herding sheep, and he works harder than any carriage horse in New York, his tongue is often dragging on the ground.)

The "hit-and-run" press conferences are familiar by now, ritualistic.  There is always the suggestion that the carriage drivers are either cruel or inhuman. Or less than human. In fact, a key element of the campaign against the carriage horses has been the dehumanizing of the drivers. If you study the history of dehumanization of people, it is common enough, it seems necessary to dehumanize someone who is innocent of any crime when you are seeking to take away their work, way of life, or property without legal process or cause.

So the moral reasoning of the animal rights groups in New York work this way: if they aren't guilty of abuse or leaving the scene of accidents, well they aren't good people,  so it doesn't really matter. They must not be believed or treated with dignity or respect.  The self-styled progressive mayor, a champion of underdogs,  won't speak to the carriage drivers, meet with their representatives,  or visit their stables.

The stable owners and drivers are the children of immigrants, many from Ireland, they are considered immoral and "random people" by the animal rights organizations and the mayor, they must work and  live outside of the normal rules of conduct that government the moral community.

In the curious world of the New York Carriage Horse controversy, truth and facts are a flickering flame sometimes. I was a journalist before becoming an author, I worked at the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Dallas Times-Herald and CBS News. I wrote for Wired Magazine and Rolling Stone. I loved journalism and believe very much in facts and truth, both are important and deserve to live. One of the most fundamental rules governing us was the idea that we could not relay accusations against people without seeking to confirm their truth or authenticity.

Truth and facts are the poor orphans in the controversy. But I have found at least one journalist who seems to believe in that bettered ethic – journalists today often simply are stenographers, relaying accusations and arguments back and forth like judges at a tennis match – his name is Henry Goldman and he works as a reporter for Bloomberg News covering the administration of New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio.

deBlasio promised to ban the horses on the first day of his administration. That was almost a year ago.

I was heartened to come across a video of Goldman at work. He was the only reporter I know of to challenge the damaging accusations made at the press conference in October. This video  – it was recorded by videographer Sanci Bachom – of a real journalist's patient but determined effort to pin down a  politician and animal rights activists about the truth is compelling.

Truth does live, and so does journalism, I recommend watching this video for anyone who wants to see what a true reporter does, what I did and still do, how the people seeking to ban the horses are so reckless with truth and the reputations of others. I wish for the carriage drivers that they take heart, there is hope, there are people for whom facts do matter. The truth is sometimes a hit-and-run thing, but facts do not ever lie to us.

Posted in General
19 November 2014

Cardiologist to Heart: “Get Out Of Here”

By: Jon Katz
Get Out Of Here

Get Out Of Here

As we approach the sixth month anniversary of my open heart surgery, a milestone. I met with my cardiologist today, I had an echo-cardiogram so he could look at my heart beating, he examined me and said I was in excellent shape, my heart was strong and stead, he shook my hand and said "get out of here, I'll see you in six months."  We talked a bit about movies and music, he congratulated me on my work in cardiac rehab and said I was doing great.

It was a turning point. I am less exhausted than I was, walking every day, riding my bike, working out in cardiac rehab (I graduate in two weeks.) My chest does not hurt, I have figured out my medications. I believe that my life is beginning to return to normal, I am scanning the world for photos, writing up a storm, feeling my oats. My post-surgery grumpiness, emotional intensity and fatigue is beginning to fade. So have most of my scars.

People have generally stopped looking at me with great concern and asking how I am feeling, and I am feeling fine. I think this marks the end of the Recovery Journal, I might revisit it once in awhile but I think I'm in a new post-phase surgery. Recovery was more complex than I thought, it was hard work and good work, and it will not be done for a long time, if ever. But I am on to the next thing. I was happy to get out of the cardiologist's office, I will see him next in the Spring.

Posted in General