Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

22 November

Donkey Wisdom. Remembering Fanny (The Aunt)

by Jon Katz

Donkeys are the wisest animals I know. From 100 yards away, the know my mood and intentions, they know when to leave me along and come up for a scratch. Maria and I both talk to donkeys, almost every day of our lives. They are the most remarkable animals I have encountered.

In one sense, the donkey is really just a domesticated horse. Donkeys have been used as working animals for at least 5000 years. There are more than 40 million donkeys in the world, most of them in underdeveloped countries, where they are used as pack animals.

Donkeys, a/k/asses, were first domesticated around 3000 B.C., probably in Egypt. Donkeys have worked with humans for millennia, they perhaps know people better than any other domesticated animal, including the dog.

In the poorest countries, donkeys live from 12 to 15 years.

In prosperous countries like ours, they may live to be 50. Our donkeys are guard animals, we got them to keep coyotes and stray dogs away from the sheep. We have never lost a sheep to a predator.

Donkeys have been abused, overworked, and otherwise mistreated by humans for many years. They know us well enough to be willful and careful around us.

I see donkeys as possessing an ancient kind of wisdom. You can’t get them to do anything that is unsafe or unreasonable.

They are affectionate without being pandering. Unlike dogs, they don’t live to please humans, humans usually try to please donkeys.

When Maria and I wake up and start talking to one another in the early morning, we heard the donkeys bray, from hundreds of feet away. Their ears are like sophisticated radar, scanning the world around them, picking up sounds nobody else can hear.

Lulu and Fanny, our donkeys, are sisters. I named Lulu after a close friend who stopped speaking to me about 15 years ago, I still don’t know why.

Fanny was named after my Aunt Fanny, a tough peasant woman from Russia with huge breasts and big black shoes.

She said the tragedy of  her life was when she and her husband Joe arrived at Ellis Island and a cousin who had come to America earlier met them and rushed to tell them the news: there was a new company called Pepsi-Cola and it was looking for someone with some food experience to run their New England operation.

Joe laughed. Even Americans, he said, were not so dumb or rich to buy colored water when the best freshwater in the world runs out of their own taps.

So he turned the job down and ended up running a hardware store in East Providence, R.I. Joe had made a big mistake. It would not be forgotten.

On Fridays, we all went to my grandmothers for dinner, Fanny and Joe were always there, she was my grandmother’s sister.

Every time Joe opened his mouth, Fanny was ready for him with the same line, and for many years: “Mr. Big Shot, he could have run Pepsi-Cola in New England, but he had to say now. Now he spends his days selling hammers and nails to the gentiles.”

Joe, beaten down relentlessly with that line, would only sigh and nod, there was really nothing to say that would placate Fanny.

So I named our donkeys after her. Fanny was larger than life to me, I thought she deserved to be remembered. I have to say Fanny the donkeys is a lot sweeter than my Aunt Fanny, but not quite as formidable.


22 November

Chick Magnet

by Jon Katz

Had I but know the impact a puppy-like Zinnia would have on women, I would have gotten a whole bunch decades ago, I could have made showing puppies to women my life’s work.

I’ve been doing it all week, and I have to say it’s a lot of fun. All kinds of wonderful women are suddenly very happy to see me, talk to me, invite me to lunch and to their houses.

I am not used to being this popular.

Yesterday Zinnia and I were mobbed by women at the Mansion, it was nice, and Zinnia loved it also. Zinnia met Kassi, the Mansion director and chewed on her chin for a bit.

I had to tell the staff and residents that putting teeth on human skin is never allowed in therapy work, nor is food of any kind.  Zinnia showered Kassi with some kisses once she figured out she wasn’t a chew bone.

This was great fun for me. In addition to socializing Zinnia, I got to talk with a lot of people about their dogs, and I am blessed by owning one so many people want to know.

22 November

Crisp Morning, Transition Days

by Jon Katz

November is not my favorite month of the year, up here it’s a transition month, from color to gray, from warm to cold, from Spring and Summer to Winter. It also brings up the holiday season, which is a mixed bag for so many people.

This time of year is a reset. We are ready for winter, but missing the color and the light.

Lots of people don’t have a Hallmark Christmas, it can be a dank and painful time of year. Still, yesterday brought a respite from the rain, a crisp morning, an uplifting sunset, a think coat of snow.

I am beginning to think of Thanksgiving, and what it means to me. Several years ago, I promised myself that I would not go shopping during the holiday season, I didn’t want the holidays to be about that for me.

So far so good. Yesterday I plunged right back into the photo nightmare, I purchased an expensive photo editing process that I can’t upload or install and can’t use. we go again. Tech support is by e-mail only and in no way helpful. There are lessons here.

21 November

Video: Training Zinnia, Cont. Sit, Stay, Meet Sheep

by Jon Katz

It was a good week with Zinnia, training-wise. We got to know each other, and I am getting a feel for how she thinks and responds. She is sharp, smarter than other Labs I’ve had, observant. She is calm but independent.

We worked on sitting, coming and most recently, staying. I’m increasing the distances for her to come, the length of time I want her to stay (three minutes, eventually) and the quickness with which I want her to sit.

We work for three or four minutes, three or four times a day. I use soft puppy training treats. She knows her name, and I have her almost full attention.

She is beginning to blow off some of my requests, which is natural as she grows up. This period calls for patience, simplicity, and clarity. And short but brief and repetitive sessions.

She doesn’t yet have the attention span for more intensive training.

I took  a video today showing the work we are doing and the progress she is making.

It turned out to be a good idea to begin socialization training early, she’s up for it and even hungry for it, she responded beautifully to it. The most important thing about therapy dog training is to make sure the dog is used to being touched and around lots of different people and environments. So far, nothing has fazed her.

People come into the Mansion sometimes with their dogs, and I am surprised at the lunging, barking, and lack of control some people have over these dogs. I wouldn’t be comfortable bringing many of them around the elderly or the dying.

I see that the residents like seeing dogs in any capacity and seeing dogs is important to them.

But still, to be honest,  they would make me nervous if they were my dogs working around the extreme elderly. I just wouldn’t trust them to not jump on people, frighten them, bump into them or scratch them by mistake.

I’m not a snob, I see service dogs doing great work, but I guess I’m more obsessive about therapy dog behavior.

My idea is no mistakes of any kind, people who are dying or at the edge of life deserve absolute trust and security. If I can’t absolutely control my dog, we won’t do this kind of work.

The advantage of today’s training, as you can see in the video, is that I could use distraction to my advantage and also help acclimate Zinnia to seeing the sheep and donkeys close up.

She and Liam had a good stare-down but once again, Zinnia was not flustered, although she was cautious. That was just right.




21 November

Update: The Do-Good Report

by Jon Katz

This has been a busy week good wise, between a therapy dog, the Mansion, winter, Wish Lists, Bishop Maginn  High School and the holidays.

I want to be clear and open and update about what is happening, it’s an awful lot of good, an antidote, I think, given all the nasties running around and polluting our space and disrupting our peace of mind.

I’ll take it in order.

The Bishop Maginn Amazon Christmas Wist was an instant success, it was sold out by morning. This marks our fifth successful Bishop Maginn Wish List, we must be doing something right, we are batting 100 percent.

(Please remember the $10 and $25 gift cards are always there if you’re getting into the do-gooding habit. I start my day that way when I can.)

By keeping small and focused, we are staying within our Capability Zone, small acts of great kindness, carefully and thoughtfully considered. I am grateful for the crumpled $5 bills, they are vitamins for the soul.

Thanks for the bigger ones also, they do much good.

The refugee children (and some teacher’s kids) will get the Christmas presents they want, thanks to you.

Every week somebody asks me why we are not expanding this idea nationally, not putting up gofundme pages,  or setting up a foundation, or not asking for more money to do more things.

It’s a compliment, I think, and I take it that way.

But each week I say no, we are good because we are small. and simple I am stubbornly small. And I will not ruin this work by burning out.

We aren’t looking for miracles, just offering comfort and filling some of the holes in life. I’m keeping things just as they are, and thanks so much. We are doing more than ever and in our own way.

And we have managed some big things. About a dozen endangered or struggling refugee children are attending excellent and safe schools because we have raised money for their tuition.

Bishop Maginn has a computer room, excellent art supplies, a  choir and drama class, a Spanish class, a science room, and some badly needed textbooks thanks to the Army Of Good. For the first time in years, the teachers are not spending their own money on school supplies (at least not that I know of.)

The Mansion has air conditioners, carpets, books, puzzles, a new Van,  big screen TV’s, a solid movie library, art supplies,  blankets, lab robes and all kinds of winter clothing.

Thanks for honoring the spirit of America, your patriotism is inspiring and powerful.

That all feels pretty big to me.

The Mansion Break Room is close to completion, the electricians have come and will put in a baseboard electric heater and some new outlets.

Everything else the Mansion aides need for their break room is in there already. Small fridge, coffee and tea maker, table and four chairs, some art for the walls (including a beautiful fiber painting from Maria).

No more eating lunch in their cars, unless they want to.

Not much room for anything else. I hope to greet them with a burst of flowers when they move in.

Thank you.

Everyone at the Mansion has the clothes they need for winter, although we are learning that a lot of them get lost or forgotten or misplaced.

I’ve ordered five more hats and some gloves. I’m determined that everybody who needs warmer clothes at the Mansion or Bishop Maginn will have them before the real winter descends in about a month. That’s pretty big.

I have tried repeatedly to update the residents’ mailing list, but it’s confusing and complicated for the residents, many of whom have memory or other issues. I think it would be wonderful to send cards just to the Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. The staff will put them up on bulletin boards and everyone can see them. Photos and original drawings are welcome, as are holidays cards, or cards for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Big news: Zinnia has made her debut both at Bishop Maginn and the Mansion, she is a rock star and if I don’t mess it up, she will make a wonderful therapy dog, she is trainable,  calm and unflappable and so far, has loved everyone she has met.

We’ve taken care of Bishop Maginn’s Christmas, but my plan to give each Mansion aide a $50 gift certificate got more expensive because I learned today there are at least four more aides than there were last Christmas, thanks to the new Memory Care Center.

It will cost $900 to give each aide a $50 certificate, I know they need it and will use it well – mostly to buy presents for some of the residents and also for their own children. If I’ve got $600 plus some smaller donations I haven’t tailed, so I’m hoping that $300 more dollars come via p.o. box or Paypal (

I could give a lower amount, but I’d rather not.

Checks can be sent to Jon Katz, Mansion Aides, P.O.  Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

Bishop Maginn is all set for the holidays, we have a storeroom full of blankets, sweaters, and hats when the need arises. Sue Silverstein says they will go quickly, but not until January.

One aide asked me for help, her son has no winter coat and no boots. They are on the way. The staff asked me to get Mansion Director Kassi a surprise “ball chair,” she has some serious back issues and her doctor says a ball chair will help.

The ergonomic chair cost $69.98 and will arrive at the Mansion by tomorrow at 8 p.m. Merry Christmas, Kassi, you do a lot of wonderfully good work. I admire her for fighting hard for her staff to finally have a break room, and I thank you once again for making it possible.

(Photo: Fate and Hollyanne, the Mansion.)

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