12 November

Tawni Angel’s Struggle: Not A Left-Right Thing. A Right And Wrong Thing

by Jon Katz
Tawni Angel
Tawni Angel

Santa Monica, California, a trendy town on the edge of Los Angeles,  prides itself on being a liberal, or progressive, place.

The left-right thing, the shrinking of the American mind, is almost always a factor now when it comes to issues affecting the rights of people or animals. This is evident in the successful campaign to take Tawni Angel’s  life and livelihood from her, endanger her animals,  and to ignore the 300 children a week who came to ride her ponies. In their short and savage campaign against her, the people who call themselves animal rights activists have accused Angel and her family of animal cruelty and abuse, of making racist and ethnic slurs on social media, of drinking vodka, and of liking to shoot off guns in the woods.

In the craven spirit of our worst politicians, the City Council – while agreeing that Angel had done no wrong – decided it was simply too much bother to defend her and keep her contract.

She is suing her accusers for defamation. This is not a left and right thing, it is a right and wrong thing.

One City Council member said the many accusations – one might say libels – against her definitely were on his mind as he decided Tawni Angel’s fate.

These accusations were made in public petitions and pronouncements, and more ominously, in private e-mails to members of the City Council who voted to terminate her contract with the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market next Spring. Tawni Angel was not told of these charges, and was given no opportunity to respond to them.

There are many people who work with animals – I think of the New York Carriage Drivers – who have been defamed in this way. Tawni Angel is one of the very first who is suing her accusers for defamation.  There is at least one fascinating precedent.

Two years ago, Ringing Brothers ended a 14-year-legal struggle with the A.S.P.C.A. – the group had repeatedly accused them of mistreating their elephants – when a judge ordered the group to pay Ringling Brothers more than $9 million in damages after it was discovered that witnesses had been paid more than $200,000 to claim in court that the animals were mistreated. If the New York Carriage Drivers ever decide to sue the groups in New York City accusing them of torture, cruelty, theft and abuse, I would imagine that they will never have to worry about working again.

In my now year long research into the carriage horse story, I was  stunned to find more unchallanged lies, distortions and untruths than I could possibly list.

It was not what I expected to find.  In the interests of being transparent, I ought to say that while I dislike the labels journalists and Americans put on people these days, I am generally in the liberal or progressive camp. I am a Democrat most of the time, and it may be that Tawni and I would not agree on many things. I’m sure the same is true of me and the carriage drivers in New York. But I like to think I am a human being before I am a label, I like to think right and wrong matters to me. And truth. I do not permit people on my website or social media pages to engage in cable-news-left and right chatter. Yuk.

What has happened to Tawni Angel is wrong, it is an injustice. It is not a left or right thing, it is about the role of government, personal freedom, the truth about animals, and their future in our world.

There is nothing progressive about what was done to her, or has been done to the people in the New York Carriage Trade.

It is legal to own and enjoy guns, to drink vodka, to say what you want on your Facebook page, if anything was even said at all.  Tawni Angel has not been accused or convicted of any crime, she has broken no laws, violated no stipulations of her contract with the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. Thousands of children have enjoyed her pony rides, none of have been injured on one. If her expulsion stands, few of these children will ever get to see a pony again or learn how to ride or treat one, something Angel emphasizes.

Tawni Angel was wrongfully  accused of abuse, a term that is so misused it has lost any real meaning or context. Three separate investigations of Angel’s pony rides found no evidence of cruelty and abuse – not a single one. The charges made against her were found to be false. That means she is actually a role model for responsible animal care.

I don’t care what she and her husband do on their own property in their own time on their own Facebook pages. She seems much nicer, more honest, less self-righteous and arrogant, much more compassionate and humane than the people accusing her, I am eager to meet her, I am not eager to meet them.

I do care that she treats her animals well. There is not only no evidence that she hasn’t, but quite substantial evidence that she has. This issue is not about her politics or her lifestyle – I know many people who know her, and they say she is awfully nice and interesting. Her wrenching story is really about only one thing:  what is animal abuse?

The animal rights activists who shut down Tawni Angel carried signs alleging that she was committing acts of animal cruelty and abuse (the New York Carriage Drivers have experienced this for years ) by forcing the ponies to give rides to children in a confined space. She claimed they did not have access to fresh water, were working in conditions that were too hot, had cracked and untreated hoof injuries. Three separate investigations found that her animals were sound and healthy, well-cared for, brushed and nourished,  working in comfortable temperatures, had no cracked hooves, plenty of fresh water,  and adequate room to move. In simpler terms, none of the accusations against her were found to be true.

It is an awful thing to accuse an animal lover, and a person whose work depends on animals, of abuse. It is cruel and hurtful. To accuse someone of abuse falsely is unconscionable.

Even as they canceled her contract, the City Council conceded that there was no evidence of animal abuse. So why, then, is she being deprived of her livelihood, the children denied their rides, and her animals facing re-homing or worse?

  According to the Legal Dictionary, cruelty to animals is  “the crime of inflicting physical pain, suffering or death on an animal, usually a tame one, beyond necessity for normal discipline. It can include neglect that is so monstrous (withholding food and water) that the animal has suffered, died or been put in imminent danger of death.”

Abuse is not an argument or opinion, it is a serious crime, it is a violation of the law in California and every other state. The country is polarized by so many things, but it seems to me – I believe it – that there are truths we can all agree on. I have come to love the people I have met in the New York Carriage Trade, we don’t need to agree on every political issue, they don’t care who I vote for. I am eager to meet Tawni Angel and see her farm and her animals for myself, her story is becoming all too familiar. Many animal rights organizations simply no longer operate within the law, or the protections the law gives to the accused.

Angel’s personal life, lifestyle, feelings about guns, Vodka or any other legal thing she does is not my business or that of the Santa Monica City Council. Nor is it the business of the protestors who have invaded her life and her privacy, investigated her and distributed her personal information, almost surely libeled her and taken her means of sustenance away. If the children in Santa Monica had a vote, the ponies would remain forever, and they have a right to be heard, enough of them have e-mailed me over the summer.

It is interesting to note that the people who are seeking to destroy Angel’s life – she loves animals and has lived with them for years, it is a way of life for her – have expressed no concern for her or her welfare, for the anxiety or distress they have caused her. It seems that in Santa Monica it’s politically correct to invoke animal rights while trampling on those of human beings. Is it really progressive?  Many people in New York City don’t think so, more than 61 per cent of the population wants the horses to stay.

Tawni Angel, wittingly or not, is part of a new and less hateful social movement to work for real rights for animals, and for the people who own and work with them as well.

Yesterday, Pamela Rickenbach, co-director of the Blue Star Equiculture Farm, the rescue and retirement home for working horses and the New York Carriage Horses, wrote Tawni Angel a letter:

“We are in a confusing and cruel time,” she wrote Angel, “when good people that love their animals and work alongside them are demonized and demeaned by fanatics who have clearly lost touch with any sense of decency or logic. While there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do to inform them or help them see more clearly we can protect ourselves and stand up to them..absolutely.”


And if it seems that there is not much we can do in our broken and divided political system, there is this: we can stand up for people who are wronged and treated unjustly whether we agree with everything they say and do or not.

For all the temporizing and rationalizing of feckless politicians and unknowing activists, this is simply a wrong. Unlike her ponies,  Angel really has been abused.

She has broken no laws, committed no crimes, honored her contract with the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market in every way. I talked to two lawyers in New York City yesterday. They said they thought Tawni Angel was right to sue on behalf of her reputation, and they predicted good luck for her. They both added that she ought to go further,  that she and her lawyer should consider seeking an injunction against the Santa Monica City Council staying their vote, and then force them to explain precisely why her contract ought to be revoked when she had followed it in every way and treated her animals and her customers well.

There is a lot at stake in Tawni Angel’s fight for justice.

Think of it this way:

My border collie Red is not treated nearly as well as Tawni Angel’s ponies, he often works for hours out in the pasture in the heat without fresh water or shade, his claws are often torn by racing over rocks, his belly scarred by barbed wire. I love Red, he has a wonderful life as a sheepdog and a therapy dog.  You could easily take a photo of Red with his tongue hanging down on the ground and put it up on Facebook (I have) and claim he is suffering from working in the summer. I can only imagine what the demonstrators in Santa Monica would say if they saw him.

But I know if they can do this to Tawni Angel, they can do it to me – and to you. If Tawni Angel can be shut down by a defeated politician whose only exposure to animals is three rescue cats, then anyone can decide I am abusing my dog by herding sheep.

Left or right does not matter here, no one should be drawn into such shallow and myopic thinking. It is nothing but a distraction from injustice.  I will down some Vodka tonight in honor of Tawni Angel, maybe go fire off a few rounds of my .22 as well. Tawni Angel is a good citizen to me, living a good and meaningful life, giving home and purpose to animals that would probably otherwise be dead. She is sticking up for herself, and I believe her cause is one for good people.

I have let her know how I feel: [email protected]. Perhaps you will as well.

John Locke, the British philosopher who invented the idea of democracy, wrote that the end purpose of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. In all the nations of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom, he wrote.

The law exists to protect Tawni Angel from enraged fanatics who destroy the lives of people in the name of loving animals. She is asking that this be so, this is what she is fighting for.


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