13 November

Tawni Angel’s Nightmare Without End: “Shit Stinks, Kid.” A Kangaroo Court.

by Jon Katz
Tawni Angel: To Be Accused
Tawni Angel and Her Ponies: To Be Accused

It is, in the most literal sense, a nightmare without end. The New York Carriage Drivers have been living it for years now, so have thousands of other people in many different places – farmers, college students, researchers, carriage horse drivers, circus and farmer’s market operators, Hollywood producers.

Now it is Tawni Angel’s sad fate to be living it. There are people who abuse animals, and there are people who do not. The  social movement that says it speaks for the rights of animals no longer seem to know the difference between the two, or cares. For many of them, the law has no meaning, justice no value; politicians hide, leaders collect their donations, a system fails. In this disturbing and Kafkaesque world, there is no difference between the guilty or the innocent, animals and people are left without rights or protection.

 “What I fear most,” wrote the great writer Isabel Allende,”is power with impunity. I fear abuse of power, and the power to abuse.”

   There is no evidence that Tawni Angel has ever abused an animal in her care. It is she who is now frightened, who has been abused, and who is now fighting for her sustenance and very way of life against accusers without reason.

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Here is one way to understand what has happened to Tawni Angel and to so many other animal lovers. Imagine for a moment that you are a school teacher and someone drives by your class while you are out in the schoolyard and calls up the police and the principal and accuses you of being a child molester and an abuser.  She didn’t like the way you talked to the students, the way you touched one on the shoulder. The children looked frightened, she said, they were quiet, it was too hot for them to be outside, they were clearly abused.

The accuser offers no evidence of any kind, talks to no authorities, experts, seeks no other resources but makes her accusation publicly and in the media. There is a series of frightening but immediate investigations triggers great publicity and concern, even hysteria, but yields no evidence. You are cleared, but the accuser refuses to accept the finding, she continues the accusations as if they have never been made. Time after time you deny it, the authorities say you are innocent, no evidence is ever offered to support the accusation.

None of the children report being abused, saw any abuse, show any signs of abuse. They are questioned again and again, by administrators, by the police, by psychologists and social workers. After living in dreadful fear and limbo, you are cleared again and again of any wrongdoing. But this does not matter to your accusers.  It took years, cost all of your savings and your health and that of your husband. Your children show signs of stress and acute anxiety, your fear and worry have permeated the house and their lives.

Over time, you are horrified to realize that the accuser will never go away, will never accept the results of the investigations, will never stop accusing you of the awful crime of molestation, will never stop picketing, carrying signs calling you a “child molester” or an “abuser” in public, never stop posting  ugly things about you on the Internet, talking to parents and school officials, rooting  though your private life, your political views,  all of your comments on social media,  seeking the one ugly or foolish one that they will use to define you, broadcasting it the school, your employers, your neighbors, demanding that you be arrested, fired, disgraced.These accusations are not shared with you, you are not given an opportunity to explain or respond.

Because molestation is an awful crime, the accusation hangs over you like a storm cloud that never leaves, it is in the faces of the students, it frightens and disturbs your family, upsets your children. You live in fear and confusion, and that is not the worst of your nightmare. The worst is that  you come to see there is no reasoning with your accuser, no evidence she will accept, no reasoning that will work.

You will not get the promotion you sought, perhaps will be denied tenure, it is clear everyone in the school would be happier if you were gone. It doesn’t matter what the evidence shows, or what the truth is.  You will have to leave, your teaching career is over. You will never get the pension you planned for, have the career you loved.

There is no winning or losing in a nightmare like this. The accuser always  wins, just by making the accusation and by repeating it your life is damaged and changed.

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Child abuse is not the same thing as animal abuse, but there is a similarity between that accusation and the monstrous charge of animal abuse. In the animal world, animal abusers are the equivalent of child molesters.

Abuse, like child molestation, is a crime.  It destroys lives and reputations. It is the most awful accusation one could make against a person who loves or lives or works with animals, and it speaks to the sad and disturbing degradation of the animal rights movement into a rogue fringe culture that embraces Stalinist notions of justice, not  American values of fairness and freedom. In this world,   if you are accused you are guilty. Evidence, truth and the law simply don’t matter.

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.”

What future does a person who works with animals have after being accused of  monstrous behavior towards animals?

In Santa Monica, California, animal rights activists showed up suddenly one Sunday in front of Angel’s pony rides carrying signs accusing her of abusing her ponies. They said the ponies had cracked hooves, were suffering in the heat,  had no fresh water, were tethered too tightly and without enough room to move. They said it was “torture” for ponies to give rides to children.  They started a petition and collected signatures (Tawni Angel collected three times as many signatures in support of her pony rides). Three different and very official and thorough investigations found out that the charges were false, there was no truth to any of them.

Tawni Angel had been offering pony rides to children in Santa Monica for years, and hosting a petting zoo as well. She often brought her ponies and animals to birthday parties and public events. She was immensely popular with the children and their parents, she gave 300 rides a week without trouble or complaint. The demonstrators refused to believe the veterinarians or the police, their unanimous finding that Tawni Angel had committed no abuse meant nothing to them.

In a rational culture, the activists and the City Council might have apologized to Tawni Angel for the pain and suffering the accusations and investigations and awful publicity had caused.

No one has apologized to Tawni Angel or even expressed concern about her welfare or well-being.

The activists – they seemed unable to process the mounting findings of Tawni Angel’s innocence – simply moved on, they looked for other evidence, invading Tawni Angel’s privacy and personal space as well as soiling her reputation. There had to be abuse, and if there wasn’t any, they would simply find other crimes to accuse her of. The new animal rights movement in America appears increasingly elitist and intolerant, both traits quickly surfacing in the case of Tawni Angel.

They searched through her Facebook pages, found out that she liked to shoot guns, that she didn’t agree with President Obama’s immigration policies, that she voices strong opinions in a way they thought offensive. And worse yet, that she drank vodka. Her messages were copied and sent to city council members without her knowledge or any chance to see the charges or to reply.

How could such a racist and bigoted person, said the activists, how could someone who liked guns and opposed the liberalization of immigration and who drank vodka possibly be trusted to be around the children of Santa Monica? She was not, they wrote, the kind of person “we” wanted around our children, not the right example for them. Beyond being an animal abuser and dangerous bigot, they whispered, Tawni Angel was probably an alcoholic and a person who did not respect the ethnicity of other people. They thought the council members should know.

Thus, Tawni Angel, who had operated her farm and lived with her animals and run her business lawfully, successfully and peacefully was now, at the word of a handful of people who knew nothing about ponies or the real needs of animals, accused of animal cruelty and abuse, alcoholism, of being a menacing gun nut, and of committing racist and ethnic slurs. She was not only an abuser of ponies, but was no longer fit to even be around the children of Santa Monica.

The council members did want to know. Although her neighbors and many friends wrote letters and signed petitions – hundreds of them – testifying that Tawni Angel was a loving mother and wife and loved her animals and cared for them well – the council members heard enough. They scheduled a vote on Tawni Angel’s contract without telling her and canceled it late at night, in great confusion.  They did not want someone who had been accused of animal abuse working in their farmer’s market, they did not want someone who shot off guns and drank vodka and disagreed with their politics anywhere around.

In this, the city council of this community – it claims to be progressive – became a kangaroo court, and that is also a definition worth pondering in the case of Tawni Angel:

According to Wickipedia, “a kangaroo court is a judicial tribunal or assembly that blatantly disregards recognized standards of law or justice, and often carries little or no official standing in the territory within which it resides. Merriam-Webster defines it as a “mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted.”

The definition could hardly fit the Santa Monica City Council proceedings any better. Tawni Angel, who was accused of everything and convicted of nothing, was found guilty, a vote for Alice’s White Rabbit. Her contract with the city was revoked, as of next May.

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It is important to understand that this case is not about animals, just as the New York Carriage Horse controversy is not really about horses. While Tawni Angel’s life is threatened and damaged, the life of a single animal was not saved or improved after months of protests, controversy and fruitless investigation. Increasingly, it appears that the animal rights movement – of which I have long been a supporter – has degenerated into a community that attacks the lives of people rather than improve the rights or lives of animals.

The thing is, no one came to Tawni Angel and said the horses needed more room, a better space or shelter, could the city provide it? No one suggested ways to make the horses even happier and more comfortable, even though every expert said they were both. No behaviorists, trainers or horse lovers were consulted by the activists or invited to come and see, no outside advice was sought.

No city official brought her complaints and suggestions and asked her what she thought of them. And there was no accusation, really, for her to answer. She had done nothing wrong. She was not accused of any wrongdoing, none of the investigators who came to inspect her ponies found any kind of abuse. She was not guilty of abuse by any accepted definition, but she was accused of it every single day, on the Internet, in the market, through signs and e-mails and petitions and interviews.

When I was a young reporter, my tutor and mentor, old Jack Boucher, a veteran of many years and a lot of whiskey and vodka, told me I always had to be careful in my reporting about passing on accusations that could not be proven or substantiated.”Shit stinks, kid,” he told me, “once it gets on people it may never come off.”  He warned me to be careful about people’s reputations, once damaged, they were hard to restore. Reporting has changed, reporters seemed happy to pass on unfiltered or investigated allegations about Tawni Angel, they were online and in the papers every day for months, you can Google them and see them being repeated today.

Shit does stink, and false accusations stink all the more.

Abuse is a crime, it is not an opinion or an argument. False accusations of abuse, just like false accusations of child molestation, are a libel, a stain and a stink that innocent people will fight all of their lives to get off. Tawni Angel, an innocent person who has been accused of no crime, has broken no law,  violated no contract or regulation, faces the ruin of years of hard work, the loss of her sustenance and livelihood, and she may have to seek new homes for her safe and well-cared for ponies, if they can be found in difficult times for horses. The very real possibility that people who love animals and want to see and ride ponies will never come near her, or hire her, or trust her again.

Because abuse is a crime, the people who accuse other people of it falsely ought to be held responsible for their cruel words and for the awful damage they do. To me, ruining a blameless person’s life in the name of loving animals is the real crime.

And the question for all of us, animal lovers or not, is this: Does the law mean anything? If we obey the law and follow the laws, and if the people who enforce the laws state clearly that we are innocent of wrongdoing, can we still be wrongly and endlessly persecuted as if we were criminals? And if this is so, what is the difference between criminals and us?

Do we really wish us to live in a culture where laws have no meaning and expertise and knowledge is irrelevant? Do we wish people who have nothing but contempt for laws or truth or the welfare and reputation of a human being to decide the fate of the animals left in our world?

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Tawni Angel e-mailed me last night to thank all of you for the support and love you are showing to her. “Oh, my goodness,” she wrote, “you alone have made this national news. You have readers in Canada and Australia sending me support and love not to mention the hundreds of folks in Florida, Vermont, Texas, North Carolina, Minnesota and on and on and on and on! Words cannot express my gratitude…your beautiful way of writing has inspired so many animal lovers and really given me the emotional boost I was needing. I really hope I have the opportunity to thank you in person and give you a huge hug! My family, including my animals, can’t thank you enough.” You can contact Tawni Angel at tawniangel@gmail.com

I was happy to get that message from Tawni Angel, I think I need to get out to Santa Monica if I can figure out how to do it, and see those animals and get that hug. I quoted her message to thank you for your support and to let you know that it has real meaning for her. I believe Tawni is the very opposite of a criminal. She is an ordinary human being called upon to find her strength and act like a hero. She is hurt and frightened, she is rising to it.

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

Tawni Angel: Then, They Came For The Ponies.

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