9 April

The Real Life Of Animals: What Do You See?

by Jon Katz
The Real Life Of Animals
The Real Life Of Animals

What do you see when you look at this picture? I’ll tell you the truth.

If you see an abused animal, or a horse you think must be dying, starving, or abused, then you have  become disconnected with the natural world and the real lives of animals. This horse, who I saw recently by his hay feeder,  has just eaten and is taking a nap in his favorite spot, right in the mud and moisture. His own version of a warm bath. And it wasn’t warm.

Anyone who has horses or donkeys or farm animals and who lives on a road – anyone- will tell you how many times people have pulled over, rushed to the fence, come into the barns, often angrily and accusingly – and rudely – to demand that someone help the horse or donkey or cow or goat or sheep. They must be abused.

Manipulative – and often lucrative – images and videos on social media and the media-supported hysteria over animal abuse have turned many Americans into secret informers, patrolling farms and yards and private phones, eager  to turn in strangers or neighbors, invade privacy and threaten a way of life. There is not a real farmer in America  – or animal lovers with farms – who has not experienced this. Many live in fear of it, some have moved their pastures out of sight and away from the road.

The police often appear after the informers pass by, sometimes with animal control officers or humane society agents. Once in awhile they find animals in distress, sometimes they find things that have nothing to do with abuse, like frozen water tanks, or an empty feed can. Farmers and  horse  lovers beg me not to take photos of any animal who is lying down, informers are everywhere, they say.

it is now routine for people with animals to have police or animal control officers pull up to their farms to say that someone has reported an abused or neglected animal on their farm. Do you mind if we take a look?  A generation ago, this would have been a rare, almost unheard of thing. People still lived with animals then, they knew something about them.  And people, I am told,  minded their own business and respected people’s privacy. As long as they were well treated, there was something private and personal about a human’s relationship with his or her animals.

The police in my town know that when Lulu rolls in the mud to clean off her coat and protect herself from flies, she is not dying or in great pain, she is not being abused. She is being a donkey. Sometimes, people driving by do not know this.

In our urbanized and over-developed world we have lost touch with nature, most of us no longer have animals in our every day lives.  People driving around have been conditioned to look for abuse, the work of the new secret underground animal police. Facebook is the new bull hook. If you are looking for abuse, you are likely to convince yourself  you are seeing it, with horses on farms, cows in the pasture, pigs in their huts, chickens in their roosts, elephants in the circus. Those farmers and workers and businesspeople and others who do live with animals increasingly feel like targets,  under suspicion for simply having animals in their every day lives.

There are very few people in the world who would not care if their horse or donkey or goat or sheep  is sick, or is dying or exhausted. Or would need to be told.  Some animals are neglected, some are abused. Most are not. Farmers do not get animals to torture them or starve them to death.

“People used to come to the door to tell me if a cow got through the fence,” a farmer friend told me. “I appreciated it. Now they call the police if they see one standing out in the wind.”

Horse people do not look the other way when their animals fall ill or collapse – sudden death is a rare thing at any age. So the next time you see a horse lying down, it would be great if you did not rush into the barn and demand to know what the farmer or family is doing about it. It is a very hurtful thing to ask an animal lover why they are abusing an animal when their only crime is to have an animal who is acting like an animal. it is disturbing to have to convince police officers that there is no reason for them to be there.

As a person with a farm ( I am no farmer), I look the old idea about police and property. They stay away unless they have a very good reason to believe something is seriously wrong. That is why people fought the American Revolution, in great measure.

Animals lie down all the time, roll in the mud, sit out in the snow and rain, make strange noises, look filthy and raggedy.

Maybe next time when you take a drive in the country, look for something pretty and affirming – like animals living with people in the most sacred and ancient tradition, fortunate to be loved and cared for. Bring a carrot or ask if you can get close and learn something about what horses really need.

(You can help a blind horse live a life of peace and dignity in his new home. a gofundme project from Blue-Star Equiculture.)

9 April

Opening Up: A Friendship Day

by Jon Katz
Friendship Day
Friendship Day

I spent most of my life closed up. I lived in a house in New Jersey for more than 20 years and we never invited a single human inside of it.  I lived at Bedlam Farm for seven or eight years and it was mostly a moat, few, if any people, ever got inside. I was closed to love, friendship, spirituality. Some people believe I began opening up after Maria came into my life, there is certainly truth in that.

But the process began for me many years earlier. I saw an analyst in New York City when I was working there and i said I needed to conquer my fear of opening up, being vulnerable, letting people in.

I worked in therapy for years to open up. Animals helped me to open up. Maria helped me to open up. More therapists and spiritual counselors helped me and so did meditation and a breakdown that nearly cost me my life, and a recession and a collapse of the publishing industry and a divorce. A shrink told me he had never met a man my age who was undertaking so much change at once.

Life, I told him, was upon me. I would not die like that, being all closed up. That was not how the story was going to end for me, I told him. And I kept my promise to him and to me, and I am still keeping it, still working on it.

Good thing too, I remember being closed up like a walnut and I was reminded this week that I was opening up. The photo above is a bunch of people standing by the Pole Barn watching Red do his thing,  herd the sheep. This is something people love to see. It started off when our friends the Gulleys, dairy farmers from White Creek suggested we have lunch and we happily agreed. We met at the Burger Den up the road.

Ken Norman was coming to trim the donkeys’ hooves – one of his first jobs since his knee surgery. I invited him to join us for lunch. After lunch Ed and Carol Gulley came over to see Red and the sheep, Ken joined them and then trimmed the donkeys’ hooves. We all watched, cheered Ken on as his new knees did the job for him.

While he was there, his sister came by and his wife Eli and daughter Nikilene and his mother-in-law. Maria was here also. Then Paul Moshimer from Blue Star Equiculture came into the farm with his big new truck and trailer. He was staying over, he was going to Vermont the next morning to pick up Sarge and take him back to Massachusetts.

That evening Paul and Maria and I went to the Bog to dinner, then Paul and I went over to Scott Carrino’s farm to sit in the sugar house with him and hold the first-ever meeting of the Fabulous Old Men’s Club. We talked for hours in Scott’s sugar house, filled with steam and bubbling and the sweet smell of sap turning to maple syrup.

I was exhausted at the end of the day. A day of friendship. I am not used to it. I would never  have permitted so many people to enter my life at once, it was still an astonishing thing for me to see.

It is not familiar to me, it drained me.

I told Maria that the day reminded me of the hard work I had done over the years to open up. I have been trying to open up for decades, it is not simple or quick. You have to chip away at the rust and undergrowth bit by bit, is long and tricky and beautiful work like the work on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel. Meditation. Therapy. Tragedies and shocks, epiphanies and magical helpers, hard time and beautiful ones.

One by one, day by day. Suddenly, there was love. Then, friends. Then animal helpers. Then a blog. Then photography. Then donkeys and more dogs. More books. Then moving to a farm that fit us, the size of our lives, not bigger. Then challenge and struggle. The circle of life, joy and travail. Crisis and mystery, just around the corner.

To have a spiritual life it is essential to open up. To stave off the anger and cruelty in the wold, it is necessary to open up. To feel compassion and empathy, one must open up. Otherwise, there is  no way for the good things to get in. it is never too late to open up, it just gets harder the longer you wait.

Opening up is my faith. The journey began many years ago. Life closed me up in a brutish way when I was young, it is hard still for me to open up, it will be hard until I die, I imagine. The thing is, to never quit on it. To be open to yourself, and the minds and hopes of others. I think I close up every night like some flowers and have to take care to open up again every morning, when I write on my blog, take the first photo of the day.

When the door is closed, life is shut out. When the door is open, life – love – can flow in, like a stream in the Spring. You just can’t ever take your eyes off of the door.

Looking up the hill at all those people on my farm, in my life, watching Red, I saw them as witnesses to my opening, like a creaky old door in a haunted mansion. Look at them, I thought, all of those people, my friends, my wife, all right here with me, all day and into the night.

9 April

Koda: Saying Goodbye To Sarge

by Jon Katz

Sometimes saying goodbye is harder than leaving. Koda has been Sarge’s companion ever since he came to the Dorset Equine Rescue last August. The two were inseparable, they played together, ran together, grazed together. As Sarge was loaded onto the trailer that took him to Blue Star Equiculture, Koda stood and watched and neighed and whinnied and called out to him, the two called out to one another again and again.

I do not know what they were saying to one another, no one does. If felt to me like goodbye. Other horses are on their way to be with Koda, he will not be alone, and Sarge has already found a new pal at Blue Star and been accepted by the other horses. But I was touched watching Koda and listening to him, I felt his sorrow and loss.

9 April

Helping Sarge: A Gofundme Campaign. A Blind Horse Comes Home

by Jon Katz
Helping Sarge
Helping Sarge

Yesterday, Sarge, a 17-year-old blind and discarded trail horse came home to Blue Star Equiculture in Palmer, Mass. He will live the rest of his life in comfort, peace and dignity there with our help.

This morning, Blue Star launched a crowdsourcing campaign on gofundme to raise money for the hay and medical care that Sarge urgently needs, now and for the rest of his life.

Sarge has a powerful story to tell. He is already teaching us a lot.

Last August, Sarge was sent to auction in New York State. A kill buyer for a slaughterhouse was buying him when representatives of Dorset Equine Rescue in Vermont stepped in and outbid him. He was minutes away from an awful fate, one that awaits more than 150,000 horses in America each year.

Dorset Rescue bought Sarge for $525, and have spent the last nine months working with him, caring for him, socializing him. Sarge was frightened and disoriented by the rapid loss of his sight. He has lost 90 per cent of the vision in his left eye 100 per cent in his right. He is expected to lost all of his sight soon.

Sarge is a sweet and generous and playful horse, he has a great deal of life to live.

It costs more than $6,000 a year to care for the horses at Blue Star. Paul Moshimer and Pamela Rickenbach-Moshimer, the co-directors at Blue Star, are always reluctant to exploit their horses to raise money. They also provide the best and most loving possible care, and that is an expensive and crushing reality in our world. I am glad they decided to create a gofundme project for Sarge.

I believe very strongly in Blue Star, I believe it is a model for the best way forward for animals and the people who love them. Animals are too often either seen as beasts of burden or piteous and dependent beings. At Blue Star, they are neither, they are our partners in the world. Blue Star seeks ways for people and animals to work together so that animals can remain in or every day lives, not be driven away. We need them and they need us. The horses have been forgotten, they and their legacy live at Blue Star.

You can learn more about Blue Star here. You can follow Blue Star on Facebook and see Sarge’s arrival here.

Today’s animal world is in a sad angry place, wracked by controversy, argument and cruelty, to people and animals both. For the sake of animals, we need a wiser understanding of them and us, and of our relationship with them. I see that at Blue Star.  They love animals, saves them, cares for them well. And they love and help people as well. Blue Star does not assault, intimidate or threaten people. They treat people and animals with compassion and dignity. There are no secret informers there, no harassment or targeted people or businesses. They do not seek to remove animals from us. They are the new way, the Third Way of understanding animals in our world.

Sarge is the perfect symbol of the plight of horses and of our way to a better way to help them than exists now. Blue Star is seeking $12,500 to help care for Sarge, I hope they get that and more, they will use every penny of it well. They have a lot of wonderful animals in need. I am going to Blue Star Sunday to see how Sarge is doing, I will, of course, report back. You can help Sarge here.  And thanks, we are part of a new social awakening, a wiser understanding of the animals in our world and of their future with us.

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