18 September

Me And The Kill Buyer: Lessons Of Connection And Compassion

by Jon Katz
Me And The Kill Buyer
Me And The Kill Buyer

I have made friends with a horse kill buyer, we are talking online and perhaps soon on the phone. He is a nice and thoughtful man, an animal lover himself. He wrote me to thank me for writing yesterday that I wasn’t going to judge the kill buyer in Oklahoma who bought Asher and other work horses to send them to slaughter.

The rescue of Asher by my friend Nancy Gallimore was a good time, I wrote, to stop using animals to hate and batter people.

At first, John sent me an e-mail message with his IP address obscured. When I said I wouldn’t communicate with an anonymous person, he relented and sent me e-mail with his full address and we have been talking daily ever since.  I was eager to get his perspective.I’ll call him John, that is not his real name, he lives outside of Chicago.

I’ve never seen a photo of a kill buyer, spoken with one, saw one described or interviewed. That is not an accident.

John lives like a secret agent, he has taught his wife and two children to lie about what he does, they all say he sells industrial insurance for a company on the West Coast. He never discusses his work, he is not sure his kids even know any longer what he really does. He goes to horse auctions throughout the Mid-West and buys horses, some old, some young and healthy, some sick and pays anywhere fro $500 to $850 for them.

He gets a commission from the slaughterhouses, he makes more than $40,000 a year, he said, he didn’t wish to say more. He owns his own home, a small three bedroom Colonial in a working-class suburb in Northern Illinois. He lives far from the horse auctions, it is safer, he says.

Like so many farmers and others in the animal world, he suffers at the hands of people who call themselves animal rights activists. They hate him, as they hate so many others, and harass him when they can. He has been called a murderer and a Nazi many times. He has been called a killer and a scourge. He is also smart enough to be aware of the great irony of that,  so many of the horses they ban and the animals they take away from people like farmers and carriage drivers have horses that end up in the hands of people like him. “Among other things,” he says, “the animal rights people have made it so difficult to have animals like horses that many people are giving them up. They come right to me.”

He know better than anyone, he says, how broke and overwhelmed the horse rescue farms are. They come to the auctions all the time to compete with him, and they almost never can.

The animal rights groups lobbied for years to shut down the horse slaughterhouses in America, they were, he said, much closer and more humane than the ones in Mexico. Now, the last ride of the horses is very often a hellish one.

John keeps a close eye on the effort to ban carriage horses in Chicago – they even set fire to one of the stables, say the police – healthy draft horses bring good prices, he said, the bidding for them will be high. And where else, he says,  will they go?

When John buys the horses, they go to feedlots where they are given poor food for sustenance for a few days or hours, then are shipped on trains or trailers to Canada – sometimes to Mexico. The rides are long, hot, crowded and frightening. Then they are killed, usually by having nails drilled into their heads. The journeys are rough, he admits, he cannot bear to see the horses once he buys them.

Business is generally good, horse meat is used in many products, including cat and dog food and other kinds of meal.  It is often shipped overseas. He would rather do something else, but his last job was in an Amazon warehouse, and he said many of the horses are treated more humanely than he was. He needs to feed his family and cannot bear the life of the unhappy corporate worker, one quarterly report away from being laid off and dumped out on the street.

“I feel bad about the horses sometimes,” he said, “but they have to go somewhere, there is no place for them to live, they are being abandoned all over the place, so that’s what I do.” I suppose we don’t like to think of horse kill buyers as ordinary human beings, but they are. John loves to take his kids to see the Chicago Cubs.

John has two dogs and two rescue cats, he and his family love them dearly, dote on them endlessly. People come to the auctions and scream at him, shout insults, spit at him, curse him, follow him outside, sometimes slash his car tires, threaten to hunt his family down and do to them what the kill buyers do to the horses. He is  obsessed with a security, he shreds his bills, puts no personal information on his cellphone, does not allow his children to bring anyone home.

In his career, he has had to move twice and he and his wife understand he may have to move again. I was very comfortable talking to John online, I liked him. I hope to talk with him on the phone later this week, voice-to-voice. I said it was not for me to judge him, we all had to work and pay our bills, he has two kids to take care of – one with a chronic muscle disease – and a marriage to sustain. His wife works in a part-time job at a knitting factory.  His loves his life and his family, he says, he likes the freedom, mobility and independence associated with his work.

It is wrenching sometimes, he says, to outbid animal lovers who desperately try to save horses but do not have the money to save them. He tries not to look at their faces. Sometimes, he says, he will look into the eyes of a horse and see a spark or some kind of light, he will drop his hand or his numbered card and pass over him. He feels sometimes, he says, like the Angel Of Death. He doesn’t want to play God, he wishes we lived in a world where every horse could live a full and natural life.

But we don’t, he says. Somebody has to do what he does.

I appreciated the conversation with John. I have written – and believe – that compassion isn’t only for people we like who do things we like. I did like John, he seems very nice and quite sensitive. I like him more than most of the political leaders I see spewing rage and hatred to gain power.

I believe it is a travesty to use animals as an excuse to hate or judge people. There are people I dislike, but I don’t feel that way about John. He is just an ordinary man, doing his work. He is not the problem, hating or judging him is not a solution for me.

This hatred is the cancer infecting much of the modern-day animal rights movement. Hatred and rage have despoiled the very idea of rights for animals.

Hatred and righteousness is also the cancer of some parts of social media. We sometimes seem to be a nation of haters and mobs and self-appointed judges and juries. When Dr. Palmer was accused of killing Cecil the Lion in the cruelest of ways, millions of people online thought it was find to threaten his wife and children and patients and employees and disrupt their lives.

I believe in a different way of understanding animals than using them to hate people, I believe in a wiser and more mystical one. We will either live together in harmony, or fall together in anger and confusion.

It was good to talk to John, I learned a few things from him, he is an ordinary man trying to do the best he can in a complex world. Just like me.

I am no better than him, and he is no better than me.

18 September

Asher’s New Name Is Paul. Helping To Save An Oklahoma Horse

by Jon Katz
Asher's New Name
Asher Has A New Name

Nancy Gallimore has great news, in one day she has already raised about one third of the money she needs to pay for rescuing a draft  horse named Asher from the slaughterhouse. And now that she owns him, she is changing her name to Big Paul in honor of Paul Moshimer, the co-director of Blue Star Equiculture. A good name for him.

Paul committed suicide several months ago, he was the husband of Pamela Moshimer Rickenbach, friend of many, a great animal lover and champion of the big horses.

Pamela said she was deeply honored that Asher would be getting Paul’s name.

Nancy (her blog is here) has decided to accept some help paying for Asher’s rescue and recovery. She purchased directly out of the feedlot where he was awaiting shipment to slaughter after being sold to a kill buyer.  He was a couple of hours away from being gone. Big Paul is in quarantine for 30 days and will likely have some substantial medical bills after he gets to Nancy’s farm outside of Tulsa in 30 days. Nancy says he will never be in danger again.

Nancy Gallimore is a writer, friend and animal lover, she is seeking about $2,000 to help pay for Asher and his new life.

If there is any extra money left over from the contributions she receives, she will account for the money and turn it over to Blue Star Equiculture. You can contribute to the Asher (Big Paul)  Fund using Nancy’s Paypal account, which is nancy@poochesplace.com. Or you can e-mail her at nancy@poochestulsa.com if you would like to ask how to contribute to the Asher fund in a different way. You can also contact her through her blog.

I have been urging Nancy to start an e-magazine about animals and animal love, she is considering it. The animal rescue culture is overwhelming, there are countless animals in need everywhere. In New York City, the animal rights movement has spent millions of dollars trying to ban the New York Carriage Horses, who are, by all accounts, healthy, safe and extremely well cared for. Beautiful and relatively young horses like  Big Paul are slaughter by the tens of thousands while the groups that claim to speak for animals spend their money on salaries, fund-raising, lobbyists and marketers.

They are a disgrace to the notion of animal rights. Nancy Gallimore and Blue Star speak to the future of animals, and to their most elemental right: the right to survive in our world. To save the animals, we must come to a new and wiser understanding of them. They are not piteous and dependent beings to be hidden away from human life, they are our partners in the joys and travails of the world. They cannot lead perfect lives any more than we can, we owe them this:  to do the best for them for as long as we can.

They must never be used as yet another way to hate or harm people, we must not permit them to be sent away from our everyday lives and into slaughter, invisibility or extinction. This is the message of Nancy Gallimore, and of Blue Star, a mythical place that I believe is the future of animals and of their rights.

More than any other entity or place I have seen, Blue Star fights to save animals, keep them in our world, respect their dignity and people, and support the people who wish to live, love and work with them. Through it’s extremism and  hostility, many of the major elements of the animal rights movement have squandered the moral responsibility and opportunity to do this work. They are much more about  removing animals from the world than saving them, they exploit animals ruthlessly to frighten, intimidate and persecute people, many of them innocents.

And this new understanding is also the message of Pope Francis, who speaks of the need to save animals more reasonably and eloquently than any other public figure.

“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.”

Big Paul is our brother, not our ward, our way to unite, we are not his master or exploiter, he is one small step to a bigger idea: saving the world one step at a time, by taking care of animals, taking care of the people who live with them and love them. I hope you can help Nancy Gallimore keep Paul and take care of him. Her paypal account is nancy@poochesplace.com. Five dollars is appreciated just as much as $100. She is well on her way, and thanks. You can also e-mail her at nancy@pochestulsa.com if you wish to contribute to Paul’s fund offline. Thanks for thinking about it.

18 September

Standing In My Truth. The Scary Creampuff, The Essence Of The Soul

by Jon Katz
Standing In My Truth
Standing In My Truth

A friend of mine told me yesterday that I sometimes made her nervous. Really, I wondered, I think I’m just a big creampuff. Yes, she said, sometimes you are, but you are a Scary Creampuff. I guess I know that, I know I made a lot of people nervous, I know I can be scary. I only know this because people  tell me.

There are, in fact, a number of things I can be scary about. I am scary when people say they want me to be honest but can’t handle it when I am. I am scary when people treat me without respect or dignity. I am scary when I talk about things people don’t want to talk about. I am scary when people are cruel to other people, or when they use the love of animals to hurt people. I am scary about people who forget that we do not need to hate the people we disagree with, or argue with them every time they think out loud. I am scary when people enjoy the virtues of a free society but are angry at people who think differently or demonize them.

I am definitely scary about the things Donald Trump is saying, and about the weak-minded people cheering him on. I care little for politics as it is now practiced in our country, I do not dwell on the left, or on the right, but I bleed a bit for my country when the people who presume to lead it are willing to let children risk suffering and death rather than annoy their donors.

I live an open life in the age of social media, and there is hardly a day when someone does not say something challenging to me, or to Maria about our lives or the way we treat our animals or the way we think. We do ask for it, of course, and we expect it. We can handle it, but still, it is constant test of patience, psychological stamina.

And most of all, of identity.

Today, watching Fate learn how to stand in her own kind of truth, seeing her  hold her ground against the imperious and difficult Zelda, I was resolved to stand my ground, to find my truth and stay in it. One person sent me a long list of books about training horses. I told her we were not looking for books about training horses, and Chloe is not my horse, but Maria’s.  I never intend to read a book about training horses.

A friend sent me some disturbingly angry messages because she does not like some of the things I have been writing lately, and I understood from the anger and cruelty of her messages that we can not be friends any longer. A sad thing, an increasingly common thing.

Several people analyzed the photos on the blog and had things to say about the way the saddle sits on Chloe. Maria shakes her head, she is learning the good and hard lessons of the open life in the age of social media. Every day, I learn about building boundaries and keeping them.

Fate has become an inspiration and a grounding point for me. I lied about many things for most of my life, especially about me. In the past few years I have confronted some of the ugly and painful truths about myself, I am learning every day to be authentic, and the Facebook era has been a great help to me. It has forced me to define and defend and articulate my identity.  And I always struggled with identity, as has Maria. We are building our truths together, every day.

That is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received, the challenge to define myself. Every time I make my own decisions, solve my own problems, make my own mistakes I rebuild and give rebirth to the identity that was shattered when I was so young. Everything is a gift, I think, every morning i watch our puppy learn to do the same thing, to use her powerful instincts and work ethos to figure out who she is, to define her identity and to stand up for it. I identify with this, this is something we share. Every day the sheep tell her she can’t get close, they won’t move, she is not strong enough, she doesn’t know what she is doing.

Every day she is proving them wrong. Every time she walks out into the pasture, she is learning who she is and why she is on the earth. Every day I post a message on my blog I am learning the same thing.

Dogs mirror us and our lives, of course.

So I accept the mantle of the Scary Creampuff. Fate is learning that identity does not come easily or cheaply. She goes to the lake and romps with children, then comes to the pasture and stares down a defiant ewe. Life itself. Identity is not free, it is not something others will accept or encourage, it comes from within, one hard step after another. Like a precious and rare flower, it must be forever protected and nourished and proclaimed, it is the very essence of the soul.

18 September

Video: Intuitive Herding With Fate. Training Me.

by Jon Katz
Intuitive Herding Fate
Intuitive Herding Fate

A new video. Working with Fate is dynamic, she changes, the sheep change, I change. I took a video this morning of some of our work, I wanted to share what I see as my own growth. I am quieter, calmer, clearer. Still working on that. That is important to any kind of training. And Fate and I can really speak to one another now, as good working dogs will do with people if they are trained properly. I love seeing Fate figure things out, it’s like watching a young chess grandmaster. I am grateful to the technology that helps me share this process with you, and grateful to you for following along. Come and see.

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