6 December

Donkey Ride. Is This A Crime? Are You Evil For Smiling?

by Jon Katz
Donkey Rides


I started to put this photo up as just another cute shot of Gus on a donkey, but when I thought about how much comfort this brings to people, how it makes them laugh, my mind took a turn and I got angry. So I ended up writing a different kind of piece. It isn’t really that cute.

Unlike many animal rights purists, I support the idea that animals can and should be used to uplift and entertain people.

By the logic that has now led to the slaughter of so many circus elephants, it is wrong for me to put Gus up on a donkey.

Gus on his donkeys entertains people, makes them laugh, and gives dimension and humanity to dogs and to animals like Fanny, whose appeal and gentleness are being forgotten as their work vanishes from the earth, and they are taken from us.

Making people smile has been a godsend for so many animals in our world for thousands of years. For me, living with animals makes living with humans more bearable.

Comforting and uplifting people gives them work, connects them with people, makes them valuable to humans and gives them desperately needed work to do as their habitats vanish. At our October Open House, almost everyone wanted to see Gus on a pony. (A few even wanted to see me!). He was happy to oblige.

As the humorless, magic-hating politically correct animal movements suck up money and support from well-meaning but gullible animal lovers, and our society is actually banning the use of animals for human entertainment (just like Gus in this photo), I think of Gus and Fanny as a symbol of the need for us to bring animals more closely into our lives, not drive them away from us and towards complete extinction.

They have the right to make us smile and laugh and love.

So where exactly are all these  new and mystical elephant preservation farms that are supposed to be providing safe and idyllic homes for all the unemployed circus elephants saved from their horrible work with people? You can look all day, but you won’t find them. There hardly are any, and the ones that exist are literally collapsing under the weight of the great cost of maintaining them.

Animal rights people love to save elephants and ponies and donkeys from people, they always have reservations waiting to take them all in, there they will live in paradise for all of their natural lives. Except that is a giant lie, there are only a handful such places for these animals, the loss of their work is an almost certain death penalty.

We haven’t yet found a single giant rescue farm promised by animal rights activists in New York City ready to take on the 200 carriage horses people who say they love animals are trying to drive from New York and other cities.

Carriage horses, perhaps the luckiest and best cared for draft horses on the earth, are also almost certain to go to slaughter slaughter when they are finally driven from the city by real estate developers and animal lovers who seem to hate animals.

I think of this every day when we put Gus up on Lulu or Fanny and he takes a ride around the pasture. Every day I get messages from children and adults thanking me for taking this photos, telling me how much they mean to people, how much they make people laugh, how much they miss them when they don’t see them.

I’m glad people find the donkeys cute, they are being slaughtered, just like horses, in mass numbers because there is no longer any work for them to do with humans – on farms, in circuses and fairs.

Last night, at a local restaurant, a mother came up to me and asked why I hadn’t taken any photos of Gus on a donkey lately, her daughter looks for it everyday. I love to hear this. This is the sacred gift of animals, they have always comforted, uplifted and entertained human beings and made our sometimes hard lives more bearable?

My donkey Simon was loved by many thousands of people, many of whom traveled far to see him. Was this abuse? Demeaning for animals? An act of abuse by people? And if it’s okay for Simon and Gus and Fanny and Lulu, why is it a crime a domesticated elephant who has spent his or her life with humans working in a circus and being fed every day, far from poachers, drought, climate change and human development?

Do you think this is cruel or demeaning for Gus? Do you think it should be illegal for Gus to do this because it clearly is entertaining for humans?

At the rate we are driving animals away from us and killing them it’s no longer that remote a possibility. If they can come for them, they can come for you and your animals. I do not care to live in so humorless and angry (and ignorant) a world. Almost no one who loves animals and knows them thinks it is cruel for animals to entertain or  uplift people. Just watch the news. Have we ever needed them more.

Perhaps you might think of this the next time you buy the idea that it is torture for a child to ride on a pony’s back, or cruel for an elephant to be in the circus under any circumstances, or abuse for a 2,000 lb carriage horse to pull a light carriage through a beautiful park.

It’s not them we are speaking about, it’s you.

My idea of animal rights is a movement that saves animals and keeps the among us. I am grateful to have a dog who entertains people and makes them smile, that is one of the reasons I am here on this earth, him too.


  1. Thank you for this post for you have written exactly what I often think about. This past summer my son spent time Thailand taking groups of high school students around the country and working with them to provide a variety of community services. All the students were excited to work with the elephants at one of the preserves in Chiang Mai. My son told me that this refuge was one of the best in the area and the animals are well cared for. The preserve also provides jobs and income for many families who may not have other options for work. Yet my son was distraught, that the preserves are a tourist attraction and exist solely because the elephants’ habitat has been destroyed.

    I see the dilemma on both sides. To preserve the elephant natural habitat – building and development would need to cease. To preserve the people and provide jobs — growth and development must continue. Is one option the better option? I don’t know. These elephants, at least, are cared for and used as animal ambassadors for Thailand. Learning about the elephants, planting in the fields, preparing food, and spending time with these majestic animals surely must be a good thing.

    Must we always reduce everything to only binary decisions? Is every decision black or white? I guess my frustration stems from my desire to have a little bit of everything and mix in the gray at times.

  2. Hello Jon, Your insights into the work of animals in a human-dominated world have really opened my eyes to the short-sightedness of many so-called “animal-rights” groups. I used to be taken in by that rhetoric, but thanks to your postings, I have done more research into the reality of their arguments and no longer support them without very careful analysis. Thank you for sharing your thoughts (and the pictures of your animals).

  3. After reading the above, a question came to mind. What of the “antics” pets do naturally that make us laugh and smile?

  4. It has also become the way of children. There are fewer tasks that they are permitted to do working along side adults, including their own parents. While child labor laws were rightfully intended to stop abusive situations, the unforeseen effect is they’d have eroded a dimension of the good that children provided their family unit and have eliminated developmental experiences that in years past fostered maturity. As a result, their role and thereby their value to society has diminished. In the utilitarian society we unfortunately live in, like these animals, when their purpose is eliminated so are they. As experts confirm, the way we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other. Look into the eyes of any young child who is asked to help bake cookies or stack wood, they glow with the affirmation of being in a relationship with purpose.

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