11 November

Tawni Angel Stands And Fights. “Then, They Came For The Ponies.”

by Jon Katz

Tawni's Pony Rides


Tawni Angel  is the latest victim of the hysteria against people who work and live with animals. She is in trouble. She faces the loss of her business and her animals as well as her  reputation due to an  ignorant and demonstrably false attack by people who call themselves animal rights activists but who seen to know nothing about animals or their needs.

She has been banned in precisely the same way the mayor of New York City and the so-called animal rights activists there seeks to ban the carriage horses. She has decided to fight back, for her rights, her way of life, her reputation, her animals, her sustenance and property. I believe she is also fighting for me, for my border collie, my donkey, my right to live with animals.

I first wrote about her several months ago, it was a piece called “Then, They Came For The Ponies.” It was sadly prescient. They did come for the ponies, and I am sad to say they will not stop there. If they can do this to Tawni Angel, they can do it to you and to me.

Angel was not seeking fame or notoriety, she loved her life and was grateful for it and worked very hard and honestly to get it. But it has been taken away from her, in the most unjust way.

So she has become a pioneer, perhaps even a hero, in the new social movement to save animals, to keep them in our world, and to define their rights and ours in a rational, loving and humane way. I don’t know her, and have not seen her ponies for myself, as I was able to do with the New York carriage horses. But I know many people who do know her, whose children have ridden her ponies.  And I have seen much evidence in support of her. Many children wrote to me trying to save her and their pony rides. If Angel is ultimately driven away, these children – like the children who love the New York horses –  will not likely get to ride ponies again or even see one.

I hope to meet Angel, to see her farm, to see her ponies, if she is able to keep them. She is a victim of an awful injustice, but she is standing in her truth, and in so doing, standing for everyone who loves animals and wishes for them to have a future in our world.


I received an announcement late last night that Angel, the owner of Tawnis Ponies and Petting Farm, Inc., has filed a defamation lawsuit in California Superior Court against animal rights activists who accused her of animal abuse earlier this year and who badgered the Santa Monica City Council into canceling Angel’s pony rides for children, held at the city’s farmer’s market. Suddenly, there was this idea  that it was cruel abuse for ponies to give rides to children.  The council action deprived Angel of her means of making a living, and damaged her reputation. No one wants to do business with an animal owner accused of cruelty and abuse, even if the charges have been proven to be totally false.

The assault on her pony rides has also threatened the life and future of her ponies (most rescue animals) who may find themselves in urgent need of hard-to-find new homes.

Angel and her ponies had been inspected at least three times last year by police and veterinarians and no evidence was found of any kind of abuse of mistreatment of her ponies. The stomach sinks a bit.  Another person targeted who has done no wrong and committed no crime, more animals banished from contact with human beings who want and desperately need to see them, more cruelty to people in the name of animal rights. If the Santa Monica council members were awake, they would give Angel an award for keeping these animals in our consciousness and near our children. That would be a truly progressive act.

In America, the movement that claims to speak for the rights of animals often has no idea any longer about what they are like or need. They are  seeking to redefine the very meaning of abuse outside of the law or any reasoned legal, medical, expert or social convention. They are increasingly cruel and abusive to human beings.The very lives of working animals depend on their finding work with humans, those that don’t are vanishing from our world at a horrifying pace. Last month, the World Wildlife Federation reported that half of the animals on the earth had vanished since 1970. People who believe in the rights of animals ought to first and foremost fight for them to stay alive and in our world.

Every cared-for animal we keep among us is precious, even sacred.  But the movement that calls itself by the name of “animal rights” is removing and killing many and saving few.

You can follow this story for yourself, Google will take you there. Angel’s case is a classic example of the twisted morality of the contemporary animal rights movement: endangering animals in order to save them, driving them away from populated areas and the very people who might keep them alive. This is a movement that has no vision for protecting the rights of animals or the people who keep them. What happened to Angel is yet another travesty in the increasingly disconnected, Stalinist culture that goes by the name of animal rights.

The scenario is ritualistic,   sadly familiar now, at least to me, a supporter of animal rights and someone who thinks of himself as progressive.  Someone chooses a life with animals, a way to work with them, pay for their care and earn a living. Often they are following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents, they have chosen work they love and a way of life. Suddenly, and usually without warning or any kind of due process, they are accused of criminal behavior – animal abuse and cruelty, greed and callousness. These people rarely have the money or resources to fight back against well-funded organizations who seem to mostly target the weak.

Fearless and ignorant politicians are panicked, and they have to choose between fighting for their lives at great expensive and trauma or giving up their animals, who often end up homeless or sent to slaughter.

Politicians, as politicians will, run to hide in their closets. Innocent people  – almost always without the means or know-how to defend themselves – face the loss of freedom, their way of life, their reputations and their property without cause or do process, and this in the name of loving animals and progressive politics.

Angel started her business in 2003, she loves animals and especially enjoyed offering pony rides to children who rarely, if ever, get to see animals in their lives in their urban environment. Marcy Winograd, a former congressional candidate and someone who calls herself an animal rights activist, decided it was “torture” for ponies to be forced to give rides to children at the farmer’s market. She cited no evidence for this theory, no trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians. She simply decided it was so.

“There, every Sunday, six ponies – some of them dragging their feet, having trouble walking – are tethered to a metal bar and forced to plod for hours in tiny circles on hard hot cement, while bands, often loud, blare next to the ponies’ sensitive ears,” Winograd wrote in a statement. More than a thousand people signed petitions in support of Angel and her ponies and petting zoo. Winograd posted photos online, claiming to show that the ponies also had cracked hooves. Investigators found no evidence of cracked hooves.

She also wrote in her letters and petitions to the City Council that it was cruel and abusive for ponies to be used to provide entertainment to children.
The Santa Monica City Council initiated at least three separate investigations into the treatment of the ponies, and all three found the animals were healthy and well cared for. Angel and her husband own a five-acre farm and – according to all independent accounts – scrupulously care for their animals, the ponies run free all week when they are not giving rides to children or going to birthday parties. Giving rides is the way Angel supports her farm and cares for her animals. Without that revenue – she lives week to week, like most animal lovers, and she may not be able to keep them. That is perilous for the ponies, who will face a world where 155,000 horses are slaughtered each year in Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses.

The conflict has many echoes of the controversy over the carriage horses in New York. Time after time, the police, regulators, health inspectors and veterinarians have founded the horses to be content, safe and healthy – none has found any sign of abuse of mistreatment, yet reality rarely seems to intrude on the people seeking to ban the horses.

It is the story now familiar to many thousands of animal people across the country. People who know and love animals have watched in shock and growing unease as the animal rights movement has run amok, trampling both on the true rights of animals and the rights of people. Almost invariably, the accusations are made by people with no understanding of animals and their needs, and no understanding of what abuse even is. Animals are disappearing from farms, circuses, Hollywood movie sets, farmer’s markets, private homes. Where do the animal rights people think all of these animals go?

On Sunday July 13, Angel’s husband, Jason Nester, called 911 to report that a group of protestors were blocking the sidewalk at the farmer’s market, protesting the pony rides. Sgt. Mike Graham, a former horse owner and the former supervisor of the Santa Monica Police Department’s Animal Control Unit, was sent to inspect the pony rides and look for evidence of animal abuse.

Upon arrival, Sgt. Graham said he was approached by Winograd and several demonstrators, who immediately began questioning him about what he saw, and asked if the horses were in the sun, drinking water, and free to move about the area.

Last night, I got hold of Sgt. Graham’s police report, these are his own words:

I examined the ride set-up. The horses appeared in to be in good condition – their body weight appeared normal, their fur was clean and brushed, their manes and tails were brushed and healthy, the ground around them was clean and evenly flat, they walked on sawdust shavings, and there was no visible urine or feces. The equipment – saddles, bridles, and (thick) pads were in good condition. The horses were “quiet” and well behaved. I saw nothing to make me believe the horses were ill-treated, unhealthy, malnourished, injured, or in discomfort. The horses did not appear hot, were not sweating, and were on a timed (30 minute alarm,) water-break schedule.

I saw that as the horses walked in circles, their speed and disposition was constant and calm. Their path took them in and out of shade from the sun.

I answered Marci (Winograd’s) questions, shared with her my observations of the health and overall good condition of the horses, explained that they were in the shade an equal amount of time that they were in the sun, and told her that it was in fact “not” hot. (Horses live and work in places much hotter than coastal communities with cool ocean breezes.) I told her that the length of the “lead ropes” that connected them to the “hot walker” poles was long enough to give them head movement, but not long enough to allow them to turn around. (She wanted them to be free to turn around. I explain how inappropriate and unsafe that would be for the child riders if the horses could turn 360 degrees during the ride.)”


Angel was given no warning that the City Council was considering revoking her license. Council members agreed that there was no animal abuse, and only four were present, they voted to revoke her license because the controversy Winograd had sparked was “not right” for the city. Parents who had been taking their children to ride the ponies for years were stunned.

Angel, who had been following some of my writing on the carriage horses, wrote me a month ago. The lies, attacks, and bullying, she wrote, “has resulted in a loss for 300 kids a week and myself and my wonderful animals are out of work come May when my contract expires, the Council has rewarded (Winograd) for her relentless e-mailing, calling, writing, harassing the city to get rid of me, and it has worked.”

I believe in animal rights and have come to see that animals have no movement for their rights, only a fringe social movement that is disconnected from the real lives of real animals and estranged from the people who wish to keep them in our world and care for them.

Abuse is not the opinion of politicians or animal rights activists or people on Facebook. It is a crime, it refers to the grievious injury and torture of animals for no reason. I hope the New York Carriage Trade will take inspiration from Tawni and her refusal to be treated so shabbily and unjustly. The carriage horses have been defamed for years, accused without evidence of brutality, cruelty, greed, theft and wanton animal abuse. Since there is no evidence for any of these accusations, it seems the very definition of defamation, and their attackers have never been held accountable.

Tawni Angel is fighting on behalf of many victims, as well as the many true animal victims of abuse. Hers are not the animals who are abused, Angel is not an abuser of animals. The children in Santa Monica will suffer from being cut off from the only contact with animals many of them have ever had. Most, says, Angel, have never even seen a chicken. She has been targeted by a movement whose only vision is to use animals as a club to attack people, many of them innocent of wrongdoing, and whose only idea is that animals can no longer live among us. They have forfeited the right to speak for animals, they are in fact spawning with their excesses a new social movement, one based on the idea of keeping animals in the world, and treated animals and the people who own them in a loving way.

Everywhere, we see that the animal rights movement is forcing animals out of our lives, and most of them have nowhere to go. It is people like Tawni Angel who are the best hope for finding a way to keep animals alive and among us. She was never looking to get rich, and never will be, she sought a love with animals and found a way of keeping them. The children of Santa Monica will almost certainly never seen a pony again, Santa Monica, a community that claims to be progressive has endorsed the idea that is is abuse for them to entertain and educate children.

Don Chomiak, Angel’s attorney, sent me an e-mail last night and paid me a great compliment. He said he much enjoyed reading a piece I wrote earlier this year, “Then, They Came For The Ponies.” It was my first mention of the Angel’s dilemma. Chomiak said his closing arguments will make many of the same points should the case go to trial. I can’t imagine a better fate for my piece.

I imagine Tawni Angel is frightened now, as well as angry. Like most people who live with animals, she is not looking for a life of conflict and anxiety anymore than the New York carriage drivers. Like them, she has committed no crimes, broken no laws, violated no regulations, cared well and conscientiously for her animals. I believe that matters. She is not alone, I have learned that this year. She is fighting for her animals as well as herself, and people will fight hard for that. How sad that it is necessary. Her e-mail is [email protected] and I imagine she would be grateful to hear from people who are inclined to support her. She will hear from me.

8 April

Then, They Came For The Ponies

by Jon Katz
Then, They Came For The Ponies
Then, They Came For The Ponies

The messages come to me almost every day now, sometimes in letters to my Post Office Box (Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816), sometimes through Facebook, sometimes in e-mail.  Sometimes, the messages are about the elephants they are banning from the circus, one was about rabbits stolen by people who said they were for animal rights.They did not think rabbits should be sold for meat – the stolen rabbit’s 10 abandoned babies slowly starved to death. They shut down a petting zoo in a mall in Missouri because they said it was cruel to have petting zoos with goat and sheep and alpacas,  and in North Carolina; a small traveling fair was forced to sell a baby elephant after protestors claimed it was abusive for her to be working.

One newspaper clip from Minneapolis told of an organic farmer who is being picketed, his work banned from food markets because he sold cheese from his goat. Animal rights groups across America, perhaps encouraged by the effort to ban the carriage horses in New York,  are seeking to ban carriage horses in a number of cities, including Cincinnati and Chicago. They are also seeking to ban pony and donkey rides in a number of county fairs and many animals from circuses. I suppose it was inevitable that they would come for the ponies.

Yesterday, one letter came that pierced my heart,  a letter from Dana, a ll-year-old girl in Santa Monica. She said she had been up much of the night crying because they are trying to ban the pony rides in the Farmer’s Market in Santa Monica, California. Dana rides them as often as her allowance permits, she says, she has learned a lot about animals from them. “I am writing this so you will write about this and help us save the ponies,” she said, “my mother says you are writing about the horses in New York. Please, please, please, help us save the ponies.”

Dana enclosed a clipping from the Santa Monica Daily Press from April 2 describing a campaign by a former congressional candidate, Marcy Winograd, who told the paper that she is gathering signatures on a petition to ban the ponies. “We do not want to pray on the most vulnerable population, children, by teaching them that it’s OK to abuse animals,” she said in an interview. “I’m sorry, but when you have ponies walking for hours around in circles, tethered to a pole, next to loud music and lots of commotion, that, in my opinion, is abuse.”

Winograd demonstrated two things to me in her comments, she knows nothing about abuse and even less about animals. She reminds me of the comments of New York’s mayor about the carriage horses there.  Animal abuse is a criminal offense; it is a legal term that defines abuse as the willful affliction of pain and suffering on helpless animals, used in cases of starvation, savage beatings, exposure, and other neglect that results in serious injury or death. It is not an opinion or an argument, abuse does not in any way morally or legally apply to Winograd’s notion of how a pony should live, or to a pony giving rides to children.

Abuse is an important concept; it is the way in which we can actually protect animals, it is losing it’s meaning it is  so incorrectly and wantonly invoked. Increasingly, it is being unfairly and inaccurately invoked as an excuse for removing more and more animals from our midst. They do  not ever return.

Secondly, Winograd reveals what is a familiar strain in the debates about the New York carriage horses, an almost total ignorance of animals, what they like and how they really live. Domesticated animals like ponies, working horses, dogs – even some circus animals – love to be with people and work with them, it is what they are bred for, trained for, what they have done for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

There is nothing abusive to a pony about walking in circles; it is more stimulating, invigorating and healthy for them than standing still in the corral for hours eating and dropping manure. There is no evidence of any kind that music is disturbing to animals or unhealthy for them; it is, in fact, often piped into stables and veterinary clinics to calm and soothe them. Working animals love to work, and they love attention, and anyone who has seen a donkey or pony or horse with children can see the powerful connection that often occurs, the rich experience for children of seeing an animal, of seeing what may be lost forever in this world.

My donkey Simon, who actually was abused – it is a crime for people to use the term so ignorantly – and nearly starved to death, loves to be around children, his ears go up, he nuzzles them, loves to be touched and brushed by them. Simon would love to give rides to children, I just never thought of it, he never tires of being around them, they never tire of being around him.

One parent told me it changed the life of her autistic son to kiss Simon on the nose and hold him for many minutes. It sure had me in tears. In a sane world, we will turn society upside down to find more ways for children to be around animals like ponies, donkeys or the very calm and accepting carriage horses of New York.

One of the richest experiences in my life with animals is seeing Simon,  this reborn animal, once near death, giving children the great gift of seeing how wonderful donkeys are, hardly any of them have ever seen one. Winograd seems to be drawing from the bizarre animal ideology advanced by the mayor of New York and his allies in the animal rights movement: the only proper place for domesticated animals are the farms of the wealthy or the struggling, overwhelmed and generally impoverished rescue preserves. They seem actually to believe it is abusive for working animals to work it is abusive for working animals to work.

Dana told me that she and her friends and their parents were fighting back.  I can see that this is true from the follow-up story in the Santa Monica Daily Press, which seems like a fair newspaper. Unlike the New York media for so many years, and for so many stories, the Santa Monica paper actually contacted the owner of the ponies to seek her comment. Things are changing, I see. The counterattack from the pony supporters was powerful and instantaneous.

The supporters quickly gathered more than twice as many signatures in favor of keeping the ponies as Winograd did to ban them. Winograd’s first demonstration drew only six people.  She is vowing to return this weekend, but there is a backlash to these campaigns. The most heartening statistics in the struggle in New York City are the recent poll results showing the people of New York want the horses to say by a three-to-one margin. The dynamic is changing; animals might get some rights after all – including the right to survive and remain in our communities and have meaningful work with human beings.

Tawni Angel, the owner of the ponies, said in an interview that 70 per cent of them – like the New York carriage horses –  are rescued animals, saved from slaughter at auction. They would be dead if they were not giving rides to kids.  She said the ponies live in five-acre pastures, and that her goal in offering the pony rides is, in part, to teach children about animals. “I can’t tell you how many times a kid has asked me what a chicken is,” she said. “The main reason I do this is for the kids. Where else are they going to see goats and alpacas? I’m not getting rich off this.”

In a ritual painfully familiar to the New York carriage horse owners and drives, Winograd dismissed Angel’s reasoned arguments out of hand, she brushed aside all of her comments and explanations, there is no dialogue or learning with much of this movement, it seems, they live and work in their own bubble. There is no discussion, no give-and-take, no negotiation. Not ever. Winograd  said petting zoos are abusive to animals as well.

“It’s hardly a family or “festival atmosphere,” she said “when small horses plod for hours in tiny circles, their heads bowed and tethered to a pole. What would we call it if human beings were forced to do this? We would call it torture.”

Personally, I would call it working in an Amazon warehouse. Unlike the employees there, the ponies get to move slowly, they work outdoors and have shade; they get frequent breaks, they don’t work every day, and are petted and loved by children all day.

In her comments, Winograd demonstrates, blessedly, that she knows as little about torture as she does about animals or abuse. I doubt people who are burned by cigarettes, have their fingernails pulled out,  have electric wires attached to their vaginal and genital areas, or are beaten to death or killed,  would compare their experience to being a pony riding children around in circles all day, or to a horse pulling a light carriage on flat ground. It is profoundly insensitive to the many sufferers of real torture in our world for the term to be used in this way, just as the term “abuse” is tossed around like confetti and has lost all real meaning to most people.

When I was in New York last week, I saw a hard-working Labrador working for the Amtrak Police. What, I wonder, would Winograd say about this big and beautiful Lab, spending all of his days listening to announcements on the loudspeaker, the constant rumble of trains, walking back and forth in circles all day through the vast waiting room, sniffing bags, head lowered, nose to the ground. If it is torture for ponies to ride children in circles, what would she say about the Lab in Penn Station?

The actor Alec Baldwin referred recently to the New York horse carriages as “torture wagons.” Steven Nislick, the millionnaire leader of NYClass, the group spearheading the move to ban the horses in New York, told an an interviewer that he believed the carriage horses would be “better off dead” than pulling carriages on New York.

I suppose if he is successful in his effort to shut down the carriage trade, we may sadly get to find out if this is so.

The true animal heroes in stories like this are not people like Winograd or Baldwin or Nislick, who seem to know nothing at all about animals and their welfare. If you think about it, they are the carriage trade owners and people like Tawni Angel, who keep animals in our world and give people, especially children, the opportunity to see and learn about animals and love them in a world increasingly disconnected from nature. Angels says she makes little or no money from her petting zoo and pony rides, and anyone who has been around farm animals, petting zoos or pony rides knows this is true. The money, she says, enables her to keep the animals on her farm, which she loves.

Doesn’t it seem that animal lovers and people who claim to support the rights of animals would applaud a person like this, rather than harass them and try and put them out of business, and put her ponies at risk? My understanding of animal love and animal lovers is that they – we-  want more animals in our world, not less, we seek to find ways to keep them among us, to improve their lives, not to banish them from our lives, where  they will never again be seen or known. Animals do not exist only to be rescued and pitied, we need a new and more mystical understanding of them.

The political pressure on politicians ought to be to find ways of keeping animals in urban areas, not taking them from us, closing down business, putting people who care for them out of work. If they can come for the ponies, they can come for you.

People who love animals rather than themselves – Tawni Angel comes readily to mind – always struggle for ways to live with them, pay for them, keep them among us. How wonderful that someone would take the trouble to give children access to ponies, I can hardly imagine a greater gift for them in their Instagram/PlayStation/CellPhone world. I would so prefer my daughter to take a pony ride than text all day long or stare at a screen.

Winograd does not understand any more than the animal rights activists in New York do that without people like Angel or the carriage grade people,  these ponies and horses would most likely be dead, removed from human experience and gone from the world and the sight and experience of children and adults.

Animals who work help the people who love them – just like Angel –  pay for them, not abuse them, and they get to stay alive.  People do not get rich keeping animals. One has only to look at the holocaust that has afflicted the animal world in the 21st century, animals without connections to people are mostly gone or perishing.

The real abuse is the idea that animals can only exist in shelters and rescue preserves and the farms of the rich. Tawni Angel is a true animal rights hero.

People who care about animals all around the country seem to be awakening to the implications of the misuse of abuse to remove animals from the world. In Santa Monica, the counterattack against Winograd and her petition was swift and strong. Supporters of animals and of the ponies learned from the mistakes of the New York carriage horse owners, who waited years to forcefully respond to the largely false accusations made against them. This hesitation made them appear guilty, allowed the accusations to grow and lodge in the public mind. They are now speaking up, and the public is rallying to them.
People in Santa Monica did not wait to respond.

And what of Dana, one of the children Marcy Winograd and the other animal rights activists demonstrating each week are trying to protect. We exchanged some e-mails, and she said none of the animal rights organizations seeking to ban the pony rides had talked to her or any of the other children she knows, all of whom love the ponies and very much want them to stay in the Farmer’s Market.

What,  I asked her, with her mother’s permission, is the lesson the pony rides are teaching her? Is it really how to abuse animals?

It took a few minutes for her to reply. “I love the ponies,” she said, “they teach us how to touch them gently, and pet them. I would never hurt one, they people there show me how to be nice. If you aren’t nice, you can’t ride them. I have learned that I love animals and I hope the ponies are always around for me to go and see. All of my friends feel the same way. We are all very sad that they are trying to take the ponies away. Where will I ever see one?”

2 February

Sadness And Submission: And Then, They Came For The Horses, The Dogs And The Ponies

by Jon Katz
Then They Came For The Dogs
Then They Came For The Dogs And

I wrote yesterday about the many people who message me or post on social media when they see Red out in the snow, they often say he looks cold and sad and submissive, the same thing they often say about the New York Carriage Horses. One friend posted and urged me to ignore these messages, I didn’t need to reply to them, she said, people get Red and know how much he loves his life.

I thanked her, it was a nice sentiment, but the truth is, I ought to have answered them sooner, and more frequently and effectively, and so should all of the people who love their animals and wish to work with them and keep them in our lives. First, they came for the elephants in the circuses, then the horses in the movies, then the chickens in the farmer’s coops, and then they came for the horses, and then they came for the ponies who give rides to children, and  soon, for certain, they will come for Red and the dogs who work with people, for the guide dogs and bomb dogs and search and rescue dogs and therapy dogs.

Work, they say, is abuse, animals are not meant to support or amuse or entertain people, they should all be living in nature, in the wild, away from  human beings. The mayor of New York and the people who call themselves supporters of animal rights are seeking to ban the carriage horses from their clean and warm and well-kept stables and fresh hay and sent them out into the holocaust afflicting horses and so many other animals.

Because no one spoke up and said it is not abuse for working animals to work, people like the mayor of New York remain ignorant about animals, they think they are doing holy work by cruelly depriving people of their livelihood and horses of their safe homes and work. Many of these horses face an awful death, sent either to slaughterhouses to have nails driven into their heads or to impoverished rescue farms where they will spend their lives eating hay and dropping manure.

Could any rational lover of animals really argue that this is a better life for them? Or a better life for Red? Or the ponies in the farmers markets? Or the elephants in the circuses, facing slaughter and extinction in their own habitats? Or the horses in Hollywood, now being send off to slaughter because producers don’t want the grief of dealing with people who claim to speak for their rights, while really finding new ways to kill them?

I answer the people who project their own emotions and feelings onto my dog because I want to fight for his life and his right to work and share his life for me.  He helps make my life possible, every single day. If you feel the same way, I hope you will do the same. I am sorry to tell you that if they get the horses they will come for him, and they will come for your dog or horse or pony too. That is why I have to reply to those messages, if someone had done this in New York, perhaps the horses would be safe.

12 July

Onions, Hot Cars, Ponies, Panic And Greed. Fear And Loathing In The Animal World

by Jon Katz
Fear And Loathing In The Animal World
Fear And Loathing In The Animal World

Last week, I mentioned that Fate ate a small onion in the Pompanuck Farm gardens. I could not count the number of warnings, alarms, grisly tales and hysterical messages I instantly received from people telling me I should rush her to vet, get her stomach pumped and pray for her survival. Also chastising me for not diving headfirst into the garden to save her from this vegetable, which, I was told, is lethal for dogs.

“You better take this seriously,” said one message, “how will you feel if she is dead in the morning?”

I remember a few months ago taking a photo of a Lab riding along in a car, as he has done for all 15 years of his life, summer and winter, and being inundated by messages urging me to report the owner to the police, to check and make sure he was hydrated and, if there was any doubt, to bust open the window and pull him or call the police and have his owner arrested. I remember that day, it was cloudy and 50 degrees outside at noon.

None of the messengers had any idea just where I lived, when the photo was taken, what the temperature was. I learned then – it was a creepy thing to learn – that there are many people in the world who ride around looking at cars in parking lots in the hopes of finding a dog in them who is suffering. And many who patrol the borders of farms in the hope of finding the same thing.

I get messages regularly about the dangers of my dogs being stolen, of walking without leashes, of running into the woods, of eating prepared or processed dog foods. On the book tour, I met a librarian who proudly told me that she rushed her border collie to the vet to have her stomach pumped for $850 for eating some vegetable I never heard of. I think she expected praise, I told her she needed a new vet.

I met a woman recently whose beagle ran off on a hot day and came home with his tongue dragging off the ground.

Fearing dehydration, she rushed the dog to an emergency clinic. They put an IV into the dog, pumped fluids into him, took various tests and charged her $1,100. My border collies work in heat and I keep fresh water around and make them rest.  Let me be honest with you, I think these people have lost perspective, I have no respect or admiration for the people who are turning animals into objects of fear, loathing and alarm, and who use their concern for them to project all kinds of human junk onto their animals, and inject themselves into other people’s lives, spreading their alarm like a kind of cultural Ebola.

I take very good care of my dogs and have never lost a single one to a vegetable of any kind, never roasted one in a car, never had one stolen, never failed to give water to my dogs when their tongues are hanging out, always make sure in advance that my vet is honest and has true perspective about animals, people, fear and money.

I do not live by the horror stories of other people, I live by my own experience. There is trouble in the animal world, it is rarely as common as we are led to believe. There is no money or righteousness in peace and contentment.

Dogs are a joy to me, I will never turn living with one into a lament or reason to live in fear and panic. Few people get dogs and cats to hurt them, few farmers raise animals to make them suffer. This is how the carriage horses in New York got into so much trouble, the people who believe they are protectors of animals and their rights often seem to only be able to see animals and pets through this prism of hysteria and abuse and victimization. Animals like dogs and horses do not live in a perfect, risk-free world any more than we do.  I reject that way of looking at animals, this will never be my experience of living with animals.

Ever since I wrote “Going Home: Finding Peace When Animals Die,” I have been receiving horrific daily tales of people who can’t let go of their dogs, treat their illnesses with perspective, let them die on peace, let go of grieving for them,  who turn mourning into agony for many months, even years.

I could not count the number people who tell me they could never get another dog or cat because one of theirs died, a process they relate to me in excruciating and eternal detail. I wish I could slap them upside the head, get them to a psychologist, challenge them to understand the meaning of narcissism, to  find perspective about owning animals: they do not live as long as we do, many things can kill them, the miracle is you can always get another one.

We have all lost animals we love, it is part of the universal experience of living with them. No one suffers this pain uniquely or alone.

There, I am happy to say it, there it is, my truth.

How many are the ways we transform the wonderful experience of living with a dog or a cat into a perpetual nightmare of panic and hysteria, fear and worry. I will never succumb to it. Living with dogs is nothing but gift to me, I will never turn it into something else, some part of our new national disease of living in a system of fear and judgment and money and blame.

Corporations and, sadly, many veterinarians and many lawyers are getting fat off the neediness of people, that is, the need to assuage their own terrors of life in the world and it’s dangers by projecting them onto their dogs. Invariably at a great profit to someone. What a shame, for people, for animals.

We live in a culture where people actually believe it is cruel for working horses to pull carriages in parks. Where we accept a growing culture of secret informers who report these often unfounded fears and alarms to the police and ruin lives. Where growing numbers of farmers, animal lovers and people who work with animals are being persecuted and abused in the name of protecting animals. It has gone too far, this panic, it has become a hysteria, not a means of making the lives of dogs and cats and horses and elephants better.

The minute Maria got a pony, the warnings and alarms began pouring in, the horror stories, cautions, tales of Aunt Martha getting kicked in the head of falling to cellulitis. Maria is warned daily about the dangers of riding her pony, of being kicked, of being around small animals, of not wearing a helmet, of getting thrown or bitten. When I ask people what makes them think we don’t know that, they are often outraged.

How dare I reject warnings and advice, isn’t that what I get for writing about my life?

I am puzzled at this social-media fed addiction to minding other people’s business, to transforming the experience of living with an animal into a nightmare of fare and loathing, warnings and alarms, judgements and criticism. I would never do it to another human being, or to an animal, for that matter.

But back to onions.

As it happens, I am well aware of the onion issue which has more in common with the dog-in-car issue than one might think. The American Veterinary association has long reported that onions are toxic to canines because of a substance they contain known as thiosulfate. Dogs do not have the enzyme to digest this substance so onions can be harmful to them in significant quantities. It is rare, says the AVA, for any dog to be harmed consuming a small amount of onions, almost unknown for them to die  or become ill from eating a small scallion in a garden.

I called my vet, told her Fate had eaten a small scallion, asked if she believed she was in danger, related the warnings. “Tell them to get a life,” she said, “I’m busy with animals that are sick.” A good vet.

Every dog I have ever owned has eaten onions in one form or another at one time or another, none has been ill or died from it. Clearly, if dogs are fed onions regularly or as a part of their diet or in vast or continuing quantities they can get sick, even die. Fate was in no danger from eating the small onion in the Pompanuck garden, I would not dream of pumping her stomach for that, or rushing her to a vet, or spending hundreds of dollars to have her tested. I suppose I am, if it comes to that, willing to take some risks with my dogs to avoid a life of fear and loathing and testing and going broke – the new way of loving animals – to live with them.

There are no reliable statistics about just how many dogs are stolen by strangers or die in hot cars. Both things happen and can be dangerous, obviously, I have no need of strangers on Facebook advising me on dog safety. They are also, according to every reputable study, rare things.  I do not choose to live on the basis of dangers that are not likely to occur, I do focus on those that are likely to occur – dogs running in roads, dying of overfeeding, being aggressive to people and dogs, being inbred or poorly trained. Dogs have ridden around in trucks and cars for more than a century, it is good for them, good for people.

I don’t take my dogs out in cars if the temperature is over 70 degrees. I never leave them without shade or fresh air. I am sorry to hear about the emotionally disturbed people who trawl supermarket parking lots breaking windows and calling the police if dogs are left in cars for short periods of time. Any dog can be in peril anywhere, I do not believe it is ever my right or mandate to invade someone’s privacy or break their car windows  unless the conditions are so extreme and obvious – 95 degrees and closed windows – that humane intervention is required.

A woman in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. recently left he dog in an air-conditioned car with the engine running and ran into a shop on a warm day to pick up a package. When she came out, a police officer was waiting, the police had broken her car windows and put her in handcuffs  – they said it is the law there now – and took her to the police station for booking on charges of animal cruelty and neglect. The city has lost perspective.

A number of people there and elsewhere have told me they have stopped taking their dogs along with them when they go out to do chores, they are afraid of having their windows broken or being charged with cruelty. I wonder if the legions of the righteous have considered how beneficial it is to dogs and humans alike when the dogs come along. It socializes dogs, makes them less fearful, often helps people feel less lonely and disconnected. Something very precious is lost to animals and people when we are afraid to bring them along.  Does anyone ever give any though to what is lost when we are made to live in fear over our lives with animals? Carriage drivers in New York afraid to stand with their horses because so many people incorrectly think the horses are depressed when they hand their heads low.

We live in an increasingly fearful and invasive culture. Lawyers seem to be writing the rules of human conduct and interaction, from health care to animal welfare. Farmers are arrested for having frozen water tanks. People spend hundreds of dollars when their dogs eat an onion and feel like heroes for doing it.

Our national motto is live in an abundance of caution or you will be sued or harassed. Social media has provided people with computers with a license to invade the lives of strangers and tell them how to live. The animal world has become a magnet for people seeking to fill holes in their lives with the need to exploit fear and concern over animals. I know many people who no longer want to own a dog because it has become too expensive, too much a magnet for neurotic busybodies, or angry people who claim to speak for the rights of animals or ignorant politicians trying to look good by passing dumb laws, or too many vets who found found that fear and loathing can be turned into gold.

I wonder what we will tell the children, a decade or so from now, when they ask why dogs and cats can never leave their houses or run free,  or why cannot leave the yard or get to sniff in a garden. Or when they ask where the horses and the elephants have gone, and why there are no ponies in the farmer’s markets or left for them to see. Perhaps we can tell them that most of the animals in the world are safe now. They are gone from the world and from the everyday lives of people.

We need a better and wiser understanding of animals than this.

It does not take a shrink or a genius to know that a small onion will not kill or harm my puppy, or that someone like me will not let his dog suffocate in an overheated car or that there is something wrong with us when we can’t let go of our animals or grieve for them in a proportional way or live with them in joy and love rather than fear and alarm.


28 March

Me And Judy: “They Will Live As They Were Meant To.” The Destroyed Worlds Of Animals.

by Jon Katz
Letter To Judy
Letter To Judy

A woman named Judy posted a message on my Facebook page last night  – she was responding to my writing about Joshua Rockwood –  asking me if I was in favor of the use of elephants in circuses to entertain people. I said I was not sure when it became a crime for animals to entertain and uplift human beings, they have been doing it for thousands of years – just watch the children and the horses in Central Park –  and we humans have greatly benefited from it.

Most of us could really use some entertainment now. Just look at the news.

My therapy dog Red entertains dying children in hospitals sometimes, it is a beautiful and precious thing to see. It would be a difficult thing to explain to them that he was being abused by taking him to see them.

Judy answered me right away, she replied that the elephants were fortunate, they would now live in their natural world, as they were meant to live. I was struck by the message, because it speaks to the plight of animals in our world, from the New York Carriage Horses to the elephants in the circus to the animals on Joshua Rockwood’s farm to the dogs in our beds and backyards.

And it speaks to the fact that in our time, the people who speak for animals seem to know nothing about them.

I asked Judy if she knew where this natural world for Asian elephants might be, and who was going to take them there, and care for them when the rains came and the poachers came and the bulldozers came to take their land. She did not reply.

But she said something else. Elephants, she said, were meant to live a natural life. They were not put on the earth to do stupid tricks to entertain us. I said I agreed, they were put on the earth to live their lives, naturally, and in nature.

But we have destroyed their natural world. We are eager to talk about abuse, but we are not so eager to take responsibility for what we have done to them. We have lost touch with them and what they need, we have fantasized their often brutal and cruel lives in the wild, even as we relentlessly destroy it.  And we have found another world for them to inhabit, one with shelter and food and attention and purpose. We cannot offer them their natural life any longer, or even a perfect life. But we can offer them a new world, new work. It seems to be what we do.

And then, we traumatize them and the people who love them, and we destroy their world again.

I asked Judy if she worried about what would become of the carriage horses in New York, and the ponies in farmer’s markets, and the horses in Hollywood movies and the elephants in the circus and the chickens and cows on the farms once we banned their worked and harassed and persecuted and  arrested all of the people who own them.

She did not wish to talk about it, she refused to talk about it. I have yet to meet any of the people who rejoice at the banning of animals who have given much thought or taken much responsibility for what will become of them after we have exploited them once more, this time to help us feel better about our destructive and oblivious selves.

Animals are sadly at our mercy, they pay the price for our shallow and selfish – and very selective – ideas about morality. We live in a culture drunk on judging others, shy about looking in the mirror.

My border collie Red was meant to live in nature, to live outside in caves, to have sex, run free, eat rabbits. He does none of those things. He exists now to keep me company and move my sheep around the pasture and to be photographed. Is he living the natural life he was meant to live? What is sheep-herding with dogs, but another “stupid trick” to entertain us on television and country fairs and trips to Ireland?  And what of the sheep, is it their natural fate to be chased around by dogs so that human beings can hang blue ribbons on their walls?

I suppose they will come after the border collies one day, but to understand the carriage horses and the elephants in the circus, one has to understand that the elephant and the border collie – and the cat sleeping in our lap, and the pig in the pasture – are doing the very same thing.

We tolerate the one because we love it, we ban the other because it is far away and we believe everything we wish and need to believe and we know nothing about it ourselves.

Am I cruel and immoral for permitting Red to live a life that gives me pleasure, that entertains and uplifts me every day? I love Red and my life with him. And I love herding sheep, it greatly entertains and grounds me, I bet Judy loves to see the photos. And I imagine Red is living a better and longer and safer life than his ancestors in nature, safer, healthier and much longer. Much like the elephants and the carriage horses. Why is this an adorably wonderful thing for him, but not for the elephants in the circus, or the carriage horses?

Why is it so much easier to wag our righteous fingers at other people while never taking responsibility for ourselves and what we have done to animals and their natural world? We know animals only through the prism of their occasional abuse – are we forgetting that American dogs lead the best lives of any animal on the earth? –  because that makes us feel good, yet we sit on our hands and look away while the world they lived in is destroyed bit by bit every day and our political leaders hide their heads in the mud.

Are the people who love to ride horses and cuddle puppies abusive because they are allowing animals to entertain them, rather than leaving them to take their chances in the mythical wild, where they die  young of disease, exposure, from predators and starvation?

Like most Americans, Judy knows nothing about horses or elephants.  Our children never go outdoors alone, they spend their lives behind screens, they will know even less than we do about the natural world. They desperately need to see elephants in a circus, and carriage horses in Central Park, and ponies in farmer’s markets. These may be the only animals who are not pets that they ever see.

We live in a world utterly disconnected from nature and animals, yet the more ignorant and distant we are, the more willing we seem to be to tell other people what to do with animals and how they ought to live. Our only idea for animals is to stop often fantasized notions of abuse and trash their few remaining worlds,  and then leave them to the fates. And we know what happens to animals left to the mercy of human experience, they vanish from the world. Judy does not want to talk about that, it makes black and white a bit gray.

She is certain she knows where the elephants ought to go, but does not  know that the place she thinks they ought to go does not exist any longer. Thus, she is not a person who ought to be deciding their future or making moral judgements about the people who own, work and care for them. That is the malignancy that is sadly rotting the soul of the animal rights movement.

I wanted to tell Judy that In the past month,  I’ve received a score of messages from animal trainers  and vets and handlers in the circus, from people who have lived and worked with elephants all of their lives and they paint a very different picture than the one we saw in those videos and interviews and press releases. There are at least two sides to every story, and theirs has never been told.

They offer a very different testimony than the one that comes from the videos on YouTube of elephants being mistreated, the one all of us have seen, the one that has shaped the fate of the Asian elephants. The video is the closest experience most of the righteous have ever come to an elephant’s life. The story of the elephant handlers is one I have  rarely heard, because no one bothered to listen to it.

Abuse is a crime in every state in the country, but if the people driving the elephants from the circus cannot see beyond it, then the domesticated animals of the world who have brought so much entertainment, joy, work and meaning to human lives, are truly doomed. We are destroying their shrinking worlds once more, orphaning them and leaving them to almost certain death and trauma, and once again patting ourselves on the back for having done it. There is a space in between helping animals and banning them when they are mistreated.

There is another path, a middle way: improve their lives, punish their abusers, keep them in our world. Treating animals and people with respect. That is the path of true animal lovers. Finding humane ways to keep them among us, rather than simple-minded solutions that take them away from us.

“I began working with elephants in 1980,” wrote Lynn in a touching and very beautiful message last week. “They have so much to teach us if only we would listen. I worked with and for elephants in the circus. I am so fortunate to have been able to do so and am greatly saddened that others will never have the opportunity.”

Elephant handlers, she says, have been criticized for years, mostly because a few awful people get all of the attention. It takes it’s toll, she said. “All I can say nowadays is, “pick up a shovel. Shovel shit for a year. Then maybe I’ll talk elephants with  you. As cities outlaw the bullhook, she wrote, “I’ve begun to realize they don’t deserve to have elephants in their lives. Elephants are unlike any animal out there. The bull hook is only a tool. It has been demonized by the animal worshipers. Don’t fall for it. Elephants in sanctuaries, worked in protected contact, will forever be behind bars. Circus elephants, worked free of contact with a bull hook, can be walked anywhere, loaded easily and turned loose to go where they care to.”

Another perspective, one I didn’t see expressed even once in all of the rejoicing over Ringling Bros. decision to get rid of their elephants over the next three years. I told Lynn she would never see the people who are happy about the elephants losing their work shoveling shit anywhere. For the righteous, Facebook is their bull hook, computers their tool, anonymous and furious blogs and videos their research and experience.

Jamie has been traveling with the circus for years, he cried for hours when he heard the elephants would be leaving. He has come to love their gentleness and their love of people and attention.  They are much loved in the circus, he said, after every performance the trainers and handlers – and children from the audience – gather in their tent to give them hay and apples. He often sleeps next to them at night, curled up under their big feet in a bale of hay. “It’s horrible that they will be almost surely destroyed,” he said,”there is nowhere for them to go, and they are so much loved here. And these people think they are helping them? What a world.”

So we will soon be saying goodbye to the elephants, the  horses, the ponies in market, the animals on the farms too dangerous to keep, they will live for us and our children only on YouTube, we will destroy their last remaining world and congratulate ourselves on our virtue. The world will not be a better place without them, we have once again diminished our Mother, the earth, and her children.

I asked July once more if she had given any though to where the animals might go.

“They will live in the wild,” she said, “as they were meant to.”


Bedlam Farm