20 September

I Wish I Could Die Like A Leaf: See You Sunday

by Jon Katz

This is the second photo I’ve taken with my new three- lenses iPhone camera, and it reminded me that Fall is here, the leaves are just beginning to turn.  I’ve often wished to myself that when I die I might die like a leaf, with beauty and grace and acceptance.

Leaves are born beautiful and die beautifully.

Maria was on the other side of the leaves, the sun shining on her right eye through the leaves.

Dying this beautifully is not likely to happen to me.

Few of us get to die beautifully or in grace.

Today, for the first time in months, I told the Mansion that we couldn’t make it to Bingo tonight. I went over to the Mansion to tell the residents to face to face, I saw their disappointment.

Maria and I have fun at Bingo, we kid one another and bring sacks of stuffed animals and old jewelry from consignment stores. The residents were disappointed, but I told them I was just wiped out, tired from a long and demanding week. Zelda dying, two trips to Albany on Behalf of Bishop Maginn High School.

I brought Ellen a birthday present at the Mansion. She was sleeping in her room, sick and sad. A hard way to spend my birthday, she said. I gave her a National Geographic Book filled with beautiful animal photographs. She’ll love it

I think the Mansion residents understood that I need to get away.  I’m sure they feel that way themselves at times.

We are getting up at dawn, heading to Jean’s Place for breakfast, and then onto the Bronx Zoo.

I know I really need to stop – writing, reading, blogging, taking photos,  worrying about the Mansion and Bishop Maginn High School. I’ve learned the hard way that the danger in this kind of work is burnout.

You have to know when to pull back and stop.

When I feel this kind of weariness, I recognize it and I know I need to go see something else for a day or two. Tigers and elephants and snow leopards might do it for me.

Maria has a similar feeling, she has always wanted to go to the Bronx Zoo with me, we have the best times sitting around and watching the animals, as we did at the Boston Aquarium a few months ago.

We’re meeting my granddaughter Robin at the zoo, but she is not the point of the trip.  I’m afraid I might once again disappoint those exuberant grandparents whose grandchildren are the focal point of their lives.

I’m not one of them, at least not yet.

After a couple of hours, we’ll break off from Robin – perhaps she’ll want a stuffed animal – and go find some animals to stare at and observe.

I am happy to see Robin and to be present for her first trip to the zoo, but we really need to spend some time together alone, and we will.

Tomorrow night, we’re staying in a town along the Hudson River. I’m sorry not to mention the name, but when I’ve done that I’ve found that some generous people can be too helpful, we can take care of ourselves.

I am going to think a lot about humility on our little trip, I think it comes naturally when I pay attention to life. I have come to recognize – honestly – that I am worth little or nothing by myself, but potentially worth very much, because I can hope to be loved by others.

I don’t love myself because I am good, but because I become good when I am loved. Another big idea I was slow to grasp.

See you Sunday.

20 September

Sometimes You Win: I Got A New Iphone Today, Free

by Jon Katz

I’m a little puzzled by how this all happened, but I wanted to share the story before we head out to the Bronx to meet my granddaughter at the Bronx Zoo tomorrow. I’ll be back on Sunday.

It seems that I got a new iPhone today, the just-released iPhone 11 with a quite amazing three-lens camera. This shot of Bud and Fate in Maria’s studio doorway was the first photo I took with the camera. I’m going to have fun with it and do some good stuff.

What happened is this.

I dropped my iPhone three weeks ago on the bathroom floor, it was a short drop but it landed on a corner (I had a case) and cracked the glass on the front of the camera.  I was surprised.

The camera worked, but there was a small spider web on the glass.

The phone – an iPhone X – was insured, so I called the insurance company, and they said they would send someone out to the farmhouse to replace the glass and would only charge me $49. That sounded good.

I am very fond of this phone and am fascinated by the AI experiments in it, the phone does get to know the user. So it feels personal. And a lot of my life is tied up in it. I meant to fix it.

The first appointment was five days later, but no one showed up.

I waited around for two hours and called, the customer service rep called the repair people and they said they needed to order the glass, that’s why they didn’t show up (without calling).  She seemed bored as if she was above this.

They scheduled another appointment a week later. I wanted for two more hours, and once again, the repair person didn’t show up and didn’t call.

I called again and they said there was no trace of the second appointment in their system, fortunately, I did save the e-mail confirmation. I was getting steamed at this point, and also nervous about using the phone the cracks seemed fairly serious.

We scheduled another appointment, the third, two weeks later and after two more hours of waiting I was sure the repair person was not going to show up, so I called again – they aren’t Apple, you wait a good long while –  and I was polite but insistent. I needed to speak to a supervisor.

The supervisor came on the phone, he checked his computer record for 30 minutes or so, and then came on the phone to apologize and say the repair person said his truck broke down. Why hadn’t he called me? I asked. The supervisor didn’t know, but he went to talk to another supervisor he said.

He seemed annoyed, I wasn’t sure if he was annoyed at me or the repair person.

A few minutes later another supervisor got on the phone and apologized. He had reviewed the record and what happened was inexcusable.

No more appointments, he said, they were sending me a check for the full amount of a new iPhone XS.  They had a three-strikes rule, three busted appointments and you get to buy a new phone.

It came yesterday. With a special deal AT &T was offering, I could get a new Iphone 11 for the same amount plus Apple Care and insurance for a small amount per month.

The phone was, in effect free, but I chose to sign up with one of their many new installment plans so I could use the money elsewhere.

The phone payments would be interest-free, and up to 30 months, or less if I wanted to give them some money.

I am not strong enough to resist a free Iphone, especially one with faster ID, a much longer battery life,  a new Bionic Chip, but most importantly, a three-lens phone (including a wide-angle option) that professional photographers say is a world-class camera.

And I can use the money to help pay for my hopefully forthcoming $2,500 puppy, Zinnia.

I love my smartphone, but I mostly love the camera, that’s the hook for me. So here’s one where patience and persistence paid off, I guess, and there are corporations that still get embarrassed when their customers get screwed over.

I got stern, but not angry. Dealing with big corporations is a spiritual discipline all of its own.

I went to Vermont with my old phone, and I think I will always buy any new thing I need in Vermont, it’s another world over there.

The AT&T store was empty when I came in and Sue was incredibly nice and patient, and explained the options I had, walked me through the changeover, advised me to get the glass repaired myself for $100 and either resell it or give it to Maria.

I fussed about not putting a big down payment down, but Sue, who could not possibly have been nicer,  advised it was wise to use their money and put mine to a different use. I thought she was right.

She sat with me to make sure the change went smoothly and my phone and e-mail were working. I spent an hour re-inserting my login information and trying out the very fast new Face ID – no passwords. And I got a thick and heavy Gear 4 case. I think I could back the car over this case and it would hold up.

So I’m a little stunned but happy.

Tomorrow Maria and I are leaving early to meet my granddaughter at the Bronx Zoo and then stay overnight in Hudson, New York. We have a wonderful farm sitter moving in to take care of things. And I expect to try out the camera there.

I can’t speak for Maria but I do need to get away for a day or so. I’ve got a room booked in a small and artsy town on the Hudson River.

We’ll be back on Sunday.

20 September

Animal Dialogue: We Never Stopped Listening To Each Another

by Jon Katz

When I first moved to the country, a ewe gave birth to a critically ill lamb during an epic snowstorm. He was dying, and also in great discomfort and pain.

His mother had abandoned him, and he could not even stand after a few minutes.

I called the vet, but they could not come, and I knew no one else.

I was in a panic; this was a scenario I never foresaw. In my previous life, help was always a phone call away.

But I was on a remote farm with sheep, donkeys, dogs, lambs, and chickens.

I asked the vet if there was anything I could do?

Do you have a gun? the vet asked. Yes, I said,  shaken. It was the first inkling I had of the awful thought that I would have to kill the lamb.

I had purchased a rifle for killing rabid raccoons and possums. In the country, there is often no 911. Some sheriff’s deputies patrolled the country; they were few between and far apart. And they didn’t handle sick animal calls.

I understood for the first time what an awesome responsibility I had towards these animals, and there was no one but me in that blizzard to deal with it. Should I wait a couple of days for a vet to come and pay him or her to kill my lamb?

Or did I take responsibility and do it myself? An essential question for a city boy living in the country.

I went into the house, loaded my rifle (I had taken shooting lessons) went out to the barn, removed the lamb from his mother, and shot him twice in the head. I took him out into the woods and left the body for the coyotes, who had to be hungry in that brutal weather.

I was surprised at how quickly he died and how painless it was. And I went into the house and threw up. Later, I saw the trauma the large animal vets often caused the animals, no matter how hard they tried to be gentle.

They were strangers; they had lots of equipment; the process took 10 or 15 minutes; the last minutes of the animals were often fraught and traumatic. And they were expensive.

The lamb was dead in seconds.

I wrote about shooting the lamb on the blog (not the vomiting), and I spent the next several days responding to hundreds of outraged e-mails.

People called me amurderer and vowed never to read me again. I understand some people think I’m too strong and too sharp, but blessedly, you don’t have to read the hate messages I have had to learn.

Some people put up websites accusing me of killing puppies and eating them. Some sent many ugly expressions of disappointment and rage at my brutality.

This scenario happened to me again and again. There is a vast space between disagreement and hatred.

On top of the pain of losing an animal, I felt I had to justify it to strangers over and over again.

This made the process so much worse:

When I sent the old sheep back to their farmer to die; when we euthanized Rocky rather than subject him to another winter and more of Simon’s rejection; when we put Simon down after his stroke.

The very idea of killing animals was a supercharged subject,  especially if I was doing the killing. It was made more intense by the growing disconnection of Americans from animals and the natural world, and the rigid and often unknowing ideology of the animal rights movement.

We have become a left and right world, each side finding more and more reasons to hate and fear the other.

Pet owners had serious and understandable difficulty with the idea that it could be more humane to shoot a sick or dying animal than to pay $300 to have strangers come and do it with IV tubes and giant syringes.

It was a new idea for me also.

But it was different with Zelda. I did not receive a single hostile or accusatory letter; nobody called me a murderer or stormed off the blog in righteous fury — no new websites picturing me as an Animal Nazi (some still up).

A lot of people who messaged me said they could not be comfortable shooting an animal.

They said it made them uneasy.

They also said they understood my thinking and my explanation and understood I was doing the best I could for my animal.

The tone was completely different. We had each hung in there and learned to communicate with each other.

I felt especially good about this.

I feel the dialogue that needs to happen between people with pets and people with animals is finally underway.  And it is happening right here. I come from the world of compromise, dialogue, and negotiations: hateful arguments are not my natural way of communicating.

I am proud of my commitment to explain my sometimes different ideas about animals and compassion, the different realities for people with pets and people with farm animals. I never gave up on  you; you never gave up on me (most of you.)

Some people couldn’t abide by my way of thinking about things. They rarely left quietly, but always stormed off in a righteous huff. I have no apologies to make for them.

We don’t have to always agree with one another, but I am pleased to see that it is possible for us to listen to each other and respect each other and learn from each other.

I will never give up being accountable and open,  trying to explain my ideas and motives. So far, the people who read my books and my blog have never given up on listening to me.

I have sometimes been accused of being nasty, even vicious in my responses to criticism.

I accept that some of those criticisms have been true.

There’s a lot of anger in me, I grew up being attacked, and am only now getting mature enough to handle it correctly and with a healthier perspective. I accept the challenge of being more thoughtful and careful in my own words. And my anger is fading away, growing old is good for me.

But I believe I have always been willing to engage thoughtful and heartful challenges and criticisms.  I think this week supports that idea.

I am proud of the dialogue you and I have had over these years about the rights of animals, the meaning of mercy and compassion, the hard decisions of a farm, the difference between pets and other animals, and the moral bankruptcy of the animal rights movement.

I am sad for this movement. It has so thoughtlessly blown its great opportunity to advocate for animals rather than find new ways of hating people.

Animal rights organizations are not about listening or having dialogues.

They are now notorious for demanding and attacking. This is a movement that seeks to be feared, not heard. Arrogance and righteousness are not proper tools for dialogue.

I believe I have always responded respectfully and vigorously to people who challenge and disagree with me. Many people are not afraid to do that, fortunately.

They send me challenging messages every day, and those messages are welcome.

It seems I’ve had trouble differentiating at times between the haters and the challengers. It’s no excuse, but it is a wild frontier out there, it’s my responsibility to figure it out.

It is sometimes difficult for me to read all of these electronic messages accurately.

And rest assured,  there is plenty of disagreement in my life, on my blog comments, on Facebook, in my inbox.

So many of those people have responded to me respectfully and vigorously.

I’m just not sure I qualify as a scary monster.

We often don’t agree with one another, but we never walk away from each other or stop listening. I continue to believe that the people who storm off in a huff most often don’t belong here.

They are, I believe, going to be happier somewhere else.

We need a wiser and more mystical understanding of animals.

The well-meaning people who lobbied so hard and long to get the circuses to ban their elephants don’t seem to have paid much attention to what comes next for the elephants.

They aren’t protesting the killing of the hundreds of elephants who lost their often good jobs with loving people because there is no other work for them.

There are few remaining safe habitats on this planet.

So they are disappearing from our world, and in the name of protecting their rights. Is this the outcome we want? Might they have a right to survive?

Hundreds of them are dead already. They are not grazing peacefully on all of those promised “preserves.”  This is the thinking that endangers animals – that shooting an animal is cruel, that pulling a light carriage for a draft horse is abuse – that costs so many animals their lives.

We have to find a middle ground of animals are to remain among us, visible and in our lives. From now one, most children will only know elephants from YouTube. Is that really what we want for them?

But I see we animal lovers are making progress.

Once we realize that we have so much more in common than not, perhaps we can become a powerful force to help save animals, rather than drive them away.

Zelda and her death have given me hope, a final contribution from this remarkable ewe.

The death of Zelda is the first time not one person has assaulted me online or hating me for doing what I believed to be right. Perhaps we are finding a wiser way to understand animals and keep them on the earth.

For me, that is a landmark, a hopeful thing. It shows the value of words and the value of listening. I think I’ve done my job, I believe you have done yours. On a farm, and in this world, this work is never done, I’m sure I’ll need my rifle again soon.

On a personal, not theoretical,  level, you and I have hung in there together.

It is hard to shoot one of your animals and sad. Instead of bracing myself for assault, I welcome the understanding, compassion, and respect for my decision to shoot Zelda. It helped a lot; it made me feel better and more grounded.

As the country continues to be torn apart by labels and partisanship and demagoguery, I feel our dialogue is essential. I think the love of animals is a powerful force for uniting, listening, and caring.

As always, thanks for listening.

19 September

The Good Mother

by Jon Katz

Garnett is a good and sweet mother, I am told. I love her gentle face, I think I can see in her great heart. Her puppies are about three days old, their eyes are still closed, they can only squeak and squirm.

By all accounts, Garnett is a loving and generous mother, which bodes well for her puppies, including I hope, our Zinnia. She had seven puppies, four males, three females.

Lenore, our breeder, is faithful about sending out a photo a day to all the people on her list who want to buy one of her puppies. We’ll know in a couple of weeks if Lenore thinks one of these girls is right for us.

19 September

Robin And I Have A Date: At The Bronx Zoo

by Jon Katz

Robin And I have a date at the Bronx Zoo this Saturday, Maria and I are driving down there early Saturday morning, we have a great farm sitter to tend the farm.

Robin is excited. She wants to see the elephant.

We’ll meet Emma and Robin there, they’re taking a subway, which takes over an hour to get from Brooklyn to the Zoo which is in the Bronx. I took Emma there countless times, we both remember those visits lovingly.

It seems appropriate to return there with Maria, Emma, and Robin. All three are passionate animal lovers, there will be a lot to see. I’m looking forward to buying her a stuffed animal, just as I did for Emma.

I wonder if she’ll love the same animals. I’ll bring a camera. Maria and I can stare at animals for hours. I made my first Airbnb room reservation for Saturday. We’ll see how it goes.

We’ll be home Sunday morning. We need to get away, and both of us wish it were longer, but the truth is we have a lot of things to do.

One day, we’ll take a couple of weeks and just read and be together. But not now. I can’t speak for Maria, but there is a lot going on in my life these days.

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