In the days after Joshua Rockwood was arrested, booked, photographed, fingerprinted, and asked to post bond as a flight risk, he decided that he did not wish to hide like the criminal he was being portrayed as being by the police and the media, he decided he would hold his head high. He would not be ashamed because his mug shot had been broadcast by local television stations as an evil abuser of the animals in his care.
And it was hard to go out and face the world after that, he didn’t know what to expect. But Joshua does not run from struggle, and does not back down from principle. He took a deep breath and walked into his local supermarket. A local farmer was sitting at table across the market floor drinking coffee, and when Joshua came in, he shouted: “they used to arrest the horse thieves, Josh!” In the movies, they often hung them.
Our ideas about the taking of horses has evolved since the days of the farmer’s memory. Increasingly, taking someone’s horses for no compelling or proven reason without a hearing or process of any kind is not seen as theft, but as an affirmation of animal rights, a noble gesture on the part of heroic people who love animals.
And when it comes to animal rights, it seems that conventional rules of justice no longer apply, even to people who work with animals and love them dearly – like Joshua – and make their living by raising them well and treating them kindly. This new idea of abuse and cruelty is the work of an Orwellian world of ideologues and fanatics, not animal lovers seeking the promote the welfare of animals. The animal rights view of the human-animal bond is harsh and extreme, many people support the idea of animal rights but know little of the movement’s true ideology. Read the founder’s own words: Peter Singer and Tom Regan.
Animals should not be eaten by people, work for people, entertain them or be owned by them. Anyone who holds a different view is an enemy.
The movement’s enemy list grows and grows.
Farmers are enemies. Carriage horse drivers are enemies. Pony ride operators are enemies. Circus elephant trainers are enemies. Poor people who want companion animals are enemies, old people who want dogs are enemies, people who work long hours are enemies.People who breed dogs or own them are enemies. Pamela Rickenbach of Blue Star Equiculture is an enemy. People who believe working animals should work are enemies. Medical researches are enemies. I am an enemy, my border collies herd sheep.
And Joshua Rockwood is an enemy. If you are judged by the enemies your keep, I am in good company.
Our notions of justice are malleable and curious.
A hundred years ago, no sheriff would have dared or even thought to arrest Joshua Rockwood because his horses hooves needed trimming or a pig had a (possibly) frostbitten ear in -27 temperatures, or because a water tank had frozen in the worst cold wave in generations or because the horses had eaten their hay from the night before and it was scattered over the ground. A mob would have stormed the jail and run him out of town. Most of the country lived on farms, and they knew what farms were like, and what animals were like, and what was cruel and what was not, and what was avoidable and what wasn’t.
Until World War II, most Americans lived on farms. Today, 90 per cent of Americans live in cities along the coasts, and have lost any sense of what a farmer’s life is like or what an animal really needs.
If a farmer was in trouble generations ago, and struggling through a brutal winter, the police didn’t raid his farm and take his animals and arrest him and seek to destroy his livelihood, they helped him get through the hard time. So did his neighbors.
Joshua’s arrest tells us that we no longer understand any of these things, especially what a farm is like or what the real lives of animals are like. That is the point, I think. We have lost any sense of community or compassion in a polarized and fragmented world.
Joshua Rockwood will soon be entering the second year of his awful ordeal, a mindless persecution that has threatened his personal life, his well being, and West Wind Acres, the healthy food farm he has been working so hard to establish in Glenville, N.Y.
Motions are being filed and considered, there is no fixed date set for the trial he is determined to have. Joshua has said repeatedly he will not plead guilty to a single thing he has not done – he has already refused at least one deal offer. One thing he has not ever done, according to veterinarians, friends, fellow farmers – and me – is to be willfully cruel or abusive to any animal. He has, like every farmer, run into the buzzsaw of life and reality. Farms are hard places, life happens all the time.
It is hard for me to believe this folly will ever come to trial, the town fathers seem as embarrassed by it as farmers everywhere are up in arms. It could have been me, it could have been them, and if you have an animal and live in a cold climate, it could just as easily be you.
Joshua’s arrest earlier this year on 13 charges of animal cruelty has become a sensation, especially to embattled farmers who have never felt more vulnerable in a culture that seems to have forgotten what farms are for and what farms and animals are like. A culture that has permitted the the idea of animal rights and abuse to mushroom out of control and beyond reason, mercy or rationality. And that is really at the heart of this painful story of a young and idealistic farmer caught in a brutal and unexpected winter cold.
What are farms really like, and how can farmers be supported rather than misunderstood and persecuted?
In March Joshua, who is married with two young children, was arrested by local police after a raid sparked by one of the new battalions of secret informers, a kind of private and extra-legal militia created by the animal rights movement to spy on the animals of private citizens on a wide range of charges while generally ignoring the nine billion animals living in controversial and often brutal conditions on industrial factory animal farms. He was accused of failing to provide sustenance to his horses, cows, sheep, pigs and chickens, failing to have a heated barn and adequate shelter and of not having water sources that were not frozen.
Before the police raid, two different veterinarians came to West Wind Acres and reported that his animals were well fed, hydrated and cared for. That did not seem to matter. Rockwood’s three horses were taken from him even though he was not even charged with abusing them – the police decided there was not adequate feed visible to them. The horses were fed every day from round bales of hay, the hay was scattered all over the ground. The vets found no evidence of hunger or starvation. If the horses were not hungry or starving, how is it possible for them to have been deprived of food?
The horses hooves were apparently overgrown, I’ve talked to several farriers who told me it is common for horses hooves be overgrown in the winter, it is often difficult to get farriers to travel to farms and work in the cold. Unless the growth is extreme, it poses no danger to the horses or their hooves. My own farrier, Ken Norman, looked at the photographs released to the media by police as evidence of the poor care of the horses, and he called the charges “bullshit misdemeanors.”
In order to get his horses back, Joshua is being asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars in boarding and feed bills. If his healthy horses had stayed on the very good grass they were standing on, they could have eaten all summer for free.
It is clear from the arrest that the police, animal rights authorities and many private citizens no longer have any idea what a farm is like, even as we depend on farmers for our food and have more healthy and inexpensive food to eat than almost any country on the earth.
Farms are not clean and neat places. Farmers work brutally hard, have little money, struggle against complex machinery, changing weather, and fierce competition from corporate and agribusiness lobbies and farms. In the winter, tanks freeze all the time, animals are fed irregularly, they get sick, stumble and fall, pipes burst, fences collapse, hay has to be hauled and driven and stores. Even in enclosed barns, animals can get frostbitten ears when temperatures plunge, it happens all the time. On a farm, almost everything that happened to Joshua Rockwood happens all of the time.
Farms are unpredictable places, they are not neat and orderly, they do not look like the calendars from Vermont.
At his first court hearing, a score of farmers turned up with T-shirts they had whipped up quickly, they said. “It could have been us.” It could have been. I was at Joshua’s farm soon after the arrest, and saw animals ranging freely, with adequate shelter, big bellies, shiny coats. You can check out his philosophy and nutrition standards and sales program here and decided for yourself if this seems like someone who would neglect or mistreat his animals. He is an honest and idealistic young man, he does not deserve to be informed upon by ignoramuses and hysterics and to have his life threatened by the police and local government, institutions that are sworn to protect him.
His wife and children do not deserve to live in fear. His wife is now afraid to let her children play alone in her back yard for fear that one of the informers driving by will call the police, she is afraid that if Joshua’s horses can be taken for no reason, they could well come after her children. In any totalitarian environment, the experience of being informed upon is central to stifling freedom and frightening people. Every ugly and dictatorial regime uses informers. It is alien to American democracy, it is central to the new culture of so-called animal rights.
A culture that loses it’s understanding of the people who feed them, of the food they eat, of the lives of animals, that nourishes a culture of informing and cruelty, is broken and lost. Joshua Rockwood needs to be free to help repair the damage done to his farm and his life.
Joshua is receiving support from all over the country, but for those people who live in the Saratoga Springs/Albany area of New York State, you can help Joshua by going to his farm meat store this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 2884 West Glenville Road, West Charlton, N.Y., 12010, and buying some of his much loved meat.