Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

16 September

How To Disagree: Barbara Teaches Us A Lesson

by Jon Katz

I see that some people who read my blog are afraid to disagree with me, they think I might go after them or be angry.

This is upsetting to me, it tells me I am sending out the wrong signals and need to work harder to make myself better and clearer. In my mind, I am challenging nasty people who are forgetting how to disagree in a respectful way without personal attacks.

But I’m not sure that message is getting through. In fact, I know it isn’t. My bad.

Barbara B, a long-time blog reader, and a valuable commentator send me a message this morning, it was a model of civil disagreement, and valuable disagreement; a lesson in how to communicate with people on social media that is both positive and constructive and helps people like me grow and learn.

Her message was very important. I have been writing about No-Kill shelters for some time, they have become a metaphor in my mind for the mistreatment and new abuse of animals like dogs in the name of loving them.

I always ask myself when I make decisions about dogs if I am making decisions for me or for them. The idea of dogs languishing in crates for years does not seem humane to me in any way. I fear people use it as a means of feeling better about themselves, it sure isn’t good for many dogs.

But in making my arguments, I sometimes tend to generalize.

Not all No-Kill Shelters are alike, not all breeders are alike, not all rescue groups or shelters are alike. It is wrong for me to pain so broad a brush, and it is very wrong of me to give good people like Barbara the idea that disagreement makes me angry and will draw retribution. Nothing could be further from my intentions. I love disagreement and need it, it is cruelty and anger disguised as a civil disagreement that I challenge.

When someone couples disagreements with personal attacks, as happens frequently, I feel the need to challenge them, in my own interests and on behalf of the many people terrorized by jerks and ass—– online. I hope I never stop doing that

People who are cruel and rude in their interactions online ought to be challenged. People who disagree honestly and civilly ought never to be challenged aggressively, and in my mind, I have always distinguished between the two.  I like to think I am as respectful as the people talking to me.

I have done a poor job of making that clear is someone like Barbara is anxious about disagreeing with me and doesn’t make the same distinction.

I apologize for that and I will do better. When I was young, I was attacked relentlessly by people who were supposed to be taking care of me, and I can easily get defensive and fight back. Some wounds never completely heal.

I am sorry to say I can relate – in a personal and uncomfortable way –  to some aspects of our Presidents sickness and dysfunction, I’ve done it, on a very different scale.

Unlike him, I recognized this as an illness and got a lot of help with it.

But I see I have more work to do, perhaps I will always have to work at it. I love to argue, and I love to be disagreed with. That is the whole point of our country, civil disagreement, not hatred, and cruel and reflexiveness defensiveness. It’s how I learn.

A good way to get me to not listen is to attack me on a personal level, a good way to get me to listen is to simply disagree in a direct and respectful way. You will have nothing to fear from me. People disagree with me all the time, every day in fact. There is very little trouble.

If you wonder how to do that, just read this excerpt from Barbara’s message:

I agree with your ideas about animal compassion as far as euthanizing when the proper time comes.

 I have to say there are excellent no-kill shelters.  I have volunteered in one for twenty years, the Santa Fe Animal Shelter in the New Mexico you and Maria loved.

The shelter keeps dogs in large, clean kennels that are cleaned every day.  The dogs are walked at least twice a day and our behavior staff forms playgroups for them to romp together. We have about a 94% adoption rate which makes us what is called a no-killer shelter.  We are lucky.  Santa Fe loves animals and though we are privately funded we do all right.

Some dogs do stay over a year and we always jump for joy when that dog goes home.  The dogs that stay longest are usually Pit’s who are large and sometimes black.  There is an undeserved prejudice against these dogs.  My favorite, Smokey (pittie, large and black) just went home after 194 days.   The shelter thought it was a good match and he has not been returned.  Yeah!

Sadly, some dogs degenerate after a while and have to be put down humanely along with sick dogs our clinic cannot cure and dogs (a very few) that are judged unadoptable mostly for biting and dog on dog aggression.

Here’s what I thought when I read this message. Oh, what a good thing to hear. Of course, Barbara is correct, not all No-Kill Shelters are alike, I should not be tarring them all with so broad a brush.

I don’t really disagree with a word she said, and I was grateful she took the time to get me to think a little more thoughtfully about what has become a knee-jerk position. When I stop listening, I stop thinking. That is the curse of the left and the right, I don’t wish to go there.

My objection with the idea of the No-Kill shelter is probably somewhat deeper than Barbara’s. Santa Fe, where she lives, has a lot of affluent, dog-loving people. Few No-Kill shelters, I imagine, would have anything like a 94 percent adoption rate. And I personally believe a year is too long for a large and active dog to live in a crate in the hope he or she might get adopted.

My other problem with the No-Kill idea is that it has become a kind of Knee Jerk, self-righteous position in the dog world, an evolution of the extreme end of the already extreme animal rights movement, which argues that no dog should ever be euthanized for any reason.

This condemns countless aggressive, inbred or unadoptable dogs to a lifetime of unnatural and unhealthy confinement. There is little discussion or thought about this very new and radical understanding of what to do with the millions of unwanted dogs our thoughtless and unknowing culture churns out into the system each year.

The Santa Fe shelter Barbara is talking about seems thoughtful and rational in its approach, and you can’t really argue with a 94 percent adoption rate. I wish it were this high in poor and rural communities.

If you see some of the dogs, sentenced to life-time jail sentences, you can see for yourself the damage this prolonged and somewhat hopeless internment does to them. No dog was meant to live in a tiny box for years, I can hardly think of a crueler thing to do to them.

As Barbara herself points out, the Santa Fe shelter is fortunate and privately funded. Most shelters are not so lucky, they are forced to waste precious resources on dogs with no future, in poor health, and without prospects of adoption. Some clearly should not be adopted, they put children and others and dogs at risk.

Every dog should not sustainably or morally be forced to live forever in crates no matter their health or temperament. If dogs could vote or speak, I doubt a single one would wish that unnatural fate upon themselves. So I sometimes feel I should try to speak for them.

It seems like Barbara’s shelter does recognize that euthanasia is sometimes the most humane option in a world with many millions of sheltered dogs, so many of them unadoptable.

But her point is well taken, and I hear it and will incorporate it into my writing All “No-Kill” shelters are not the same. It sounds like hers might be a good model for many of the others.

And I thank Barbara for reminding me, and perhaps showing others that disagreement is healthy and important. I need it and want it, I’ve always asked for it. She made her point clearly and respectfully, and in part because of that, I heard it and accepted it gratefully.

The Internet has become a cruel, even socially violent and out-of-control monster in many ways. Those of us who write openly and daily are subject to staggering amounts of abuse, threats and personal assaults. I can handle it, I’ve been doing it for a long time. But this has smothered civil discourse in a very sad and pervasive way.

Please feel free to disagree with me in a civil way. And if you can’t disagree with me in a civil way and without personal attacks, then please feel free to go somewhere else. I will come after you.

You, Barbara, have nothing to fear from me.

I hope I never stop learning and growing, and disagreement is perhaps the best and most effective way for that to happen.

16 September

Bud And The Gay Head

by Jon Katz

We call this statute the “Gay Head” because we bought him in Provincetown, Mass., and the owner of the shop said he was a Gay Head, named in part after a lighthouse called the Gay Head Lighthouse in Aquinnah, Mass, Martha’s Vineyard one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Bud has taken a liking to the Gay Head, he often sits next to him while he scours the landscape for mice or rats or his nemesis here, the chipmunk in the stone wall.

They do seem connected to one another, the Gay Head is serious about his garden work, Bud is serious about keeping chipmunks at bay. This always makes me smile.

16 September

Healing Wounds. Where The Light Comes In…

by Jon Katz

The wound is the place where the Light Enters You…”  – Rumi

I’ve come to understand – this is a big lesson for me – that we are all broken in some way, we all have battles to fight, fears to overcome, wounds that cut us deep.

Mine are no better or worse than yours.

We all need to heal. I love Rumi’s idea, that the wound is the place where the Light enters us, and it is the light that helps me to heal.

Rose Kennedy, who knew so much tragedy in her long life, said in an interview that she did not agree that time heals all wounds. The mind covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens.

“But it is never gone,” she said.

I believe we are all different, as are our wounds. Wounds remind me that the past is real.

Some of mine have healed, some never will. I will never get over the loss of two children, nor do I wish to.  Every thought of them is a stab in the hart, then a path to gratitude.

I have a daughter and a granddaughter and a wife and a life that I love.

The Light enters me every day…

Decades after these children died, I am now the only human on the earth who remembers them, thinks of them, knows the dates of their death. Ben and Emma, I’ve never said their names out loud before.

Some wounds ought not to completely heal. I don’t want to forget them, but time does heal my wounds, it just doesn’t make them disappear.

It feels good to do that, to understand the universality of wounds. They are not an aberration, they are life, just like death.

There is something comforting in knowing we all hurt at times.  We can argue about almost everything, but not about that.

There is something comforting in knowing my wounds don’t all have to heal, I can live them and drink from their truth.

That is called life.

I see that everything is a gift, and Rumi is wise.

The wound is the place where the Light has entered me and helped me to heal. I know now that I learn the most from sorrow and disappointment, and find the most joy in simple life – walking, reading, writing, taking photos, loving, doing some good.


15 September

No, I Don’t Think I Believe In Luck. Maybe Cause And Effect

by Jon Katz

It is common for someone to message me to say how lucky I am to be with Maria, to live on my farm, to have beautiful dogs and sweet donkeys, to be living my life, taking my photos, writing on my blog.

I always twitch a little bit at those messages, like the one I got this morning: “I know you’ve had some troubles along the way, but don’t you feel especially lucky, you always say that you have the life you want. How lucky can anybody be? I’m not that lucky.”

I guess my little secret is that I don’t believe in luck, I never have.

I believe in work, struggle, and determination, just like Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

Everything I have, I worked hard for, I don’t believe the fates did much for me, except put me in the same small town as Maria.

When someone tells me I am lucky, they seem to me to be suggesting that the things that I love or are important to me just fell on my head out of the sky. I can’t say that’s what they mean, only what I feel.

Nobody ever will – or needs to know – what I did to have what I have. A woman e-mailed me the other day to write and admires and envies Maria, she says she has the most wonderful and perfect life  – love and work – she is one of the luckiest women she knows of.

But I know the price Maria paid and pays every day for what she has worked for and wanted.  I know that luck had nothing to do with it, she works herself to the bone day after day with discipline, passion, and commitment.  She doesn’t look for sympathy or pity, she looks for fulfillment.

And she has overcome great anxiety and struggle.

I don’t know many people who do that.

All my life, I’ve seen myself as fortunate. I don’t live in my losses, I live in my hope.

I’ve always had food, shelter, work that I love, I have not suffered famine, war,  crippling illness,  genocide, or losses due to natural disasters. Every time I watch the news or hear a refugee child tell stories of the refugee camps,  I am reminded of how fortunate I am to be an American and live where I live.

Luck, wrote Hunter Thompson, is a “very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it.” I sure didn’t.

It is a popular cliche to say you get what you pay for.

My idea is that you get what you work for.

Thomas Jefferson wrote ironically that he was a great believer in luck, and he found with some irony that the harder he worked the more luck he had.

I never know what worse luck my bad luck has just saved me from. I learned early in my life that sometimes not getting what I wanted or wished for was the best luck I ever had.

And one person’s good luck is often another’s trouble: “I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt, “and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.”

Luck is not chance, it’s toil, wrote the poet, Emily Dickinson, “fortune’s expensive smile is earned.”

In my life,  “bad luck” often leads to self-awareness, necessary change, empathy, and perseverance. “Bad luck” challenged me to get help when I needed help and bludgeoned me into seeing the truth about myself.

I can’t really even say what good luck is and what bad luck is, or draw a clear line between them.

I am happy, but I am also sad, to me, that is a life in balance. And that is life.

I am angry, I also feel joy. I am safe but fearful.  I am hopeful but know despair. I don’t believe I was ever meant to be happy all the time. I’ve never tried to hide from or avoid the reality of death.

Pain and sadness and loss do not shock me, they are part of life. Nobody gets a free ride, and we all fight our demons and battles.

I appreciate joy when I find it, which is often.

Life is never simple, even the best life is often hard.  I am grateful for the good things and accepting of the bad things. One defines the other, luck doesn’t fit into my equation.

A Bahamian hurricane victim said on TV the other day that he was sitting on his patio deck on a beautiful beach one day congratulating himself on his good fortune, and the patio and the beach were gone the next morning.

If I could wave a magic wand and be happy all the time, I’d throw the wand away. What a dull and pointless life, without “bad luck” there could be no “good luck” or good fortune, one would simply bleed into the other.

We would have no reason to think, grow, learn or change.

I will be honest and concede that I believe luck can be a refuge for the lazy, an excuse for incompetence.

Every important lesson I’ve learned in life came after experiencing what many would call misfortunate or bad luck. So is bad luck really good luck after all when that happens? And if you believe in one, don’t you have to believe in the other?

I guess when it comes to luck, I make my own.  Nobody hands it to me.

In a sense, “luck” is quite predictable. If I want more luck, I take more chances, I work harder, I get active, I make more mistakes,  I show up every day.

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