30 March 2015

Zelda Mellowing

By: Jon Katz


Zelda was the most challenging sheep ever for us. She knocked me down more than once, trampled Red, led two breakouts off of the farm and down a busy highway, knocked off farriers and vets. She has mellowed. She seems to defer a bit to the two wethers,  Liam and Pumpkin, she never messes with Red (or he with her) and she often comes up to me or Maria hoping for a treat of some kind or even a scratch behind the ears, something she would never  have permitted.

She lost  her lamb last summer, and that may have softened her spirits. Or maybe the good life of being a sheep for Maria, lots of good hay and attention. She even came up to me and posed for this photo, and I didn't get knocked on my butt.

Her epic breakout is still talked about by our neighbors, she busted through a  hot five-wire fence and lured the other sheep onto a highway and took off for a half-mile. Red and I gave chase, he got there first, turned them around and escorted them back and forth across the road – many honking horns – and back to the farm. On our farms, animals lead a pretty peaceful life, I like to think it was good care that mellowed Zelda. Maybe it was life, the great mellower of us all.

Posted in General

Scott, In The Sugar House

By: Jon Katz
In The Sugar House

In The Sugar House

Scott invited me into his sugar house this afternoon, a cold and cloudy day, mud and ice everywhere – the frost in the ground has not yet melted, more mud to come. It was warm in the sugar house, the sap was flowing into the pans, Scott was pouring it into the jars, it is good stuff, we had a toddy together and talked easily and openly, as we do. Friendships ripen, I think if you stay with them there comes a point of comfort and trust, the friendship is a given, it is nourishing and soothing and affirming. I liked this portrait of him, it works in so many ways.

Scott works hard, every day, all the time, the most relaxed I have ever seen  him is in the sugar house. I worry about him sometimes, but then I realize this is the way he is, and that is his decision, not mine. The friendship is very gratifying, I appreciate it. It was quiet and warm and lovely in there, Red got so close to the fire I thought his coat might flame up, but he seems to love it in there as well.

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The Crow Quilt

By: Jon Katz
The Crow Quilt

The Crow Quilt

I was taken with Maria's new crow quilt, which is hanging in her Schoolhouse Studio, and is almost done. Something very special and very different about it. I love the studio, Maria and I talked and talked in her first studio, at the first Bedlam Farm. The pink chair she used to sit on is in the new one, she was sitting on the chair when I first told her how I really felt about her, it was there that we decided to be together. A special place for me.

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Great Teachers

By: Jon Katz
Great Teachers

Great Teachers

I don't know if I ever had a great teacher or not, I was a very poor student and a very distracted and unhappy one. I saw a great teacher yesterday, and it was a joyful thing to see. Great teachers can light up lives and open us to new experience and help us feel competent and encouraged and can change our lives.

I've known Eli Anita-Norman for a decade or more, she is the wife of my friend and farrier Ken Norman, the Grumpy Care Bear, I like to call him, with a heart as big as his body. Eli has often come to help Ken take care of our donkeys, she helped Ken bring Simon back to life. We rarely got to speak to her outside of the barn and the usually rushed visits there. Horses are Eli's life, she rescues them, boards, them, breeds them, rides them and teaches people how to care for horses and ride them. She is teaching Maria how to care for and ride her new pony, Chloe, a Haflinger-Welsh mix.

When Simon died, Ken was in the hospital, Eli rushed over to be with us. We didn't ask her, she just came and we were very grateful for her presence. She and Maria became friends that day, they connected in some way I could feel, but not really explain.

(For those of you wondering  – a  number of messages – if ponies are big enough to ride adults, you might have fun checking out their history. They took Attila and the mongol hordes all across Asia, they did the same for many Native-American warrior and nomadic tribes. They were often bred to be war horses or working animals. Most are very strong and powerful animals, riding Maria around is not much of a strain, neither it is hard work for draft horses to pull carriages in Central Park. Why, I wonder, do so many people seem to see horses as fragile and weak?)

I don't usually come along to Maria's lessons, it is her thing, not mine. But she invited me to come for awhile yesterday and I am a sucker for that, I wanted to take some photos, and it was liberating to watch.  As it was, I don't think Maria even knew I was there, she was so engrossed in her lessons.

Ken came and sat next to me, we grunted and grumbled for awhile.

It was uplifting and inspiring to watch Eli work with Maria, who does not have a warm history with instructors or people telling her what to do. With Eli, lessons are fun, and they are productive. It is unnerving to take on a new thing like a horse, but she looked completely natural and at ease to me. One of the reasons was Eli, who has the gift of teaching. She stays close, offers support, is clear in her instructions, yet always encouraging and warm. She never makes her students feel small. Like good animal trainers, she focuses on what her students are doing well, and gently reminds them of what they could be doing better.

I could see Maria get it right before my eyes, the ride was so different at the end of one lesson that it was at the beginning. I loved hearing how the horses sense movement and intention.

Eli loves horses very much, they are her life,  and she conveys that passion in her teaching. She sees the animals as partners, yet she also reminds us that they need leadership, consistency and clarity, what every good dog trainer knows. She is honest but always positive, and Maria trusts her completely.  These things are the key, I think, to great teachers. Maria can be as high-strung as any horse, but she is completely relaxed around Chloe, and around Eli. The three of them seemed to move and communicate as one, in sync, there was only learning, no tension or feelings of being overwhelmed or inadequate.

Riding a horse well is not easy, as I could see. It is complicated, it requires patience, physicality, attention to detail, a small person getting a large animal to move in tandem with them, understand them. You really have to pay attention, you have to master equipment and movement, you have to be safe and keep a hundred things in your head.

It takes trust and time and experience. In a way, that is how I feel about training a dog. And I was proud of Red, also. He sat out in the ring, showed himself to Chloe, let her walk right next to him. The two are fine with one another, that will be helpful when she comes to Bedlam Farm, that is why I brought Red. We are working hard to acclimate her well.  I like Chloe a lot, all the more so because I don't have do anything but give her carrots and brush her.

Sitting out there in Vermont, I was grateful for our friendship with Ken, and with Eli. She is a great teacher, and her presence will help this new experience be a loving and responsible one. We already love Chloe, and now we are learning how to take care of her – and ride her – in the best and most thoughtful and loving way. Great  teachers can do that.

Posted in General
29 March 2015

Joshua Rockwood’s Story: A Primer On The New, Orwellian Abuse: The Abuse Of People

By: Jon Katz
Joshua Rockwood: Abuse Primer

Joshua Rockwood: Abuse Primer

Let's start our abuse primer  this way: The greatest abuse in the history of animals – corporate farming, the wanton destruction of habitats by blind governments and greedy developers – is not illegal. Even though millions of animals are tortured cruelly or perish as the result of corporate farming and development, no one is ever arrested for either, there are no raids, no animals are trucked out and re-homed on rescue farms.  Many more animals die awful deaths in corporate farms or die from development than could ever be harmed by a young farmer named Joshua Rockwood.

At the end of the very bitter winter of 2015,  Rockwood, a new farmer  in Glenville, N.Y., committed to the local food movement – he sells pasture-fed beef, pork, chicken and lamb – was reported to authorities by a secret informer. He was visited several times by the police, an animal control officer, and a worker for the Humane Society. Three of his horses and one dog were taken from him, and he was charged with 13 counts of animal abuse, cruelty and neglect. He was accused of having frozen water tanks, inadequate shelter for his pigs, overgrown hooves for his pony, and of keeping animals in an unheated barn.

On February 27, one of the same days he was raided by the police and charged with having frozen water tanks, the sewer pipes in the Glenville Municipal Building froze, and the toilets backed up and were unusable. No one was arrested

Rockwood's arrest raises serious questions about the persecution of farmers. It also raises issues relating to freedom and  privacy, the right of the state to invade private property and seize it without hearing or trial, and the growing role of secret informers searching everywhere for animal abuse. Government, formed to protect freedom and property, does neither when people like Joshua Greenwood are denounced for animal abuse.

The persecution of Joshua Rockwood is Orwellian.

Orwellian is an adjective that describes a situation or idea that the writer George Orwell (1984, Animal Farm,) identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It refers to an attitude and policy of intimidation and draconian control of issues by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of events. It describes the targeting of the "unperson," someone  who is publicly denounced on modern media, whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory, who is arrested by police with great authority, and who is thus disgraced and discredited. The dehumanizing of people, wrote Orwell, is a common practice of repressive governments.

The action against Joshua Rockwell was Orwellian, it fits every definition of the idea.

In our culture, people accused of animal abuse are shunned and disgraced, removed from the community of moral people, denied the right to acquire and own animals, listed on registries posted in public. Police invade their homes, seize their property, they are denounced publicly before trial or hearing, they become a non-person.

This is the fate Joshua Rockwood is quite determined to avoid. He insists on his identity, he defends his identity as an ethical human being.

The real problem here – and in many other cases around the country – is that Joshua Rockwood is almost certainly not guilty of animal abuse as it is known and has always been defined. The charges against him could have – and can be – lodged against almost any real farmer in the country in the middle of winter, and against almost anyone who owns a dog or a cat.

They could be lodged against you:

If your water pipes froze while you were at work, and you were running low on dog food, or built your own doghouse out of plywood and tar paper, a hostile neighbor, a disgruntled co-worker, an anonymous person on Facebook who saw a photograph you posted, or any other  informer,  peeked through your window, or drove by your home  and called the police. The police could enter your home on an open warrant, charge you with failure to provide water, shelter, adequate food or heat.  They might find that you failed to keep your dog's claws properly trimmed. They could take your dog away. At any time.  You would see yourself shamed on the evening news, a photograph of your wet and miserable looking dog seen by your friends and neighbors.

And all this before you have any chance to defend  yourself.

Your dog could be euthanized without your permission, and if he or she were kept alive, it would cost you thousands of dollars to get it back, assuming that became possible.

Rockwood's animals are right there for everyone, including the police,  to see –  healthy, hydrated.  Two different veterinarians said they were healthy and properly cared for. They survived an awful winter safe and intact. They were not beaten or whipped, seriously ill or injured, or abused to the point of grievous injury or death. At worst, Rockwell was guilty of being inexperienced, and unprepared for one of the worst winters in American history.  It is not easy to have animals on a farm, especially in a brutal winter.

He could have been charged with being overwhelmed, but that is not yet a crime. Or maybe it is. And he could have been helped instead of arrested. Is it abuse to use home made shelters for pigs? Is it abuse when a water tank freezes in – 27 degree or higher temperatures? Is it abuse when you are a month or two behind having the hooves of your horses trimmed? They used to call it farming. And  how many municipalities, I wonder, send the police into private homes when there is no heating oil and take the people inside to warmer homes.



So I've written a short Q &A primer on abuse, I hope it is helpful. I have been working on it for a long time.

1. What abuse is: Animal abuse is defined almost everywhere, according to the American Legal Dictionary, as this: The extreme neglect of domestic animals to the point of great suffering, grievous injury, or death. There are plenty of laws on the books of every state and municipality in America regarding animal abuse. It is illegal. In recent years, animal rights organizations have lobbied to re-define abuse  – working with animals, being entertained by them, keeping them in low-fenced areas,  using them for research,  even their experiencing  inevitable accidents, sickness,  and death.

2. What abuse is not: The opinion of someone sitting at a computer screen in some distant city, diagnosing an animal from a photograph or image. The opinion of someone driving by a farm and seeing a cow sitting in the snow, or a photo online. The opinion of someone driving by a private home and seeing a dog sitting in the rain. A horse lowering his head and raising a rear leg (this is an equine sign of relalxation. The use of a tool – a bullhook, a crop, a stick – to control a large animal or steer them in a direction. There is no state in the country that has found the work of working animals to be inherently abusive. The use of dogs to herd sheep or work with the blind is not abuse, nor is the use of animals to entertain  and uplift people, as in therapy work.

3. Killer whales. Is it appropriate for killer whales to be confined in aquariums and water parks for the amusement of tourists?   There is no law prohibiting killer whales in theme parks, but I am clear in my mind. It is wrong, it is not technically abuse, but it ought to be illegal. Killer whales are not domesticated animals, they have not ever worked safely or easily with humans, unlike draft horses or Asian elephants. They have never lived in confined areas close to people and structures. To me, the use of killer whales in confined pools and spaces is not acceptable to me, it is clearly wrong.

Animals fall into three categories – pets, domesticated animals, wildlife. Legal definitions of abuse are different for all of them, and all animals are not pets. Nor are they children with fur.

4. Why isn't it cruel for all Asian elephants to be in any circuses? Because there is little or no evidence of systematic abuse of elephants by Ringling Bros.  Why not improve the lives of elephants rather than ban them, and doom them? A half- dozen courts have ruled the Ringling Bros. elephants have been well cared for.  Animal rights groups – the U.S. Humane Society, and A.S.P.C.A. were fined more than $21 million by a judge for paying witnesses to claim the elephants were abused. There is considerable evidence that their elephant trainers love them, train them gently.  Asian elephants have worked with people for thousands of years, there is nowhere else for them to go, there is no wild for them to return to.

5. I hope I am not the first one to tell you that everything you see on the Internet is not true, every image of a suffering animal is neither accurate nor genuine or tells the whole story of any species.  Be careful where your money goes.  (If you want to save money and see it go directly to animals, find organizations like Blue-Star Equiculture, which uses donations to save animals and encourage people to keep them and care for them. I support organizations that work to keep animals among us, not to take them away.)

So there is a sense of unreality and very selective morality about real abuse. Abused animals bleed, starve, die. Corporate farmers who house their animals in unimaginably horrific conditions – who abuse them in every moral and social sense of the term – go unpunished, while farmers, carriage drivers, pony ride operators, circus owners and sled dog mushers are considered criminals and are harassed and persecuted. Abuse has ironically become a blinding obstacle, a distraction that keeps us from figuring out how to keep animals among us. We ban them from their lives and work, and look away as they fade from the earth and are never seen again.

Stopping abuse is not the same thing as saving animals and keeping them in our world.

For all of human history, the relationship between people and animals have been private, sacred, individual and personal, as long as the animals are treated decently. They are not owed perfect lives, and cannot be spared the travails of life. The very people who insist that animals need to be released to the wild persecute farmers because their animals are sometimes in the wild.

Animals in barns in bitter weather can get frostbite just as quickly as animals outside without shelter And most of the real farmers in the Northeast could have been charged with abuse at almost any point in February. Everyone's water tanks froze. That's why they are flocking to support Joshua Rockwell. They  believe they have the right to live their own lives in peace, as long as they break no laws.

There is an epidemic of abuse emanating from the animal world, but more and more, it appears that it occurs to the most vulnerable humans – farmers and the people who live and work with animals and most often love them, rather than to the animals themselves.

Joshua Rockwood is not an unperson, a grainy photograph on the evening news. He is a human being, fighting for his existence because the people in charge of the welfare of animals no longer have any idea what animals or farms are like. Nobody is lobbying to pass any laws protecting Joshua Rockwood and his rights, or helping him to get through the worst cold wave in decades.

Posted in General