Tomorrow morning, Joshua Rockwood's nightmare continues. He would love to be at work on his farm, selling healthy food to people locally, he will be in court for the third time, but not the last, in his fight to save his farm, his livelihood and to get his horses returned to him, if he can afford it. He has been told it will cost him thousands of dollars to get his horses or back, whether he is found guilty or innocent.
There is nothing rational about Rockwood's Orwellian nightmare, it is marked by ignorance, hysteria and irrationality. It is a case of marked injustice, but that deserves a sentence all of it's own.
The animal rights movement believes animals should not be owned, eaten, confined, or used to work with, entertain or uplift people. Animals like Joshua Rockwood's cows (above) should be left to live in nature, in the wild, like the carriage horses, the working dogs, the circus elephants, the ponies in the farmer's markets, the cats and dogs in your living room.
So here's one of the many ironies about the Joshua Rockwood case. He is charged with 13 separate counts of animal abuse and cruelty, and almost every single one of them is because his animals were living in nature, as close to living in the wild as one can get.
– Do the animal rights organizations and the police and prosecutors serving them believe that animals in the wild have potable water delivered to them every day when the temperature is -27 degrees? Do they believe that streams and brooks don't freeze in the winter, that animals can't eat snow if they have to or punch holes in the ice?
– Do they believe that wild and feral pigs live in heated barns in the wild, or sleep in expensive bedding manufactured by human beings in factories?
– Do they believe that animals in nature – living in the open, with no shelter or understanding or warning of impending weather – never get some frostbite on their extremities?
– Do they believe that animals in the wild are checked regularly by veterinarians for health and hydration (as Rockwood's were shortly before his arrest). Or given hay and feed to eat while in nature?
– Do they believe that animals in nature, in the wild, get to sleep each night in heated barns?
But Joshua Rockwood has been charged with all of these things: having frozen water, an unheated barn and shelter, inadequate bedding, frost-bitten ears, inadequate stores of feed. Who, I wonder, will the animal police arrest when all of the animals in the world are finally separated from human beings and sent out into this now mythical wild?
There was great rejoicing last week when San Francisco recently banned the use of exotic animals like elephants for any kind of entertainment in the city, from circuses to parades to private birthday parties. Other towns and cities are rushing to do the same. It was interesting to note that Eddie Murphy's popular movie "Dr. Doolittle Talks To Animals" would be illegal today and could not be filmed there.
For the sake of animals, I would love to see a new law: Every time a city or town or state bans any animal activity, they must be required by law to find an equivalent activity, a role for the animals to play, a place for them to be, that will guarantee their survival in the world, and their good and healthy care. This alternative life must be decided not by ideologues or feckless politicians, but by biologists, behaviorists, trainers and people who actually know something about them. In a world where animals are vanishing at a horrifying rate, no animal could be banned without detailed plans made for their survival in our world.
This kind of ban San Francisco passed has long been the goal of several national animal rights organizations, and is considered an easy and safe move by politicians. Farmers and dog lovers do not have the money for lobbyists and media campaigns online, they have not figured out how to raise tons of money without putting up photos of dead and injured animals on the Internet.
This effort to banish animals from our everyday world and find nothing else for them to do is now a feature of the national hysteria over animal abuse and cruelty that is driving so many animals away from people and out of the world.
None of the politicians involved or the journalists writing about the subject that I can find have raised any of the most important questions about the future of animals (including the fact that Asian elephants are domesticated animals and have been working with people for thousands of years): where will these animals go when they lose their work and value to humans? Who will take care of them? Where are these mystical preserves that have the space and resources to care for them, when they can't handle the animals in need of rescue now?
Do these politicians and organization know there there is no wild or natural environment for them to return to, few preserves able to take them in, nothing for them to do if they are taken in? Is there any consideration of any kind of provision for caring for these animals once we all pat ourselves on the back and remove them from the every day lives of people? Do the people passing these laws understand they are condemning most, if not all of these animals to a certain death?
I am struck by the elitism of this new kind of social witch hunt. Animals have entertained human beings for many thousands of years, is all of this work to be denigrated and dismissed as "stupid tricks" when it has been so valued by so many people – and still is in many places – all over the world? Some elephants have been mistreated, just as some people are, it is a small part of their story.
Is it smart for a carriage horse or elephant to spend the rest of it's days eating hay and dropping manure out of sight of human beings, but stupid for them to be among people, making them laugh and wonder? Why do we insist on banning and removing animals from the world rather than making their lives better and safer and more secure?
Are we comfortable as a society knowing that our children and grand-children, already isolated from the natural world and the world of animals, will never get to see these animals again in their lifetimes and wonder why their parents and grandparents permitted them – even celebrated – their extinction?
I can think of few crueler fates for working animals than to be taken to rescue preserves – most will be slaughtered, since no one can afford to care for them – where they will receive no attention, have no work to do, have no interactions with people, and they will grow dull and truly stupid because they no longer have any stimulation or decisions to make except where to eliminate. I would rather put my border collie to sleep than see him spend his life on a rescue farm or in a no-kill crate. It is simply the new kind of abuse, we humans are ingenious in that way.
If you wonder what the fate of the carriage horses and circus elephants will be, just think about a border collie taken from a farm with sheep and put into a fenced corral for the rest of his or her days, with nothing to do but run around the fence line and wait for dinner. This is the supposedly "humane" fate that awaits the domesticated and working animals of our time.
Into this increasingly cruel and insane world has come a reluctant Joshua Rockwood, a quiet and serious farmer who gives his animals a life in nature, a 90 acre version of the wild that is closer to it than almost any rescue farm. And every single thing he did to make their lives natural and open – they all have free range – seems to be considered a crime. How is any farmer or animal lover supposed to navigate this fearful Catch-22. Animals must live in nature, but every time they are, somebody will get informed on and arrested.
How sad that animals are in the middle of this absolutely mindless and irrational conflict. Shame on us, they deserve better. And how sad our governments have nothing better to do that dictate the nature of our birthday parties and parades and try and take work away from carriage drivers and their horses, and condemn the circus elephants – perhaps the safest and healthiest elephants in the world – to almost certain death and removal from the earth.
I will be in the Glenville Town Court tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. to support Joshua Rockwood on as he seeks the return of his three horses, taken from him because their hooves were overgrown, their captors seeking ransom for their return. Do the people who informed on him, I wonder, think that horses in the wild get their hooves trimmed every 90 days, or live in heated barns in the wilderness?