Why Working Animals Need To Work from BEDLAM FARM John Katz - Equine Health and Welfare

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Why Working Animals Need To Work from BEDLAM FARM John Katz

HCBC Staff
Created: October 9, 2015

"We have forgotten that our connection to working animals is symbiotic, not selfish or exploitative."

8 October 2015 John Katz
Why Working Animals Need To Work: Co-Evolution, Not Domination.

The very bitter and ugly New York Carriage Horse controversy was – is – important because it focused attention on the future of animals in our world: the big horses, but also domesticated animals (and some companion animals) everywhere. The tone and tactics of the animal rights movement in New York shocked and repelled people in New York City and far beyond. It failed, despite years of harassment and what turned out to be mostly false accusations, and the expenditure of many millions of dollars.

New York is our biggest stage, what happens there echoes throughout the country and much of the world.

For me, an author who writes about animals, and lifelong supporter of animal rights and animal welfare, it was transformational: it helped me to see that the issue of animals in our world has grown far beyond the ability of the contemporary animal rights movement to comprehend the problem, to offer rational solutions for solving it.

For all the noise it makes, the movement seems paralyzed and stuck to me, unable to conduct their work without alienating the general public or persecuting people who live and work with animals, almost all of whom detest the very idea of animal rights movement and associate it with fanaticism and the abuse of people.

This is a tragedy for animals, and for the people who love them. Animals need real advocates, people who can bring people together to help animals, not divide and isolate them.

One of the core issues in the carriage horse controversy revolved around the question of work for working animals: is it abusive? Cruel? Exploitative? No longer fit for the modern world? The animal rights drive to ban the horses – they spent millions of dollars and didn't seem to win a single new supporter in two years of intense and ugly campaigning – suggests that the movement is too small and narrow-minded to deal with a problem that is urgent and complex.

It seems both overtaken and outdated, unable to adapt its rigid ideology, rejecting all scientific and medical expertise, and seemingly unaware that the environmental issues surrounding animals have changed so much in recent years that many, if not all, of their original goals are no longer possible or relevant. They have become unrelentingly hostile, they are also sadly out of date.

It is helpful to read two of the classic works of animal liberation – Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation," and "The Case For Animal Rights" by Tom Regan. These books by two teachers and authors launched the animal rights movement. They both focused more on farm and factory animals than working animals like the carriage horses, but they put forth a broad series of arguments: it is cruel for animals to work for people; it is exploitative for animals to be used for the profit of people, it is immoral for animals – dogs, cats, horses – to be owned by people; it is wrong for animals like elephants to be used to amuse or entertain people in any way.

The movement – funded lavishly mostly by wealthy celebrities, who adopted the movement in the 80's and 90's as an easy and favored cause (who, after all, is for the abuse of animals?) – began to target circuses, moviemakers who used animals in their films, the horse carriage trade, pony ride and small zoo owners, researchers, small farmers, and individual pet owners who were increasingly informed on by animal rights workers and targeted by police and authorities.

These campaigns were sometimes justified, sometimes not. They have also been marked by cruelty, dishonesty, ignorance and the abuse of human beings. That is the real story behind the carriage trade campaign, and a major reason if failed. These campaigns, now conducted all over the country, have resulted in the deaths and social extinction of a growing number of animals, many of whom have been removed from human contact or sight, banned to rescue preserves or slaughterhouses. The worst offenders of animal cruelty – some, not all of the giant industrial factory animal farms – have been left unpunished and largely unmolested. As of now, it is believed that nine billion animals live on these industrial scale farms, many of them will never see a minute of true light.

A central tenet of the movement, embraced by every one of its ideologists and leaders, was that animals ought to live in nature, they should be returned to the wild, they did not belong under the thumb or control of human beings. They should live freely, as they once did. This was much in keeping with the liberation movements of the 70's, it caught on, even if it wasn't ever very well considered.

The carriage horse struggle, followed closely all over the country marked one of the great and rare defeats for the animal rights movement, which has invested tremendous resources in the campaign. It also has sparked a new social awakening among animal lovers beyond New York City who are seeking a more nuanced, balanced, and yes, humane way to deal with the survival of animals in a rapidly developing world wracked with violence, industrial growth, and climate change.

The animal rights movement was conceived a generation ago, and does not seem to grasp yet that there is no nature for animals like carriage horses to be returned to. In interview after interview, outraged animal rights activists in New York demanded that the healthy and safe and well-cared for 2,000 lb carriage horses be returned to the wild, where they have never lived, and which no longer exists.

We humans have destroyed the habitats of the horses, and those of many others. When elephants are banned from the circus, they will go to slaughter, not retirement farms with 600 pounds of food a day waiting for them. So will most of the carriage horses if they are banned, every horse expert knows this.

They will not only suffer the trauma of separation and die, they will disappear from the world, as animals do when they no longer live or work with people. Rescue farms, few as they are, are just another form of zoo, only with much less money and public support. They are not the answer to the masses of animals – horses, ponies, elephants, dogs, cats – being displaced by the animal rights movement and it's new and completely unscientific notions of abuse.

It is valuable to read the books by Peter Singer and Tom Regan, the founders of the modern-day animal rights movement. They are articulate and quite candid about their goals – to take animals away from people, and keep them away. It is equally valuable to read about the critically important relation of working animals to people over human history: The Horse In The City: Living Machines Of the Nineteenth Century, by Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr, and Horses At Work: Harnessing Power In Industrial America, by Ann Norton Greene.

Almost any veterinarian, biologist, trainer or behaviorist will testify to the need for working horses to work. Work is a part of their history, their biology, their genetics, their temperament. The carriage horses are big and strong, most of them are former farm horses, their muscle and body structure require regular physical labor and exercise, even more so than humans.

Their emotional structure also deteriorates without work, much as a border collie without sheep to herd or work to do. Their muscles weaken, they become aggressive or depressed, they become disoriented, they suffer from the loss of human contact and attention and care, which every horse lover and behaviorists says horses need. (Ours certainly does.) These animals have never lived in the wild, and could not survive there, even if it existed today.

We have forgotten that our connection to working animals is symbiotic, not selfish or exploitative. Those human tricks the elephants have performed for thousands of years have uplifted the spirits of countless human beings, living hard lives in sometimes remote and joyless places. What will replace those "stupid tricks" for them. Ponies have engaged children in the live of animals for centuries, they are often the only animals children have ever seen or touched. The same applies to the New York Carriage Horses, very often the first and only animals tourists and children and city residents will ever see and touch.

The truth is, it is not cruel for working animals to work, it is cruel for them to be deprived of work. And why, one wonders, is it cruel for carriage horses to work, but not cruel for police horses to face much greater danger, or for the bomb-sniffing dogs to risk explosions in train stations, or border collies to herd sheep in all kinds of weather, or for seeing eye dogs to help the blind?

Humans could not have built cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco without horses, write McShane and Tarr. The nineteenth century city represented the climax of human use of horse power. "Horses, too," they write, "benefited from the new human ecology. Their populations boomed, and the urban horse, although probably working harder than his rural counterpart, was undoubtedly better fed, better housed, and protected from cruelty. To the extent that it can be determined, the urban horse was also larger, and longer lived than farm animals."

Ironically, any biologist can testify that the urban horse lived and lives far longer than any horse in nature, subject to the elements, predators, starvation and disease. The New York Carriage Horses get fresh water and hay every day, and do not work in high or extremely cold temperatures. (They also get five weeks of vacation a year, the first horses in the history of the earth to get that benefit.)

Work is essential the survival of horses. Only a handful of draft horses survive in the New York Metropolitan area, and the mayor of New York and the animal rights groups there have been spending millions of taxpayer and private dollars to get rid of those that comfortably do, to ban and kill them in order to "save" them.

The relationship between people and animals has always been symbiotic. Horses could not have survived as a species without human intervention, and dense human populations frequently relied on horses. Environmentally, many argue, New York City and it's residents would benefit – so would Mother Earth – if more, not fewer horses lived and worked in the city and if trucks and cars were banned instead.

The horses today are far safer, healthier and better cared for than the horses of a century ago. They are ecological windfall, if the city leaders were not so blind and tempted by political cash.

This is where the animal rights movement seems to have derailed, and have failed both animal loves and animals.

They appear to have no grasp or respect for history, science, or the real nature of animals. They exist only on almost fascistically fixed ideology, incapable of change, growth, negotiation, learning or evolution. They never quit, but they can't win in this form. Animals are caught in the middle. Like so many animals, they will soon make themselves extinct if they can't change. That would be a shame. Animals need advocates.

Almost every other species of large grazing mammal has disappeared from North America. The only animals that survive are those who can live and work with people. It is not a crime for animals to earn money for people, it is vital to their survival. And it is not a crime for animals to benefit people, any more than it is for people to help animals. It is not a "stupid" trick for elephants to delight human beings and show us the amazing things people and animals can learn to do with one another. It is not torture for ponies to give rides to children. Or for animals to star in movies. If some animals are abused, their abusers ought to be punished. Abuse of animals is not universal, it is actually believed to occur quite rarely.

This narrow notion of animals – that only the sacred few can adopt or live and work with them – is simply elitist, another of the many diseases that seems to have infected our modern notions of animal rights.

It is worthwhile to remember that the original, wild North American horse – the only American horse that ever did live entirely in nature – was unable to defend its territory against smaller predators, especially including humans, who had no work for them. The European horse survived because it found an ecological, social and economic niche a partner for humans. This is the same and only reason dogs have survived – and thrived. Like horses, they are companion and work animals. They have the most basic right any animal can have: they live.

McShane and Tarr call this "co-evolution." The animal rights ideologists call this domination. That is the real issue for us all.

We must all, in the end, make up our own minds about what is best for animals. I have. The animal rights movement has squandered it's moral right to speak for animals. They have behaved badly, practicing both ignorance and cruelty at the same time. That is not a formula for success, it does not help the animals of the world.

My notion is let's actually try to save the animals while we can. Let's find work for them to do with us. We need a wiser and better understanding of animals than the animal rights movement has been able to bring to us. It is time to move forward.
Thank you for subscribing to bedlamfarm.com , John Katz

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