New York Carriage horses and their enemies

Like Joel Katz of Bedlam Farm Journal, I think that the case of these horses, well- kept but attracting the attention and money of —  I can’t soften it,  deranged animal “Rights” activists,  possibly backed by the money of cynical real estate interests– is emblematic of our “rather stupid time” (Ortega), and a preview of what every one of us who lives with ancient human- animal memes– dog breeders, houndsmen, pigeon racers, falconers, sheep herders, ranchers, dog trainers– faces. Name it– there is some fanatic in a city near you who has never kept, never mind bred or worked with, any animal, and that person  is determined to take your animal away and “rescue” (or kill) it,  to at best, a puzzled life behind bars with no work.

Some recent Jon Katz; first from September 16

“Have you ever been absolutely hated by an animal rights
activist? I mean HATED so much that they wish to obliterate your very
existence. HATED so much that they vow to destroy you and your kind no
matter what it costs, monetarily or in decency? HATED so much that your
very humaneness and your families identity and legacy and traditions and
whatever else you hold sacred and dear are threatened with a campaign
to destroy any trace of your existence? What is it about this kind of
activism done in the name of loving animals, that loathes humankind to
the point of what appears to be utter insanity?”

And this, from yesterday

“The next thing that surprised was learn that the campaign against the
carriage horses was not  a debate about the horses, or an argument
about animal welfare or the future of animals in the urban world. It was
an ideological assault – personal, brutal and relentlessly cruel –
against the people who owned and drove the horse carriages. To
understand this unnecessary controversy, it is first essential to
understand that. It has always been about attacking and dehumanizing the
drivers, who have been called thieves, torturers, abusers, immoral,
callous, greedy, liars and inhuman or less than human beings.

“This is always the language of hate, the precursor to persecution,
the ugly advance work necessary to demonize people to the point that
their freedom and property can be taken away by the so-called moral
community around them. Earlier this year, one of the gentlest and most
beloved of the carriage drivers approached the mayor at a public event
with his young son. He asked the mayor why he was do determined to ban
the horses, and the mayor said “because your work is immoral.” He said
this right in front of his son, and then turned away. He did not speak
of the horses, he spoke of the character of the people who drive them.

“There it was, from the mayor’s mouth to our ears. It is about the
people, not the animals. The story has never been about the welfare of
animals, not one animal on the earth will lead a better or safer life if
the carriage horses are banished to rescue farms and slaughterhouses.”

This not young photographer, recovering from open heart surgery and for no reason but that he understands working and domestic animals and can see and think and feel, is the most eloquent defender of our Old Ways on the web. I check him every morning, and you should too. Thanks, Jon, and keep up the good fight.

UPDATE in progress. I am writing this out of saved material.  Libby informs me that Jon is apparently putting his farm up for sale, as his health is shaky. I hope he continues writing and making beautiful photos, but our hearts are with him whatever he does. His eloquent defense of working animals is something we can mine as long as deracinated urbanites try to deny us contact with (CS Lewis phrase) “other bloods”.

“Carrier” Pigeons and Pigeon Paraphernalia

So- called Carrier, ie messenger pigeons (sophisticated bird folks know they are Racing Homers, not the heavily wattled show bird of that name) have been in the news a lot lately.

Reid sent this article about a lost WW II messenger from the legendary Code and cryptography center Bletchley Park discovered in an English chimney; Tim Gallagher sent still another version. The “Weekend” Wall Street Journal reports on the French debate about maintaining a flock for disaster relief (I had thought the Swiss were the only recent European bird “employers”). Perhaps the fact that the Chinese fleet is large and expanding might give us a clue to their continuing relevance..

I have always fooled around with messenger pigeons and believe they are useful. The late great Grand Canyon guide Wesley Smith used to use them to carry film out of the Grand in the 70’s and so discovered the resident Peregrine population before the ornithologists (“Takes three birds– one for the falcon, one for the tiercel, and a good one for the film!”) I also collect pigeon paraphernalia and tools from all over the world. Here are, first, a bunch of message containers, both WW II US and modern Swiss high tech versions with Red Cross markings given to me by (excellent) filmmaker Jim Jenner (Google him), including a “backpack” for heavier loads; some Indonesian tail whistles, and a melodious Chinese gourd flute beside a flute- bearing stuffed bird from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Finally, some bangles as worn by birds in Turkey and Arab countries and a flying dewlap by Sir Terence Clark, wearing earrings.

I continue to insist, with Darwin and David Quammen (see “Superdove on 46th Street”), that even “street” pigeons are among our most interesting commensals…

Jean Craighead George and Jim Marti: RIP

Old friends and heroes are dying faster than I can write about them. Jean Craighead George, author of one of my favorite childhood books*, My Side of the Mountain, and sister to the even better- known conservationists and falconers , the twin brothers Frank and John, died last week at 92. NYT here , Wiki here , her own home site here.

Jim Marti of North Dakota was a few years older than me, and not only the best trainer of pointing dogs, mostly setters, that I ever knew, and author of the best contemporary training manual, but a better novelist and storyteller than most in his generation. He circulated his manuscripts like Samizdat among his friends and laughed about selling them; his Dog Town, funny and poignant and tough- minded, was as good or better than most that sold and were praised in reviews. Apparently he and his partner Jet Collins had some difficult health problems the last few years, but I never heard a word of complaint. If you know her, or if you just appreciate good dogs and writing, drop her a card; Baldwin ND would probably get there, but I will send you an address.

* When I told Frank that his family had been one of the biggest influences on my life, at the brother’s 80th birthday party in Jackson Hole, he quavered (he had advanced Parkinson’s): “We-e- ell… I h- h- h- hope we d-d-d didn’t r- ruin it entirely!”

Raising babies

Retrieverman is raising a new pup, with a mirror for “company” when alone.

I use an analogous technique with baby falcons. But with Post Office bears:

I also feed them from a timed automatic cat feeder to eliminate begging, and keep them in that kid’s swimming pool in the living/ computer room 24- 7, with dogs, to socialize them. It works…

Old Bird

Last week, Anne Price of the REF e- mailed to tell me that her Harris tiercel Indiana Jones had died, very much of old age and attendant frailties. Anne:

“This morning I said goodbye Indiana Jones, a.k.a. Indi, my Harris Hawk. I would be lying if I said I weren’t sad, but he was kind enough to give me a few days notice, and at 31 years old, he gave me so many more years than I ever expected.

“Many of you reading this “knew” Indi nearly as long as I did; helping me fly him at Marine World, taking care of him when I was traveling in LA, San Diego, and ultimately Colorado. For those of you who never knew, or have forgotten Indi’s history, he was found sometime in 1980 in a cardboard box outside the Alexander Lindsay Nature Center in the eastern Bay Area, which is now the Lindsay Wildlife Museum and one of the premier nature/wildlife rehabilitation centers in Northern California. He was very heavily imprinted to people, and had an old break in his left wing at the elbow. No one knows where he came from. After getting him back on his feet, the museum placed him at the San Francisco Zoo.

“All I can recall, since I was 12, almost 13…was that he showed up one day from the Zoo, and our department manager at Marine World Africa USA announced that our park had acquired a bunch of animals, traded some, and he was in the lot. It was 1981, and since we were all Harrison Ford fans, and the FIRST Raider’s of the Lost Ark had just come out, we named him Indi. He had been handled at the zoo, but couldn’t fly……or so they thought! We flew Indi all over the place, hundreds of feet, off of buildings, roofs, across a lagoon, everywhere. He was amazing, ignoring the sea gulls, cutting through that San Francisco wind and fog, and always giving his all.

“Fast forward to 1991, and after 18 months of wrangling and permitting paperwork with the State of California, I drove up from LA to Vallejo (half way between San Francisco and Sacramento for you non-California types), and Indi was mine. That was April 1991, 20 years ago this month. Doug and I were living in Air Force family housing in San Pedro, and I even occasionally flew Indi there at Ft. MacArthur, across the quadrangle, sometimes using my upstairs neighbor’s balcony.

“Sometime around 1995 when Doug got out of the Air Force and we moved from Black Forest back up to Denver, Indi decided he no longer liked kids…10 years being petted at a zoo was apparently enough. He simultaneously decided that he was no longer afraid of four-legged creatures, like cats and dogs. He had always looked warily at bobcats, tigers, and various other mammals on leashes, but as long as they kept their distance he was fine. No longer; now he screamed at dogs, and when we got Otto in 1996, Indi actively flew at the end of his leash trying to kill him. Poor Otto got the message and to this day gives all raptors a wide berth.

“Around the same time I started using Indi to teach the new volunteer class at REF. For many folks, he was the first raptor they got to see up close. He was a very tolerant, if not occasionally clownish, assistant teacher.

“Two states, five homes, one dog, two kids, 20 years as part of our family, 30 in my life altogether. How many people get to love an animal for 30 years, unless it’s a macaw, tortoise or elephant?

“Glenna took this photo yesterday; as I said, I could see things were coming to an end. I am very grateful that he waited until we returned from Jamaica one week ago today, and I don’t believe he suffered. Right up to the last 24 hours of his life, he was eating, drinking, could see, hear, and both give and receive affection from those who loved him. We should all be fortunate to die so well.”

When I gave her my condolences I remarked that his longevity was biologically interesting. She agreed and added:

“From a purely biological standpoint, it was interesting to see what happened to his feet. This is what a 31 yr old arthritic raptor food looks like…check out his hallux. His left foot was completely normal, but I’ve seen this in a couple of my birds with wing injuries; as they age, the foot on the opposite side of the injured wing starts displaying twisted talons or swollen joints, almost as if it’s compensating for the injured opposite limb. We have a 23 year old female ferruginous hawk, with a left wing injury just like Indi had; the talons which have twisted on her right foot are the inside/medial or “power” talon, and the middle one. I keep them trimmed a bit shorter than normal, in order not to further twist or deform the way the toe lays….I did the same thing for Indi.”

How to make (this) bird happy…

The peregrine (who I sometimes call Bella II after an older bird of the same breeding I once had, who moved to Utah ended up killing five- pound sage grouse though she only weighed about what this one does, 23 ounces) is pretty well trained now. She even has good manners. She never screams or “mantles” over her lure, which she responds to quickly. She happily steps off it for a tidbit.

What she is not is particularly friendly. She rarely ‘tips’ or tilts her head in a hawk’s gesture of friendship to me (sometimes to the dogs especially Taik, sometimes to Lib; THEY don’t ask her to do anything!) She hoods well but with her peculiarities; I tell people after she eats: “She’ll bate [jump] once, then squawk at the sight of the hood, then accept it, though she’ll bite my finger before I tighten it”. She amuses all but me by never disappointing.

The one thing she absolutely loves, though, is her shower. I started soaking her with a spray bottle when she was in her first training to cool her down, still hooded– a common enough ploy. But when she got the ease to stand around without wearing her hood for a while (she still ‘needs’ it more than I like because, unfed, she is more restless than most hawks who have lived with us in her situation) she fell completely in love with the experience.

Look at these photos– ecstasy! She spreads her wings, bows, trembles, covers her eyes with her clear eyelids, drinks, rubs her beak on the perch, repeats, soliciting again and again until she is drenched. In an hour she would do it again,and even a third time if there were enough hours in a winter’s day.

Eventually she should probably move on, as we have no proper game close by and cannot afford to feed “pets”. She is the potential duck hawk her anatum half (the other is Barbary) implies, if ever there was one, needing only consistent pigeon work. But hunting ducks would mean a 40 mile drive each way; with three narcoleptic periods a day from meds plus an arthritic hip driving that much is not high on my list right now.

I need close- to- home birds that neeed little or no driving– a gos or Harris male, a little tiercel longwing brought up to our quirks and with our dogs (our Barb- Teita, now in capable hands, had the right size and upbringing, but when I gave her away I couldn’t walk 100 yards and thought I might never; now I can hunt hard for two consecutive days without hurting more than my back!) Nor is she entirely happy living in the intimacy our ‘lifestyle’ demands, though most US falconers wouldn’t even notice (newer readers see last two older pix for why).

So if you think you might have ducks for a water- loving bird: you know where to find us.

Commonplace Book

From the Essays of Montaigne:

“The men who serve us do so more cheaply than our falcons, our horses or our hounds, and they are less carefully looked after…what menial tasks will we not bow down to for the convenience of these animals! The most abject slaves, it seems to me, will not willingly do for their masters what princes are proud to do for such creatures. When Diogenes saw his parents striving to purchase his freedom he exclaimed: ‘They must be fools; my master looks after me and feeds me; he is my servant!’ So too those that keep animals can be said to serve them, not be served by them”.


As several readers who communicate outside of the blog know, the redheaded falcon has been extremely wild and difficult. I had decided to send him back to the breeder and was feeding him to repletion every night.

But, as his weight rose, against all expectations he got tamer and tamer. He is now butter- fat, tolerating Ataika 100%, and still coming swiftly to the fist, at least indoors. So we will try a bit longer.