on October 7th 2014
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
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In this heartfelt, thoughtful, and inspiring memoir, New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz tells the story of his beloved rescue donkey, Simon, and the wondrous ways that animals make us wiser and kinder people. In the spring of 2011, Jon Katz received a phone call that would challenge every idea he ever had about mercy and compassion. An animal control officer had found a neglected donkey on a farm in upstate New York, and she hoped that Jon and his wife, Maria, would be willing to adopt him. Jon wasn’t planning to add another animal to his home on Bedlam Farm, certainly not a very sick donkey. But the moment he saw the wrenching sight of Simon, he felt a powerful connection.
I love donkeys. I knew that reading a book about a neglected donkey would be tough. The opening chapters tell the story of Simon being left for dead in a pen without after food or water except for what is smuggled to him by his owner’s son. Eventually the son calls the authorities and Simon is taken away.
He ends up on the author’s farm. He is nursed back to health over time. The author has learned slowly to love donkeys and understand their ways.
“They are agreeable creatures, but they do not like being told what to do, and if you show that you really want them to do something that doesn’t involve food, you may be standing out in the sun for a long time.”
The author uses the story of his recovery to contemplate the meaning of compassion.
“But it seemed to me, I thought, standing out in my pasture, that the love of animals has made many people less compassionate to humans. The very idea of animal rights in our time is equated with hostility, rage, and self-righteousness.”
He is telling Simon’s story on his blog and his readers are outraged when he reaches out to the man who neglected Simon. He doesn’t go to him in judgement but to hear his side of the story.
“And why, I kept asking, are people who love animals so angry at people?”
This is an interesting topic for me. I’m definitely on the “love animals, don’t care about people” side of the divide but I’m not nearly as hostile as some people I see especially in the rescue community.
“The farmer was animal, a monster; he should be jailed, punished, tortured, even killed. No one offered a single line of compassion or understanding or concern for him, or for his son, who had bravely helped Simon when he was starving.
The hatred and fury were shocking to me, disturbing; this idea of rescue was not compassionate for me.”
This reminded me of the outrage I saw on Twitter from civil rights activists around the time of the shooting of Cecil the Lion. They didn’t understand why the world was upset over the shooting of one lion in Africa when people in Africa were dying all the time and when African-Americans were being shot by police. I didn’t have a good answer for that. I still don’t.
After reading this book I saw the author bio below. See the issue? No Simon. I went to the author’s website to follow up. It turns out that Simon died unexpectedly shortly after the publication of this book. That was a downer but he had a few good years where he was loved and well cared for. He turned into a bully towards the end of the book and I don’t know how I feel about the story of pony he terrorized. It was disturbing all around.