We went to see Cirque du Soleil at London’s John Labatt Centre recently. The show, Quidam, was fabulous. Also the first circus I’ve been to at the JLC with no protestors outside. When my husband said he’d bought tickets, I said “but they don’t have animals!”
Yes, I’ve been to other circuses at the JLC. Took the protestors’ pamphlets, walked on into the show and enjoyed it. I listened to the ring master talk about the protestors and about how the circus looks after their animals.
Googling circus and anti-circus sites didn’t help clarify my thoughts on animal acts. I hate the thought of any animal being mistreated in training or living conditions. I also love seeing the animals in circuses. I’ve hung out on as many circus back lots as I could before, during and after shows. Whether they were rehearsing, feeding or relaxing, I never saw anything between people and animals that looked bad.
I’ve thought a lot about this – am I contravening my beliefs by attending every circus I can? I don’t know. If I knew that a particular circus, or trainer, was truly known to abuse their animals, then I would want to see them stopped. But are they all bad? I can’t just agree, yes they are, without knowing from independent sources. The anti-circus, animal rights people say all circuses are bad. Circuses say they treat their animals well and that they’re doing great things for animal protection. What do non-biased, non-involved sources say? Those are thin on the ground.
Animal lovers are animal lovers, and animal abusers are animal abusers. Both will be found in any animal-related endeavour. So stop having performance and entertainment that involves animals, you say. Ok, what happens then to those animals?
The elephants, big cats and bears could go to a zoo. Oh that will be a nice life for them. Day in, day out in an enclosure, eating, standing, sleeping. Go back to “the wild.” Is that workable for domesticated creatures? And what wild? Poachers, loss of territory and human encroachment have decimated elephant and big cat populations. There ain’t no viable “wild” for them to return to, even if they could fend for themselves.
And the circus people – what would they do? There’s a vibrant culture in circus life that should be esteemed as a national treasure. These are multi-generational families of skilled artistswhose talents should be lauded. Troupes like Cirque du Soleil are probably not the answer for them. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that Cirque du Soleil has a different ethos, traveling manner, history and way of life than that of the long-standing circuses. Traditional circus people winter in Florida, not Las Vegas.
I remember 1999, the last visit of the Kelly Miller big top circus to St. Thomas. I had never seen a circus in an actual tent. They erected it on vacant land at Centre and Moore Streets. It was magical inside the tent and, outside, barkers called you to see the snakes and games of chance.
This was the final performance at this stop, and we watched them pack up. The elephants pulled the tent down and the roustabouts folded it and packed it in the trucks. When animals and people were all loaded into their vehicles, the long caravan pulled out for the next town. All I wanted to do was follow them.
Wednesday we saw the new title sequence, done in honour of the show’s 50th anniversary and the move to high-definition. There’s a new cat, a new rendition of the theme music, new introductory scene shots. At first, I found the music jarring – more high pitched and ‘thinner’ than my ears like. According to internet sites from Canada’s viewing time and from last year in UK viewing time, I wasn’t alone. ‘I hate the new music’ was quite common.
A few posters, however, said it was more like a version that had been used long ago. It was less orchestrated than the version we’ve heard now for years. I remembered watching old episodes on the 30th anniversary VHS box set, and being surprised by the difference in the music. And yes, this new version is reminiscent of it. On Corrie Canuck, a commenter said the main instrument is a trumpet or “more likely a cornet with a mute”. According to Wikipedia, Eric Spears’ composition was “a cornet piece”. Knowing nothing about brass instruments, other than I don’t like them much, I don’t know, but this spare ‘reedy’ version grew on me quickly.
The photo montage still has the roof tops and tiles, but interspersed are street scenes on the set and throughout Manchester. They’re all in soft focus, which is odd considering the whole thing was done for the crispness of HD. Aside from the soft focus, it’s more like the American soaps when they all changed their opening sequences maybe 15 years ago to street and set scenes as well as shots of people. On second viewing and listening, I thought ok, this is different but the new elements are attractive. And it kept enough of the history of past openings in it. The tiles, chimneys, roof lines and, of course, a cat. By Friday, I decided I like the new sequence a lot.
New cat and former Street cats
We’ve got an orange tabby cat now, jumping off a roof. A while ago, when I was looking up images of Trevor’s found kittens, I came across the story of the grey and white tabby cat who graced the credits for many years. I had a special fondness for him because he looked very much like my cat Elsie. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. Frisky had a huge fan following. He was a regular cat from Leeds whose people decided to try him out when Coronation Street was auditioning cats for new credits in 1990.
He became a celebrity but continued to live a normal cat life with his people, not letting fame go to his head. A few years after his death in 2000, his people put his cremated ashes up auction. For the price of £700, some lucky person now has the remains of Frisky on their mantelpiece. The proceeds were donated to a cat rescue group.
Elsie and I both missed Frisky when they redid the opening, replacing him with the black cat. Seen only from the distance, this new cat endeared him or herself to Elsie and me by meowing. Hope the cat got paid more for having one line.
A cat in the title sequence happened by accident in 1976, when a cat just happened to appear as they were filming. Audiences noticed and liked the cat. So producers have ensured since then that there is always a cat in the opening credits. Eric Spear’s theme music tells you the show is about to start. The cat tells you you’re where you’re supposed to be.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds, with nary a thought of the dog in their heads. And Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap, knew he was cold, but who cared about that?
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, the dog must be loose; he’s into the trash!
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, gave the luster of mid-day to objects below. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Santa Claus with eyes full of tears.
He unchained the dog, once so lively and quick, last year’s Christmas gift, now thin and sick.
More rapid than eagles, he called the dog’s name, and the dog went right to him, despite all his pain. Now DASHER, now DANCER, now, PRANCER and VIXEN! On COMET on CUPID on DONNER and BLITZEN! To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!! Let’s find him a home where he’ll be loved by all!!
I knew in an instant there were not gifts this year. For Santa had made our mistake very clear. The gift of a dog is not just for the season, we had gotten a pup for all the wrong reasons.
In our haste to think of a gift for the kids, there was something important that we had missed. A dog should be family, and cared for the same. You don’t give a gift, then put it on a chain.
And I heard him exclaim as he flew out of sight, “YOU WERE GIVEN A GIFT!! YOU WERE GIVEN A LIFE.”
Night before Christmas real ABCR dogs
I got this poem in my email yesterday. Maybe a lot of people will be getting it in their inboxes. I hope so. In this adaptation of the familiar and kinda hokey poem, there’s a lot of truth. The unfortunate part of the truth is too many pets end up in this situation. The other truth is “you were given a gift – a life.” That is the most valuable gift there is.
The dogs in the pictures are all at All Breed Canine Rescue, and all are hoping for the gift of a home. At top is Nicky, the elderly and ill American Eskimo recently found abandoned. He’s the end of the sorry tale told above.
The pictures below him are the beginning of the story. They are some of a litter of seven pups recently removed from a situation of neglect. I wonder if they were intended to be sold as Christmas gifts. It didn’t work out so good. But, in the spirit of the Season, these are now named (from top to bottom) , Holly, Donner, Prancer, Blitzen and at right Vixen.
All Breed Canine Rescue needs beds for foster dogs. If you have washable dog beds, fluffy blankets or towels would you please take them to K-9 Concepts (9830 Sunset Drive, just east of Talbotville). Or contact Linda at 519-631-5607 or email@example.com or Lois at 519-633-6226 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ABCR is being deluged with litters of puppies. There aren’t enough foster homes and some are being boarded in kennels.
Where are they coming from? Some at least are from people who thought having a litter and selling the pups would earn some extra Christmas money. But the pups didn’t sell, so now they’re being killed or dumped on rescue groups. ABCR is doing the best they can to get shots and vet care for the pups and find homes for them and help pay for the spaying of the mother dogs. Money, foster homes and emergency provisions for this influx of puppies are all desperately needed.
Thrift Shop Dog Blankets
I know recently I extolled the virtues of thrift shops for finding cheap mittens, socks and coats for your kids. And, yes, there are also lots of old blankets and towels there too. But ABCR is a non-profit charitable group that survives only on donations. Every dollar spent on dog blankets is a dollar they don’t have to spend on food and vet bills.
I can’t donate my services as a veterinarian because I’m not one. But I can contribute dog blankets even if it means I go to the Sally Ann and buy them. At least with these, you don’t have to buy new ones to give. Anything warm and fluffy for a dog or puppy to sleep on will be appreciated. Dog coats are also needed for winter walkies. If you have any you don’t need or feel like knitting some, put them in with your blankets.
Rescue groups and shelters will soon be overloaded with cats, if they’re not already. Winter is here, and the cute kittens of summer are now at the age when they need spaying or will be producing kittens themselves. It’s the time when they are dumped. Let someone else worry about them or let them die – too often that is the attitude toward those cute cuddly kittens when they start to grow up. So cat shelters like Animal Aide and Pets/Friends for Life are in need of supplies and cash as well.
Probably every other dog and cat rescue group is experiencing the same thing. So if you aren’t in Elgin County or London, call a shelter or rescue group near you and see how you can help.
Every day I gave .6 bowl of kibble to shelter animals and 10 pieces of kibble to other shelter dogs and 10 pieces to cats. I had 2 foster dogs and 2 foster cats that I fed, walked and patted every day. These were my virtual fosters and feedings. I clicked to help every cause I could. Waking up my computer meant first doing my click duties. Going on Facebook meant ensuring my virtual fosters on Save a Dog and Save a Cat were taken care of.
Now I’ve lost those dogs and cats. I got too busy to go on Facebook and my animals disappeared. I feel horrible about it, but I can’t commit to them again. I can’t promise them that I will log in and click every day for them. I don’t always click every day on the Animal Rescue Site (and the attached Literacy Site, Rainforest Site etc.). Sometimes I forget to answer the trivia question on freekibble for dogs and cats.
What put me over the edge was when I entered a new realm of giving by clicking. The Pepsi Refresh site gives money for good causes and projects, both in the US and Canada. I spent a considerable amount of time choosing my Canadian projects and then diligently clicked every day. When I started feeling overburdened by clicking duty, I happened to see an ad on tv for an insurance company or credit card company. I can’t remember what it was – maybe I’ve blocked it from my mind to protect myself. You can support their worthy causes by signing up and clicking every day. No!!! No more!
So my backsliding started. I forgot to click the easy ones, Animal Rescue Site and freekibble, a couple days in a row. Then I didn’t go on Facebook for, like, a week. Next time I logged in and went to Save a Dog and Save a Cat apps, my foster animals had disappeared. Not just expired and easily renewed – but the message reading “you currently have no fosters”. I searched the database and found them again, and diligently clicked for a week or so. Then something else came up and I didn’t log in. I lost them again. This time, I haven’t gone back. I’m not a responsible virtual pet parent.
I let my Pepsi Refresh causes win or lose without my help. I try to remember to click the Animal Rescue Site and its affiliates. I enjoy the trivia questions on freekibble so try to do it every day. I still use Goodsearch as my search engine and raise a penny per search for Old Friends Equine Retirement farm in Georgetown, KY. But that’s as much as I can do. I am a click burn-out.
Dogs and cats have always been a part of my life – an important part. Most of them, from my childhood and adulthood, have just come along and stayed. An agreement was reached, a negotiation and relationship I suppose. Once part of the family, they were not ‘disposable’ if inconvenient. Also, rarely were they actively sought out like a purchase you decide to make. Both my present dogs are “official rescues”, adopted through a local dog rescue group All Breed Canine Rescue. So they broke my pattern: they were actively sought out because we were in need of a dog. We didn’t really plan on two, and hadn’t really decided on these two. They were to be fosters, but they made up our minds for us. Their backgrounds are, unfortunately, two all too common stories of dogs who end up in need of homes.
Charlie, a little terrier mix, was in an overcrowded pound in the States. Perhaps he was a victim of the house foreclosure crisis in the US, directly or indirectly. I don’t know why a small, cute, young dog wasn’t adopted, but he’d outstayed his allotted time and was scheduled for euthanasia. He was pulled from the pound and brought to Canada. He ended up with us, and he and we are very happy about that.
Leo, a Standard Poodle, was a victim of commerce and exploitation. He spent five years as a stud dog in a puppy mill in the US. I don’t know how old he was when he first got there, presumably old enough to be of service to them. So maybe 6 months to a year? I don’t think he’d ever been in a house in his life, prior to coming into ours. He didn’t know how to walk on a floor or climb a stair. He “marked” pretty much everything in the house. White-haired men frightened him and he kept distant from everyone else – except me. He glued himself to me, I guess recognizing me as the one safe base he had in this new world after leaving the puppy mill and enduring a very long ride to Canada.
Puppy mills and negligent owners
Both these dogs have given me an abiding anger toward people who callously or irresponsibly breed dogs. Charlie was young, but old enough to be neutered. He wasn’t until the rescue group did it. Leo was making Labradoodles. There’s nothing wrong with developing a new breed of dog. But there is something very wrong with churning out puppies without regard for genetic health problems, ante- and post-natal care, temperament, and socialization. There’s something very wrong with treating dogs as a cash crop. That, I believe, applies to large- and small-scale puppy mills and to people who think that a litter of pups is a good way to make a few extra bucks by selling them on online sites like Kijiji.
Equally, just not getting around to getting your dog fixed is wrong. There will be pups and someone is going to have to deal with them. If it isn’t you, it will be rescue groups or kind-hearted strangers, or animal control officers and a gas box to kill them.
Leo, the puppy mill dog, is unrecognizable now from what he was. In appearance and temperament, he’s a true Poodle – showing off, meeting and greeting everyone including white-haired men. But a lot of time and a lot of money went into making a healthy and happy dog out of the sick, scared animal that I first saw. And I’m sure that puppy-mill operator is still churning out puppies, making money and passing off his breeding stock to people like me to rehabilitate after he’s got all the use he can out of them. Laws need to be stricter, not to punish responsible breeders but to shut down people like him.
The thing that annoyed me most about the movie Secretariat was that the horses playing him were not in the credits. In particular, the one who played him in close-ups was superb – playing to the camera, acting the ham. Just like the real Big Red, so those who knew him say. I hope I will learn his and the others’ names and more about them on the dvd.
Ok, that’s my criticism. Other than that, I loved the movie. It’s the story of Secretariat’s fabulous 1973 Triple Crown win, and the story of his owner Penny Chenery Tweedy. Now, I’m a Man o’ War girl when it comes to that important question – who was the greatest racehorse of the 20th century? It’s not a decision based on any real knowledge of thoroughbred racing, just that he was the first racehorse I knew anything about. I had a put-together model kit of him when I was a kid, and it caused me to find a book about him in the library. And, even if you’re in the Secretariat “greatest horse” camp, you can’t deny the magnificence of Man o’ War, the original “Big Red”. His stride, as marked out at the Kentucky Horse Park, is still the longest of any known horse, including Secretariat.
The 1973 Belmont
But that win by 31 lengths! Nothing has ever been seen like that. I didn’t see the actual race. I was living outside North America and didn’t have a tv set. I’ve watched replays since but, thrilling as even that is, I cannot imagine what it felt like to actually see the race not knowing what the outcome would be. By 1978, after Seattle Slew and Affirmed won back-to-back Triple Crowns, I felt that having a Triple Crown was pretty exciting but not particularly unusual. I never imagined that it would not be done again for so many years. No horse, before or since, has won even one of the individual races that make up the Triple Crown in such a spectacular fashion. Especially the Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the three. Watching him is like watching a horse fly. It’s magic and majesty and pure joy.
The sheer magnificence of Secretariat is why I didn’t find jarring the overvoice of a passage from the Book of Job at the movie’s beginning and end. Such beauty and strength as a horse possesses calls up reverential words and imagery. The solemnity and beauty of the words fit the magnificence of the animal, one of the most beautiful in creation.
After seeing the movie, I checked online reviews. My interpretation of the use of the Book of Job is at variance with most of those I read. Quite a big deal was made of the fact that director Randall Wallace is an outspoken Christian. I did not know that going in so it didn’t influence my viewing of the movie.
Oh Happy Day
Two other scenes of the movie are focused upon as evidence of the Christian message of the director and/or Disney Studio. The choice of Oh Happy Day, as music coming from the stable radio, and as the horses are coming down the final stretch in the Belmont. The first time, when it’s coming from the stable radio, I just heard it as a popular song by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, and fitting when everybody in the scene was happy and feeling good about Secretariat and his prospects. The second use of it, in the ultimate race, I found distracting just because it was loud and I’d have rather just heard the hooves pounding on the track. Music accompanying that beautiful sound is gilding the lily. Not necessary, not an improvement.
Two reviews stood out for me. One is by Steve Haskin in Bloodhorse Magazine. This is a fair and insightful review both about the movie and the story of Secretariat and his connections. He points out a number of inaccuracies and glossovers of actual fact. One he doesn’t mention is that the coin toss which decided Secretariat’s ownership was actually more complicated and dramatic. To save movie time, I suppose, it was abbreviated. Still tense with drama, but if you want to read the real story, look for The Secretariat Factor by Tom Kiernan (Doubleday 1979). That’s where I read it, but I’m sure it’s also told in other books.
The second review is by Andrew O’Hehir in Salon. He says that he wanted his review to be provocative and well, yes, it is. His reading of Secretariat is as “Tea Party-flavored” propaganda for a mythical American past when all was well. For this, he holds the director and Disney responsible for perpetuating the myths of nostalgia and inaccurate simplification. That, I believe, is hardly news. O’Hehir for sure has read Critical Theory and wanted to be sure that we all knew he had. The argument is along the lines that popular culture is a particularly effective way to create political or ideological propaganda because the consumers are entertained primarily and therefore unaware that they are being fed propaganda. Ok.
Can you, as does O’Hehir, read Secretariat as Christian right wing propaganda? Of course. Just as you can read iconoclast comic Dennis Leary’s tv drama Rescue Me as anti-Muslim propaganda. Everyone in North America developed a heightened pride in and respect for police officers and firefighters after 9/11. Leary became a well-known advocate for firefighters in thanks to them for their efforts after that tragedy. The tragedy was caused by anti-American extremists – Muslim extremists. So do the math the same way, and you can consider Rescue Me propaganda just as easily as you can consider Secretariat right-wing Christian propaganda.
The movie Secretariat and real-life
O’Hehir argues that the movie’s negligible mention of the social and political upheaval in early 70s America is evidence of its propaganda/mythologizing of the past. Maybe it is. Maybe, too, those events didn’t directly affect the lives of the people whose story this is except through the schoolgirl political activism that is shown. Like O’Hehir, I lived through that time period, but my conclusions on the inclusion of sociopolitical context differ from his. I don’t think you need to cram in historical context just because it exists. Not if it doesn’t fit with your characters’ story.
As a teenager at that time, I was aware of what was happening in the US. I was active about it at about the same level of political acuity as Mrs. Tweedy’s daughter. My social concern got about the same kind of attention from my parents as did hers. It wasn’t that my family was living in a rarefied zone of privilege and wealth.Nor were they unaware of political and social events. It was that they had their hands full just getting on with their own lives without worrying about other people and cerebral political notions.
I think perhaps the same thing would have been true for the Tweedy-Chenery family. It may not be any more complicated than that. Mrs. Tweedy was a housewife with four kids and ailing parents. She had enough on her plate. If I asked my mother, I think I’d get the same answer.
A story of horses
Anyway, I loved the movie Secretariat. Steve Haskin said that the actor horses didn’t “capture the majesty and physical presence” of Secretariat but that there “isn’t a horse alive who could’ve done justice to him”. Secretariat is a feel-good story with a happy ending (except, of course, for Secretariat’s main competitor, the magnificent Sham, who made him run the race he did). And Secretariat’s story is not told in its totality in the movie. How could it be? What is told, however, is worth watching – and cheering and crying.
A few years ago, I got involved in finding homes for two Standardbred ex-racehorses whose owner had died. Neither were broke for saddle, they were getting up in years and they’d been together for most of their lives, so finding a home wasn’t going to be easy. As it happened, we did find a home for both of them as companion horses in a small herd. But in the course of all this, I learned a couple things about horses and people.
One thing was beware of meat buyers. Not knowing any better, we advertised them as “free to a good home”. Their eventual new person and others told us “list them for sale at least at their dollar value as meat”. Unfortunately, there is a market for horses to be sold for meat and “free to a good home” just means more profit for horsemeat brokers.
While thinking about how to find a good home for these two lovely horses, one day in Aylmer, I saw a horse and buggy on the road. Aha, I thought, there’s the answer! What could be better for a Standardbred than life on a Mennonite farm! A job for the horses without having to race, without having to get used to a saddle and rider, a job of value where they would be respected as important members of a way of life. If anyone would treat animals well, I thought, it would be Old Order Mennonites. So I was thinking about how to find out if anyone in the Old Order colony near Aylmer wanted a couple of horses.
Sulky to buggy?
Then I began hearing the second thing I learned. Every horse person I knew said, without my asking, “whatever you do, don’t let them go to the Mennonites”. This truly surprised me. At first, I thought it was individual xenophobic distrust, prejudice against the “different”. But too many people said it, including people I thought of as fair and unbiased. I started asking more questions. I was told some Mennonites – some said the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – were ok and treated their horses well. But, people told me, too many others do not care for them properly.
Instead, horses are regarded as pieces of equipment that you use up and replace when worn out. To explain it, especially in a case of free or cheap horses, people made comparisons to the old ‘beater’ cars that many of us have, where you don’t bother spending money fixing them, just drive them until they die and buy another old cheap one. That, I was told, was the attitude of many Mennonites to their horses.
Rode hard, put away wet
The objection these people had was not that the horses were used for work, it was that they were not cared for properly. In the words of one horseman, “the horses are run hard and put in the barn wet.” That is a good way to get a sick horse, and something no responsible horse person would ever do. I still find it hard to believe that anyone who relies on horsepower wouldn’t treat that horse well. It’s in their own self-interest to do so.
I see the horses and buggies in the parking lots of Aylmer stores, in shade if shade is available. Along #73 Highway and the sideroads near Aylmer I see them trot. I watch draft horses pulling plows in Mennonite fields. I look at the horses turned out to pasture at well-tended Mennonite farms. And I wonder.
I see puppies and kittens at Mennonite stalls at the local farmers’ market. They are all breeds and types, but they all look healthy and well-cared for. I’ve never asked “how do you treat your horses, do you run a puppy mill?” How do you ask that?
Mistreatment of animals doesn’t stop with horses, I was told. Many of the small scale puppy mill operations here are in Mennonite areas. I started paying closer attention to the Dogs for Sale ads in the paper. Yep, “no Sunday calls” and a phone number with an extension – something found where one central phone services an entire community.
I read in One Nation Under Dog about Amish dog breeders in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Author Michael Schaffer seems to have the same dilemma as I do about this. He writes that, for the Mennonite farmer, dog breeding provided a new livestock market or crop when small scale farming was being battered by agribusiness and coming out on the losing side of economies of scale. But the dogs are being raised as livestock outside in barns and cages, even though the intended ‘market’ for them is the inside of homes with dogbeds and squeaky toys.
Rehoming a Standardbred
There are a lot of Standardbred racehorses in South Western Ontario. Thousands of them never make it to the track or retire every year. They still have a long life ahead of them. They need homes. Old Order Mennonites need horses for transportation. Trotters and pacers are ideal. It seems like a match made in heaven.
But the horse people I talked to, harness racing people and others, all said they would not send a Standardbred or any horse to a Mennonite farm. I was saddened by this, and felt disillusioned about the ideal of Mennonite life I’ve always imagined: of people and animals united by a fundamental connection with nature lost to most of us in the modern world, and a spiritual injunction to care for all God’s creatures.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.