And the Horse Will Play Your Grandmother: My Day of Equine Family Therapy
“Will you be my father?” Connie asks with the twisting posture of a nervous child. We just met half an hour ago. She’s old enough to be my mother.
“I’d be honored,” I reply.
She places her hands gently on my shoulders. “This is my father,” she affirms, smiling sweetly.
Connie hasn’t spoken to the real man in 20 years, making this a tricky role to play. Rounding out the family is a Jack Russell Terrier named Jack (her daughter), a chestnut mare named Jackie (her grandmother), and a few other human strangers in various roles.
The matriarch of our little clan is Sara Fancy—a former competitive bodybuilder and ex–punk rocker who developed a love for horses in midlife. She was particularly fascinated by the animals’ apparent intuition, their ability to read and respond to human emotional cues. This sensitivity, she believed, could be harnessed for therapeutic purposes. Building on the work of psychoanalyst Bert Hellinger, Fancy bought several of the animals and a desolate plot of land in Southern California. She erected stables and a yurt, and named her new homestead the Silver Horse Healing Ranch. I drove down from LA this summer to experience Fancy’s horse therapy firsthand.
The cars arrived in clouds of dust stirred up from the dirt road. We all met one another inside Sara’s kitchen. There was Connie, a longtime Silver Horse client, and her friend Kay, who was there for support. After them came Christopher Rutgers and his wife Stephanie. Like many visitors to the ranch, Christopher had been referred here by a traditional therapist.
“We also get a lot of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts from the clinics,” Sara added in her cheerful British lilt.
After several cups of tea and slices of watermelon, we strolled to the stables under a blazing blue sky. A horse named Pretty Boy sauntered to the edge of the corral, pushing his cheek into Sara’s hand. “Pretty Boy’s owner was going to shoot him in the head and throw him in a landfill,” she explained, rubbing his muzzle. “Luckily, the man called me first and asked if I wanted him. I can’t use Pretty Boy with clients because he’s a little mousy, but I took him anyway. Ironically enough, some time later Pretty Boy’s owner ended up shooting himself in the head.”
We could tell you what this article is about but, after looking at those photos, wouldn’t you rather be surprised?
Meet the PupScouts, the Dog Version of the Girl Scouts
I hung out with the pampered dogs of New York’s PupScout Troop 4 as they held a meeting in the park and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, attracting throngs of admirers.
Teens Kill 900 Chickens, Are Completely Insane – This Week in Teens
When news emerged late last week that unknown persons had broken into a Fresno, California, Foster Farms poultry plant and killed 920 chickens with a golf club—and possibly another blunt object—I could feel my adult acne tingle. I didn’t know it for sure just yet, but I had a strong suspicion of who the culprits were: teens. Sadly, I was correct. This week, an 18-year-old, two 17-year-olds, and a 15-year-old were arrested for the crime.
For reasons of taste and humanity, we in the news media do not speculate about certain things, like how exactly anyone—even a quartet of highly motivated teens—could kill nearly 1,000 birds with a golf club. I’m not saying that they should be celebrated for their animal cruelty, but there’s no question that it’s an achievement. I’ve never killed a chicken, so I have no idea how difficult it is. I have been to a driving range, though, and I know that after a few dozen swings, your arms get pretty tired. Even if we assume these boys each killed the same number of birds, we’re still talking a few hundred hard strokes each. Plus, it must have taken hours. Not to mention the sound, and the smell, and all the bodily fluids. As Fresno County Deputy Chris Curtice told CBS News, “You can’t do that much damage to animals and not have blood on your clothing.”
The whole incident is just completely unfathomable. Really the only thing that we don’t have to wonder about is motive, because the only possible explanation for beating nearly a thousand chickens to death with a golf club is that you’re nuts. To quote Foster Farms employee Antonio Puentes, “It’s crazy that someone would break into the chicken shed to kill them. It’s just crazy.”
Here’s the rest of This Week in Teens:
–Not all teens are animal-slaughtering lunatics! Just this morning, famed 17-year-old activist Malala Yousafzi won the Nobel Peace Prize, making her the youngest-ever winner of that award by 15 years. In 2012 the Pakistani schoolgirl was shot in the head by the Taliban as punishment for blogging in favor of women’s right to education. She survived the attack and has continued working as an activist; late last year she met with fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner (remember that?) Barack Obama in the Oval Office and bravely told him that American drones are creating more terrorists. This year, she continued her streak of schooling adults by informing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan that his country needed to do more to recover the hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram. In August, she FaceTimed with ex-teen Justin Bieber. Fun fact: Like most teens, she believes in socialism.
Watch: Exploring Southern China’s Controversial Dog Meat Festival
Southern China has always had a tradition of dining on dogs—people from other parts of the country even joke that Southerners will eat anything with legs but the dinner table. But despite becoming more prosperous in the 1990s, Yulin has maintained the unique tradition of holding a canine banquet every summer.
My Long Search for Beef in Cuba
n Cuba, items that are difficult or impossible to purchase are considered perdido, meaning lost. At the time of my arrival in Havana this summer, two of the most pressing perdido goods are toilet paper and beer. Visitors can still find these items in their hotels, but for Cubans, they’ve gone missing. Perdido. Eleven million people on an island with a toilet-paper shortage. Other unobtainables include soap, pens, smartphones, and credit cards—not that any American credit cards work here, either. The internet is also perdido: Only 3 to 4 percent of the population has access to the web. But of all the perdido things Cubans can’t get a hold of, the strangest—and most taboo—is beef.
Every person I’ve spoken to in Havana assures me that it is a greater crime here to slaughter a cow than it is to slaughter a person. All cows, they add, are property of the state. When caught cooking illicit beef, Cubans have even been known to commit suicide rather than face incarceration. Why is beef so precious to this country’s communist dictatorship? I’ve come here to find out. The answer, I suspect, must have something to do with endemic hunger and the desperation of continually fighting for survival. Or perhaps it’s an anomalous legislative side effect to five and a half decades of revolutionary idealism and trade embargoes, the sort of skewed reasoning that arises among mind-sets capable of ordering the execution of those with differing views.
There’s more marbling to this story, however. The last time I traveled to Cuba, almost ten years ago, I’d been advised not to eat any beef. Locals told me that the beef served in restaurants came from the United States, and that it was of terrible quality. Some warned that it was contaminated; others said it was D-grade utility meat, or “cutter” beef, commonly used for dog food in North America.
Although I steered clear of any ropa vieja that crossed my path, it seemed unlikely that the US would be selling beef to Cuba, given the trade embargo that has existed between the two nations for the past 54 years. But since the American government started authorizing agricultural exports to Cuba in 2000, the island has brought in a staggering $4.7 billion worth of US-produced food, almost all of it by payments of cash in advance. The purpose of an embargo is to isolate and weaken the survival mechanisms of an enemy state through commercial policy. In this case, America is profiteering by feeding Cuba’s citizens. Few people realize it, but around one quarter to one third of Cuban food imports currently come from the USA.
Photographing Delhi’s Inner City Elephants
Due to a government ban, there are now only 13 of the animals left in the city, all microchipped and owned by a few families who mostly live together in unkempt fields under the same bridge.
The Ballad of Bimbo the Deer
Nearly two years ago, a reclusive 70-something-year-old named Janet Schwartz was devastated when the law threatened to separate her from her domesticated deer, Bimbo. Conservation officers arrived at her generator-powered plywood shack, plopped miles away from a remote Canadian tourist town called Ucluelet, with orders to take the then ten-year-old deer into their custody.
Janet was told she wasn’t allowed to keep her deer anymore because in this part of Canada, it is illegal to keep wild pets as animals. After weeks of stress and fear, Janet reached out to a few media outlets and told her story. She had rescued the deer when it was only a day old, after her neighbors found it lying in the grass near its mother’s dead body. She named the deer Bimbo after a Gene Autry song
(“Bimbo Bimbo where you gonna go-e-o”). Janet had raised a buck years before, so her neighbors knew she could provide a suitable home for the fawn. Janet raised Bimbo on goat’s milk and fruits, allowing her to sleep at her bedside every night for the first two years, until she was strong enough to be tethered to a hut on the property.
Janet claims after hearing her story, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reached out to her with a personal phone call to say, “the law will never touch you again.” And, faithfully, the authorities shortly after agreed the deer was not fit to survive in the wild on its own. Now, another two years later, Bimbo is 12 years old and still safely in the care of Janet, although confined to a muddy pen where wild animals such as bears and cougars are a possible threat. Janet takes special precautions at night, however, by allowing the deer to sleep in her living room.
“Bimbo comes right up to me to kiss me on the lips, like a man kisses a woman,” Janet told
theCanadian National Post
last year. “She does the same thing. She kisses.” She explained that their bond is very strong and that the deer is protective when threats such as aggressive dogs or intrusive visitors come her way. She also explained that they sometimes fight, and that the deer rears up and flails her hooves toward Janet in the heat of arguments. Later, Bimbo likes to bury the hatchet by “licking her to death.”
Until this year, Janet lived with a man named Mike, who also had a close relationship with the deer. But in recent months Mike has fallen ill, and is currently hospitalized for an indeterminate amount of time. Now Janet lives in the remote and spooky hills outside one of Canada’s biggest tourist destinations alone, with only her beloved Bimbo to keep her company.
An Army of Giant African Pouched Rats Are Clearing Mozambique’s Minefields
Land mines, unexploded artillery shells and cluster munitions are every bit as effective during peacetime as they are during war. An estimated 72 countries around the world are still affected by them, and their proliferation throughout former war-torn countries continues to reaphorrific consequences on rural communities from South East Asia to Angola.
“The socio-economic impact of land mines and unexploded munitions are huge. These things massively block economic development, and poor people in remote areas are continuing to suffer because of them,” says Tekimiti Gilbert, head of mine action for the de-mining NGOApopo.
“The knowledge of a single mine in the area is enough to stop locals using that land out of fear. Most of these communities survive on subsistence farming. They’re dependent on that land for agriculture, animals, and forestry—even getting firewood for their homes. And the further you move out of cities, the greater the land mine problem becomes.”
Fortuitously, Belgian-born Zen Buddhist and founder of Apopo, Bart Weetjens, has pioneered a new approach to detecting and eradicating land mines; he’s using rats—hulking, cat-sized rats who’ll go to insane lengths for a slice of avocado. And who, along with other de-mining NGOs and the British Government, are pushing to make Mozambique a mine-free country by late 2014.
“Some people are thinking of this idea as crazy,” he laughs in a heavy Belgian accent. “But for me, connecting the dots between rats and mine action was an alignment of the constellations.”
I Went to Montreal’s New Cat Cafe on Shrooms
I have a broken relationship with cats. Once in a while, they take a moment from shitting in boxes and lurking in dark corners to glare at me with indifference or distrust, but that’s about it. Up until now, we’ve been working under the unspoken agreement to not really give a shit about each other. So when VICE asked me to visit the new cat café that had just opened in Montreal, my dysfunctional relationship with cats came to the fore.
Café des Chats is the first establishment of its kind to open in Canada. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a cat café, it’s basically a coffee shop with a bunch of cats living inside it. I thought the concept seemed a little contrived, and the thought of drinking espresso in a room that’s crawling with eight unimpressed and distrusting creatures initially sounded like a bit of a nightmare. But, framed the right way, this could be a great opportunity to face my fears and heal my relationship with felines. Maybe throwing them into our neighborhood cafés is actually a great idea.
Either way, I probably wasn’t going to enjoy myself or learn anything by going in my current headspace, so I decided to take some mushrooms before crossing the cat café threshold.
I spoke with the owner Nadine a few days before my visit, and she agreed to have me come by half an hour before it opened on Friday, at 9:30 in the morning. I met up with Stephanie (our photographer) beforehand to drink mushroom tea and have some grounding, sober thoughts while I still could. I sat on the edge of her couch at 8:45, taking careful sips as the sun glanced off her bookshelf. I watched the cluster of green mushroom bits swirl into the tea, thinking of how the fate of my morning rested in its murky depths.
After I finished my cup, we biked over to the café in Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood, and stood outside to take a photo of me nervously laughing outside.
I was still clear-headed, but knew by the way my fingers were tingling I was on my way to ShroomTown. I watched Stephanie fiddle with her camera and realized that while we were in there, she would be the only other human that knew I was tripping. I made a mental note to remember that if things got out of control.
The co-owner Youseff saw us standing outside and came out to greet us.
“Welcome,” he said. “Come on in.”