Friday, November 11, 2005

How I Became an Ass Man

All my donkeyblogging has paid off. Well, sort of. Lucy Fensom, founder of Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holyland, liked my three posts so much that she asked me to write about my experiences for SHADH's printed newsletter. Given the specific readership that publication must enjoy, I thought I'd expose this little tale to the even more specific Lord Zim audience first. Cross-platform, inter-continental, self-aggrandizing, late-night log-rolling. Glad to be of service.

Five or six years ago, when I first read about SHADH in the Los Angeles Times, I made a vague resolution to look up the Englishwoman who was flouting Israeli custom by rescuing donkeys. Time passed. More time passed. I was here, they were there. I might as well have forgotten about it. Little did I think that one day I'd be besotted with these same donkeys and unable to stop thinking or writing about them.

But how did this happen? In July 2005, I went to Israel for two months to write about the Gaza disengagement. I wrote one long account and planned to continue, but after Hurricane Katrina swept Gaza off the media map, I turned my sights elsewhere.

Committed animal lover though I am, I had never given the noble ass much thought. Alas, few do. After five visits to SHADH, what I see now is that they simply don't get good press. If folks realized that a happy donkey is as friendly and playful as a dog, these horse-shaped, rabbit-like creatures would be as popular as baby seals and as beloved as Great Danes, whom they resemble in temperament. Call me crazy, but I think it's all in the presentation. Of course, I do live in Hollywood, so perhaps my view of the world is warped. OK, definitely warped. But Lucy and all the volunteers at SHADH would agree with me: To know donkeys is to love them.

The first ones I met, however, were too tired and broken to show any spirit. These were the poor creatures who showed up at the Tayibeh clinic, where Lucy, Adi, Pierre the vet, and a few others tendered first aid and vitamins, bridle and hoof care, and fresh hay and water to all four-footed comers.

After three exhausting hours in the field that day, we went back to the facility at Gan Yoshiya, where nearly 100 donkeys have regular access to such tender mercies. There I saw beasts of a different stripe altogether. I hand-fed these bold, comical creatures carrots for an hour or two, completely losing track of time. Some flocked, others fled. (Just like the people I meet.) I took hundreds of photos that evening in the low barn light, and only stopped when the dust kicked up by hundreds of impatient hooves got the best of me. I was out there for so long, Adi thought I'd turned into a carrot and been eaten. The following day, when I started rhapsodizing about donkeys, my relatives thought I'd gone crazy.

On my next visit, I climbed into the corral with the "Bad Boys." One of them, a small brown scamp who shall remain nameless (his bridle had fallen off), was chasing another the length of the paddock. Up and back they ran, up and back. It was hilarious, though perhaps less so for the one in front. Eventually they stopped, and I made friends with the miscreant, whose aristocratic profile to this day adorns my computer desktop. I'll never forget the moment I realized that when he held my sleeve in his teeth he wasn't trying to bite me; he was just making sure I wouldn't go away.

There were other high points: playing with two-month-old Moonbeam on my third visit, and then marveling at Petal's one-day-old foal on my last. There were mixed blessings too: seeing how many of SHADH's charges have become lame or disfigured through human cruelty, while taking heart in the fact that for all their suffering, they're living out their days in something like paradise. And then there was the unalloyed gloom of the violence done to the Tayibeh shelter, an appalling example of just how low people can sink when borne down by greed. I presume that event is amply addressed elsewhere in this newsletter, but you can read my account at my blog, Lord Zim.

And that is why you are reading this rambling account now. While struggling to find an angle on SHADH for a proper article in a real publication, I started writing freely about the place on my own blog. By the time I left Israel in October, I'd written three extended tributes to donkeys and SHADH, all of them liberally illustrated with my photos. If you'd like to read these efforts in order, just go to Lord Zim (, and click on the "September" link at left to find the first post, "Donkeys!" (You'll have to scroll down.) Then you can go back to the main page to find the annotated photo essay "Behold the Heroic Donkey" and "The Dark Side of Donkey Rehab," which addresses the Tayibeh incident and the actual work of providing care for distressed animals.

I look forward to my next visit to Gan Yoshiya. Moonbeam will likely be full-grown, but perhaps Petal's daughter will still be coltish. I may be thousands of miles away now, but I think about donkeys every time I turn on my laptop — especially that feisty little brown one.

The Aristocratic Profile


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

More Car Hijinks

OK, this is getting weird. Two PaCarazzi sightings in two days. Is that the universe knocking? Read all about it at PaCarazzi!


Monday, November 07, 2005

Something New at ...


That's right, America's favorite site about stars and cars comes roaring back from the dead (sea) with a classic tale of San Fernando Valley intrigue. Featuring a real live hot actress and an expensive SUV.

G'wan ... get your motor rollin'. Head out on the parking lot. Go read the latest from Pacarazzi!


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Cows Across the Waters

Last Sunday, I found myself in desolate Norwalk, CA, unlikely home to what may be L.A.'s last suburban dairy. Well over a hundred cows and dozens of very free-range chickens live in a vast mud field flanked by a mini-mall, an automotive salvage yard, and a very small, very old wooden house. Car parts, trailers, and assorted machines litter the property. It's hard to get answers at the Norwalk Dairy, but it looks like the final remnant of agriculture in a lower-middle-class suburb where property values never rose high enough to kick out the cows or keep out the junkyards.

Eight years ago, the flimsy shack out front was just a dairy outlet. When I stumbled on this place, way back when, I couldn't finish a half-pint of full-fat chocolate milk. It was thick as a shake, but without all those reassuring texturizers.

These days, the place is jammed with refrigerator cases full of soft drinks, shelves packed with snacks, and all the trappings of a scruffy convenience store. It took me a minute or two to locate the dairy's actual products -- unlabeled plastic half-gallons of the freshest milk for miles around, all lined up in a glass-fronted fridge behind the counter. You can't buy eggs from the local chickens though -- the dozens come from somewhere else.

For all the Lotto posters and celebrity magazines, it still smells like a dairy. A lot. It's a gloriously seedy surprise, simultaneously out of time, place, sight, and mind. Go visit the cows, and then, if you still have an appetite, stop at Renu Nakorn, the renowned Issan Thai restaurant just a few blocks west. You just might be in the mood for tofu.

Why Cows Are Mad

Adolescents: Not quite numb and numbered

Almost two months ago in Israel, I wrote a post about how agriculture turns cows, fish, and migrant workers into "robots," to use my farmer uncle's term. A new story on, "More Milk Means More Udder Pain for Cows," addresses just how far off the rails Israeli dairy farmers have gone in their efforts to maximize milk production.
    "[C]owsheds have been transformed into an industry that causes suffering to all those involved in it: the cows, whose living conditions are dictated by factors of economic productivity; the Thai workers, who are usually employed in deplorable conditions; and the farm owners, hundreds of whom are on the verge of financial collapse."

You can see my photos of very young calves if you scroll down this page or click on the "Fish Cow Robot" link at left. Or you can just look at this little character, who's about the size of a large dog:

My uncle, who used to work in his kibbutz's dairy, was candid about how early the calves are separated from their mothers. But the article goes into detail:
    "When a calf is born, the mother is allowed to lick and clean it, but they are separated within 30 minutes to a few hours. Some dairy farmers testify that the separation is difficult on both the mother cows and their calves, based on the distressful cries of both animals. The calves continue to call for their mothers for hours after the separation. These separations are imposed because the calf's presence 'interrupts' the mother's milking routine, and 'wastes' milk. The calves are penned in wire isolation cages, where they are held for about two months."

And so on. I didn't mean to go all PETA here, but the 1300-word article lays bare the downside of an industry that on the one hand shows Israel's agri-ingenuity at its most agri-ingenious (see the article for how the eugenics are handled) and on the other hand has grown out of control.
    "Cows in Israel yield the largest quantity of milk in the world. In New Zealand, for instance, cows produce an average of about 3,450 liters of milk a year; in the European Union, cows give 6,450 liters a year; in the U.S., about 8,200 liters. Conversely, a single cow in Israel produces more than 10,000 liters of milk per year."

And yet,
    "Numerous studies in the U.S. and Europe have consistently shown that the frequency of udder inflammation, lameness and fertility problems increases in direct proportion to the increase of milk production. The genetic enhancement process comes at a cost to the health and well-being of the animal, since the body systems cannot withstand the burden of the intensive activity required by the augmented milk production...."

Note that the situation is not limited to Israel. American cows aren't far behind in their production numbers. It's a cheery piece all right ... and it doesn't even begin to address hormones, antibiotics, or bovine spongiform encephalitis. It's almost enough to make you give up dairy altogether.