Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ranch of Dreams by Cleveland Amory

Cleveland Amory, who died in 1998, was a well-known writer and journalist who became a passionate crusader for animal rights.  He had an aunt who took in stray dogs and cats and explained to the youthful Amory how important it was to share your affection equally with all of your charges, and that eventually you would realize that the ones who gave you the most trouble tended to be the ones you would love the most.

In the book Ranch of Dreams, published just a year before his death, Amory explains how he became interested in animals and how he founded the Fund for Animals in 1967, “to speak for those who can’t”.   His obituary in the New York Times noted how the Fund at that time had 81,000 members.  The Fund bought the land, now 1,400 acres, in East Texas to establish Black Beauty Ranch, an animal sanctuary, in 1979.  This is what Amory calls the “Ranch of Dreams” that he first dreamed of after reading the book Black Beauty as a child. Anna Sewell wrote that book in 1877, from the horse’s point of view, detailing the abuse and cruelty visited on horses at that time.

Amory was following in the footsteps of his family, as it was a great-uncle of his who founded the first Humane Education Society in America.  A big impetus to get the Black Beauty Ranch going was the occasion of the National Park Service declaring they were going to shoot hundreds of burros living in the Grand Canyon area in 1980.  The Fund for Animals organized a rescue, airlifting burros by helicopter to safety, thereafter either ending up at the ranch or becoming adopted.  A total of 577 burros were rescued over a period of two years.

Amory was known for his caustic humor, lambasting anyone or anything that contributed to the inhumane treatment of animals.  From chimpanzees used in research facilities who are isolated in cages to baby elephants who are shocked repeatedly while being trained to stand up−Amory’s representation particularly of what goes on behind the welcoming ‘family entertainment’ profile of reputable zoos and circuses is not always for the faint hearted.  We learn of Velma Johnston’s historic crusade for legislation to protect wild horses, and how the best intentioned laws can be circumvented for personal interest and gain, often by the very officials who have been appointed to protect the animals.

When Amory and his lawyer were negotiating with the United States Navy to rescue wild goats on an island that the Navy used for maneuvers, Amory got so frustrated that he told his lawyer that now he realized why the Iran hostage rescue operation had been unsuccessful.  He said they must have thought they were going to shoot the hostages instead of rescuing them.  His lawyer told him if he said that on television he would be getting another lawyer.  Amory promptly got carried away and said the same during the TV interview.  Luckily, that clip was not broadcasted.

For sheer wit, this book cannot be too highly recommended, and also for its discussion of how precarious the animal rights movement can be.  “Let’s be nice to animals” is a lot easier said than done, as we can see from the testimony of Amory and others who speak up for our four-footed, clawed, and winged neighbors.
Here is our catalog listing for the book, and here is a video about the ranch:

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