Animal Camp: Lessons in Love and Hope from Rescued Farm Animals Hardcover – Sep 8 2010
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"Animal Camp is an incredibly moving, beautiful, sincere, honest book one that, if read with a complete open heart, will have the capacity to change lives!" --Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
About the Author
Giving up a thriving eleven-year teaching career, Kathy Stevens bought a disastrously rundown farm on a vast number of acres, and with sheer determination, boundless compassion, and limited funds, turned it into an acclaimed haven for abused livestock, the Catskills Animal Sanctuary. Her books, Where the Blind Horse Sings and Animal Camp, present heartening stories of the difficult work that has gone into saving more than 2,000 lives since the sanctuary’s 2001 founding.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
First of all, the `camp' referred to in the title occupied 6 weeks of summer, during which she took a few animals to live with her at her partner's country cottage. In the book, this adventure occupies 50 pages. In the remaining 130 pages, no mention is made of the camp, which left me with the feeling that this much ballyhooed experiment didn't really happen--or that perhaps it didn't yield the results she was hoping for, so she chose to ignore it for the rest of the book.
I also wondered if the manner in which she managed the camp indicates how she manages her sanctuary. Quite frankly, she comes across as rather reckless. She poorly plans the transport and reintroduction of animals, plays lame pranks, and hopes to set up a variety of experiences, the purpose of which seems to be to surprise her longsuffering partner. She expresses several wishes: "what I'm really hoping is that Franklin [the pig] joins us for a swim" and "what I'm really hoping for is that Alex [an interloping pigeon] rides on Franklin's back." We never know if either happened--and these two simple fantasies indicate what we learn about her bigger hopes. Ms. Stevens is so preoccupied with what she wants to have happen that she never tells us what really does transpire.
It's obvious that she wants a perfect world. She is so committed to it that she paints one herself, but the brush strokes are those of a caricaturist. I expected the photo plates to filled with Thomas Kincade prints.
She seems to have learned nothing from the camp except that she is "really really good with animals"--something you'd think she learned about 10 years ago, when she started the sanctuary. But did she learn what she'd hoped to learn from the camp, such as whether to reevaluate how animals are grouped at the sanctuary? If so, she's not telling it in this book.
One of the book's chief flaws is that she repeatedly places herself as an exclusive intermediary between animals and humans. By her own admission, she hears their words inside her head. With her as their mouthpiece, they seem very eloquent. But she never convinced me that she is a reliable medium.
In a very bitter chapter, she discusses anthropomorphism--the interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics. But she can't decide if she wants to attack these imaginary anthropomorphist haters, or if she wants to prove to us that animals are indeed humanlike. She relentlessly projects feelings, motivations, and dialog onto these animals--all of which are provided in order to prove her own various theses. Anthropomorphism is derided when it is in the hands of her detractors, but it flourishes in her own hands, as she magically understands all they say, mapping it against behaviors and emotions that are patently human.
At times, she makes the animals seem superhuman. She proclaims the sheep Rambo to be "wiser than any human I know." As far as we are aware, she is the only one with a Rambo Decoder Ring. There is no way to verify whether he is truly wise or if Ms. Stevens just hasn't met any wise humans.
Due to her exclusive role as animal translator, these declarations can only be accepted by us as matters of faith. Add this to her very self-conscious role as Protector and Witness of Miracles, and she has placed herself into very rarified company. She's now comparable to Moses or Joseph Smith, and certainly the equal of Dr. Doolittle.
There is an unfortunate mean-spiritedness in her portrayal of people she doesn't like or who disagree with her. She speaks of `pitying' those who cannot see the intelligence and emotions of animals the way that she can. She treats with disdain "Marsha," who wants to euthanize a horse too early. "Miriam," whom she encounters at a health food store, is treated with great disrespect. Her relative "Sam" fares no better. One episode, focused on rescuing a turkey just before Thanksgiving, contains such baddies as a "chain-smoking mother and her two gaunt daughters, noticeably underdressed," a man "weighing easily 500 pounds," an 80-year-old woman with gnarled, arthritic hands, and a "toothless gentleman" who improperly handles the unfortunate bird.
By contrast, the workers at her sanctuary are radiant, always kind, and presumably as beautiful as Adonis and Aphrodite.
More ugliness appears in the gratuitous flaunting of racial epithets, as well as a non-sequitur episode that serves no other purpose than to mention a "flamboyantly homosexual" chef, whom Ms. Stevens has no intention of hiring.
Any notion that she has true compassion for or understanding of humans was dispelled by one statement: she believes that all children laugh when they are dragged across the parking lot by her apparently out-of-control dog.
Like her previous book, this one has its share of delightful miracles, like the harmonic convergence of multiple species around her in the barn one afternoon. (In the previous book, she spoke of Rambo helping her round up some errant llamas, and of the selfsame super-sheep rescuing turkeys left out in the cold.) The problem with these miracles is that she is the only human around when they happen. Anyone with faith will relish these happenings, while skeptics will continue to doubt the veracity of her stories.
She insists repeatedly that if humans knew that animals were emotional, sentient beings, then we wouldn't eat them. This argument is just as effective as instructing schoolyard bullies to not hit other children because they have feelings and brains, too. Though Ms. Stevens is obviously quite sincere, it's going to take a lot more than her skewed perceptions to change the world.
The hardest thing to take came in the epilogue of this very ego-centric book. "I'm lonely," she confesses, adding that "the weight of what I've taken on is heaviest in the winter." I can only suggest to Ms. Stevens that she get help for her savior complex. Doing so would ease her emotional burden and minimize her misanthropic tendencies.
My sympathies are firmly aligned with Ms. Stevens' mission. "Taking the tour" at her paradise appears to be an initiation rite of sorts. While I haven't done this, I do regularly volunteer at one of the country's leading farm animal sanctuaries. My concern with this book comes from my own commitment to the plight of factory farmed animals. I believe that with a book such as this one, she is hurting the cause, not helping it.
"Animal Camp" is an enjoyable book by itself, but readers may also want to read Steven's first book "Where the Blind Horse Sings."
(I'm looking forward to the next book!)
If you simply love animals, you'll delight in this book.
If you care about the plight of animals, you'll love this book.
If you care about the plight of FARM animals, you'll need to read this book.
This is the second of her books I've read. After the first, I just had to get another!
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