PETA takes on Portland, and horse poop takes center stage

By JAYSON JACOBY Baker City Herald August 14, 2009 12:38 pm

I can go along with PETA for some distance but I keep getting distracted, and well short of applying for membership, by the group’s loony pronouncements.

Which, in defense of my ability to concentrate, is pretty easy to do when it comes to PETA.

This is, after all, the outfit that urged college students to drink beer rather than milk.

(Considering how superfluous that advice is, I have to wonder whether anybody from PETA actually went to college.)

And tried to shame anglers by referring to fish as “sea kittens.”

And whose president said, infamously: “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

(Although, to be fair to Ingrid Newkirk, plenty of parents of teenagers probably detect a glimmer of truth in her rat-boy comparison. Except they wouldn’t be thinking about the slovenly 15-year-old upstairs while they’re lacing the cellar with boxes of D-Con.)

Yet I am reminded occasionally that PETA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

This is a clever name.

There is, of course, no universally acknowledged definition for what constitutes the ethical treatment of an animal.

But even though we can’t precisely explain the concept, almost everybody, I suspect, would claim to be for ethical treatment rather than against it.

Unless we’re talking about treating, say, the ebola virus.

By way of example, a few weeks ago a PETA representative telephoned me at my office to ask whether I had received a certain e-mail.

The purpose of this message was to remind dog owners to not leave their pets in vehicles when it’s 95 degrees outside.

This is sound advice.

Even if you believe the matter has more to do with stupidity than with ethics, you can’t dispute that letting your dog die from heat stroke, while you sip an Orange Julius inside the air-conditioned mall, is just plain cruel.

PETA’s reminder is hardly a revelation, of course — groups such as the Humane Society that ply waters decided more mainstream reiterate the locked-dog warning every summer.

(I don’t mean, by the way, to offend fish, or sea kittens, or any other aquatic life, with that watery analogy.)

Still, I applaud PETA for striving to protect helpless pets.

(Although if dogs are as smart as Newkirk seems to believe, they ought to be able to nip the car key while their owner’s not looking and get a copy made, so they can turn on the A/C if they get left in the car. Plenty of boys, and girls, are capable of that.)

My admiration for PETA never seems to linger, though.

Just last week the group admonished Portland officials to ban horse-drawn carriages.

PETA’s specious justification for its request was that a horse had died a couple days before while pulling a carriage in downtown Portland.

The horse, which apparently died from a heart attack, was 23 years old. This, I gather, means it was no spring chicken.

(Speaking of chickens, I’ll bet PETA can tell you stories about that sadist Colonel Sanders that’ll put you off Extra Crispy for months.)

Also, the temperature topped out at 94 that day in Portland.

This scenario doesn’t seem to me nearly so sinister as PETA implies.

Pulling a wheeled carriage at a placid pace on paved streets doesn’t tax a horse nearly as much as, for instance, galloping around a race track.

Also, carriage customers don’t as a rule appreciate being jostled around.

PETA hasn’t proved that the Portland horse died solely because it was harnessed to a carriage.

I doubt, in any case, that the horse’s owner was prone to flogging the animal until its coat was lathered with sweat.

It’s pretty hard to make money with a carriage but no horse, is the thing. You could pull the carriage yourself, I suppose, but even if you managed to get the thing rolling you’d probably not have breath enough to do the tour narration.

I won’t be surprised if Portland capitulates to PETA.

If that happens, I hope the success doesn’t embolden PETA to come after Ron Colton, who runs Baker City’s only carriage service.

I’m no horseman — the one time I was in the saddle I nearly fell out. My friend did fall off his mount, and he busted his arm.

But when I watch Colton’s carriage roll slowly past, I don’t, as I suspect PETA members might, see in my mind’s eye a Lab, panting inside a parked car.

.        .        .

I don’t mean to belabor the topic but I have, in the span of a few weeks, had horse manure figure prominently in two separate episodes.

Which is a record for me as regards equine excrement.

First, the BLM distributed an e-mail which, in my nearly 20 years in the news business, ranks as unique.

The agency wanted to get rid of 5,000 cubic yards of wild horse manure.

To be clear, this is manure deposited by wild horses, not especially energetic manure left by regular horses.

I don’t know how much 5,000 cubic yards is but I do know that’s a figure usually associated with products delivered by dump truck.

It’s a lot of dung, anyway, and I can’t blame BLM for giving the stuff away at its wild horse corral near Burns.

The second episode happened while my wife, Lisa, and I, along with our daughter, Olivia, and the Herald’s Snowden intern, Nate Hellman, were hiking to Echo Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness on Sunday.

(There are two Echo Lakes in the Eagle Cap, one up Hurricane Creek, the other in the headwaters of West Eagle Creek; we went to the latter.)

We were climbing the seemingly interminable switchbacks when Olivia, who rides in a backpack and so has a commanding view of the terrain, said, without preamble: “poop.”

Which, indeed, it was.

Horse poop, to be specific, a common, and fragrant, obstacle on Eagle Cap trails.

We adults reveled in the Wallowas’ wealth of scenery Sunday: the indigo of the lake, the hard blue of the alpine sky, the stark white of the granite, pierced in places by the dark brown of basalt dikes.

Yet back at home that evening, when her grandparents asked Olivia what she had seen, the child proved that her interests do not mirror those of her parents.

“Where’d the horse poop go?”

I should have told her to ask BLM.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.