By Marcy Winograd
Former Congressional Candidate
The much-revered Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
I shudder to think what this peaceful warrior would say if he passed by the Santa Monica farmers market on Main Street.
There, every Sunday, six ponies – some of them dragging their feet, having trouble walking – are tethered to a metal bar and forced to plod for hours in tiny circles on hard hot cement, while bands, often loud, blare next to the ponies’ sensitive ears.
The California Penal Code prohibits animal cruelty and imposes fines and imprisonment on those who cause animals needless suffering, yet the city – my city – continues this animal amusement with much fanfare and celebration, even advertising these sad pony rides on its website.
Next to the pony ride sits a penned in petting zoo, where an alpaca – a member of the camel family known for wanting to stay close to family – is sequestered in a tiny cement area, where gawkers can enjoy the sideshow.
Baby goats and chickens, bred for the zoo, sometimes seek refuge in corners. I wonder where their mothers are and how we might feel if, as infants, we were separated from our mothers. I wonder about the emotional lives of animals.
For years, I looked the other way, mindful there were other urgent struggles to embrace: stopping the drones; ending needless government surveillance; teaching our children to read and write.
One day, however, out of town guests asked me, “What’s wrong with Santa Monica? Why do the people here tolerate this abuse?” Speechless, I felt ashamed, not only for my city, but for myself, for my silence.
I am no longer silent in the face of animal cruelty disguised as benign children’s entertainment.
I launched a Move On petition (petitions.moveon.org/sign/shut-down-pony-rides) to shut down the current pony ride and petting zoo and have collected nearly 600 signatures, including those of Santa Monica School Board President Ben Allen, City Council candidates Sue Himmelrich and Richard Mckinnon, and Residocracy organizer and Hines project challenger Armen Melkonians.
I also started a Facebook page called Free the Pony.
Since then, I have urged the city to adopt a more humane approach – move the ponies to Virginia Park and walk them on gentle leads and grassy areas. Do not normalize the tethering of ponies, for enslavement is not what we should teach our children.
Some argue the ponies are only tethered several hours a week and must work for their keep; others say it’s better to work than be slaughtered. Is it acceptable to inflict cruel treatment on voiceless creatures for any amount of time?
Particularly when there is a more humane way to sustain them?
As for the threat of slaughter, The Gentle Barn, a nearby animal rescue sanctuary, has offered lifetime refuge to two of the ponies who seem to have the most trouble walking in circles for hours.
Additionally, I ask the city of Santa Monica to pay redress to these defenseless animals and to offer their “guardian” – the pony operator – the money needed to take care of them while they are still standing.