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I run into Amish dog breeders almost every day here in Lancaster County.  On this blog I usually contend that allegations of animal abuse in what are termed ‘puppy mills’ are overblown.  I’m still getting a feel for it, and will admit I do feel sorry at times to see dogs kept caged.  At the same time I don’t know that I’d go so far to allege abuse on the breeders who seem to generally have healthy, energetic animals.

One reader of this blog last week posted a thought-provoking letter on an incident of abuse which the reader recently encountered in southern Lancaster County.  I’m posting it and my response below.  If you have any comments, feedback or have experienced similar situations, please chime in.

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I must disagree that animal abuse among the Amish is the exception rather than the rule. I am attaching a long letter I wrote the the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal last week, which will likely not get published as it is too long. As you’ll see, I am not an outsider to Lancaster County nor unfamiliar with the Amish.

To the editor:
Let me preface my remarks by noting that while I have not lived in this area for nearly thirty years, I grew up in Southern Lancaster County,where I lived and worked on my family’s dairy farm from the time I could help until I left for college in 1980. I also rode and showed horses during my junior high and high school years. I know the challenges of farming and that sometimes animals can be contrary and uncooperative, requiring humane correction. Let me also emphasize that I am not a member of PETA. I am not a vegetarian. In short, I am not what many Lancaster Countians would label an “animal rights’ wacko.”

That being said, I was appalled and sickened, as I believe anyone with an ounce of compassion would have been, at the scene that greeted me in the early afternoon of July 12 as I turned onto Pumping Station Road, en route back to my brother’s home near Kirkwood. I saw an Amish buggy stopped alongside the road, the horse drawing it fallen on the ground and clearly in distress, and a team of draft horses with some sort of conveyance behind them in front of the stricken horse. A rope attached to the conveyance was also attached to the fallen horse’s bridle. I assumed that the injured horse had been struck by a vehicle,but no, the young Amishman and the pre-teen Amish boy who were there casually informed me, the horse was a “balker” and had fallen to the ground after their attempts to yank him forcefully along behind the draft animals. This horse was clearly injured and in distress; he was bleeding from both his front and rear legs and from his mouth. He was also terrified; his neck was twisted at an awkward and painful angle,and he was still attached to the buggy, finding it very difficult to move. When I asked if he had broken a leg, the Amishman nonchalantly replied, “No, just a stubborn horse,” and proceeded to viciously kick this horse in the head to try to get him to stand up. They finally got the buggy removed from him, at which point more brutal kicking was delivered to both his head and hindquarters. Though the horse tried to get up, he had fallen on the road and thus had no means of traction and fell to the ground again. At this point, the Amishman suggested that I could be on my way. With my hands bloodied from where I had touched the horse’s head to try to calm him, I managed to utter in my disgust that I seriously doubted that beating the horse was going to accomplish their goal. I seemed to have little choice but to drive away, though I was tempted to call the police. As I looked in the rear-view mirror I saw another round of blows delivered to the horse’s head. It was one of the most brutal cases of animal abuse I have ever witnessed. Perhaps I should have tried to do more; perhaps making this incident public is the best I can do.

This is not the first time in my years living here and then visiting at least twice a year since I left that I have observed Amish cruelty to animals. Workhorses and mules can be seen even from the road as they are grazing with open, untreated collar sores. I’ve seen Amish families driving lame horses at a fast trot, and who hasn’t seen horses and buggies tied for hours in the hot summer sun? And we all know that some inhumane Amish breeders are key players in Lancaster County’s dubious distinction of being the puppy mill capital of the United States. Now granted, the Amish have no corner on the market of cruelty to animals.Recent stories during my visit about dog and cock fighting and alleged guinea pig abuse are testament to that. There are horrible cases of animal cruelty throughout this country. Nor, I imagine, are all Amish abusive to their stock. However, here’s the rub. The myth of the Amish is that they are a deeply religious, Christian, meek, gentle, pacifist people. As I watched that Amishman brutally abuse that injured and terrified horse, I could not help but think how such behavior flies in the face of all they profess with their faith. Yes, their Biblical injunction gives them dominion over the animals, but somehow I just can’t see the God nor the Christ they claim to worship looking down on this scene with approval. It is sheer hypocrisy. Certainly most reasonable people would agree that this brutality was a much greater sin, according to Christian theology, than having a telephone in your house.

Few in Lancaster County want to criticize the Amish because, of course, they are economic bread and butter to the region. The money depends on the mythology. I have plenty of opportunities where I now live and where I travel to answer questions about the Amish, which are always forthcoming once people find out where I’m from. They are curious about this group of people and their traditional ways. One thing you can be sure of: when asked, I will be offering the straight story – a fair one, but one that is not marked by some romanticized,false view of a gentle, consistently nonviolent people.

Hi CBucher, I appreciate you sharing your letter.

The case you described sounds horrible. I’d be appalled to witness that.

To be honest, I feel that some Amish are unenlightened when it comes to the treatment of animals.

At the same time, this past week I saw how one Amishman treated the saddle sore of his buggy horse. He then proceeded to give him a spray bath to cool him off, pointing out that he liked to start with the legs and work his way up over the body, comparing it to the way we avoid the shock of getting into a shower by putting in one leg at a time.

Another kept his horses from going out for their usual evening jaunt through the meadow due to the prospect of lightning.

Many of the Amish barns I have been in have cow bedding, a soft spray-on floor liner that
allows the cows to rest more easily.  I caught another Amishman last week installing a cushioned floor surface for his horse.

The reasons for treating animals well may very well be as much (or more) economic as compassionate. Worn-out, abused and tired animals get sick, run up vet bills, and die, incurring losses for farmers and ‘regular-Joe’ Amish alike. The guys beating the horse whom you described were not only abusive and uncompassionate but also apparently economically dumb.

Starved and diseased puppies such as the ones featured on Lancaster County billboards certainly won’t fetch much on the market either. From my view of a cross-section of Amish America it seems to me that the majority of Amish treat their animals sensibly and with an eye to prolonging their health.

Abuse surely goes on, which it does everywhere, as you point out in the letter. But I still would contend that the majority would prefer preserving their animals’ well-being over degrading and destroying it.

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