Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Nora Fraser
Born in Los Angeles and raised in suburban New York and Waterford, Connecticut, Cromwell may have been destined to be an actor, his mother being film and stage actress Kay Johnson and his father, the legendary actor and director John Cromwell.
But James Cromwell may have also been destined to include animals as a part of his life's passion, having grown up around horses and dogs.
"Dad was a horseman, polo player and a jumper. And we always had dogs. Not cats. I didn't have a chance to get cats until… later."
Cats hold a special place in Cromwell's heart in spite of his first confrontation with one, which would have turned most people off felines for life.
"I got whacked by a cat once. When I was a kid, my mother, my brother and I walked down the street and there was a cat sitting on a stoop. I had never had an encounter with a cat before," he remembers. "I thought it was just like a dog, so I went up to it and stuck my face in it and that cat got me. 'Whack!' Right across the face. And of course I had an allergic reaction to it. We had sort of an allergic-type family, so I was never able to have a cat until I moved out here."
But Cromwell's allergies presented a real challenge when he began to date his wife, Julie Cobb.
"She had two cats and I was really interested in her, so I was over there a lot and got used to those cats. Of course, you're not going to be allergic with the woman that you want to marry. So you steal yourself and you just don't sneeze."
Why all the effort to put up with an animal that scratches you and provokes you to sneeze? Why not just have dogs?
"I like dogs. Dogs are fun. Great friends," he replies. "But if you really want to learn about life, get a cat. The way I think people should relate to animals is with a cat. Because the world is his. He suffers you with some slight disdain and he'll do a little bit- 'You want to rub me? Well that's really nice. Now that's enough!' I am very fond of them. I'm actually fond of animals period."
Cromwell's Affection For Animals Evolved Into Veganism Through A Series Of Events, Beginning With A Cross-Country Motorcycle Ride.
"I went through the stockyards in Texas. It seemed like the whole day. It just went on and on. There were pens on both sides," he remembers. "And the smell was horrible. The sense of doom and (the cattle's) awareness - being able to project and feel that kind of terror of what is coming. I never ate red meat again!"
He continued to eat fish and chicken because he was racing bicycles and thought he needed the protein. But Cromwell says he became very critical of people who ate red meat. "It was my judgment that was making me sick. When I went to Australia to do Babe- the film inspired me to think about this."
The director of "Babe" said something to James Cromwell that gave him insight into his role as well as his relationship with animals.
"I reached out to pet the dog and he said, 'Not so much. Don't pet him so much. Just tap him on the head… that's all.' And I remember watching the guys who worked the dogs with the sheep. The dogs loved the guys of course. They just can't get enough of them. But the guys kept them in a truck. They'd whistle, 'Come on!' The dog is completely alert to everything, but the man treats the animal as a working companion as you would treat a fellow worker, and I realized that was the relationship I had with the pig. Which is a nice way to treat them."
"It's not whether you're fond of dogs but can't stand ground squirrels or rats," Cromwell continues. "Some may say 'Yeah, but I don't like rats. I don't care what happens to rats.' That seems to me to be a limited view of who they are. If you love a dog, you have to love a pig. It's the same. The pig has the same life cares - nurtures - avoids pain - suffers loss - all exactly the same. The lack of imagination of not being able to see that - like that idiot Frenchman Rene Descartes who says that animals don't have anything but a response mechanism. It's so much BS to anyone who's been around animals."
CAT: So why do the Bosses keep a pig? The fact is that animals that don't seem to have a purpose really do have a purpose. The Bosses have to eat. It's probably the most noble purpose of all, when you come to think about it.
BABE: They -- eat -- pigs?
CAT: Pork, they call it. Or bacon. They only call them pigs when they're alive. (From the film, Babe)
Cromwell is frustrated that so many pet lovers are indifferent toward other animals such as those in factory farms. Factory farms which usually raise veal calves, pigs or chickens house thousands of animals in small indoor facilities. Because of the crowded and filthy conditions - (veal calves and sows spend their lives in crates and can't turn around) factory farm animals are routinely fed a diet of antibiotics and never see the light of day.
"The attitude we have towards our personal pets as opposed to the animals that suffer under the factory farm is hypocritical and delusional. We are indignant about horses being used for food, yet we don't have a problem eating cows. There's a relationship with the horse. Because they're near us, they supposedly count more. But a pig or a chicken or a cow count for nothing! They'll say that sheep are stupid and cows are stupid, and they have problems with pigs. Pigs are 'ugly and dirty'… which is what we do with human beings we want to dominate or eradicate. We vilify them and demonize them and turn them into less than."
"The Journey To Accept Responsibility For Your Fellow Creatures Is The Journey To Accept Responsibility For Yourself."
It is this passion that galvanized the actor into a life of activism on behalf of the Lakota Indian people as well as factory farm animals. The two subjects collided recently as the third largest pig factory in the world was being planned to be built on Rosebud Tribal land in South Dakota.
"The people of South Dakota passed a law that forbids factory farming in the state because of the damage. Someone got the brilliant idea to put the hog farm on sovereign Indian land where...(EPA restrictions) do not apply. And then the greatest of all chutzpah -- they convinced the Lakota people to mortgage their land for forty million dollars to banks to raise the money to do this thing. (They say) 'We can't pay you back right away, but in ten years this will all be yours. This slaughterhouse will all be yours.' Of course they don't tell them that in ten years, you can't use it anymore. After a while with the amount of urine and feces, they can't clean it out anymore and so they basically abandon these things. This stuff has wisteria - it's horrible - it's only ten feet above the aquifer that feeds the Missouri River which is only a mile away. Wisteria cuts fish in half! It would have been the end if they'd built this."
The hog farm was scheduled to produce a staggering 859,000 hogs a year. Another 25,000 breeding sows were to be locked in small metal crates. Despite the fact that the factory was to generate more than three times the manure and urine produced by the entire population of South Dakota, the Bureau of Indian Affairs signed off on the project without ever requiring the Environmental Impact Statement mandated by law. The BIA was sued by the Humane Farming Association and stopped the project. The pig farm then filed a suit against the BIA for enforcing environmental laws. A South Dakota judge ruled in favor of the hog factory!!
That's when Citizen Cromwell leaped into action by working with the Humane Farming Association and generating media coverage. He conducted press conferences and delivered a rousing speech before hundreds of tribal members. By all accounts, Cromwell's presence not only generated news media interest, but energized tribal members as well. By the time the primary election for tribal president was held, the hog farm had become the main issue in the campaign. The tribal president, an ardent supporter of the hog factory was resoundingly ousted in favor of two candidates who were strongly opposed to the operation. In the final election, fifteen of the twenty council members who had supported the hog factory were voted out of office in favor of a legislative body intent on ending the project.
James Cromwell's dedication to helping the Lakota Indians inspired him to create "Hecel Oyakapi" which means "they do it this way". The organization was created so Lakota people could tell their history and reveal their culture through the arts. One of its programs helps Lakota students from elementary school through college find a "pathway out of poverty through self expression." Compared by many to a third world community, The Lakota are the most economically disadvantaged group in this country.
"I put so much energy into the Lakota project because I believe the Indian people of the world are our canaries. As they suffer and their cultures go down, it means our culture's right at the edge. If we come to our senses we will need them as leaders, because their view of the world is a saner, more sensitive, more spiritual, more compassionate, more inclusive, more organic, more likely- to -succeed paradigm than ours. Ours is corrupt and about greed. It's not about feeding people anymore. It's about profit."
At press time, the hog factory in South Dakota had been effectively shut down. This was due in large part to the dedication and efforts of one individual.
If it were me, I'd be rolling in self-congratulatory bliss about now, but not James Cromwell. This is just simply part of his journey to self-discovery.
"You have to find out who you are. I think more emphasis should be put on looking inward. The pretense is that there is something out there that is not us. The answers are 'out there'. Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life."
NARRATOR: "This is a tale about an unprejudiced heart, and how it changed our valley forever. There was a time not so long ago when pigs were afforded no respect, except by other pigs; they lived their whole lives in a cruel and sunless world."
On and off the screen, James Cromwell's actions remind us that together we can make a difference.
For information on "Hecel Oyakapi", write to13251 Ventura Blvd. Suite 1, Studio City, CA 91604 (818) 788-1482 visit them on the internet at www.lakotastory.org/site.html .
And to find out more about the Humane Farming Association write to P.O. Box 3577, San Rafael, CA 94912 (415) 771-CALF
James Cromwell can be seen in the new Clint Eastwood film, Space Cowboys, along with Tommy Lee Jones and James Garner, premiering August 4th.
(Nora Fraser spent seven years on ABC-TV's Home Show and she is an Emmy-award winning producer. She currently has a project in development at Merv Griffin Productions and serves on the Board of Directors of the Ark Trust, a nonprofit animal protection organization that produces the Genesis Awards)
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
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