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A Good Day to Die

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Jake, whose long snood and bright coloring indicate happiness akin to a big grin.  In this photo, he is covered in pollen that blew in the pastures where he was enjoying his day.

Today is Jake’s day of glory.  It’s Thanksgiving day and his spirit is flying free.

It is a good day to die.

Jake came to me with a flock of poults (baby turkeys) that were destined to be killed for Thanksgiving in 2003.  I remember being spellbound by the little birds, who grew so fast that every hour they looked different. I had never known a turkey personally, and never even imagined the complex, fascinating, sensitive, curious beings I discovered them to be.

Jake never liked humans.  I always took it as a great compliment that he felt free enough to eschew human company, including my own. He knew we respected him enough to understand he was his own being, free to make his own choices. We never tried to meld him into who we wanted him to be.

Jake was one of a kind. He could be a bit of a hothead at times, quick to defend when he perceived the slightest threat to his dominion.  He protected his flock valiantly.  Jake cherished his freedom, and enjoyed each day to its fullest.  Even on the day before he died, Jake dozed in the sunshine, sought tasty delicacies in the grass, and hung out with his pig and turkey buddies.

Jake’s best friends were Tom (another Turkey), and Selick, a blind, elderly pig.  Years ago, when Selick first came to us, we tried to have him live with other pigs, but each night, Selick broke out of the pig enclosure and into Jake and Tom’s pen.  So, Jake and Tom got a new roommate.

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Tom, with Jake slightly behind him, explores the sanctuary.

Early this Thanksgiving morning, Jake succumbed to a heart attack.  He died quickly, with his best friends, Tom and Selick, by his side.

Jake was one of very few free turkeys on this earth. He was much beloved and tenderly cared for every day of his life. Among the oldest turkeys alive, it is nothing short of a miracle that he died a beautiful, peaceful death in the company of family and friends on Thanksgiving Day.

Today, I give thanks for the blessing of having had Jake in my life. I pray that all turkeys will someday be free to live as the sacred beings that they are. I pray that every human will someday know the joy of nurturing, encouraging, and protecting life in all of its varied and beautiful forms.

Today is your day of glory, my precious Jake. My heart soars with your spirit. You lived free and died free.  I am deeply, deeply grateful to you for walking with me for this brief time.

Hoka hey, my beloved familiar. It is a good day to die.

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Jake casts his intelligent gaze towards the camera.

 

 

One Day of Sunshine

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Harika and Habibah

They lay helplessly before us, innocent babies.  It was clear that they had suffered greatly in their short lives.  Covered in open wounds and excrement, malnourished, with misery in their eyes, they were too weak to stand.

The tiniest of the three cried in pain. Instinctively, I scooped her up and cradled her close to my heart.  Her panicked heartbeat slowed to match my own.  I tried to convey, with my eyes, that she was safe now—that she was loved. She turned her head to mine, her gentle brown eyes filled with wonderment. This might have been the first loving touch she experienced in her life. Harika, we named her- Sanskrit for “beloved of Indra”.

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Harika experiencing the first gentle touch of her life

Gently, I touched the huge wound on this tiny girl’s neck.  She cocked her head to the left ever so slightly, seeming to be aware that I was sorry for her pain.  I moved my hands slowly over her body, assessing the damage.  At each wound or bruise I stopped and said a silent prayer.  Her eyes held mine and she nodded her head minutely each time. I felt gently along the splayed legs that would not hold her.  I touched her yellowed skin, most likely jaundiced due to blood loss.  I felt her keel bone through her skinny little frame.

Then I just hugged her close to my heart again, feeling her tiny heart beat against mine while I prayed for all those beautiful babies that never make it out… all those turkeys who suffer each day of their short lives.  Forty-five million innocent babies, every Thanksgiving, are raised in unspeakable conditions, never to hear a kind word or feel a gentle touch… never to experience sunlight on their feathers, fresh air, or grass and soil beneath them.

But this one, this one made it out.  How or why, I don’t know.  Fairly often, we get these rescues, lucky ones who somehow escape and wind up where good, caring people find them and bring them to us.  I imagined she fell off of a truck- it would explain her splayed legs- but who knows? Maybe she was dropped as she was being packed into a crate for transport.  Maybe she was asleep and, looking as she does, was mistaken for dead and thrown in the trash.

It didn’t matter.  All that mattered in that moment were those eyes looking into mine with what I can only describe as trust, and that little heartbeat against mine.  I can never explain this feeling in words- this moment when everything disappears and all that is left is me and a little life depending on me.

What could I ever have done to receive such blessings?  Such a miracle as this perfect, perfect little child gifting me with her trust, when nothing and no one in her short life ever gave her reason to feel anything but fear?

I began to spin dreams for her, speaking to her of a long life ahead.  Days of lolling in the sunshine and playing with other turkeys. Years of healthy meals and a clean, warm place to sleep.  Of humans who would hold her in their laps and pet her as we do a beloved cat, listening to her soft purrs and smiling at her joy.  Together, we dreamed of the beautiful life before her.  Her eyes never left mine.  I believed she was spellbound, and as hopeful as I.

Only a day or two in, we noticed that her leg was getting worse instead of better.  She seemed to be in more pain when we tried to give her physical therapy, or even place her in a sling.  The pain medication may have helped a bit, but it was clear that she was far from pain-free.  Her brother, Habibah (Swahili for beloved), was also faring poorly.  We decided to consult with the avian experts at an esteemed veterinary hospital.  The third baby, Hadaaya (beloved in Arabic), seemed to be doing better, happily, so we decided to leave her at home at the sanctuary.

Their appointment was on Wednesday, the sixth day we had them.  So, on Tuesday, despite the strict quarantine under which we place all new residents, we took the three babies outside, in an area far from any other birds.   One by one, I felt them relax in my arms as they felt sunlight on their backs, most likely for the first time.  I set them on the grass and smiled, listening to their delighted coos and purrs.  The color on their heads and necks turned red and blue- a visible way for them to express their joy (sort of like a human smiling).

With me was a woman with a huge heart. She was new to farm animal rescue, and she was appalled. “Who would do this to them?” she kept asking.  Everyone, I explained, just about everyone– everyone who ever eats turkey, everyone who knows what they go through and does not demand that it stop, everyone who says, “I can’t think about that,” and turns away from suffering.  I told her about how most animals used by the food industry are routinely raised.  She was shocked, and kept repeating, “People need to know.  If they knew, they’d make it illegal. They wouldn’t support it.”

So here I am, telling all who will listen.  This is happening, and no one will stop it if we don’t. Please, please, please, for the babies’ sake, please help us stop this.  This is wrong. No one should suffer like this.

It was such a miracle that these three got out alive, somehow, and were in the sunshine with people who loved them, their whole lives stretched out before them.  They were happy. They were free. They were beloved and they felt it.

If only for that moment.

At the hospital, we learned that Harika and Habibah were too far gone.  Their pain would only grow, and there was no hope of fixing their legs.  Given that theses types of turkeys grow to be very large, we knew their problems would only become worse.   I have often thought that the heart of sanctuary work is to be selfless enough to give them a good death. So, although it pained us greatly, we made the choice that was best for them.

Hadaaya, the third baby bird, is continuing her recovery at the sanctuary, with lots of TLC. In the absence of her siblings, she has lots of toys and human attention.  Just as soon as her quarantine is complete, she will join another flock of baby birds we rescued recently.  Her days will be filled with all of the freedoms and pleasures Harika and I dreamed of together, and Harika and Habibah’s spirits will live on through her, and in our hearts.

One day of sunshine was all I could give them- my beloved Harika and her sweet brother Habibah.

Six days of love and one day of sunshine. And I trust that was enough.

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Falling in Love Weather

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It was the perfect weather to fall in love.  Sun shone from a deep blue sky, while the wind played gently with my hair.  Sunflowers reached towards the light, wildflowers bloomed in the meadows, and there she was, standing before me.

Her chocolate eyes were soft and playful.  Her red coat gleamed in the sun.  Muscles rippled as she walked.  Gently, the giant warmblood reached down to place her nose against my heart, resting there for several breaths.

Catera

I met Catera on early on the morning of September 11, 2001.  By the time the planes had crashed into the buildings, I was already in love—and horrified to hear the news on the barn radio.  How could anything so vicious happen on such a beautiful day?

People told me, repeatedly, that I was too inexperienced to adopt a “green” horse. At the time, I had not yet given up riding horses.  I hired trainer after trainer, and gave all that I had to learn to ride this giant of a being, but instead I broke many bones.

The first time, she broke into a gallop in an open field.  I lost my seat, catapulted over her head, and landed on my head in front of her.  She tried so hard to avoid stepping on me that she injured herself.  I broke my occipital bone, cracked a rib, broke my shoulder, and tore my rotator cuff.  Another fall from her back fractured my neck.

There was not a single person in my life that did not advocate for me to either euthanize Catera or to return her to the rescue she had come from.  But I couldn’t do it.  I had given her “Indra’s Lifetime Guarantee”.  From the time I was a child, this is what I called it when I committed to an animal.  My lifetime guarantee was that I would never give up on them, that I would love them no matter what, and that I would lay down my life in defense of theirs.  She had my word.  If I lost every person in my life, or every bone in my body, so be it.

I did not do this to be a martyr.  I did it because I believed that we can only be redeemed – I can only be redeemed– through a pure, selfless love. Catera was giving me the opportunity to redeem myself.

Over time, spending hours and hours with her, I began to understand her better, and learned to adjust my behavior to meet her needs.  She did not like being ridden—especially in a ring.

On the other hand, she loved taking me for a ride in the woods—and by that I mean she made the choices about when and where we would go.  We used to disappear together for hours.  When I relaxed and gave up control about where we would go, and at what speed, she began to trust and take care of me.

On our adventures, we got close to many, many wild animals that never would have trusted me to approach them on foot.

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Once, she stepped on a ground wasp nest, and we both were stung multiple times.  Even then, she did not bolt or rear or throw me.  She calmly walked away from the bees.  We had twin swollen faces for weeks.

Another time, when crossing a creek, we wound up in a tar pit.  Instead of moving forward with each stroke of her powerful legs, we were sinking downwards.  I swam around to her face and asked her not to move, and to wait until I could get help.  She stayed still, patiently waiting, and then allowed herself to be tied with ropes and pulled out.

She used to love to open gates and barn doors.  One of her favorite activities was to roll in the mud and then let herself into the barn where she would roll in pine shavings.  I would find her in the barn covered in pine shavings with a goofy grin on her face.

She used to put her head against my chest and fall asleep while I rubbed her ears and called her “pretty girl”.  Her head was the size of my entire torso.

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Almost 15 years went by, and our trust and friendship deepened.  Catera grew into the role of benevolent alpha mare and gentle giant.

Early one morning just a few weeks ago, I saw that something was not right with Catera.  Her heart was racing, she appeared weak and in tremendous pain.  I called the vet and began to run a wash cloth soaked in cold water along her body, trying to soothe her and bring her temperature down.  It was nearly 100 degrees that day, and her body temperature continued to rise dangerously, along with her heart rate.

I stood her, soaking wet, in front of a powerful fan and tried to keep her calm while we waited for the vet.  After a thorough exam, he diagnosed an impaction of the large intestine.  He gave her medication for the pain, and threaded a tube through her nose, pumping mineral oil and water through her GI tract, in the hopes that it would help resolve the impaction.

And then the waiting began.  Either the impaction would resolve and she would get better, or she would need surgery to keep her alive.  Until a few years ago, Catera experienced similar impactions at least once annually, and it always resolved on its own.  So, the vet and I thought her chances were decent.

Per the doctor’s order, I left her in a stall with lots of water to drink, and instructions for everyone to check on her frequently, while I led a tour.  The people were lovely, as they always are, and despite the heat, I hoped they and the animals enjoyed each other’s company.

As soon as they got in their cars, I was back in the barn to check on my girl.  What I saw will never leave my mind.  My beautiful, strong, kind girl was belly up, with her feet too close to the wall to be able to move, breathing rapidly.  The whites of her eyes revealed the extent of her fear.

Even then, she trusted me enough to wait while I got help and materials to get her back on her feet.  With our heroic team assembled, we tied ropes around her legs and rolled her over.

She was a big girl, well over 1500 pounds.  Her powerful back legs were too heavy for me to roll, even using all of my body weight.  However, I did not want to place anyone else in the corner of a stall rolling a big, potentially flailing horse.  Finally, we decided to have someone else stand behind me.  Between an intern at her front end, the two of us at the rear, and two more caregivers pushing from the other side, we were able to roll her over.  As she attempted to get her feet back under her, our intern and I jumped out of the way as planned.  However, the young man who was standing behind me was not quick enough.  One of her back feet grazed his chest and slammed into his chin.

His t-shirt ripped, he stood panting beside the panting horse.  I wasn’t sure who to take care of first.  “Are you ok? Can you breathe? Do you need an ambulance?” Miraculously, he was ok, but we did arrange for him to rest for the remainder of the day and ice his injuries.

Catera, on the other hand, was no better.  We took her into the paddock, thinking in the larger space she would be safer.  Every 20 minutes, we hosed her down.  She refused all offers of water, and food was out of the question.

At 5pm, she went down again, this time with her feet stuck in the gate.

All but one team member had left.  I couldn’t imagine how the two of us alone would have the strength to roll her again, but we had to try.  I tied the ropes around her legs, and miraculously, our strongest volunteer (who was not scheduled to be here) appeared.  A power lifter with a deep love for all of the animals, she was easily able to roll Catera’s back end, while I rolled her front end.  We called the vet again, and this time his examination revealed that her large intestine was displaced, a life threatening situation.

The vet called the hospital to provide background to the doctors and our heroic volunteer kindly agreed to come along with me.  Catera was terrified, but once again, chose to trust me.  She followed me into the trailer and we were off on the three-hour drive to save her life.

Forty-five minutes away from the hospital, Catera could be heard trembling and flailing in the trailer.  We pulled over and found her shaking uncontrollably. A call to the vet confirmed the dire nature of her condition.  We were instructed to give her more pain medication and get to the hospital as fast as we could.  The valiant trailer driver drove the trailer safely and confidently, in a lightning storm, in the dark, on winding roads, faster than I dared drive in my little, easy to manage vehicle.

On arrival, a team of earnest and caring veterinary professionals was ready for her.  She fell as she made her way off of the trailer.  By then, she was clearly incoherent, and barely able to stand at all. They worked valiantly to keep her on her feet long enough to start her on IV fluids.

But it was too late.

Her huge body crashed to the ground as she began to seize right there in the hospital’s entrance hallway.  The kind vet asked for permission to euthanize her.  If we did not, she would die painfully.  I agreed.

With my hands on her head, my beautiful girl’s huge spirit gathered into her eyes, and with a last look, she was gone.

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These Stories of Cats Befriending Farmed Animals Will Melt Your Heart

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Pastures stretched before us, warm winter gold against a periwinkle sky, while a rainbow arced breathlessly end to end across the grounds. Our visitors were receiving an enthusiastic welcome from Vanna, a playful geriatric goat; Selick, a charming and affable blind pig; several gregarious turkeys; and around a dozen inquisitive cats. The menagerie vied gently for the bemused visitors’ attention, without once jostling one another out of the way.

“I am amazed!” the woman exclaimed, “I have never seen this many animals get along so peacefully!”

Just then, a group of ducks noisily parted our crowd, intent on a game whose rules or name none of us knew. But none of the other animals even flinched, they just calmly stepped out of the way.

It’s a bit like living in a fairy tale, and it happens every day here at Indraloka. We are all one big family, and the cats of Indraloka are a big part of what makes this such a special place. Nearly 100 cats currently call Indraloka home. Many of these were former ferals or strays who found their way to us and never left; others came from shelters or were even abandoned here by people who didn’t want them anymore. But regardless of how they arrived, these kitties have made an amazing family for themselves— and for us.

While all of the cats at Indraloka are uniquely special in their own right, many have also come to perform an incredibly special service for the farmed animals we rescue, who often arrive confused, afraid, and deeply traumatized. But inevitably, one of our friendly felines adopts each struggling newcomer and provides much-needed love, reassurance, healing and companionship. These special interspecies friendships persist for as long as the animals are with us.

The Mayor of Indraloka

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Wesley T. Monkey

Wesley T. Monkey is an irresistible extrovert with a BIG personality. Most of the cats here have a few good friends, some feline, some of other species. But Wesley T. Monkey has LOTS of good friends of every species.  He is just that popular.

While many of our cats have no compunction about jumping onto the lap, or even shoulders, of visitors, Wesley T. Monkey doesn’t stop there! On a daily basis, Wesley can be spotted riding a sheep or a pig, sunbathing on top of a dozing cow, or even sleeping curled up against a chicken friend. Wesley is ridiculously wonderful in many, many ways.

Like so many cats, Wesley knows instinctively when someone is in need, and he does not shy away from their suffering.  Penny the cow was the beloved Grand Dame of the sanctuary, a mother and friend to all. Wesley and Penny spent many happy hours together, Wesley contentedly grooming himself while Penny grazed nearby. But Penny was more than 30 years old, and the day came when she could no longer stand on her own. As she lay dying, surrounded by friends, Wesley climbed up and lay right on top of her for her final moments, helping her to feel loved until her last breath.

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Babaji’s BFFs

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Babaji and Louise

Babaji was born to a stray cat who showed up pregnant at our sanctuary. Early on, Baba cultivated a special bond with Louise the turkey, who was rescued from slaughter and who arrived afraid and in need of a friend. Many have observed these two relaxing in the sunshine together, curled up to sleep in the barn at night, or even out walking and exploring the sanctuary side by side.

Baba’s other favorite friend? Jeremiah the pig, a “backyard meat” victim who arrived to us completely skin and bones, unable to walk and bleeding profusely from the nose in the final stages of severe pneumonia. But with extensive veterinary treatment and nonstop TLC from his two-legged and four-legged friends, Jeremiah survived and now thrives at Indraloka. Babaji could not be more pleased with this outcome.

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Babaji giving Jeremiah a snuggle.

LuvBug2, Protector of the Upper Barn

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LuvBug with Maddie.

Remember Maddie?  When Maddie first came to us, her body was emaciated and misshapen, broken from years of over-breeding, and her spirit was broken too, from the endless cycle of giving birth and having her beloved babies taken away. When she was no longer an asset to the farmer who used her all those years, she was marked for slaughter, but thankfully we were able to bring her here instead. That happy, healthy goat in the picture is Maddie! And her indomitable feline friend, LuvBug2, has been a big part of Maddie’s recovery.

LuvBug2‘s ever-present calm, loving energy and soothing presence pervade the upper barn. Like Maddie, most newly rescued animals arrive frightened, having learned that humans can be cruel, and they are afraid and uncertain of what might happen to them. But whether the new arrival is a terrified duck, a confused chicken, or a badly overbred goat, LuvBug2  is always on the case to provide reassurance and set them at ease.  You can catch a glimpse of him at work here (especially cute with Maddie at 3:10).

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How is your morning going so far?

Rottie Rescues Orphaned Kitten

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Izzy and Puff Dady, lifelong friends

Puff Daddy was just a tiny, screaming gray cotton ball when he was abandoned at our door. He was so frightened that he resumed screaming every single time I put him down, for even a moment. Finally, one day, I noticed sweet Izzy watching us, her big brown eyes trying to tell me something. I placed the sad little foundling at Izzy’s feet, and Izzy, a huge Rottweiler, gently comforted him until he fell asleep curled between her paws. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Over the years, Puff Daddy and Izzy spent many joyful hours snuggling together and grooming one another.

Izzy was diagnosed with aggressive lymphomas in late December of 2015. By late January, the tumors had grown so much that they were causing this sweet, wonderful dog tremendous discomfort. With no hope for a cure, we called the vet to come and end her pain. Izzy was lying in her favorite spot, in front of the crackling fireplace. Soft music was playing, and her head was in my lap. And Puff Daddy lay curled next to her, resting his head on her heart as it slowed to a stop.

Nursing a Neglected Pig Back to Health

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CC nursed Jeremiah back to health

Our dear Jeremiah came to us late at night in the dead of winter. As we mentioned before, he was only hours from death when he was rescued, starved and suffering terrible, long-term pneumonia. Babaji the cat would later become a best friend, but as Jeremiah lay in his sickbed, resting and healing those first hard days, it was CC who took to cuddling with him and gently grooming him as he slept.

CC had been living in an urban feral colony and was trapped as part of a Trap-Neuter-Release program. However, when the TNR folks got her to the vet to be spayed, her eyes were confirmed to be so badly infected that one of them had to be removed. Her rescuers were concerned that she would not survive if released with only one eye. So, we agreed to make her part of our rapidly growing gang of kitties. And for the first year, CC was extremely shy around all humans, hardly allowing any of us to be within several feet of her.

But then came Jeremiah, and everything changed.

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CC came into the barn on Jeremiah’s first or second night there, while he could still barely move, and inexplicably made a nest in the straw beside him. She watched us nurse him around the clock for weeks, and soon she began to trust us. These days, CC loves to rub against our legs and heartily enjoys a gentle scratch behind the ears.

Goats Adopt Abandoned Kitten

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As a kitten, Gilligan was adopted by goats

A red pick-up truck flew into the drive and screeched to a halt. The angry young driver threw a mother cat and four helpless kittens out the window,  yelling that he would shoot them if he ever saw them again before he zoomed away.

The terrified mother cat and kittens scattered, and we spent days trying to lure them into the open so that we could make sure they were safe and comfortable. Finally, we captured the mother and three of the kittens, however, we did not find Gilligan until a week later. It was late, and we were doing the night check to be sure the animals were all tucked in safe and snug. And there was Gilligan, sleeping contentedly between two goats, Ruckus and Hootenanny, who were lying in a protective embrace around the tiny kitten.

As Ruckus grew older, he had a difficult time standing and walking. We had to place him in a sling for several hours at a time, in the hopes of helping him to regain his strength. Gilligan was a true little buddy to Ruckus during these trying sessions, providing entertainment and companionship for hours on end.

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We would have done anything for this amazing friend.

On the last day of Ruckus’s life, we spent the day outside in the sunshine with him.  Many, many of the cats joined us in those last hours, and in particular, Gilligan never left Ruckus’s side, even purring against him as he drew his last breath.

Giving Back the Love

We humans could learn a lot from the Indraloka Clowder— we spend far too much time trying to put up walls between ourselves and those we perceive as being different from us. But the Indraloka Clowder lives by a clear and simple principle: it is the spirit of a being that matters, not the form it takes right now.

The cats of Indraloka are such a loving, generous bunch. They work tirelessly to help our other rescued animals heal, live joyfully, and die peacefully when the time comes. This month we would like to give back to our caring kitties and are asking our supporters to consider sending our wonderful feline friends a valentine. Your gift in any amount helps us provide much-needed spay-neuter services, medical treatment, food, and winter housing to the nearly 100 cats who have made Indraloka their home.

If you have observed a precious moment between a cat and another animal, we’d love to hear your story!  Please tell us about it in the comments section below.

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The Best Day

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Photo credit: Daring Damsel

 

On the best day of Marsha’s life, she fell off of a truck.

The truck was in Brooklyn.  We believe Marsha and her flock were headed to one of the popular “live markets” there, where customers pick out live animals and pay to have them slaughtered on-site.  The other animals are kept in cages, forced to witness the grisly proceedings.

So, on the best day of Marsha’s life, she fell off of a truck.  Some of her flock-mates did not survive the fall, however Marsha and 49 others were allowed to go to Farm Sanctuary, who kindly taught them that many humans are friendly and not to be feared, compassionately treated their wounds, responsibly ensured that they were healthy and ready for travel, and then sent half of them to Indraloka.

We call them the Golden Girls because of their beautiful golden feathers.  Inquisitive, friendly, and lively, the Golden Girls transformed the once-serene atmosphere of the barnyard into an all-day, everyday joy-fest.  Everywhere you look, there are cooing, pecking, preening, chatting, nesting, scratching, dust-bathing Golden Girls.  Everywhere.

 

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And, if you are smart enough to sit down to watch, you will inevitably find yourself with a hen cuddling in your lap, another gently grooming your hair, a third trying to fit her head under your hand in an attempt to force you to pet her, and many more watching you with unabashed curiosity.

On a hot, humid day last summer, during a Sheep Shnuggling event, where guests are encouraged to spend the day spoiling the animals (and vice versa), a big, brawny, bald guy sat on the cool ground in the shade of the barn.  Instantly, he was surrounded by friendly, curious Golden Girls.  He sat transfixed, watching them watch him.  Tentatively, he put out a hand, and Marsha instantly walked under it, settling in for a nice petting session.  The man let out a surprised-but-pleased sigh and began stroking her soft feathers.  Minutes passed, and tears began to roll down his face.

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Photo Credit: Daring Damsel

He wept, “I get it now.  I finally get it.”  Those girls taught him more clearly than any of the rest of us ever could.  He understood that each of them is a unique, sensitive being—a being with much more to offer as his friend than as his meal.  He understood that raising them in dark, filthy, crowded circumstances and then sending them brutally to their deaths at only 6-8 weeks old is, quite simply, unconscionable.  He understood that it was up to him to change his ways.  From that day on, he has refused to support the system that so violently harms more than 24 million of these beautiful, precious, precocious beings each and every day.

Often, when someone has a lucky day like Marsha and the Golden Girls, their past haunts them.  The Golden Girls are not emotionally haunted by their past.  They moved right on when they realized they were safe and beloved.  Sadly, though, their past still haunts them physically.

When chickens are raised for meat, as the Golden Girls were, they are bred to grow very, very fast so that the agribusiness that is raising them can profit by selling them for slaughter when they are only a few weeks old.  Thousands of these chickens are crammed into warehouses, which in most cases are never cleaned in the chickens’ lifetimes.  Because disease and fighting amongst the stressed and overcrowded birds is rampant, the majority these “production facilities” feed the young birds a cocktail of antibiotics, sedatives, and growth hormones every day of their short lives.

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Photo Credit: Daring Damsel

Sadly, Marsha was among those in her flock most affected by this terrible, unhealthy past.  Early on, Marsha’s feet began to swell painfully.  Along with Juanita, Glenda, Layla, and Gracie, Marsha had a bacterial infection caused by the filthy living conditions from which they came.  Lab cultures showed that the bacteria were resistant to almost all antibiotics.  Our veterinarian had to special-order the only effective antibiotic from a compounding laboratory.

Day after day, our sweet girls drank way too much bitter medicine.  While the others’ feet returned to health, Marsha’s only grew worse.  Our compassionate and talented avian veterinarian surgically drained the painful boils.  We had to pull off the scab daily and soak Marsha’s feet in warm water with herbs to encourage draining.  Day after day, Marsha withstood the pain, drank the medicine, and allowed her wounds to be tended.  She did all of this with her wise, clear eyes making direct contact with Shadden’s, the kind caregiver who devoted herself to Marsha.

Marsha became accustomed to the hour-long drive to the vet’s office.  She would sit next to me as I drove, cooing and looking out the window raptly.  When we arrived, she stepped proudly out of her carrier and wandered the office, examining every detail that had changed from our last visit.  Truly, it is a rare chicken that enjoys car rides and vet visits, but that is who Marsha was—is still—a rare bird indeed.  She made the best of everything and was determined to live life fully.

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Last week, the bacteria that attacked Marsha’s feet managed to travel to her respiratory system.  Her heart, already weak and too small for her overly large body, was forced to struggle even more to keep her blood flowing.

Still, she carried on.  In too much pain to walk, but ever-dignified, Marsha sat on a bed of hay, watching her flock-mates as they went about their business.  Dutifully, she complied with her many treatments.  Her favorite part was being held in Shadden’s arms while soaking her feet in warm herb water.  Cooing softly and snuggling closer, Marsha usually persuaded Shadden to soak her feet for much longer than necessary.

Yesterday, as morning sunlight streamed through the barn; as the Golden Girls set busily about their days; and as Charlie, a sweet, elderly rooster with an advanced heart condition dozed on a heated mat under a blanket nearby; Marsha nestled into Shadden’s arms for her final foot soak.  With one last look of love and gratitude at her dear friend, the air left Marsha’s lungs and her heart slowed to a halt.

The other Golden Girls paused their cooing and pecking, looking to the sky in silence. For a moment, every pig, every goose, every creature on sanctuary grounds observed the same perfect stillness as they hailed a great soul and a cherished sister.

Marsha’s spirit hovered nearby, comforting her beloveds, before drifting away like a puff of smoke rising from a dying fire’s embers.

On the best day of Marsha’s life, she fell off of a truck.

She managed to cram a whole lifetime of joy into six months of sanctuary before dying in the arms of someone who will never, ever, forget her.

On the best day of Marsha’s life, she was granted the chance to die a peaceful death.

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Nunz, the Magic Piglet

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(To the tune of Puff, the Magic Dragon)

Nunz, the magic piglet lived by Sabine

And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Mehoopany

Little Magdalena loved that piglet Nunz

And brought him hay and apple cores and other fancy stuff…

I lay in the back of the car, singing as we sped towards the vet hospital.   Tears washed down my face, baptizing an old, wrinkled pig with love. He groaned and writhed in my arms.  Nunzi was having a stroke.

Years ago, when Nunzi first arrived at Indraloka, he screamed whenever a human was near. We discovered that singing eased his fear, so I made up a million silly songs to sing to him daily. Nunzi has not been frightened of people in years, and the songs had faded from our days. Yet now, here, as he lay struggling for life beside me, singing seemed the only way to comfort either of us.

Blue moon, you saw me standing alone

Without a dream in my heart

Without a pig of my own

Blue moon, you knew just what I was there for

You heard me saying a prayer for

Some pig I truly could care for…

Suddenly, his struggles ceased. He opened his eyes and looked into mine.

The moment stretched backwards to encompass the last eight years we shared together: Nunzi as a frightened newcomer; Nunzi learning to trust again; Nunzi and Magdie learning to take off each other’ electric collars to escape the underground fence. Countless nights he slept cuddled with his beloved Magdalena; countless days he played with sheep, chickens, and turkeys.

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Greeting newcomers

He and Magdelena were very close to a horse named Sabine, whose chronic foot problems made walking painful. However, we had to keep her walking in order to keep the blood flow in her feet so that she could heal. So, I used to place her hay on the far side of her paddock. On Sabine’s bad days, Magdie and Nunzi would carry the hay in their mouths back to Sabine’s bedside. They would lay with her and comfort her for hours on end.

The memories continued to flow from his eyes, as if a projector were hidden behind his pupils. Nunzi went through a period of a few years when he bit everyone in sight. Volunteers were afraid to feed him. He bit me, too, but that only made me love him more. This was just another way of expressing fear. I knew it would pass.

And pass it did. For the last several years, Nunzi approached humans excitedly, with a twinkle in his eyes. To keep up his reputation as a grumpy old man, he complained vociferously whenever he was touched, but his smiling eyes and wagging tail gave him away.

We remembered last year, when a group of Buddhist monks visited the sanctuary. Nunzi was so excited to be blessed he forgot to grumble about it!

Photo courtesy of Joel Anderson
Photo courtesy of Joel Anderson

And this past spring, when he and Magdie had a terrible fight. For months they refused to talk to each other, or even look at one another. Happily, they worked through their problems and reconciled, more cuddly and friendly than ever through the long summer days.

Just last weekend, Nunzi had enjoyed himself immensely at Pig Pampering Day, when volunteers traveled from hours away just to give the pigs belly rubs and mud baths. Oh yes, Nunzi loved pig pampering days!

The film came to the present moment, me lying next to him, both of us covered in tears. And then, with one long exhale, Nunzi was gone.

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Enjoying Pig Pampering Day
Magdie and Nunzi
Magdie and Nunzi

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Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we’re together
Love you when we’re apart

Namah Shivaya my friend, my magic piglet.  It was a blessing to walk the path with you.

A Goat Called Blessing

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My name is Madalitso. You can call me Maddie. It means “blessing”, and the people here tell me that is what I am to them: a blessing.

I do feel your love and your prayers. They are like a blanket of light surrounding me, comforting me, holding me up. They make me determined to get strong and healthy. I want to enjoy this new life laid out before me, this blessing granted to an old goat.

You’d be amazed how much easier pain is to endure when you are beloved. I still have a lot of healing to do, but I’m okay with that. This pain is nothing compared to what my babies went through when the farmer sent them “away”.

They say I’m a free goat. They let me go wherever I want, around the whole sanctuary. At first I was nervous, but I saw that several of the animals here do the same. So, today I am exploring a bit. I still have to move slowly, but there are so many tasty grasses and plants to try, it helps keep my mind off of the pain.

Charlie the rooster has trouble getting around, too. We hobble along and explore together. He gets hot and tired fast, so we spend a lot of time resting in the hay by the fan.

Selick, an elderly blind pig, is also pleasant to graze with. Opie and Daisy, the ducks, are a lot of fun to watch while they jump in and out of their pool and chase each other around, but they never stop talking.

Listen, though, please. I have something important to say. I made it out. I have a name. I am getting the love and care I so desperately needed for years.

But other goats aren’t that lucky. Other goats, other animals of many species, continue to suffer. Many, many more mothers and babies are being torn from one another right now. Most animals live in pain and fear every second of their lives. Most never once experience a kind word or even a moment of comfort. They suffer all day, everyday, until they are brutally killed.

Don’t forget them. Please don’t forget them. Please find a way to help them, just as I have been helped. You can start with the choices you make—what you eat and what you wear. You are more powerful than you think.

Please.

Maddie’s road to recovery will be long, involving a great deal of expensive veterinary care.  Please share her story and please donate towards her care.  Every dollar is matched, and every bit makes a difference.   

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