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I’m dying, and I’m at peace. It is a good day to die.
I’m dying, and it is beautiful.
I am dying, and I am asking you to honor me by learning to live, and preparing to die.
I am asking you to understand that these are the same things.
You’re dying, too. Everyone– everything dies. I don’t know when that will be for me or for you, but I know as surely as I breathe that the day will come when we both must move on. I mean it when I say that Death is my old friend. My good friend. Make Death your friend, too.
The death of a life well lived is not reason for tears, but celebration!
So live your life well.
Ask yourself in every moment, could I cross over right now, peacefully and joyfully? If the answer is no, well then get to work! Don’t you see that your job here on this earth is to learn how to die? Live in beauty. Spread peace and light, and die in that same peace and light.
Let go of your pain. Let go of your fears. Grief needn’t consume us.
I know you hurt. I know you have lost loved ones. You have been invisible to people you care about. You have been overlooked, forgotten, taken advantage of, and used. I know. You’ve suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of people who were charged with protecting and caring for you. I know. You have lost the only ones who really knew, understood, accepted, and loved you. I know. I see you. I understand your pain. And I am telling you that this does not define you.
This is not who you are. Let it go. What defines you is what you make of yourself, and how you contribute to the world, within whatever context you are in. I am asking you to honor yourself and your loved ones by Being, really being who YOU ARE. Let go of the pain and take your power back.
Our loved ones live eternally in our hearts and beyond. Channel your grief into prayers and works towards the peace of all souls– including your own! Don’t tell me you are sorry for my loss. I appreciate the sentiment, but would find greater comfort in seeing you joyously honor our lost loved ones through bringing more peace, joy, kindness and love to our world and beyond.
“My death will be the life of another– I swear that to you. And you watch, you come find me. Because I’ll be standing again in these grasses, and you’ll see me looking through the eyes of a fox, and taking the air with the eagle, and running in the tracks of the deer.” (from The Story of B by Daniel Quinn, page 188)
Morning sunlight streamed through the fog as it lifted, revealing my own personal paradise– Indraloka on a summer morning. The creek burbled and Majja the Fabu, our resident peacock, called an exotic good morning. Tom and Jake (the Turkeys) added their voices to the choir, while Magdie and Nunzi just grumbled and turned over in their sleep. They are not morning pigs.
I wake up smiling every morning, but this day was even better than most. Señorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco was finally coming home! (For Part I of Marisol’s story, click on her name.) I savored a cup of hot tea as I got ready to embark on my new and prized morning ritual, a meditative walk over the hillside before feeding and cleaning up after my beloveds.
When I left Señorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco with the Dr. Gomez Duque in March, we had agreed that he would hire someone to get her to the Texas border when she was healthy enough to travel. I had planned to bring her home from there. Unfortunately, he had no luck finding a trustworthy person for the job. Commercial airlines flying out of Mexico don’t have the best reputation for gentle handling of dogs and also require a prohibitively expensive customs process. We kept running into brick walls when we tried to find a safe and affordable way to transport her.
I had to bring her home. She was counting on me. I couldn’t leave her future to chance. But how does one woman with limited resources safely move a 35 pound dog more than three-thousand miles across a dangerous, crime-ridden border? Add to that my obligations to care for my other 150 animals here, and my need to work in order to feed them (and hence my limited time and ability to travel). I was stymied, but I refused to give up. My mother raised me never to say, “I can’t”.
My best friend, who has accomplished many impressive things against great odds and who never gives up on doing the right thing (even when it is not easy), likes to say, “Solvitur Ambulando.” It is solved by walking.
So I walked.
As I walked, I meditated. I sang the Cherokee morning prayer. I chanted the Buddhist Green Tara mantra. I prayed the Prayer of Saint Francis. Let me be an instrument of your Peace. Let me bring her home.
I was blessed with a simple answer: “Ask for help.”
Ask for help. Don’t try to do it alone. Don’t try to solve it alone. So, one of the sanctuary’s wonderful volunteers, Janice Preston, began asking bigger rescue groups for help and advice. Some never returned her calls, and we were stricken again by how overwhelmed and overworked so many animal rescuers are. Many more made time to respond, and offered love and support but did not have an answer for us. Best Friends Animal Society, a huge rescue in Utah, has a whole department dedicated to helping grass roots animal welfare groups. They gave us a list of dog rescues who work on an international level.
Janice, who never ceases to inspire me with her passion, resourcefulness and dedication, contacted all of them. Kelly Karger of Save a Mexican Mutt responded immediately, “We have to make this happen!” As I read her email, tears of joy streamed down my face. What a beautiful person. I could hear her warmth and strength as if she were sitting next to me, instead of sending me emails from thousands of miles away. Kelly immediately offered to bring Marisol from San Miguel de Allende to Dallas, if only we could get her there from Acapulco.
I looked up a map of Mexico and found that Acapulco is far from San Miguel de Allende, across dangerous territory and less than ideal roads. I asked for help yet again. Marisol’s vet, Dr. Eusebio Gomez Duque, readily agreed to drive the 12 hour round trip himself. Here we were then, with the most difficult part of Marisol’s journey arranged by loving, generous people willing to help simply because they love dogs and wish to improve the lot of Mexico’s countless, suffering street animals one life at a time.
Janice then turned her attention to how we could transport Marisol from Dallas, Texas to northeastern Pennsylvania. She contacted PilotsnPaws to coordinate a series of flights on small planes that will bring Marisol home, but found out it would require coordinating five separate flights on small planes, all of which would depend heavily on favorable weather conditions and, of course, willing and available pilots. How could we make this work?
Janice called some commercial airlines to get information on safety, comfort, and pricing when transporting dogs from Texas to Pennsylvania. We double-checked the information on safety and comfort by having volunteers with relatives who work in the airlines do some additional investigating, and were satisfied that this is a viable option. But where would we find the funds to buy her ticket and the large, expensive travel crate?
Janice and I hardly had time to discuss the dilemma before a solution emerged. A supporter of the sanctuary who is dedicated to helping animals in need contacted us and offered to pay for Marisol’s flight. Another stepped forward to pay for the travel crate we will need to purchase for her.
The list of kind and generous people who have volunteered to help this little dog goes on. For example, the owner and employees of Char & Company Salon and Spa have been working diligently to help us raise funds to pay Marisol’s vet bills, going so far as to donate all of their proceeds from a whole spa day dedicated to Marisol’s rescue.
We have an international network of animal lovers involved in helping us bring Marisol home. The beauty of it staggers me. This world is an astounding place, full of grace and love and hope. “Be silent, my heart, until Dawn comes, for he who patiently awaits the morn will meet him surely, and he who loves the light will be loved by the light,” (from Between Night and Morn, Kahlil Gibran).
All I had to do was ask, and look what happened. Another life is saved, and my little canine angel will soon be smiling herself awake every morning, right by my side on a morning walk through paradise.
A rustle in the bushes caught my attention. Under Acapulco’s tropical sun near a beautiful, silver sand beach, a bony, filthy little creature dragged herself towards us. Her whimpers grew into howls as if she were calling out for me. Our eyes met and I was stunned with a jolt of Divine Recognition. I rushed over, her cries immediately subsided, and it was clear she knew me too.
The shock traveled from my heart into the pit of my stomach and then grew into conviction as it traveled through me and out my feet, rooting me to Mother Earth with the pledge that I would forever be true to this little dog, come what may.
The world narrowed to this single soul, and she was all that I could see. We stared at one another silently for a few moments. I felt great awe for her. This was no pathetic little creature, but a great soul filled with love and wisdom, trapped in a seemingly helpless and broken body. I spoke to her softly and ran my hands over her to get a sense of the extent of her injuries. She gifted me with complete trust, neither flinching nor moving away as I completed my initial assessment. She was burdened with fleas, ticks, mites, and parasites and so she was visibly anemic. Every bone in her body protruded through her thin skin and grimy coat. I could see that she had had puppies several weeks prior, although I couldn’t imagine how she could have been able to care for them. I came to her back legs, splayed painfully on either side and unable to hold her up. Knowing that her injuries were severe, I ran my hands over her legs gingerly to get a sense of the nature of them. Despite the brutal pain, she continued to gaze at me with love and faith, never shrinking from my touch. I looked up at my two friends, who stood by with compassion in their eyes.
“What do you want to do?” they asked me.
“She needs a vet.” I replied. “You two go on to the beach, and I’ll meet you at the hotel later.”
“We’re staying with you. Tell us how we can help.”
They embarked on a mission of finding her puppies, yet their thorough search produced no trace. From speaking to nearby vendors, we learned that the little dog was homeless, perhaps abandoned or perhaps one of the thousands of stray dogs who scrape out a meager existence on the streets of Acapulco. Her puppies had disappeared the week before. A few of the locals came towards me to talk about the dog, prompting her to skitter back into the center of her bush and wait fearfully.
We hailed a cab and I marveled at the blessing of having friends with hearts as big as theirs, never hesitating to give up a day at the beach—or anything else—to help anyone in need. Unable to persuade the little dog to leave the bush on her own, I crawled in myself. She licked my hand gently and allowed me to lift her up and carry her to the cab. Her trust nearly brought me to my knees with gratitude.
I held her in my lap during the bumpy car ride, cooing softly in her ears. We had asked the taxi driver to take us to the nearest vet. It has been at least a decade since I’ve been in a Mexican vet hospital, and even then it was in a completely different part of Mexico. Remembering the unsanitary conditions and questionably trained vets I had worked with in India, I prepared myself for the worst—or so I thought. We were delivered to a tiny pet shop where I rushed her to the back to be examined by the “vet”. Nobody spoke any English, and our Spanish didn’t extend to these circumstances, so we used Google translator to tell the vet what I thought was wrong and what the little dog needed, while he spoke of nothing but money and barely glanced at her.
Still, he had medicine, supplies, and access to an x-ray machine, and I was in a foreign country where I did not speak the language and did not have any contacts. I knew her situation was urgent and felt it best to allow her to receive immediate care. He explained that he had to take her to another location to x-ray her and asked that we return in an hour.
Leaving the shop, I finally woke up to my surroundings and saw tiny puppies, far too young to be without a mother, in a filthy box. I raised my eyes and saw other dogs stacked in puppy mill-style cages much too small for them and with no water in this hot airless shop. There was nothing for them to lie on but metal grating, and not enough room to move away from their own feces, much less stand or turn around. I cried as I concluded that I couldn’t rescue all of them.
When we returned, they told us she was not back yet and asked us to come back tomorrow as it was past 6pm and they were closing for the night. With no choice and heavy hearts, we went back to the hotel to research better vets and arrange to move her the next day.
With translation assistance from the hotel concierge, I had a telephone conversation with the vile “vet”, who was demanding more pesos with the veiled threat that we would not get her back without paying.
We got on the computer and found a well-trained, ethical, and compassionate vet who spoke English. We made an appointment and sped off to confront the evil puppy miller. Expecting us to arrive with cash, he had the dog ready. She wagged her tail and tried to sit up when she saw me enter the shop, and I fell even more deeply in love. I left my dear friends comforting her while I took our antagonist aside. This man, who must have seen from my demeanor that I had taken my power back, lost his threatening bluster. We left triumphantly moments later, dog and x-rays in hand, without parting with another peso.
As our valiant cab driver, Napoléon, sped us to the next vet, we named her Señorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco. Miss Sea and Sun, Hope of Acapulco.
Thankfully, the next vet was all we had hoped he would be and more. Dr. Eusebio Gómez Duque of Clinicas Veterinarias San Francisco (Saint Francis Veterinary Clinics) radiated kindness and compassion, along with keen intelligence. As we discussed her various ailments and developed a treatment plan, my heart lifted. Her initial blood tests showed her to be malnourished and fighting infection, yet the doctor felt her prognosis was good. He planned to start by first treating her infestations of parasites, giving her fluids and nutrition, and providing the proper medicine to keep her comfortable and fight infection.
Dr. Gómez Duque wants to allow her to regain strength before performing the surgery, which will involve resetting both femur bones using rods and external fixators to hold them in place. She will need 3 months of physical therapy after that. It is going to cost Indraloka Animal Sanctuary nearly $6,000 (US!) to do all of this, yet I just don’t see how you can put a price on life. This is a brave, strong, loving creature who has had a terrible time in her short life. We needed to help her. And so, we are starting a fund drive and, knowing how many good people are out there who care about animals, we know that we will raise the money.
In the meantime, our love burns bright, undiminished by miles. I will always love her, and always be here for her, and she for me. Come what may.
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For one of my Compadre Rescuers’ point of view on the same rescue, please see http://www.eleanorgwyn-jones.blogspot.com/
If you or someone you know would like to contribute to Señorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco’s care, you can make your tax-deductible donation online (www.indraloka.org or https://www.justgive.org/basket?acton=donate&ein=20-2855094 ) or you can send a check to:
Indraloka Animal Sanctuary
PO Box 155
Mehoopany, PA 18629
For more photos and updates on Marisol’s recovery, please friend Indraloka Sanctuary on Facebook.
Death and I are old friends. Winter is the season when we spend the most time together. This year’s Cimmerian season began early, on October 1. Copper was a gregarious and warm-hearted geriatric horse that we affectionately referred to as our “lap horse”. He was Indraloka Animal Sanctuary’s most dangerous horse because he was so affectionate that he routinely attempted to knock volunteers over in order to sit in their laps. Oh, how we loved him! As the years went on, Copper showed signs of severe arthritis. Often, he would lie down and not be able to stand up again without assistance. The volunteers became adept at the complex and dangerous job of flipping his 1,000 pound body over and getting out of the way fast so that he could get up on his good side. One morning, despite turning him over, Copper was still unable to rise. At this point, I had been nursing Copper for years, and we had grown close enough to understand one another’s thoughts.
On many occasions, he had been near Death and I had asked him, “Do you want me to let you go?”
Copper’s answer was always a resounding, “No! I want a nice, juicy pear!”
So that morning, I asked him again, “Do you want me to let you go?”
“No!” His voice screamed inside my brain. “I’m not ready yet! Get me up!”
I went down the list of volunteers and called in reinforcements. We tried everything, from building a pulley on down. Death looked on sadly while several times Copper was able to rise only to fall down again. By now, not only were my head and heart filled with Copper’s screams of fear, but also with the pain of my beloved volunteers. They were no more ready to let him go than I was. I kept trying to get him up when I should have called the vet. Finally, Copper’s big, beautiful body gave out and he went into a seizure. I told the volunteers he was on his way, and even as his cries faded, I could feel my volunteers’ pain and suffering increase. Copper’s seizures continued as these precious, loving humans sobbed their grief and pain at losing him.
I drew on the strength of my shadow side, which had been buried deep under all the pain swirling around me. Finally, I felt some clarity and heard Death, “He won’t leave yet. He is trying to hold on for them. He doesn’t want them to hurt.”
From somewhere beyond, a voice came out of me, strong and loving. “He needs us all to take a deep breath now, and think of how much we love him. When we exhale, he needs all of us to let him go.”
Everybody breathed in. Their pain drew back. Everybody exhaled, and Copper’s seizure ended. We all gathered around him, each of us touching or hugging him, saying our good-byes. His eyes closed and his breath stopped. Copper was on his way home.
That night my good (human) friend came over and sat with me as I cried and cried. I had failed Copper, and he had suffered far more than necessary because I didn’t call the vet soon enough. I had failed to protect my volunteers: why should they have to see how violent and painful Death can be? It is my responsibility to protect others from suffering, and I failed miserably. My dear, wise friend sat with me while I cried and listened calmly, her love-filled eyes never wavering from mine. The next morning, after all my tears were spent, I forgave myself. I’m just a pathetic two-legged. I’m not expected to be perfect. I did the best I could, and I learned a valuable lesson.
Death can’t be put off or ignored. When someone’s time has come, it has come. Trying to stave off Death only brings on pain and angst. In November, I used that lesson to prevent our darling Mo Chridhe from suffering. Mo Chridhe, Scottish Gaelic for “my heart”, was a baby Holstein with a severe disability causing her to be unable to straighten her front legs. We knew when we brought her to the sanctuary in June that she would never be able to survive into adulthood. Our goal was to give her the best quality of life possible, and, when the time came, to let her go peacefully and surrounded by love. And she did have a wonderful, if short, life. The other cows, Penny Power, Snuffleupagus, and Houdini, loved and coddled her as much as the volunteers and I did. Never did a day go by without Mo being nuzzled, hugged, fed treats, and told how precious she was. In November, seeing that she was growing larger and having a harder time moving around, I understood that Death was ready to take her to the spirit world, where she would no longer feel pain. I called the vet and asked for help euthanizing our precious little angel. Dr. Jen, a compassionate and gifted vet, gently administered the shot while I held Mo, telling her how much I loved her. Gus and Penny placed their noses on Mo at the same time, and I’ve no doubt they were telling her the same thing.
Death paid another visit soon after. Tristan, a dear and gentle goat whose eyes used to sparkle each morning as I greeted him, had succumbed to a progressive disease for which there is no cure. After a month of administering twice-daily fluids and nursing him around the clock, I could see he was getting no better. Once again, I held him and told him how much he was loved, while Dr. Jen lovingly administered the shot that ended his suffering.
I was hoping, given that we were almost through winter, we might have a little break from Death, but that was not to be. Our beloved elderly feline, Bongo, gently, peacefully, and lovingly left this life with great dignity at about 10:10 last Thursday morning. I don’t know if I will ever meet an older, wiser soul.
Early that morning, I made a special meal for him, and then spent hours holding him while he purred. I sang old Rod Stewart (“You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul, you’ll be my breath when I grow old, you are my Bongo, you’re my best friend, you’re in my soul…”) and gospel songs (“Rise, your faith has made you whole again…”) to him on the way to the vet’s office. He never panicked for a moment (even when I sang!) He was clear about what was happening and he was ready. He did not hesitate as he left his body, but did so as confidently as if he were heading out to the barn in time for canned food. He died purring and looking at me with such love and compassion that I felt it was him taking care of me, instead of the other way around. Death could not have been kinder.
Sadly, even as I write this, Death is whispering in my ear about yet another of my loved ones. Sky, a beautiful Great Dane who spent a lifetime on a chain before coming to the sanctuary in October, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I don’t know how long she has, but in Copper’s name, I won’t let her suffer.
And me? I am filled with gratitude that I have the capacity to continue to fall in love with these creatures despite the pain of losing them from this realm. And because Death and I are old friends, I understand that the spirit never dies. It just grows out of these broken vessels of ours.
Embrace the darkness, my friends. It is because of its fragility and brevity that life is so sweet.
“…the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind… forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” from Clothes in Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet
Just a few days ago, I walked barefoot in India, luxuriating in the warm, powdery red earth between my toes while walking to my mother’s home. Today, I am back in blustery Northeast PA, grateful for the watery sunshine as I trudge through cold mud and stubborn ice from one barn to the next, caring for the animals of Indraloka. While I was there, a big part of me was here with my beloveds. While I am here, a part of my heart and soul remains in Mother India. I am a creature divided. I love both of these worlds so very much, and I am so grateful for this life that allows me both blessings.
I am the single mother of 150, the chief poop shoveler at Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, an Indian-Dutch-American, a traveler, a romantic, a seeker and a dreamer. I am here to tell you my story.
The most common question I am asked, when people learn about my vocation as founder of an all-species sanctuary dedicated to providing a lifetime home for animals that would otherwise have been euthanized or slaughtered is “Why?” I suppose lots of people love animals, but the question becomes why did you give up everything and move to a remote area to run an animal sanctuary on which you spend all your time and all your money?
Because they bring me joy.
Because these creatures make me feel as if I am the most-loved woman in the world.
Because each time I connect with a hurt chicken, a once-helpless lamb, a rescued veal calf, an elderly horse that was abandoned after years of service to humans, and all of the rest of them, I experience God, I learn about the true nature of beauty, and I become a better person.
Because I can’t help it. Taking home creatures in need and showering them with love is like breathing for me. It just happens, and it keeps ME alive. If I placed all the animals of Indraloka in new homes today, I’d have the place filled up again by tomorrow.
This is my joyous, maddening compulsion. This is my blessing and my calling. This is my religion. This is my bliss.
Its not all flowers and rainbows. Most of the time it is heavy, dirty labor peppered with boundless heartbreak. And still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
So many of you have asked me about what it is like to run an animal sanctuary. I am grateful and humbled by your interest. This blog is an answer to these questions, a search for spiritual enlightment through animal rescue, a chronicle of how the animals of Indraloka do so much more to rescue us then we them, and a manifesto on the joy of an endless quest for lovingkindness. I can only hope it brings forth for you whatever it is that would be the greatest blessing to you today.