I was prepared for the stench of suffering and hopelessness in that barn. I was prepared for manure-encrusted floors and walls, for cows chained in misery, suffering silently while large eyes followed my movements. Every time I walk into a place of suffering such as this one, I leave a piece of my soul with the ones I can’t save, offering deep prayers and salty tears in exchange for a lifetime of brutality.
I was there to rescue one baby boy calf, who had been born two days before and was slated to be shipped to a veal farm later that day. But I was in for a surprise. Another calf, Ogie, had been born in the night, and the farmer was willing to allow me to take both babies home.
Ogie was born into bloodshed and death on that cold March morning, in that dark, dirty barn heated only by the manure and breath of hundreds of cows chained in stanchions. Unbeknownst to me until several days later, his mother hemorrhaged after giving birth to him, but she didn’t die right away. The farmer kept her alive, milking her for two more days while she lay covered in manure on a cold concrete floor, bleeding to death. This is not meant to be an indictment. I know the farmer was desperate. But still, it caused the cows great pain.
Ogie and Nandi would have been sold to a veal farm. This farmer told me repeatedly that he didn’t like taking babies from their mothers, and that he hated selling them for veal. He also shared with me how overwhelming his work was, and that he hated the poor conditions of the cows. He said the work was too much for him, and that he couldn’t afford help to take better care of the cows. Competing against industrial dairies, this farmer suffered almost as much as his cows. I implored him to leave the industry. Working 16-hour days and hovering just above poverty-level for his efforts, he remained convinced that there was no other way for him to survive. Family farmers, too, suffer at the hands of corporate farming. Very few people win in the harsh and strange economy of the modern “food system”.
But I don’t want to tell you about facts and figures. Those, you can find everywhere with a simple internet search.
I want to tell you how I felt when two days later I returned at the moment of Ogie’s mother’s death.
I had come hoping for milk for the babies, not knowing that Ogie’s mother had been down since giving birth. When I found her moaning in pain, covered in manure, I could see that she was fighting to stay alive. Instinctively, I knew why. Her baby. She was staying alive for her baby. I wiped the manure from her face and looked her in the eye. “Your baby is safe. I took him to Indraloka, where cows are free. I’ll care for him every day of his life, I promise you.”
She laid her head on my lap and exhaled for the last time, and in that sacred moment, I was changed. It was as if she imbued in me all of her motherly love and strength when I made that vow.
I kept my promise. I did everything I could, every day of my life from then until now, not only to keep Ogie safe but also to protect the hundreds of other mothers’ babies for whom I now care. I think of her every night and pray that I can be half the nurturer and protector she was.
Ogie was named after a close friend of mine who died just around the time of his birth. Ogema was an Anishinaabe Medicine Man from whom I learned a great deal, although probably not enough.
So, Ogie was born into bloodshed and death, but also great hope. Nandi, the calf born the day before Ogie, saved his life by leading me to him. Those two little calfs were so tiny that I was able to take them home in the back of my small SUV.
At first, Ogie was very sick and used to sleep for hours on my lap while Nandi frolicked quietly nearby. Have you ever experienced another being placing all of their trust in you? Do you know the feeling of innocent eyes looking at yours as if they are sure there is no problem in the world that you can’t solve? Have you ever breathed in the scent of a newborn, and in that breath, recognized the prayer for peace and safety that simply wafts from all innocent young beings? It made me a better person, his faith. Happily, we were able to get him the veterinary care he needed, and he soon grew strong and healthy.
For months, my days were punctuated with the big eyes and sweet moos of calfs awaiting warm milk. I had to bottle feed them at the same time, or they would jostle in an attempt at both getting their bottle first. By the time they had been with me a week, they were both the same size as me, and much, much stronger. After two weeks, they were both significantly larger than me. And of course, they just kept growing. So, I devised a system of bracing myself against the barn wall, a bottle in each hand, also braced against the wall. I was able to use the wall to hold me and the bottles steady, no matter how the calfs pushed and jostled as they nursed.
Holsteins are bred to be unnaturally large so that they can produce more milk. However, outside of a sanctuary setting, males rarely live past a few weeks. A few bulls are kept for breeding, but frozen semen is usually shipped far and wide. As a result, rarely do any of us see a full-grown Holstein male.
I knew from the day he was born that his size would probably kill him. I knew every time I fed him and scratched him and marveled at how healthy and strong he was that someday his big body would betray him.
Ogie grew to be larger than a full grown male moose, with horns. Often visitors, seeing him tower above us, feared him despite his gentle nature. All I could see were those same big baby eyes. I didn’t care how big he got, he would always be that same, sweet calf that I loved so much, and I believe that to him, I would always be the woman who tried so hard to make up for the loss of his mother. He trusted me and I would do anything for him.
So, of course, I understood that someday, he’d grow so large that his legs would no longer hold him. I just kept hoping that someday would be many, many days and years from now.
But it wasn’t.
It was a Friday morning in 2018. We found him down in the icy pasture and unable to rise. We worked for hours in the cold, trying every single way we knew how to get him up. His herd– cows, horses, a goat, and a cat– watched us anxiously, comforting him with kisses and cheering us on with looks and moos of encouragement. His eyes held fear, but also that same faith he had in me since he was a sick, little, orphaned calf. I would have given anything to get him up. A small army of humans worked alongside me, and every one of us would have gladly given all that was in us if we could have spared him this pain, or given him another day of joy.
We called experts near and far. We consulted with multiple vets. We pulled out every piece of lifesaving equipment available for cows. We used every ounce of ingenuity we could muster, and every bit of strength our pathetic little human bodies had to offer.
Finally, we were able to get equipment large enough to lift him, but his legs wouldn’t hold him up. He collapsed in a heap, moaning in pain, imploring me with his big baby eyes. Ogie wanted to live, but his body couldn’t comply. It was clear, from his attempts to stand when lifted, that one of his back hips was broken. There was nothing more we could do.
I called the vet, and together we waited. Humans, cows, horses, a goat, and cats gathered around him, all of us crying into his thick, lustrous fur. If you have never seen a cow cry, you should know that tears actually stream down their faces, just like ours. Several of our young calfs, with whom Ogie used to play so gently, sobbed aloud. The adult cows cried silently, as did I.
“Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me,” my voice broke as I tried to sing his favorite lullaby. His eyes never left mine. “Away above the chimney tops, where troubles melt like lemon drops, that’s where you’ll find me.”
I called on his mother’s spirit to take him home.
Together, we took one last gulp of delicious air. As one, we expelled it. The light faded from his eyes. The rest of us breathed on as his mother’s spirit came to gather him up and take him home.
“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue,” I promised him, “and the dreams that we dare to dream really do come true.”
Please share your memories of Ogie, or another cow you have loved and lost, in the comments below. We love reading them!
His eyes told his whole story.
They were filled with fear and pain, but beyond all of that, just at the back, was a barely noticeable glimmer of who he used to be. Although his body was weak now, his spirit awaited an opportunity to soar once again.
His pen was covered with rusty metal farm implements, dangerous nails and glass. There was no soft or clean place for him to lay. His water tub sat empty in the harsh sunlight. His spine, ribs, and hips stood out in sharp relief. There was nothing to him but his pain. The ghost of the warrior he had once been.
The female pig with him was not as skinny or as weak. He had sacrificed himself, allowing her to take what little food was available so that she could survive.
A spark of hope seemed to awaken in him as I sang softly. Together with rescue workers from the SPCA and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, we were removing all of the animals from this sad, sad place.
When we offered him food and asked him to come with us, he followed gingerly and climbed into the car with no hesitation. He was very weak, and moved slowly, tentatively, but even so, he moved. We had filled the back of the SUV with soft, fragrant hay and had the air conditioning running. He lay down and sighed before launching in on the food and fresh water.
Then he slept, heavily and deeply.
On the way home, I reached back to offer him a Pink Lady apple. As he crunched into it, juice spurted from his mouth, and he threw his head back to move his floppy ears from his eyes. Looking directly into my soul, he conveyed such gratitude, such hope, such joy…I will never, ever taste an apple the same way again.
Gavin, we named him, after a very brave, strong young boy. The name Gavin comes from the Celtic “Gawain” and refers to the White Hawk of Battle, a being of such fantastic ability and skill that most fall before him in awe. An eminently suitable name for two Gavins courageously facing tremendous battles for their own lives, and doing so with great strength and Grace.
He was the sickest, the skinniest, and the saddest of all the animals we removed that day. Gavin probably would have died within days, had the humane police not gotten the warrant to seize him and the others.
And yet, less than a week after being rescued, he has learned to flop over for a belly rub. He rejoices as we humans approach, no longer cowering in fear. Unlike other recently starved animals, Gavin eats very slowly, savoring each bite. He listens in wonder as I tell him stories of Gavin the boy, or sing his special song to him (“Oh, oh, oh, he’s magic, I know… Gavin the pig he is so, so magic, I know…Never believe it’s not soo…”)
He may look like a skinny, sickly pig– one of billions left to suffer at the hands of humans. But just like each one of those billions, Gavin is a precious, sacred individual. His spirit, like that of the White Hawk, is indomitable. He will fly again in glory. Until then, we will nurse him and love him and support him and give thanks everyday for the honor of caring for him.
Please, never forget that it is because of you– your support, prayers, and kindness– that we are able to take precious beings like Gavin to safe sanctuary. He still faces tremendous odds. Gavin requires round-the-clock care and veterinary expertise. We would be so very grateful if you would help us care for him in any way that you can– share his story, donate towards his care, send him love, light and prayers.
A Hail Mary Pass, they are calling it.
A last-ditch effort, but instead of a Superbowl win on the line, it was a life. A beautiful, precious, sacred life. A life that mattered dearly to the one who lived it, and to the ones who called him family.
The skinny, frightened, bruised and scarred pig was not ready to die, but the smells and sounds around him assured him that was the plan. So, when the transport truck opened, he leapt and made a break for safety. The humans went after him, yelling scarily. He scrambled, dove, spun and ran for all he was worth. They were in hot pursuit, but somehow, Grace intervened.
He lost them.
Trembling, he hid under a pile of hay, exhausted and out of options. A silent plea rose from his trembling body. “Save me,” he beseeched mutely, “Please.”
And Grace, in its unfathomable majesty, responded.
An angel whose job was to save horses found him quivering in fear. She begged the “kill buyer” in whose custody the pig had fallen, to spare his life. He heard her, and took mercy. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I’ll give you a grace period.” She had 24 hours to find him sanctuary.
But now what was she to do? Angels who save horses don’t necessarily know where to bring lost pigs, and 24 hours is not a lot of time to find those places. And it was Superbowl Sunday evening. Who on earth was even going to be around to answer the phone?
But Grace does not take time off for football, as it turns out. Grace works all the time. Outside of time.
On her first call, she got through to another angel, this one at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. They were not able to take any more pigs, but the Poplar Spring angel was eager to help find this little pig safe haven.
She called more angels, from New York to Canada, and one by one, they joined in the search. Soon, the little pig had a whole army of angels working on his behalf. Safe haven was found for him at Indraloka, where we all cried with joy at adding another beloved to our family.
Finally, he arrived. Under the bruises and wounds, every bone was visible. And yet, his eyes were filled with hope. I cried at the beauty of it– this pure, unadulterated Śraddhā .
Śraddhā is the intersection between faith and mindfulness. To me, it embodies the notion that we need to take action for our own well-being, but also to remember that we are not acting alone—that there are strong forces of love that work with us and protect us even as we work on our own behalf. So, Śraddhā is faith, hope, love, and action all in one. And this pig, with his light-filled eyes, and his leap towards freedom, was the perfect example of this. How, I wondered, in tears again, had this pig managed to survive such brutality and still remain so beautifully pure and hopeful? The thought of it filled me with awe for this wise little soul.
He leapt from the trailer and ran into his quarantine pen without hesitation, needing no guidance to find the right pen. After drinking several gallons of water, he munched happily on a big, fresh salad and some sweet hay before greeting us, one by one, with a sniff and a smile. As I write, he is sleeping contentedly under a big pile of hay, snoring peacefully.
Dominic, we named him, and he is full of Grace.
Many, many thanks to: all of you who make it possible to rescue and care for our beloveds, Kelly from Omega Horse Rescue, Terry from Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, Monica from Esther’s Army, the person who chose to spare his life, and to Cameron O’Steen from the Yoga Animalia Project for his beautiful photos, and to Grace.
Once a little pig lived in a dark, sad barn. He was old and blind and had lived his entire life in darkness. This darkness was much deeper than that caused by lack of light in the barn, and much darker even than a blind old pig might normally experience.
Selick’s darkness was the most profound sort— a darkness that emanates from desolation. From the time he was born in the dark barn, his world was filled with angst, fear, and worst of all, a lack of hope.
His mother loved him as much as she could, but she herself was caught in the same helplessness and despair. The barn was filled with old cow poop, broken glass, and other dirty, scary things. Selick, his mother, and the many, many other pigs there had not a single clean, comfortable, safe spot to sleep.
Sometimes the human brought food, but often she did not. Sometimes, the food was really smelly and bad, like animals that had been hit by cars and left on the side of the road for a few days. She had, once or twice, let the pigs outside. Many of them made a break for it. Selick’s darkness was so deep that he did not wonder where they went. It was so dark that he did not event try to run.
When the woman did bring food, sometimes it was enough, and often it was not. She did the same thing with water. Selick’s mother taught him he had to be tough and mean to survive. She taught him to fight for his food, and it’s a good thing she did, because not all of the pigs survived that dark, sad place. But Selick, he survived.
One day, a humane police officer came in, bringing light and fresh air with her. She had other humans and trailers, and the pigs were all happy to leave that barn behind. All the pigs but Selick, that is. Selick’s darkness was just too deep. He had no hope that wherever he was going would be any better, and he certainly had no hope that humans might help him.
Selick and just a few of the other pigs were brought to a place called Indraloka. Three of them were given a big pasture with different little houses, and were told they could go in and out whenever they wanted. Selick took the best house for himself and was ready to fight over it. He was disappointed when Raymond and Waldo ignored him and went into the other house.
The humans kept trying to lure him into complacency, but he knew better. He would never trust them. The others were suckers. They were won over by fruit and belly rubs, but Selick was going to do exactly as his mother taught him, so long ago. He avoided humans at all costs. If they insisted on touching him, he screamed and fought until they gave up.
Raymond and Waldo were annoying. Selick knew that this situation with plenty of food couldn’t last forever, so he decided to make sure he’d survive again when things went bad. He began picking fights with them daily. He needed to prove to them he was in charge, so when he needed to fight for food, it would be easier to win.
Years went by. Selick was sick of those stupid pigs. In fact, he never wanted to see another pig again. His darkness was still deep and thick. He decided he was not going to spend one more night in the same pasture as those stupid, annoying pigs. So, late one night, he found his way out. After wandering around for a while, he found Tom, Jake and Henny’s barn door. They were some very mellow old turkeys whose company he did not completely hate. He knocked and grunted, and the turkeys kindly invited him in. They had a huge bowl of seed and grain right there in their house, and no one was even eating it!
Selick gobbled it down and thought, “This is too easy! I didn’t even have to fight for this!” The turkeys just cooed softly and went to sleep. Selick, his belly full, and very relieved to have escaped the pigs, lay down and slept the whole night through. The turkeys were so easy to hang out with, and they had all this food and a pig-free home. They were nice to him, Selick realized. The edges of the darkness he had held onto for so long began to lift, and a tiny sliver of light came in. Selick knew he wanted to stay with these birds.
The next day those awful, fakey-fake humans came and put him right back in the pig pasture. Selick knew they couldn’t be trusted, and this proved it. They were not going to tell him where to live, though. So, that night, he broke out again and went straight to the turkey’s house.
Every day for about a week, the humans put him back in the pig pasture, and he broke back out to go to the turkeys. The turkeys took to flying right into the pig pasture while Selick was stuck there during the day. He couldn’t believe it, they liked him, too! Finally one day, the short human exclaimed, “You love these turkeys, Selick, don’t you? Would you rather live with them?”
“These humans have got to be the slowest creatures who ever walked the earth,” Selick grumbled to himself. “Yeah, ok, lady, you sure do understand animals,” Selick said patronizingly, and the short human told him he could stay with them from then on. A few more slivers of light came through.
Years went by, and Selick’s heart attacked him. It hurt and he was scared and he thought he was going to die. He was shocked to realize he wasn’t ready. He actually wanted to live. The short human started spending all her time with him, covering him with blankets, giving him medicine he hated and encouraging him to eat when he didn’t feel like it. Tom, Jake, and Henny stayed, too. Selick slept heavily, and a lot. One day, he dreamed that someone he didn’t hate was rubbing his belly. He woke groggily and slowly to discover it was true, someone was rubbing his belly. It felt so good, he went back to sleep.
But this time, the old, blind pig slept in the light. His darkness had faded. He understood that the humans and the turkeys had saved his life. He could not come up with any reason for them to do that except that they cared. Maybe all humans weren’t entirely fakey-fake after all. Maybe some were ok.
More years passed, and the more Selick trusted, the more humans he attracted. This worked out very well, as he found he could persuade any human to rub his belly and give him treats very easily. “You just have to understand them,” he mused, “and then they are easy to communicate with.”
As more humans sought him out, Selick started realizing the humans had feelings very similar to a pig’s. Lots of them are afraid to trust other humans, and fight with them just the way Selick did with pigs. Lots of humans lived in darkness because of a painful past that was long over, refusing to let the light of a new day in because they thought it would hurt more when the darkness came back. And just like he used to be, lots of humans were certain that the darkness would always be back.
Selick was so much older and wiser now. That heart attack really helped him, because it showed him how much he did like life. He started living fully—exploring sanctuary grounds, making friends with lots of birds, goats, and other animals, although he still did not like pigs. He began to count certain humans as his friends, too.
They’d come to him, talking and sometime crying about their problems, sometimes telling him their dreams, and sometimes just wanting to love and be loved. He’d talk with them and smile at them, and their whole world got brighter.
“How sweet these other animals are,” Selick would think, “and so delicate, with so many problems. I’ll just help them when I can.”
For Selick, it was never enough just to escape his own darkness. Selick wanted to shine light on the whole world. So he smiled.
You see, Selick had hope now. He had so much hope that it lit up his insides as bright as the sun. And when he smiled, that light of hope shone right out onto whoever was near, and stripped away their darkness for just a moment, so they’d feel warm and light, with hope restored.
In just a few days since Selick crossed over, we have been blessed with messages and stories from people far and near who loved him, learned from him, and called him friend. If you have a similar story, please share it below in the comments. We would be grateful to share your memories.
Here are some excerpts from others who loved him:
Yesterday not knowing this, for the first time I introduced Selick as the star of the day in my afternoon classes. They cheered and clapped for him, waving and calling his name, and then when they learned he was blind- the kids used the words “brave, smart, inspiring, and special” to describe him while watching his photos and video clips. I had no idea they were actually giving him the kind of celebratory send off he deserved… This makes my heart sad and warm at the same time. Selick was a super cool being, he knew how to enjoy life unlike anyone else I have ever known. I’ll miss him. – Sarah
Selick had such a profound and fervent affect on me. From the moment I met him, his meandering determination and subdued vitality seemed as consequential and inspirational as any being I’ve ever come across. Meeting him and spending what relatively little time I did with him, was so utterly fulfilling.
Selick, without fail, provided me with a fresh and dynamic perspective every time we occupied the same space. I loved him deeply, and I am so sorry about having lost him, but also incredibly gratified by having known him.
Thank you for providing sanctuary to him, and all the souls. You and Johnny have my unending gratitude for saving him and thru him, to some very quantifiable degree, saving me as well. Another example of the good we do, rippling outward to eventually include the entire pond.
A little less light in the world tonight… but a reason to shine brighter tomorrow. – Matt
The focus is on what that beautiful soul did for us, what he meant to us, and how lucky we all are to have walked this earth with him… He’ll continue to bring you smiles for years to come – Mike
Bless precious Selick. I recall fondly seeing him mill about the place at the ThanksLiving event. Eating the turkey’s food, coming into the barn and walking among the tables in the barn. A happy boy — all because of the good souls at Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, who gave him sanctuary and loved him. Loved him. Loved him. Loved him.- Bren
My daughters still talk about Selick when they visited last June. He is my first memory at Indraloka as he greeted us wagging his tail when we arrived on the farm. What a beautiful spirit. – Tala
You did so much good in your life, Selick. Peace in Heaven, beautiful soul. Xxxx – Florence
I will never ever forget Sellie. Ever. He made a mark on my heart, like he did on so many others. – Dotsie
Just getting to spend a few days getting to know him he made such a HUGE and loving impression on my heart! – Elle
My heart is broken, but I will always be grateful for the happiness and love Selick gave me.- Lisa
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.