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.
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
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.
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.
LuvBug2, Protector of the Upper Barn
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).
Rottie Rescues Orphaned Kitten
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
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.
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
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.
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.
(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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Please don’t turn away.
I know it’s hard to look at me. But I am someone. I matter. And I didn’t always look this way. I was young and carefree and healthy once. People thought I was cute and funny and took videos of my antics. Please hear my story. Please acknowledge that I matter, that my life matters, even if I am just an old goat.
I was born a 4-H project– raised by a little girl who loved me, coddled me, kept me clean and fed me well. We used to pretend that she was a pilot, and I’d leap and jump…a passenger flying in her plane. She told me all of her secrets. I knew the names the kids at school called her. I knew how her mother scolded her for being “scraggly”, and warned her she’d never find a husband if she didn’t learn to clean house. She cried into my fur when one of her classmates had a birthday party and invited everyone but her.
I loved her so much! I loved listening to her problems. I loved to comfort her and make her smile. I thought we’d be together forever, best friends. But then one day there was a big contest. I didn’t win, but she sold me. She was crying the whole time, her mother admonishing her to grow up. Her father told her, “That’s just the way things are.”
I was taken to a clean, pretty farm, and put in a pasture with other goats. They all had horns, but mine had been cut off by the little girls’ father. I thought of my little girl as they bullied me. Finally, I understood what she had been through. I learned to stay out of the way, to be quiet and unassuming. As long as I didn’t sit somewhere they wanted to sit, or try to eat something they wanted to eat, they ignored me.
The farmer was nice. He gave me cookies and banana peels when the others weren’t looking. But then something happened.
I got pregnant. Oh! Finally I would have someone of my own, someone to love and care for! Someone who would never leave me!
Things got really good for a while. The farmer separated me from the bullies and fed me special food. Then my baby was born and he was a beauty! Long lashes, chocolate brown eyes, ears way too big for his little head! We frolicked and played and I thought I’d never be happier.
I was right.
One day the farmer came and took him away, and then put me back in the pasture with the bullies. I cried for my baby and did everything I could to get the farmer to give him back, but he was gone. I never heard from him again. At least in those days I was too naive to know where the babies went when the farmer took them from us.
Every year after that, I got pregnant. I usually had two babies. One year I even had four babies. I tried not to love them, I knew they’d just be taken away and killed. But I failed. I loved every one of them. And every time they were taken from me, a piece of my soul went with them.
One day, I realized I was an old woman. My body was worn out. My feet couldn’t hold me up anymore, my ankles were too weak. It hurt to walk, but I had to walk to graze and browse. I had become so skinny, there was nothing to me but my rumen and some bones. But still I pressed on, grazing when the sun went down, staying out of the other goats’ way. I thought of my babies and my little girl. The memories sustained me.
I thought for sure, now that I was too old to have babies, that the farmer would send me away to the place all the others have gone. But instead, something happened. I think it might be something good, but I’m not entirely sure yet.
I did get sent away, and now I am at a place they call a sanctuary. None of the other animals are frightened here, and none of them are bullies. I made a friend, sort of. A woman comes and sits with me. She sings songs and strokes my fur, and keeps trying to get me to eat. Part of me wants to melt into her and let her hold me. I want to cry into her hair like my little girl did with me all those years ago. I want someone to love me like I loved that little girl, and like I thought she loved me.
I don’t know, though. Maybe she’ll send me away like the little girl did. Maybe she’ll kill me and eat me, although she doesn’t smell like a person who would do that. I just don’t know. I’m an old goat now. If they are not going to kill me, what could they want from me?
Could it be possible, after all these years? Have I found someone to love me? Might I even make friends here? Maybe I am finally safe…
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.
Rain fell on the metal roof, adding to the sacred silence. Humans, bovines, and felines alike gathered round the deathbed of a Divine Mother, a truly Holy Cow.
This old stone barn always brought comfort, as if the stones and beams themselves held all who entered in a loving embrace. Today, it was warmed by the body heat of a several cows, who gazed at us benevolently from under their long lashes. The sweet smell of hay mixed with frankincense, sage, and a death whose time was right.
One by one, people approached to whisper their truths in her ear. My dear friend and I sat with her large, warm, lovely head across both of our laps. Wesley T. Monkey, unusually attuned even for a cat, lay purring across Penny’s back. Others gathered round in the thick bed of hay, laying their heads and hands across her body, most with tears falling into her luxuriant, red coat.
Many brought offerings– prayer flags, which we hung above her; mala beads, which we strung around her neck; crisp apples, which we fed her in small pieces; sage and frankincense, with we we smudged and anointed her; and sweets to comfort the rest of us.
Gazing into her eyes, I traveled back in time to revisit many of my most treasured memories: a silent walk we took together, she and I, watching the wildflowers wave in the wind, and butterflies shine in the sunlight; the look on her face as she was surrounded by adoring children; her joy on many a hot summer day we designated as spa days, when visiting school children would giver her a cold bath and feed her cold cucumbers; the time she– literally– joined in on a picnic with our Farmitecture students as they took a meal break from building the new chicken coop; and just a few weeks ago, when a group of traveling Buddhist monks kindly stopped at the sanctuary to pray over and bless Penny and all of the animals.
Penny Power needed no fences to hold her in, but roamed the sanctuary freely, going wherever she was needed. She nurtured all the animals (human and other) here at the sanctuary. She comforted all who sought her, and taught all who had open hearts. She showered us with unfailing wisdom, unending compassion, and the deepest form of pure, unselfish love.
Penny lived fully, simply, and serenely, with a sense of wit and grace. Once or twice, she came right to the front porch of the house to share a salad at meal time, and took to sitting peacefully with us in the evening as we watched the sun set. Last September when we brought home a starving calf, her compassion was so strong and pure that, although she had not had a baby in seven years, she began lactating.
Penny faced her death easily; she was clear that the time was right. She lay her head on our laps and breathed a deep cleansing breathe as the sedative entered her bloodstream. Prayers were uttered as the vet administered her final shot. In the silence after, Penny’s spirit hovered near us, comforting us.
Outside, the rain gently transitioned to soft, lacy flakes– confetti honoring the eternal triumph of a Great Master. Penny’s spirit softly turned from us and landed on her dear cow friend, Gus. A few moments later, she was gone.
Silently, the snow continued to fall.
Please share your precious memories of Penny in the comments below, we love to hear about all the ways she touched hearts.
The trembling calf hid in the brush, peering out fearfully. Finally, lured out with the promise of a bottle, he sucked hungrily. He was less than half the size he should have been, stunted from malnourishment and trauma. His red coat was lackluster, with big patches of hair missing along his bony spine. Fleas and lice crawled over him, while flies painfully bit at his exposed wounds. Manure encrusted his tail. He was little more than a skeleton, every bone clearly visible.
His eyes, though. Oh! His eyes! Big, round, deep brown eyes gazed through achingly beautiful long lashes. Even as he sucked at the bottle, he watched warily, ready to bolt. This calf had already learned, in his short, painful month on earth, not to trust.
In the car on the way home, he leaned into my touch despite his misgivings. Soon, his desperate need for affection overcame his fear, and he laid his head on my lap, sighing with relief. We named him Moksha, which means liberation. I smiled to myself, knowing that soon, he’d be with Penny.
Penny is a wise, wonderful, elderly cow whose nurturing instincts extend to the young of every species. She had been raised on a beef farm, bred yearly. Each time, she loved her babies, and each time they were taken from her. She came to us in 2007 and is now in her mid-twenties. Of course, we would still bottle feed the baby, but she could provide motherly love. Finally, Penny would have a baby she could keep. And Mookie would have all of the love he so needed.
When we introduced them, tears rolled down Penny’s face, and her udders became enlarged, despite the fact that she had not given birth for at least seven years. We could see that something was wrong, and were glad we already had the vet scheduled to come out the next morning.
In the meantime, Mookie was refusing his bottle and having trouble settling in. All he wanted was affection from Penny, but Penny just cried and turned away. By morning, Mookie was nursing on Penny, clearly causing her tremendous pain. But Penny, being Penny, withstood the pain and treated him kindly.
Her eyes seemed glassy. She clearly wasn’t well. A closer look made it clear that Penny had rapidly developed mastitis, an infection of the teats which can be life threatening.
We separated the two and awaited the vet anxiously.
When Dr. Elena arrived, she was all business. Penny’s condition was advancing far too aggressively and we had to act fast. I sighed as life-saving medication was administered intravenously– not knowing that the worst was yet to come.
We moved on to treat the calf, whose numerous health problems also required urgent care. Crouched beside him on the ground, we conferred on the best course of treatment, discussing the pros and cons of our options. Suddenly, Penny was looming above us, unsteady on her feet, eyes unfocused, and saliva pouring from her mouth.
She was about to fall on the calf, all 2,000 plus pounds of her. And Mookie was too weak to get up. We tried to lift him, but he struggled and fell back to the ground. Penny took an unsteady step closer. At any second, she would fall and crush us all.
Two strong volunteers who had been hovering nearby came to our aid, and carried Mookie out of harm’s way just before Penny collapsed. Rushing to her side, we found her heart pounding, her fever skyrocketing, and her udders strangely, excessively, expanding.
Dr. Elena acted fast, giving Penny a steroid to help her body fight the lethal infection coursing through her blood. I do not like pharmaceuticals, and avoid using them with the animals at all costs. Yet at this point, I had to trust in the doctor’s wisdom. This was our beloved Penny. The beautiful, wise, grand dame who acts as the heartbeat of the sanctuary, whose compassion and calm have comforted so many humans and other animals, who gives and teaches and loves unstintingly. And it seemed that she was dying.
She leaned her massive head against my chest and cried in pain, her chest heaving. Her eyes rolled back in her head. All I could do was hold her and pray. Mookie looked on, distraught. Would the poor baby lose a second mother in his short life?
Silence descended on the farm, even the songbirds stopped chirping. Time stood still and the universe collapsed into the pained eyes of this one, marvelous, blessed, perfect being. This cow. This Divine Mother.
We waited an eternity in those few moments.
And then slowly, Penny’s eyes rolled back into place and focused on mine. Her breathing slowed. “Thirsty,” she weakly mooed.
We brought her water and she drank deeply, sat back, and sighed.
Penny lived. Mookie lived. Both are still fighting to recover as I write this, but their hearts are still beating, pumping blood through their veins. They are both breathing, giving their all to beat the odds. And together, they face the unimaginable task of recovering from the physical and emotional traumas that humanity routinely inflicts on cows.
The vet will return tomorrow. We will continue to bottle feed, nurse, medicate, and comfort. And we pray that Penny and Mookie survive to help one another heal their wounded souls.
Words escape. Words are wispy, vague, slippery. A thousand– even a million– of them cannot paint a picture of a life and a love and a death and a joy, a being full of rich complexity and glorious simplicity. The wonder and the grief and the gratitude and the billion hallowed moments that make up a life are so essentially related, so fully interconnected, it renders that life unutterable. One wordless love.
Nearly fifteen years ago, I set out to change the world with two goats by my side. One was all sweetness and harmony, the other was all impishness and shenanigans. Both had eyes that glimmered with mischief and senses of humor that were subtle, complex, and silly.
These little goats were my family, my friends, my confidants, my loved ones, my little devils. Truer than any human loved one has ever been– could ever be. These goats were my home.
And now they are my past. My memories. My spirit friends.
My goats are gone.
Ruckus and Hootenanny were young when their first family decided, after only a few months, that having goats wasn’t such a good idea after all. They had tried to keep these intelligent, rowdy, energetic, mischievous little rascals in a tiny pen. As a result, they broke out constantly to wreak havoc on the garden. Finally, the people found a way to lock them in the pen so they could not escape. And the little goats just cried and cried, not understanding what they had done to cause them to be held prisoner in this way.
Finally in frustration, the people gave up the goats. And I was lucky enough to get them. I gave them a huge pasture, an airy barn, a jungle gym, and we played constantly. What fun those little devils were! It was impossible not to laugh in their presence, so full of comedy was their every move.
But the days wore on. I became much less carefree and no longer played with them. And they went from being two of my only farm animals to be two of nearly 200. They kept having fun. I never tried to fence them in– they free ranged over the whole farm, and yet never left the property, taking great joy in their liberty.
Months have passed since I wrote these words, since I set Ruckus’ spirit free. And still words escape me.
It is not that I mourn him; it is that I cannot describe, with mere words, who he was to me– who he was to the world, who he still is and ever will be.
His death was beautiful and peaceful. He faced it fearlessly, with his two closest two-leggeds at his side. He knew he was loved; he knew it was his time. My dear, sweet Ruckus had no regrets and neither do I. I did what I set out to do. I gave him– and beloved Hootenanny, who crossed over a year before him— a good life and a good death.
This is my job and I do it quite well. And yet…
My goats are gone.
Ruckus believed in me. He had faith in me. He stood by me lovingly, unwaveringly, through the dark times, times when I struggled to care for my growing flock of orphans, when it was just me and the animals, alone on the mountain. And he remained steadfast even as he watched the light come back into our lives– as he watched the sanctuary– and me– bloom.
I remember one day, very early on, when I despaired of ever succeeding in this mad experiment of plucking as many lives as possible from hopeless pits and giving them the freedom to experience a joyful, natural life. It was the deepest part of winter– when the sky darkens in these mountains as early at 3:00 pm.
One of my beloved goats, Hullabaloo, had been killed by predators. Her blood stained the snow and ice. I locked them in every night for safety, but she had found a way out in search of mischief. If I had been more adept at fixing things, I could have created an escape-proof pen, and she would have lived. Further, I had not even heard her being attacked. I had vowed to protect her, and instead, she was eaten alive.
I fell to the icy ground, wind howling around me, and sobbed. I was unfit for this task. I couldn’t go on. After I was all cried out, I made my way heavily into the barn to finish my chores.
And there was Ruckus, gazing at me steadily, faithfully. He trusted me to care for him– to care for all of them. He believed in me, and I could not let him down. In order to live up to the trust of that little goat, I found the strength and help I needed, and banished the darkness.
Through the years, I often found Ruckus’ calm eyes on me. His faith never wavered. There is something that happens to you– or at least it did to me– when someone places their faith in you so wholeheartedly. You find inner power you never knew you had. You draw on all of your reserves and you find a way to live up to that trust.
I set out to save him, and he set me up to save hundreds more. That one little goat has changed so many lives. And I have realized, as I write this, that he knew I was ready. He wouldn’t have left if he did not know, for certain, that I was strong enough to go on. That I have the faith I need, and know who I am.
Beautiful spirit. Beautiful goat. Treasure of my heart, my gratitude will never cease.
This song of mine will wind its music around you, my child, like
the fond arms of love.
This song of mine will touch your forehead like a kiss of
When you are alone it will sit by your side and whisper in
your ear, when you are in the crowd it will fence you about with
My song will be like a pair of wings to your dreams, it will
transport your heart to the verge of the unknown.
It will be like the faithful star overhead when dark night is
over your road.
My song will sit in the pupils of your eyes, and will carry
your sight into the heart of things.
And when my voice is silent in death, my song will speak in
your living heart.
– Rabindranath Tagore
The emaciated little pig struggled to breathe as blood poured from his snout, and yet his eyes were filled with hope. Under filth-encrusted sores and protruding bones, he glowed with such sweet purity that I had to turn away, my heart seared.
We named him Jeremiah, “God will lift him up.”
The humane police officer heroically rescued him from a living nightmare on Thursday night, but we did not know if she had gotten to him in time. The vets warned us that the damage might be too great. Jeremiah might not survive.
Wiping tears away that first night, I approached him with a bowl of fresh water. Our eyes met, his holding a spark of gratitude and trust. He sucked down the water thirstily, ate as much as his strength would allow, and allowed us to help him into a soft bed of hay. We piled blankets on top of him and slipped a soft pillow under his head, then just sat with him as he fell into a deep sleep, grunting contentedly.
But our fight for his survival had only just begun, and he got worse before he got better.
The last several days have been a blur of vet visits, medicines, feeding his broken body by hand and even by syringe when necessary, and prayers for his survival. Long-term pneumonia left his airways so scarred that blood and mucus spewed from his nose as he battled for air. Painful ulcers on his feet and legs from being forced to live in his own filth caused his legs to swell unnaturally.
And yet, throughout all of it, his eyes held mine kindly and steadily. Jeremiah’s purity remained wrenching in its deep sweetness even as he fought for his life.
This morning, I entered the barn at dawn to find him sitting up and alert, breathing normally. His legs are still sore, but no longer grotesquely swollen. He ate and drank with only minimal assistance, and smiled broadly as I sang to him.
Jeremiah has a long way to go, with a lot of healing yet to be done, but I believe he is going to live. Welcome home, dear boy. You have been lifted up.