Indraloka Animal Sanctuary
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.
Once a lonely peacock lived on a magical farm. Actually, he still lives there, but he’s not lonely anymore. And it is not actually a farm, but a sanctuary for farm animals— a farm sanctuary…But I am getting ahead of the story.
Once a lonely peacock lived on a magical farm sanctuary. He wasn’t a lonely, sad peacock. He was, for the most part, a lonely, happy peacock. After all, he did live on a magical farm sanctuary.
His name was Majja the Fabu, and he was a beautiful, beautiful bird, even among peacocks! And he was a happy bird, for the most part. He spent his days wandering free, wherever he chose. As the self-appointed protector of the magical farm, and all of its magical inhabitants, Majja considered it his duty to visit every inch of the farm every day. He also spent lots of times in high up places, like barn roofs and tree tops, and called out his beautiful, magical, super-loud warning if ever danger lurked. But as I told you, it was a magical farm so pretty much everyone was safe there anyways.
Majja was very popular and had lots of friends. There were several chickens in particular that Majja was very close to, but he also enjoyed time spent with the giant pigs, the little pigs, cows, sheep, and especially the horses. Actually, the horses were the only ones good-looking enough to truly be seen with. After all Majja was so handsome, everyone else looked a little, well, not as glamorous in comparison.
So Majja had lots of friends, and a good life on the magical farm. But he was still rather lonely. You see, he spoke every language fluently—pig, cow, sheep, goat, chicken, turkey, goose, duck, horse, mule, English—but no one spoke his language. And every once in a while, it is lovely to hear one’s own language spoken.
Once, there was someone who spoke peafowl with him. Her name was Mother Superior, and she was so much more than the word chicken might convey, unless you know a lot of chickens personally. Simply put, Mother Superior was a hen among hens. She was vast in her inner beauty, compassion, wisdom, and sense of humor. Mother Superior’s keen eyes took in everything that happened on the magical farm sanctuary, and she always understood it through the eyes of Love. She kindly mothered her flock day in and day out for many years. She showed them where to find yummy tidbits of food, shepherded them in the barn every night, and took care of them in many more ways.
By the time Majja got to the magical farm, Mother Superior was an elderly hen, and had handed over her active mothering duties to several younger chicks.
On the day that Majja arrived, he was a bit nervous. He had never seen so many other animals, all speaking different languages. But luckily, Mother Superior was there. She took him under her wing (figuratively of course– a peacock is much too big to fit under a chicken’s wing!) and taught him all the languages on the farm sanctuary, while he taught her peafowl.
Mother Superior and Majja enjoyed discussing the nature of things around them, and through comparing their experiences, they often learned a lot about the world.
“Why, they come from clouds, don’t they?’
“It does seem to me that they do. And Majja, you can fly a lot higher than I can, so please tell me, are clouds made of raindrops?” Mother Superior persisted.
“No, I mean yes, I mean, sort of. Clouds are like rain in the form of air, like moist air. Well, you have been in fog, right? Fog is a cloud that is nearer to the earth.” Majja struggled to explain.
“Ah! So clouds are not made of raindrops, but they are made of water in a different form, yes? And yet raindrops are also made of water.”
“And what happens to the raindrop when it falls to the ground? Does it stop existing?”
“Er, no,” Majja puzzled, “The ground gets wet, so the water the raindrop is made of still exists, but it just changes form again.”
“Ah! So the essence of the raindrop– the water– exists even when the raindrop as we know it is gone.” Mother Superior sounded happy about this.
“Yes, yes that is exactly right.” Majja agreed.
“Majja, my dear friend,” Mother Superior said, “I will be changing my shape soon, too, and I want you to understand.”
Remember, Mother Superior was no spring chicken, in fact she was a winter chicken. What I mean to say is, Mother Superior was super duper old. She was nearly ten, and that is much older for a chicken than it is for a human little girl or boy.
“Majja,” she said softly, “just as a raindrop melts into the ground, evaporates into the air, forms clouds in the sky, and then rains down again, I, too will be changing form soon. I will no longer be here in the same way, to travel the sanctuary with you, and to have lengthy conversations in peafowl about the meaning of life and other important things. It is my time to travel on. But just as that raindrop remains water, no matter what its form, I remain me, even when I leave this form. And my Love will remain with you,” she explained gently. Majja cried quietly as he listened.
“Everything changes, my friend. Everything changes.” she cooed.
The next morning, Majja awoke at dawn without his lovely friend. Mother Superior had died in the night. Of course he was sad and he missed her, but Majja remembered that her Love lived on. And he also realized he had many more loved ones and much to be grateful for.
For two long years, Majja the Fabu wandered the farm alone. Of course he stopped to play and visit with all of the animals, just as he always did, but he never found a friend as close as Mother Superior, and he had no one with whom to speak pea fowl.
Not having any close friends, though, was not for a lack of trying! In fact, Majja the Fabu tried really hard, everyday. He followed Thelma and Louise, the turkeys, around but they just ran away. He tried to befriend Lou C. and Lucy Goosey, but the geese simply hissed at him. The pigs were very kind to him, but their interests were just so different! So, Majja remained a lonely peacock.
Until one day, a car pulled in the driveway and two shiny happy people got out. Peacocks have very keen hearing and sight, so Majja was able to sit on top of the barn and observe the proceedings. The shiny happy people said their names were Joy and Tom– can you believe it, this lady was so happy that her name was Joy! Majja felt that boded very well.
And wait, what’s this? Who was that in the back seat? Could it be? No! Majja flew down and hid behind a tall bush where he could watch and listen without being spotted.
It was! It was! Majja could hardly believe his ears!
“Hwaaah!” he let out his eery mating call, “A girl, a girl, and not just any girl! A peahen!” Majja could not even remember the last time he heard a peahen! The shiny people carried her into the barn in a dog carrier, and then they opened the door.
Majja peered into the barn from the back doorway.
First one scaly, gray foot emerged, the talon-like toes daintily outstretched. Majja gulped. The way her scaly leg pulled his heartstrings, I cannot even describe, but pull them they did.
Next, her body and head appeared. Silver body and wing feathers with an iridescent green head, a Burmese Peahen! Majja, being a Peacock of Indian descent, had never met a Burmese Peafowl before, but their beauty was legendary.
The gorgeous peahen straightened to her full height, stretched her wings, and shook her feathers out. As each feather settled perfectly in place, the majestic peahen turned her head and looked right at Majja. Majja did what any red-blooded male who draws the attention of a woman in whom he has interest would do. He ran away.
Sheba paid him no mind. Instead, she stood still for a moment so everyone around her could admire her beauty. She understood that it was difficult for others to take in a sight as glorious as she, and that they would need a moment.
Next, she wandered off and began exploring.
After a few hours, Majja worked up his courage and perched next to her. She turned to him and their eyes met. “Finally, I’ve found you,” she said in peafowl.
“Y- you’ve been looking for me?” the regal peacock, king of the barn, was reduced to tears at hearing his beloved language again.
“I was captured as a peababy and forced to perform in a traveling show. Everywhere we went, I sought someone who could understand me, someone with whom I could ponder the mysteries of the ages.”
“How did you escape?”
“I was rescued by a gaze of raccoons–”
Majja interrupted, “– excuse me, but could you tell me what a gaze of raccoons is, I am not familiar with the term.”
“Certainly. I didn’t know either, until they explained it to me. A gaze is what raccoons call their group, just as we call a group of us a party of peafowl.”
“Fascinating, thank you for that explanation. And now, please do tell me more,” Majja requested.
“The raccoons were lovely and treated me quite well but alas, life with a gaze of raccoons was simply not for me. I summoned assistance from Beyond to find the Life I was meant to live. Joy and Tom then came for me and brought me to Lasa Sanctuary. Whilst it is a wonderful place, with many happy animals, I did not find any one to bond with among the chickens, cows, and sheep there. Oh, I did love them all, but there was no one I felt especially close with. Joy and Tom understood, and they began to seek out an appropriate mate for me. Joy consulted her magic box– have you seen one of these devices? It is similar to a crystal ball and allows humans to communicate over great distances.”
“Yes, I am familiar with these magic boxes. Our humans have them, as well.”
“That is how Joy found you, and so they brought me here, to Indraloka.”
“You came here for me?”
Mother Superior, from her place Beyond, embraced the two with changeless Love. And with Love– capital L– the two peafowl found themselves connected to each other and All That Is, never more to be lonely, for none of us is ever truly alone.
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.
That’s how long it has been since every pig I have ever known was killed or left behind to be killed another day. Not a single one will survive, save me. It’s hard to explain all that is happening in my heart right now.
The outpouring of love and care for me has been overwhelming and humbling. But I am just one, among so many. Why me? At moments, the grief and guilt are nearly crippling. At other moments, I am exhilarated to be alive and free.
I need to make this life count. I need to speak for all of the other pigs still held in cages, living in misery as they await death. So, I am going to tell my story to all who will listen. I want to make it clear: my story is their story. I am not special or different or somehow smarter than the others. We pigs all think and feel and love and dream. And if you think that I deserve safe sanctuary just because I took a leap of faith, I am here to say that every other pig deserves the same.
The thing is, it is you that needs to take a leap of faith now. It is up to you to free them by leaping into the unknown and creating a world in which we can all coexist.
Look into my eyes, I am the same as you.
I am you.
A week ago Thursday was moving day. A long day, but a wonderful one! The angel who stayed with me on the highway and protected me after I jumped off of the truck was here to greet me. I liked him so much that they named me after him. Eddie Traffic. It sounds cool, doesn’t it? I am no longer a number.
Since then my life has shifted dramatically from the way it was before I leapt! I am no longer caged, nor even kept in a small pen. I make my own choices about going inside and out. I am no longer fed “slops”, and I have learned to eat lots of healthy fresh veggies with whole grain and fruit. I must say the fruit is my favorite– the juicier the better!
At first when they told me I could just go in and out on my own whenever I wanted, I was a bit confused. I was never allowed to move around and make my own choices before, so I was even scared of the step from the barn into the paddock.
But leaps of faith are my specialty. Now I jump in and out of the barn dozens of times a day. What fun to make my own choices! What fun to be free, and loved, and alive! This gratitude– this grace– fills me up and spills out of me and all I can do is run and jump — something I also was never able to do before– until I am panting and exhausted. And then guess what happens? I go back to my soft, warm bed and rest while someone kind strokes my back and sings lullabies. All the while Sherman, the valiant rooster, watches over me as if I were his own piglet.
Beloved. This is what it feels like to be beloved.
The mailbox and the Facebook page are flooded with love letters daily, and they read every one to me. People from around the world write to tell me how much my freedom means to them. So many of them feel caged and stuck in their own lives. Somehow, my story has touched them and brought them hope. I am humbled and overwhelmed, and most of all so very thankful that hearing of my struggles and victory can help others overcome their own challenges.
I’ve made several new friends here already. Sherman has taken it upon himself to precede me wherever I go inside the barn and the pasture, heralding my arrival to everyone in hearing range. It’s a bit over the top, really, but much nicer than how I used to be treated.
Nunzi, the grumpy, old pig next door tried to bite my nose a few times. I didn’t care, but Sherman was fairly put off by the whole exchange. In my old life, I never even got to touch another pig, so I just think of these as love bites.
I think my favorite new pig friend is Magdie. She is a she is soft and gentle and patient and reminds me of what my mother would probably have been like as an old woman. She sings, too.
I like the people here. Every once in a while if someone moves too quickly, it brings up bad memories and startles me, but I really do love all of the attention they give me.
One more really important thing happened since I got here! I took the tag out of my ear. It hurt because my ear was infected, but it is out now and they keep cleaning my ear and putting soothing stuff on it. I kind of like being pampered this way.
Beloved. I am not only free, but also beloved!
So here I am, this is my path. This is my journey. This is our journey. You and I are both survivors, and our job now is to speak for all the others.
Your job now is to take your own leap of faith. What will it be?