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
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?
It has been seven days since I took a leap of faith and found myself, just a simple pig from New Jersey, the center of international attention.
People keep asking me what my name is, which is funny because in my old life no one but my mother ever showed interest in calling me by name. They tell me that the tag in my ear says 303, but I know that is not who I am.
The people here are calling me Porky, and I know from the way that they say it that they mean it affectionately, but that is not my name, either. My mother had a wonderful name for me, but it has been so long since I have seen her that I can’t quite remember it. It slides onto the tip of my tongue every once in a while, but before I can get it out, it dashes back into the corners of my mind, just beyond where I can reach it. I know it will come back soon, though. And as soon as it does, you will be the first to know.
The other thing everyone keeps asking is, “What happened, how did you find yourself on a busy highway in the middle of rush hour traffic?”
Simple. I jumped.
The place I came from was dark, and life was hard there. Those days are over and I do not intend to relive them, but I do want to tell you about the light and smell that kept me going. We pigs lived in a dark and dank barn, but everyday, when the farmers came in to feed us, I saw a light beyond the briefly opened door, and I smelled wonderful adventures wafting in with the fresh air.
Somehow I knew, I just knew, that light and those smells were the freedom we pigs all longed for. And I knew beyond a doubt that someday I would be a free pig.
Most of the other pigs had given up hope, but I remembered my mother singing to me when I was a baby, “Sometimes, I feel like an eagle in flight…” Her song floated through the stillness of the dark barn where we piglets nursed and settled on us as softly as a feather. “Sometimes, I feel like an eagle in flight. Sometimes, I feel like an eagle in flight, spread my wings and fly, spread my wings and fly.” In her rich alto voice, hope mingled with tender mother love and the calm wisdom that sometimes comes from long-suffering.
My mother told us piglets about eagles who fly farther than we could see, about sunlight, grass, and best of all, mud. She told us that pigs at our farm used to live like that– outside– free to feel sunshine on our skin, to dig up delicious roots with our noses, and to roll around in grass and mud, enjoying all that the beautiful world outside had to offer. My mother told us that if we kept those images deep in our hearts, we could be free in our spirits.
That was a long time ago. I was still just a baby when the farmers loaded her up onto a truck and took her away. We never heard from her again, but I have never stopped imagining her a free pig. I just knew that someday I would gain my freedom as well.
My opportunity came last week. The farmers loaded me onto a truck with several others. I was grown up enough by now to know that they were not taking us to our freedom. And yet, through the wooden slats in the back of the truck, I saw light and smelled that air. I started working on the wooden slats with my nose. After awhile, I pushed several loose– enough for me to squeeze through.
“Hey guys,” I yelled to the other pigs, “now is our chance. Let’s jump!”
But the other pigs were too scared. I squeezed through the slats and half fell, half leapt all alone. The truck was going pretty fast, and I tumbled hard on the cold, wet highway. Cars were speeding by. The noise was deafening. I was beginning to regret my decision to jump and didn’t know what to do next.
That’s when he came along– I never did catch his name and I still think that maybe he was an angel and not a human at all. He maneuvered a huge truck around me to shield me from the traffic and most of the noise. He spoke to me gently. He told me that I was safe, that help was coming to take me someplace dry and warm. He told me no one would ever hurt me again. For hours we sat like that, the cold December rain sluicing down our faces, cars whizzing around us, and him talking to me in a soft voice, spinning dreams of freedom. I could almost feel my mother smiling down on us.
The next thing I knew, a whole lot of people were there. They loaded me onto another truck and took me to the barn where I am now. This barn is lighter than the one I used to live in, and I have been given a pen filled with soft, warm straw. Lots of people came to look at and admire me when I arrived.
At first, I had a hard time understanding what it was they admired about a lost little pig, but as the hubbub died down, humans came to talk to me one by one. In the quiet of the barn with only us farm animals to hear, they poured out their thoughts, feelings, and dreams. I began to understand.
The human heart is so similar to my own.
So here I am. I am told that soon I will be moving to a new place, called Indraloka Animal Sanctuary. It is a place where pigs, sheep, cows, and all kinds of farm animals live free. Where humans are our friends and we all have a chance to enjoy life’s wonderful adventures, like wallowing in soft mud and lolling in sweet pasture grass.
Before I go there, I am told I need more doctor’s visits and tests. They plan to move me around the middle of next week, and in the meantime the people here are very nice and are keeping me safe and warm.
Freedom is just around the next corner, and I just know I will remember my name when I get there!
On Sunday, a new hen arrived and my world changed again. I am swimming languidly, luxuriously, in the warm sea of new love. I can’t get her off of my mind, and I don’t want to. I revel in her intelligent, sensitive gaze… her vibrance… her spunk. Oh yes, Enid is the chicken of my dreams and I am beyond thrilled to have her here at the sanctuary with us.
Enid and I met once before, briefly, in September 2012, just over a year ago. It was just after she and 249 of her flock-mates fell off of a moving truck headed to the slaughterhouse. She was dazed and frightened and I doubt very much that she remembers me. I however, remember her well. I was deeply moved by the incredible web of karma that brought Enid and her flock to that moment in time. They had been forced to spend the first six weeks of their lives in a love-deprived, drug-filled haze in a dark, dirty warehouse, only to fall off of a moving truck just in time to escape meeting an incredibly painful and frightening end. Then they found themselves surrounded by well-meaning people, who coddled the little birds as the precious beings they are.
Enid was lucky enough to be adopted by a big-hearted couple, Jen and John. Jen and John understood the sensitive and intelligent nature of chickens. They took beautiful care of Enid and her sisters, Billina and Octavia.
However, chickens that are bred for meat (technically “Jumbo Cornish Crossbreeds” but usually referred to as “broilers”), don’t live very long. They are bred to be large enough for “processing” at only 6 weeks old. According to the University of Arkansas, if humans grew at a similar rate, a 6.6-pound newborn baby would weigh 660 pounds after two months (source: Chickens Used for Food). You can just imagine all the health issues that come with such rapid growth and unnatural size.
Sadly, Billina’s time on earth came to an end in August, and Octavia crossed over this past Saturday. Enid lost her two sisters just a few months apart and she was devastated. From years of time spent living with and observing chickens, I can tell you that they are incredibly intelligent and sensitive beings. They develop deep bonds, show great care and compassion, and they grieve over the loss of loved ones in the same way that we do. Enid cried audibly, refused food, and spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday in her hen-house alone, mourning her sisters.
Enid’s adoptive human family, although they loved her deeply, knew the best thing for her would be to live with other chickens, and so they brought her to Indraloka Sunday evening. Enid was not the first of the chickens from this accident that made their way back to Indraloka, after having been adopted by others but that is another story for another day.
Today is Enid’s day.
Sherman, one of our lovely roosters, fell immediately in love and entertained Enid by prancing proudly back and forth in front of her as he cooed and explained where all the yummy food is to be found. Enid watch in calm amusement.
Then Thelma and Louise, the turkeys, approached. Thelma took umbrage that another female had entered her territory and, fluffing up her feathers, began to make intimidating noises. Enid never cowered, never shrank away, and never got angry. She simply stood herself up to her whole height and looked Thelma in the eye. Thelma backed right down and the three are now fast friends.
Next Sheba, our pea hen, approached. Sheba is quite certain that she is Queen of Indraloka, and never hesitates to assert her authority over the other birds. Interestingly, Enid was already standing at her full height, with great dignity, by the time Sheba arrived to greet her. They looked one another in the eye, completely silent, for a full 90 seconds before Sheba pivoted on her elegant left foot and glided away.
Late that night, I saw a different side of Enid.
Amidst the snoring of pigs, as the ducks and geese slept with their heads tucked primly under their wings, and as all the other chickens cooed in dreamland, Enid let her guard down. She was breathing heavily and her comb was very pale. It was plain that her heart had already become quite weak. I stroked her soft feathers and said, “I’m going to take care of you. I know you don’t feel well, and I know you’ve just lost your family. But you’re here now, and I promise you I’ll be here for you every day of your life.”
The look she gave me was merciful and tender as she said with her eyes, “I won’t be here much longer, my dear. I’ve simply come home to die.” We sat in the sleep-filled barn, the light of the full moon streaming through the window and my hand resting on her back. Together, we cried at the beauty of autumn and the brief, sacred journey of life.
A glorious thunderstorm is dancing outside my window, and it is the first time in more than a dozen years that Tinker Bell isn’t feeling terrorized– desperately afraid of the violent thunder and lightning as it flashes across the sky.
This is because Tinker Bell no longer walks this earth.
On Friday afternoon, he was lovingly released from his body. Since then, it feels as if the simple sweetness that was him has filled the air around me. The grass is even more beautiful as it sways in the wind, the trees provide even more luscious shade. The sun is more golden, the sunsets more dramatic– the beings that people my world even more beloved than ever before. Blessings abound and I know with certainty that all our prayers are answered.
Tinker Bell’s sweetness is everywhere, and yet his nearly pathological and lifelong fear of loud noises, raised voices, or fast-moving hands or feet has disappeared completely. My darling dog is finally free.
Tinker Bell’s life before joining mine was bleak, to say the least. He was bought from a breeder and raised by a man whose temper was his defining character, a man who imprinted in this innocent puppy a fear so great that, for the rest of his life a loud noise could make this big dog vomit and cower in distress.
When the man had a fatal heart attack, his family asked me if I would take him in. Delightedly, I said yes, and took him immediately to have his medical needs met and to be neutered.
This was the early days of Indraloka, I did not know to get “ownership” of the animal in writing right away.
Alas, the family changed their mind, and I had no recourse, I had to give him back. Oddly, they tied him up outside and left him there, with seemingly no interest in him. I approached them several times and offered to give him a good home, but they refused. So I took to visiting him on his chain, offering him what comfort I could.
It was no coincidence that when Tinker Bell finally came into my life to stay it was perhaps my darkest day.
Everything around me seemed to have fallen apart. My marriage had failed, my business had collapsed, my savings had been spent, I had distanced myself from nearly all my friends, my parents had moved to India, and even my home seemed to be falling apart around me. The animals were all that kept me going.
And then my pony got sick.
Cody had a rare form of autoimmune disease. The slightest exposure to the very things that horses live for– such as grass– made him dangerously ill. I developed a system whereby his stall and paddock were disinfected twice a day, and he was kept alive on a carefully prepared diet that ensured no exposure to his many allergens.
Oh how I loved that little pony! His eyes would light up when he saw me, and we spent hours together, comforting one another.
But finally, a day came when his body just couldn’t go on, even with all of my precautions. He couldn’t stand and he couldn’t breathe. I knew that my great love and even greater need was not enough reason to hold him here any longer. So, I called the vet and sat next to my dying pony, feeding him all the things he had longed for but was too allergic to eat– what difference did it make, right?
I had no one to call to be with me and Cody, and when the vet came I said goodbye to my little pony all alone, and alone I watched his body being dragged onto the trailer that would take him away. I did not have any money to have him cremated, and had to allow them to take his body to a place where he would be made into fertilizer. That choice still haunts me today.
Heartbroken and forlorn, too worn out and hopeless to even cry, I made my way back to the house.
And suddenly, as if by magic, Tinker Bell appeared in a car in the driveway! He was very sick, and very frightened. The woman behind the wheel– the same woman who had taken him back several years ago– said to me, “I’m on my way to the SPCA unless you still want him.”
I didn’t even have the strength to respond. I just took him out of the car, walked him into the middle of the lawn, and collapsed into tears, crying in his fur.
His name was not Tinker Bell then, of course. They had called him Stroker. But to me, he was an angel– a fairy– a magical creature of love who had come to save me.
He laid his huge, drooly head on my shoulder and sat patiently while I cried and cried, just as Cody had always done. A pony for a pony.
But Tinker Bell wasn’t well. In fact, his body was slowly shutting down. It began with breathing problems and weight loss and progressed to liver failure, then kidney failure, and before I knew it, Tinker Bell was in congestive heart failure. I took him to every vet I could find, and none of their tests revealed the source of his multiple organ failure.
Finally, I realized that he was suffering the same symptoms as Cody had. And sure enough, we treated him as if he had auto immune disease and he started getting better! He regained his weight and his strength, and began acting like a young puppy, frolicking with the other dogs, shaking his big head with drool flying everywhere and a sparkle in his eyes.
And yet, despite his recovered physical health, Tinker Bell still suffered emotionally. If I said, “Tinker Bell, come,” he would tuck his tail between his legs and run and hide. I realized he expected to either be tied up or hurt when he was called, so I stopped asking him to come.
Instead, I made up a silly game that he loved. I would wander around the yard saying, “Excuse me, have you seen my dog? Where’s my dog?” in a silly voice, deliberately looking away from him. Delightedly, he’d run up to me, circling around and barking for my attention. I’d continue to look away and ask where my dog was, until finally I’d pretend to trip over him. We would tumble into the grass for a good cuddle. And that is how Tinker Bell learned it was okay to answer when he was called.
And oh how Tinker loved kids!! The way that I discovered this was that one day we had a Brownie Troop visiting the sanctuary. The girls were congregated on the hill, getting ready for a picnic lunch. I decided to bring Tinker Bell out to see them. He bolted through the open door, ran up the hill, burst into the midst of the children, and flopped down on the ground for belly rubs.
Since then, every time children have come to the sanctuary, Tinker Bell has gloried in having them crawl all over him, hang on him and even fall asleep on him. I know with certainty that Tinker Bell’s heaven is filled with doting children and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The weekend of July 4th Tinker Bell was devastated, as usual, by the sounds of firecrackers all around us. We also experienced an oppressive heat wave starting that weekend and lasting most of July– terrible conditions for big, shaggy dogs that prefer laying in mounds of snow in 20 degrees fahrenheit.
That was the weekend he stopped being able to climb stairs. I started sleeping on the sofa in the living room, and we got an air conditioner to bring the room’s temperatures down to a level where he could breathe, although the rest of us were shivering.
We took him to vet after vet, and gave him more and more arthritis medications, but he kept getting worse. Finally, he fell down and never got up again. I began carrying him from place to place. Then his heart started failing, and I knew at his age I wouldn’t be able to save him again. We kept him comfortable for a few more days, while a stream of visitors flowed through the doors. Time and again, Tinker Bell comforted each visitor as they cried into his great mane, his eyes dancing with love and sweetness.
He was ready.
I lay down next to him and cried into his fur a final time, holding him as he let out his last breath. The sweetness that was Tinker Bell was released in a cloud of love that has enveloped me since.
Introducing our newest rescues, Wynken, Blynken and Nod! Please donate today to help us with their care by clicking here.
Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one’s trundle-bed.
So shut your eyes while mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea,
Where the old shoe rocked the lamby-lambs three:
(by Eugene Field)
Many of you have asked us how our lovely Thelma and Louise have adjusted to life at Indraloka Animal Sanctuary after we rescued them from slaughter just days before Thanksgiving. (Click here for the blog and video about their rescue.) So, to answer your inquiries, we created a follow-up video. Enjoy watching what your support makes possible!
Here I am again.
It’s not a bad place to be. It’s kind of beautiful, although there is a longing in me as well… a sadness at my own frailty…my inability to solidify what I sense and see and hear beyond the physical realm. I know she’s not that far away. I can feel her here next to me, just beyond the veil. But I can’t see her anymore–I can’t touch her. I hear her voice, but it has an ethereal quality to it, not like the laughing bleat of her earthly voice.
Hootenanny is gone.
After thirteen years by my side, my naughty little goat has crossed from this plane to the next, and I can’t see her anymore. I will never catch her butting defenseless roosters, bullying horses out of their food, sticking her tongue out at the pigs as she refuses to let them enter their own house, gleefully eating produce freshly donated by Wegman’s, playing tricks on volunteers as she follows them around “supervising” their work, or sleeping peacefully after a long day of mischief in a soft pile of hay, her head resting on her beloved Ruckus.
I never believed in the maxim that we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. Hootenanny was a naughty goat, sometimes even a bully, and I plan to speak of her that way. I loved her maddening antics. I can’t tell you how many times Hootenanny outsmarted me over the years, and I found myself running in circles as she dodged and jumped and narrowly escaped me while I tried in vain to get her to go hang out with the other goats and stop harassing the rest of the peaceful animals at Indraloka.
I remember one time, about five years ago, there was a teenaged boy cleaning the barn. I went to check on him, and found Hootenanny, a broom in her mouth, chasing him around the barn! Shaking with suppressed laughter, instead of coming to his rescue, I quietly backed out to get my camera. Alas, by the time I returned, the volunteer had managed to get his broom back and was busily trying to pull Hootennany’s head out of the feed bin, where she was gorging on sweet feed.
So you see, she was not a good goat. And she was certainly not a gentle goat. Hootenanny was a funny, fierce, stubborn, clever, naughty goat. A goat not easily forgotten. That was my girl. My maddening, ridiculous, lovable little instigator.
A few months ago, Hootenanny fell ill. Despite the valiant efforts of a team of vets and round-the-clock care here at the sanctuary, she fell into a vicious cycle, improving slightly for a few days, and then coming down with new symptoms over and over again, growing weaker every time. Ruckus, her best friend and lifelong companion, spent many an hour grooming and comforting her. Their love for one another was complete, all-encompassing, and unconditional.
On the first full day of spring, in the quiet of the afternoon as the cows and horses napped in the breeze, Hootenanny called me to her side. She fell silent as I knelt beside her, collapsing in my arms. Bent over her with my arms beneath her head, we made close eye contact as I said, “It’s okay, baby. I love you.”
The Anishinaabe death song welled up from deep inside me. The Anishinaabe people say that during the fourth stanza of the death song, the spirit crosses to the star world. And if the eagle comes soon after, we know that her spirit has safely arrived.
I looked her in the eye, cradled her gently, and sang with love, concentrating on her ease and comfort through my tears. As the song began, her eyes flickered for just a moment with her old spark. At the fourth stanza, the light in her eyes faded and her spirit gently lifted out of her body. I cried a bit more and laid her to rest.
Less than an hour later, an eagle swooped down all the way to the barn door, circled the pastures a few times, and then flew high into the sky, fading from sight.
A cloud of white feathers floated gracefully above the lustrous expanse of green. As I got nearer, details came into focus: pale pink legs beneath fluffy feathers, lucent yellow beaks protruding from sweet little noses, and shining, sensitive brown eyes gazing at me. It was a large flock of baby birds, none older than about 4 months. They were beautiful. Perfect.
And about to be killed.
I had negotiated with the farmer, and he agreed to spare two of them. I don’t have words for the mixture of emotions that flood me when I am blessed enough to save some, but have to leave the rest to a harsh death.
We spent a golden afternoon with our beautiful new birds.
Suddenly, they both became still and serious. An ancient knowing entered their eyes and shot deep into my core. The old flock was gone.
Softly, I sang a sacred Ojibwe death prayer taught to me many years ago. The ageless yet innocent babies looked into my eyes with recognition at the wordless truth and yearning of the melody.
As the song ended, of its own accord, it bled into the universal prayer, “Om, Om, Om…”
Lord, open our eyes
that we may see you in our brothers and sisters.
Lord, open our ears
that we may hear the cries of the hungry.
Lord, open our hearts
that we may love each other as you love us.
Renew in us your spirit.
Lord, free us and make us one.
– Mother Teresa