I was prepared for the stench of suffering and hopelessness in that barn. I was prepared for manure-encrusted floors and walls, for cows chained in misery, suffering silently while large eyes followed my movements. Every time I walk into a place of suffering such as this one, I leave a piece of my soul with the ones I can’t save, offering deep prayers and salty tears in exchange for a lifetime of brutality.
I was there to rescue one baby boy calf, who had been born two days before and was slated to be shipped to a veal farm later that day. But I was in for a surprise. Another calf, Ogie, had been born in the night, and the farmer was willing to allow me to take both babies home.
Ogie was born into bloodshed and death on that cold March morning, in that dark, dirty barn heated only by the manure and breath of hundreds of cows chained in stanchions. Unbeknownst to me until several days later, his mother hemorrhaged after giving birth to him, but she didn’t die right away. The farmer kept her alive, milking her for two more days while she lay covered in manure on a cold concrete floor, bleeding to death. This is not meant to be an indictment. I know the farmer was desperate. But still, it caused the cows great pain.
Ogie and Nandi would have been sold to a veal farm. This farmer told me repeatedly that he didn’t like taking babies from their mothers, and that he hated selling them for veal. He also shared with me how overwhelming his work was, and that he hated the poor conditions of the cows. He said the work was too much for him, and that he couldn’t afford help to take better care of the cows. Competing against industrial dairies, this farmer suffered almost as much as his cows. I implored him to leave the industry. Working 16-hour days and hovering just above poverty-level for his efforts, he remained convinced that there was no other way for him to survive. Family farmers, too, suffer at the hands of corporate farming. Very few people win in the harsh and strange economy of the modern “food system”.
But I don’t want to tell you about facts and figures. Those, you can find everywhere with a simple internet search.
I want to tell you how I felt when two days later I returned at the moment of Ogie’s mother’s death.
I had come hoping for milk for the babies, not knowing that Ogie’s mother had been down since giving birth. When I found her moaning in pain, covered in manure, I could see that she was fighting to stay alive. Instinctively, I knew why. Her baby. She was staying alive for her baby. I wiped the manure from her face and looked her in the eye. “Your baby is safe. I took him to Indraloka, where cows are free. I’ll care for him every day of his life, I promise you.”
She laid her head on my lap and exhaled for the last time, and in that sacred moment, I was changed. It was as if she imbued in me all of her motherly love and strength when I made that vow.
I kept my promise. I did everything I could, every day of my life from then until now, not only to keep Ogie safe but also to protect the hundreds of other mothers’ babies for whom I now care. I think of her every night and pray that I can be half the nurturer and protector she was.
Ogie was named after a close friend of mine who died just around the time of his birth. Ogema was an Anishinaabe Medicine Man from whom I learned a great deal, although probably not enough.
So, Ogie was born into bloodshed and death, but also great hope. Nandi, the calf born the day before Ogie, saved his life by leading me to him. Those two little calfs were so tiny that I was able to take them home in the back of my small SUV.
At first, Ogie was very sick and used to sleep for hours on my lap while Nandi frolicked quietly nearby. Have you ever experienced another being placing all of their trust in you? Do you know the feeling of innocent eyes looking at yours as if they are sure there is no problem in the world that you can’t solve? Have you ever breathed in the scent of a newborn, and in that breath, recognized the prayer for peace and safety that simply wafts from all innocent young beings? It made me a better person, his faith. Happily, we were able to get him the veterinary care he needed, and he soon grew strong and healthy.
For months, my days were punctuated with the big eyes and sweet moos of calfs awaiting warm milk. I had to bottle feed them at the same time, or they would jostle in an attempt at both getting their bottle first. By the time they had been with me a week, they were both the same size as me, and much, much stronger. After two weeks, they were both significantly larger than me. And of course, they just kept growing. So, I devised a system of bracing myself against the barn wall, a bottle in each hand, also braced against the wall. I was able to use the wall to hold me and the bottles steady, no matter how the calfs pushed and jostled as they nursed.
Holsteins are bred to be unnaturally large so that they can produce more milk. However, outside of a sanctuary setting, males rarely live past a few weeks. A few bulls are kept for breeding, but frozen semen is usually shipped far and wide. As a result, rarely do any of us see a full-grown Holstein male.
I knew from the day he was born that his size would probably kill him. I knew every time I fed him and scratched him and marveled at how healthy and strong he was that someday his big body would betray him.
Ogie grew to be larger than a full grown male moose, with horns. Often visitors, seeing him tower above us, feared him despite his gentle nature. All I could see were those same big baby eyes. I didn’t care how big he got, he would always be that same, sweet calf that I loved so much, and I believe that to him, I would always be the woman who tried so hard to make up for the loss of his mother. He trusted me and I would do anything for him.
So, of course, I understood that someday, he’d grow so large that his legs would no longer hold him. I just kept hoping that someday would be many, many days and years from now.
But it wasn’t.
It was a Friday morning in 2018. We found him down in the icy pasture and unable to rise. We worked for hours in the cold, trying every single way we knew how to get him up. His herd– cows, horses, a goat, and a cat– watched us anxiously, comforting him with kisses and cheering us on with looks and moos of encouragement. His eyes held fear, but also that same faith he had in me since he was a sick, little, orphaned calf. I would have given anything to get him up. A small army of humans worked alongside me, and every one of us would have gladly given all that was in us if we could have spared him this pain, or given him another day of joy.
We called experts near and far. We consulted with multiple vets. We pulled out every piece of lifesaving equipment available for cows. We used every ounce of ingenuity we could muster, and every bit of strength our pathetic little human bodies had to offer.
Finally, we were able to get equipment large enough to lift him, but his legs wouldn’t hold him up. He collapsed in a heap, moaning in pain, imploring me with his big baby eyes. Ogie wanted to live, but his body couldn’t comply. It was clear, from his attempts to stand when lifted, that one of his back hips was broken. There was nothing more we could do.
I called the vet, and together we waited. Humans, cows, horses, a goat, and cats gathered around him, all of us crying into his thick, lustrous fur. If you have never seen a cow cry, you should know that tears actually stream down their faces, just like ours. Several of our young calfs, with whom Ogie used to play so gently, sobbed aloud. The adult cows cried silently, as did I.
“Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me,” my voice broke as I tried to sing his favorite lullaby. His eyes never left mine. “Away above the chimney tops, where troubles melt like lemon drops, that’s where you’ll find me.”
I called on his mother’s spirit to take him home.
Together, we took one last gulp of delicious air. As one, we expelled it. The light faded from his eyes. The rest of us breathed on as his mother’s spirit came to gather him up and take him home.
“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue,” I promised him, “and the dreams that we dare to dream really do come true.”
Please share your memories of Ogie, or another cow you have loved and lost, in the comments below. We love reading them!
A story for children of all ages
Illustrations by Michah Beahan
The only sound was birds singing their ancient love songs as Princess Isi stared into dancing gems in the lake, the sun’s reflection on its surface. But Princess Isi did not hear the birdsong, and did not even see the lake. She was lost in her own thoughts…
“If only I had a platypus! I would call him Ivor, the Irish Warrior Platypus. He would be so much fun to hang out with! He could swim in the lake while I dance on the shore… Come to think of it, I need three of them!! What on earth does one call three of them? Platypi? Platypuses? All I know is that without at least one platypus there is nothing to do around here!”
This was a common lament for Princess Isi, who had been dreaming of a platypus for a very long time, at least two weeks. Princess Isi knew, she just knew, that she was meant to have a platypus, and that her life would never be complete without one. But how ever does a mere young princess find a Platypus?
She had asked her parents a million times, and they just smiled like she was saying something cute. But it was not cute, and she was not cute. She was serious. Princess Isi needed a platypus (or three)!
“Mom,” she cried, “this is a matter of life and death! I cannot go one without a platypus named Ivor!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, child,” her mother chided. “You are a princess! You have everything a girl could want. Why do you think you need a platypus so much? Or platypi? What is the plural for platypus, anyways?”
“I don’t know,” Princess Isi mumbled dejectedly, “and besides, without a platypus, I am not a princess. I may as well be a pauper…”
You see, Princess Isi was lonely. She didn’t seem to know how to make friends at school. She and her parents had come from a faraway land. Their skin was a different color than the other kids, and they spoke with an accent. More importantly, Princess Isi and her family lived and even understood the world differently than the other kids. Isi thought the platypi might be easier to understand than the kids she knew. The Princess moped for days, thinking of nothing but Ivor, her destiny.
The Princess had just had a big fight with her parents!
They were sitting at the table eating. Well, her parents were eating. The Princess refused to eat the disgusting Roast Beast the chef insisted on making. It was obviously gross. They had to smother it in some sort of horrible sauce just to eat it. But her father, the king, loved it.
So, there she was, trying to impart how important it was that her parents get her some platypi (or was it platypuses?), that in fact without them she was a mere pauper, when her father burst out laughing!
“Honey,” he said once he caught his breath, “just put it out of your head. You’ll forget platypuses (or is it platypi?) in a few weeks and you can go back to playing with your dolls and matchbox cars like a good Princess.”
Her father was so mean!! And he didn’t even know her! If he knew anything, it would be that she abhorred dolls and matchbox cars and had not played with either in months.
She slammed down her napkin and ran out of the palace, straight to the lake where she just knew Ivor would someday cavort and promenade. She flung herself in the grass facedown and pummeled the earth with her hands and feet until she exhausted herself, lying sobbing.
Suddenly, a flower appeared under her nose, where none had been a second ago! “Wh…wha…,” the startled Princess stammered as she looked up to see a porcupine smiling kindly and holding the flower out to her! And this was not just any porcupine! No, this was a porcupine in 1960’s Beatles style sunglasses, wearing a big peace symbol pendant, surrounded in some sort of sweet perfume.
“Who are you?” the Princess wrinkled her nose, “And what is that smell?”
“Oh! Do you like it? It’s my essential oil, patchouli.”
“Essential oil? For a porcupine? How on earth does a porcupine apply patchouli oil without pricking herself?”
“That, my dear, is a secret for another day,” the aromatic porcupine answered enigmatically, “But do you like the scent?”
“Yes, no, I don’t know…who are you? Some kind of hippie porcupine?”
“Who, me?,” she said sweetly. “We’re all One, lovey. I am you, and you are me, and we are All That Is…”
“Whatever!” The Princess turned her back on the strange sight.
But the porcupine was not to be put off. She came right around to shove the flower under Isi’s nose again.
“Ok, Ok, I can see that was not what you meant. My name is Clover Astralride Lovehaze. But you can call me Clover. And you are Princess Isi,” Clover said with a bow and a flourish.
“Clover Astralride Lovehaze? Seriously. Did your parents name you that?” the Princess asked incredulously.
The porcupine simply smiled. Reluctant but curious, the Princess took the proffered flower. “Nice to meet you,” she stammered politely.
Quite suddenly, without the slightest advance notice, the hippie porcupine broke into song– the classic Beatles song, in fact, only the Princess didn’t know it:
Oooh wah ooh,
Do you want to know a secret, Oooh wah ooh,
Do you promise not to teeeee-eeell?”
“What? Tell me already,” for patience was not among the Princess’s considerable virtues.
“Closer,” the porcupine went right on singing,
“Oooh wah oooh,
Let me whisper in your ear,
Tell you what you long to heeeeeear…”
“Enough already, tell me!” our pugnacious little Princess was not much of a charmer, either.
“I’m trying to. Just hang on and let me finish!” the porcupine chided before resuming her song:
Oooh wah ooh,
Do you want to know a secret, Oooh wah ooh,
Do you promise not to tell?”
“Yes, yes, I promise not to tell, but only if you STOP SINGING,” the Princess yelled with her hands tightly covering her ears.
Clover only sang louder,
“All’s in love with you,
Oooh ooh oooh oooh ooh.”
“What! Paul’s in love with me? Paul who?” the Princess asked eagerly.
“No! Not Paul, All. All’s in love with you.”
“What kind of name is All?” the princess scoffed.
The hippie porcupine sighed and sat down. “You know, All. All That Is. The Light,.The Source. The Creator.”
“Creator?” Princess Isi said with a wrinkled brow, “You mean God?”
“Yes, God or Goddess, if you prefer.”
“So that’s the big secret? That God loves me? My parents have been telling me that since I was little. That’s no secret!”
“No, my dear, that is not the secret. But what you may not know, and this IS the secret, is hat All That Is– or God– or your own Higher Self if you look at it that way– wants you to have all that you have ever wanted or needed or dreamed of. And there is just one simple thing you must do to get it.”
“All that I dream of? Really? Even a platypus named Ivor, the Irish Warrior?”
“And his faithful pals?”
“Yes, and Ivor’s faithful pals. You, my dear, have plentiforous platypi at your fingertips, all for the asking.” “Really?”
“Yes, all that your heart desires,” Clover intoned majestically.
“No, I mean, that’s great, but is the plural of platypus really platypi?” Princess Isi enquired.
“Well actually, both platypi and platypuses are correct, but don’t you want to know how you can have plentiforousness?”
“Are you going to tell me?” the Princess asked skeptically.
“The answer lies in your heart,” Clover answered cryptically while spraying a mist of patchouli in front of her and walking through it before settling down in a lotus position.
Have you ever seen a porcupine sit in lotus position? Ouch!
“Come on! My heart is already certain of the truth! I know that I must have platypi! My life will never be complete until I have them!”
The porcupine sat still, neither looking at Princess Isi, nor saying a word. A breeze blew the grass around them, the leaves rustled in the trees. Far off, birds sang. The two sat in the warm afternoon sun, a perfectly-at-peace porcupine and a petulant Princess who perceived herself a pauper.
Minutes passed, and finally Clover spoke. “My dear. The problem is perception. Your predicament is in your pauper perception that what you have is a mere pittance. Your heart is full of what you don’t have. Look around you. Look at what you do have. For you are not a pauper princess, but a Princess with a profusion of plentiforous prizes. I want you to tell me, right now, what are you grateful for?”
Pugnaciously, the Princess replied, “Porcupine platitudes…”
“Do you need me to start singing again? No? Then describe for me your plethora of presents!” Clover settled back down into the lotus position (ouch!) and said more gently, “What do you appreciate about your life today?”
“Well,” the princess replied tentatively, “I am a Princess with parents who love me. I have this beautiful meadow and lake to play by. I have food and a warm bed to sleep in. I have flowers to gaze at and to smell.”
“Go on,” Clover encouraged.
“I can dance. I can sing.”
“You can listen to me sing!” They were both getting into it now.
“Oh no! I am grateful that you stopped singing,” the Princess replied giggling. Soon they were both rolling in the grass laughing until their stomachs ached.
Finally, Clover sat up, straightened her glasses, fixed the flower chain around her neck, and straightened her peace pendant.
“Plentiforousness, my dear. You have plentiforousness. The key is in your perception,” pontificated the perspicacious porcupine softly. “Close your eyes for a moment, dear Princess,” instructed the porcupine. “What do you hear?”
The wind blew gently, rustling the leaves in the trees. Birds sang. Waves lapped quietly at the lake’s shore. “It’s beautiful!” the Princess whispered with awe. “I never noticed before how beautiful it sounds out here.”
The porcupine smiled.
“So to paraphrase,” the Princess pondered, “if it’s all in my perception, what you are pointing out is that we must not see what we don’t have, but what we do have.”
“Om…” the porcupine intoned peacefully. “All things bring us joy.”
“But how does that get me my platypi?” the Princess earnestly enquired.
Clover turned then and gazed into the princess’ eyes. “Lovey, everything we do, everything we think, everything we are is a prayer. You may be praying to God or Goddess or the Universe or the Light or All That Is or your own highest self, or that tree right over there. Your prayers go out to anything you believe in, the ocean, the wind, the concept of goodness, anything at all. The point is that your whole life, my dear, is a prayer. And when you pray, ‘I have a paucity of platypi, I am a poor Princess who will never know plentiforousness and will never open up to joy,’ then that is what is granted to you. Remember that All is in love with you and answers every prayer.”
“So how do I get my platypi?” the Princess was becoming petulant again.
“Princess Isi, you must stop worrying about the platypi. It does not mean that you don’t want them, and that you won’t have them. But instead, focus on two things.”
“Gratitude is the first,” said the Princess, “but what is the second?”
“The second, dear girl, is Love.”
“Love? I don’t get it, I’m too young to date.”
“No, my dear, not love with a small ‘l’, but Love with a capital ‘L’. Instead of thinking of your own needs all the time, give time everyday thinking about and doing for others. How can you show them Love? What can you do to bring joy to others, to help others? For example, when was the last time you pestered your parents for platypi?”
“Umm…about an hour ago?” the Princess mumbled.
“When was the last time you did something thoughtful for them?”
The Princess realized it had been a long time, “I guess it would be nice if I would bring a bouquet of wildflowers to them.”
“A little love goes a long way,” Clover agreed.
“This is all very pretty, but what does showing Love to others have to do with getting me plentiforous platypi?”
“Why do you want platypi? Be honest.”
“To play with, of course!”
“And tell me, why do you never play with other kids?”
“They don’t like me,” the Princess said sadly.
“Are you sure? Have you done anything to let them know you’d like to be friends?” “Errr, I don’t know..”
“Might they be concerned that you, an exotic foreign princess, might not like them?” “I, I, I never thought of it that way,” Isi stammered with surprise.
“Mmmm-hmmm,” the porcupine said sagely.
“I think I get it!” the Princess exclaimed, “I have been focusing on all the wrong things!
Instead of trying to get what I want all the time, I should look at what I already have, and look for ways to help others find happiness.”
“Precisely, my Princess, precisely.”
The now-peaceful Princess and the paladin Porcupine gazed at the sky and saw something very special! The clouds were shaped like playful platypi promenading above them!
“Plentiforousness,” the Princess put forth. “I had it all along.”
And the two laid back to watch the clouds roll by, content in the here and now.
© Story copyright Indra Lahiri, 2019, ©Illustrations copyright Michan Beahan, 2019. Do not reproduce without written permission. For permission, contact email@example.com
His eyes told his whole story.
They were filled with fear and pain, but beyond all of that, just at the back, was a barely noticeable glimmer of who he used to be. Although his body was weak now, his spirit awaited an opportunity to soar once again.
His pen was covered with rusty metal farm implements, dangerous nails and glass. There was no soft or clean place for him to lay. His water tub sat empty in the harsh sunlight. His spine, ribs, and hips stood out in sharp relief. There was nothing to him but his pain. The ghost of the warrior he had once been.
The female pig with him was not as skinny or as weak. He had sacrificed himself, allowing her to take what little food was available so that she could survive.
A spark of hope seemed to awaken in him as I sang softly. Together with rescue workers from the SPCA and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, we were removing all of the animals from this sad, sad place.
When we offered him food and asked him to come with us, he followed gingerly and climbed into the car with no hesitation. He was very weak, and moved slowly, tentatively, but even so, he moved. We had filled the back of the SUV with soft, fragrant hay and had the air conditioning running. He lay down and sighed before launching in on the food and fresh water.
Then he slept, heavily and deeply.
On the way home, I reached back to offer him a Pink Lady apple. As he crunched into it, juice spurted from his mouth, and he threw his head back to move his floppy ears from his eyes. Looking directly into my soul, he conveyed such gratitude, such hope, such joy…I will never, ever taste an apple the same way again.
Gavin, we named him, after a very brave, strong young boy. The name Gavin comes from the Celtic “Gawain” and refers to the White Hawk of Battle, a being of such fantastic ability and skill that most fall before him in awe. An eminently suitable name for two Gavins courageously facing tremendous battles for their own lives, and doing so with great strength and Grace.
He was the sickest, the skinniest, and the saddest of all the animals we removed that day. Gavin probably would have died within days, had the humane police not gotten the warrant to seize him and the others.
And yet, less than a week after being rescued, he has learned to flop over for a belly rub. He rejoices as we humans approach, no longer cowering in fear. Unlike other recently starved animals, Gavin eats very slowly, savoring each bite. He listens in wonder as I tell him stories of Gavin the boy, or sing his special song to him (“Oh, oh, oh, he’s magic, I know… Gavin the pig he is so, so magic, I know…Never believe it’s not soo…”)
He may look like a skinny, sickly pig– one of billions left to suffer at the hands of humans. But just like each one of those billions, Gavin is a precious, sacred individual. His spirit, like that of the White Hawk, is indomitable. He will fly again in glory. Until then, we will nurse him and love him and support him and give thanks everyday for the honor of caring for him.
Please, never forget that it is because of you– your support, prayers, and kindness– that we are able to take precious beings like Gavin to safe sanctuary. He still faces tremendous odds. Gavin requires round-the-clock care and veterinary expertise. We would be so very grateful if you would help us care for him in any way that you can– share his story, donate towards his care, send him love, light and prayers.
A Hail Mary Pass, they are calling it.
A last-ditch effort, but instead of a Superbowl win on the line, it was a life. A beautiful, precious, sacred life. A life that mattered dearly to the one who lived it, and to the ones who called him family.
The skinny, frightened, bruised and scarred pig was not ready to die, but the smells and sounds around him assured him that was the plan. So, when the transport truck opened, he leapt and made a break for safety. The humans went after him, yelling scarily. He scrambled, dove, spun and ran for all he was worth. They were in hot pursuit, but somehow, Grace intervened.
He lost them.
Trembling, he hid under a pile of hay, exhausted and out of options. A silent plea rose from his trembling body. “Save me,” he beseeched mutely, “Please.”
And Grace, in its unfathomable majesty, responded.
An angel whose job was to save horses found him quivering in fear. She begged the “kill buyer” in whose custody the pig had fallen, to spare his life. He heard her, and took mercy. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I’ll give you a grace period.” She had 24 hours to find him sanctuary.
But now what was she to do? Angels who save horses don’t necessarily know where to bring lost pigs, and 24 hours is not a lot of time to find those places. And it was Superbowl Sunday evening. Who on earth was even going to be around to answer the phone?
But Grace does not take time off for football, as it turns out. Grace works all the time. Outside of time.
On her first call, she got through to another angel, this one at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. They were not able to take any more pigs, but the Poplar Spring angel was eager to help find this little pig safe haven.
She called more angels, from New York to Canada, and one by one, they joined in the search. Soon, the little pig had a whole army of angels working on his behalf. Safe haven was found for him at Indraloka, where we all cried with joy at adding another beloved to our family.
Finally, he arrived. Under the bruises and wounds, every bone was visible. And yet, his eyes were filled with hope. I cried at the beauty of it– this pure, unadulterated Śraddhā .
Śraddhā is the intersection between faith and mindfulness. To me, it embodies the notion that we need to take action for our own well-being, but also to remember that we are not acting alone—that there are strong forces of love that work with us and protect us even as we work on our own behalf. So, Śraddhā is faith, hope, love, and action all in one. And this pig, with his light-filled eyes, and his leap towards freedom, was the perfect example of this. How, I wondered, in tears again, had this pig managed to survive such brutality and still remain so beautifully pure and hopeful? The thought of it filled me with awe for this wise little soul.
He leapt from the trailer and ran into his quarantine pen without hesitation, needing no guidance to find the right pen. After drinking several gallons of water, he munched happily on a big, fresh salad and some sweet hay before greeting us, one by one, with a sniff and a smile. As I write, he is sleeping contentedly under a big pile of hay, snoring peacefully.
Dominic, we named him, and he is full of Grace.
Many, many thanks to: all of you who make it possible to rescue and care for our beloveds, Kelly from Omega Horse Rescue, Terry from Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, Monica from Esther’s Army, the person who chose to spare his life, and to Cameron O’Steen from the Yoga Animalia Project for his beautiful photos, and to Grace.
Once a little pig lived in a dark, sad barn. He was old and blind and had lived his entire life in darkness. This darkness was much deeper than that caused by lack of light in the barn, and much darker even than a blind old pig might normally experience.
Selick’s darkness was the most profound sort— a darkness that emanates from desolation. From the time he was born in the dark barn, his world was filled with angst, fear, and worst of all, a lack of hope.
His mother loved him as much as she could, but she herself was caught in the same helplessness and despair. The barn was filled with old cow poop, broken glass, and other dirty, scary things. Selick, his mother, and the many, many other pigs there had not a single clean, comfortable, safe spot to sleep.
Sometimes the human brought food, but often she did not. Sometimes, the food was really smelly and bad, like animals that had been hit by cars and left on the side of the road for a few days. She had, once or twice, let the pigs outside. Many of them made a break for it. Selick’s darkness was so deep that he did not wonder where they went. It was so dark that he did not event try to run.
When the woman did bring food, sometimes it was enough, and often it was not. She did the same thing with water. Selick’s mother taught him he had to be tough and mean to survive. She taught him to fight for his food, and it’s a good thing she did, because not all of the pigs survived that dark, sad place. But Selick, he survived.
One day, a humane police officer came in, bringing light and fresh air with her. She had other humans and trailers, and the pigs were all happy to leave that barn behind. All the pigs but Selick, that is. Selick’s darkness was just too deep. He had no hope that wherever he was going would be any better, and he certainly had no hope that humans might help him.
Selick and just a few of the other pigs were brought to a place called Indraloka. Three of them were given a big pasture with different little houses, and were told they could go in and out whenever they wanted. Selick took the best house for himself and was ready to fight over it. He was disappointed when Raymond and Waldo ignored him and went into the other house.
The humans kept trying to lure him into complacency, but he knew better. He would never trust them. The others were suckers. They were won over by fruit and belly rubs, but Selick was going to do exactly as his mother taught him, so long ago. He avoided humans at all costs. If they insisted on touching him, he screamed and fought until they gave up.
Raymond and Waldo were annoying. Selick knew that this situation with plenty of food couldn’t last forever, so he decided to make sure he’d survive again when things went bad. He began picking fights with them daily. He needed to prove to them he was in charge, so when he needed to fight for food, it would be easier to win.
Years went by. Selick was sick of those stupid pigs. In fact, he never wanted to see another pig again. His darkness was still deep and thick. He decided he was not going to spend one more night in the same pasture as those stupid, annoying pigs. So, late one night, he found his way out. After wandering around for a while, he found Tom, Jake and Henny’s barn door. They were some very mellow old turkeys whose company he did not completely hate. He knocked and grunted, and the turkeys kindly invited him in. They had a huge bowl of seed and grain right there in their house, and no one was even eating it!
Selick gobbled it down and thought, “This is too easy! I didn’t even have to fight for this!” The turkeys just cooed softly and went to sleep. Selick, his belly full, and very relieved to have escaped the pigs, lay down and slept the whole night through. The turkeys were so easy to hang out with, and they had all this food and a pig-free home. They were nice to him, Selick realized. The edges of the darkness he had held onto for so long began to lift, and a tiny sliver of light came in. Selick knew he wanted to stay with these birds.
The next day those awful, fakey-fake humans came and put him right back in the pig pasture. Selick knew they couldn’t be trusted, and this proved it. They were not going to tell him where to live, though. So, that night, he broke out again and went straight to the turkey’s house.
Every day for about a week, the humans put him back in the pig pasture, and he broke back out to go to the turkeys. The turkeys took to flying right into the pig pasture while Selick was stuck there during the day. He couldn’t believe it, they liked him, too! Finally one day, the short human exclaimed, “You love these turkeys, Selick, don’t you? Would you rather live with them?”
“These humans have got to be the slowest creatures who ever walked the earth,” Selick grumbled to himself. “Yeah, ok, lady, you sure do understand animals,” Selick said patronizingly, and the short human told him he could stay with them from then on. A few more slivers of light came through.
Years went by, and Selick’s heart attacked him. It hurt and he was scared and he thought he was going to die. He was shocked to realize he wasn’t ready. He actually wanted to live. The short human started spending all her time with him, covering him with blankets, giving him medicine he hated and encouraging him to eat when he didn’t feel like it. Tom, Jake, and Henny stayed, too. Selick slept heavily, and a lot. One day, he dreamed that someone he didn’t hate was rubbing his belly. He woke groggily and slowly to discover it was true, someone was rubbing his belly. It felt so good, he went back to sleep.
But this time, the old, blind pig slept in the light. His darkness had faded. He understood that the humans and the turkeys had saved his life. He could not come up with any reason for them to do that except that they cared. Maybe all humans weren’t entirely fakey-fake after all. Maybe some were ok.
More years passed, and the more Selick trusted, the more humans he attracted. This worked out very well, as he found he could persuade any human to rub his belly and give him treats very easily. “You just have to understand them,” he mused, “and then they are easy to communicate with.”
As more humans sought him out, Selick started realizing the humans had feelings very similar to a pig’s. Lots of them are afraid to trust other humans, and fight with them just the way Selick did with pigs. Lots of humans lived in darkness because of a painful past that was long over, refusing to let the light of a new day in because they thought it would hurt more when the darkness came back. And just like he used to be, lots of humans were certain that the darkness would always be back.
Selick was so much older and wiser now. That heart attack really helped him, because it showed him how much he did like life. He started living fully—exploring sanctuary grounds, making friends with lots of birds, goats, and other animals, although he still did not like pigs. He began to count certain humans as his friends, too.
They’d come to him, talking and sometime crying about their problems, sometimes telling him their dreams, and sometimes just wanting to love and be loved. He’d talk with them and smile at them, and their whole world got brighter.
“How sweet these other animals are,” Selick would think, “and so delicate, with so many problems. I’ll just help them when I can.”
For Selick, it was never enough just to escape his own darkness. Selick wanted to shine light on the whole world. So he smiled.
You see, Selick had hope now. He had so much hope that it lit up his insides as bright as the sun. And when he smiled, that light of hope shone right out onto whoever was near, and stripped away their darkness for just a moment, so they’d feel warm and light, with hope restored.
In just a few days since Selick crossed over, we have been blessed with messages and stories from people far and near who loved him, learned from him, and called him friend. If you have a similar story, please share it below in the comments. We would be grateful to share your memories.
Here are some excerpts from others who loved him:
Yesterday not knowing this, for the first time I introduced Selick as the star of the day in my afternoon classes. They cheered and clapped for him, waving and calling his name, and then when they learned he was blind- the kids used the words “brave, smart, inspiring, and special” to describe him while watching his photos and video clips. I had no idea they were actually giving him the kind of celebratory send off he deserved… This makes my heart sad and warm at the same time. Selick was a super cool being, he knew how to enjoy life unlike anyone else I have ever known. I’ll miss him. – Sarah
Selick had such a profound and fervent affect on me. From the moment I met him, his meandering determination and subdued vitality seemed as consequential and inspirational as any being I’ve ever come across. Meeting him and spending what relatively little time I did with him, was so utterly fulfilling.
Selick, without fail, provided me with a fresh and dynamic perspective every time we occupied the same space. I loved him deeply, and I am so sorry about having lost him, but also incredibly gratified by having known him.
Thank you for providing sanctuary to him, and all the souls. You and Johnny have my unending gratitude for saving him and thru him, to some very quantifiable degree, saving me as well. Another example of the good we do, rippling outward to eventually include the entire pond.
A little less light in the world tonight… but a reason to shine brighter tomorrow. – Matt
The focus is on what that beautiful soul did for us, what he meant to us, and how lucky we all are to have walked this earth with him… He’ll continue to bring you smiles for years to come – Mike
Bless precious Selick. I recall fondly seeing him mill about the place at the ThanksLiving event. Eating the turkey’s food, coming into the barn and walking among the tables in the barn. A happy boy — all because of the good souls at Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, who gave him sanctuary and loved him. Loved him. Loved him. Loved him.- Bren
My daughters still talk about Selick when they visited last June. He is my first memory at Indraloka as he greeted us wagging his tail when we arrived on the farm. What a beautiful spirit. – Tala
You did so much good in your life, Selick. Peace in Heaven, beautiful soul. Xxxx – Florence
I will never ever forget Sellie. Ever. He made a mark on my heart, like he did on so many others. – Dotsie
Just getting to spend a few days getting to know him he made such a HUGE and loving impression on my heart! – Elle
My heart is broken, but I will always be grateful for the happiness and love Selick gave me.- Lisa
Today is Jake’s day of glory. It’s Thanksgiving day and his spirit is flying free.
It is a good day to die.
Jake came to me with a flock of poults (baby turkeys) that were destined to be killed for Thanksgiving in 2003. I remember being spellbound by the little birds, who grew so fast that every hour they looked different. I had never known a turkey personally, and never even imagined the complex, fascinating, sensitive, curious beings I discovered them to be.
Jake never liked humans. I always took it as a great compliment that he felt free enough to eschew human company, including my own. He knew we respected him enough to understand he was his own being, free to make his own choices. We never tried to meld him into who we wanted him to be.
Jake was one of a kind. He could be a bit of a hothead at times, quick to defend when he perceived the slightest threat to his dominion. He protected his flock valiantly. Jake cherished his freedom, and enjoyed each day to its fullest. Even on the day before he died, Jake dozed in the sunshine, sought tasty delicacies in the grass, and hung out with his pig and turkey buddies.
Jake’s best friends were Tom (another Turkey), and Selick, a blind, elderly pig. Years ago, when Selick first came to us, we tried to have him live with other pigs, but each night, Selick broke out of the pig enclosure and into Jake and Tom’s pen. So, Jake and Tom got a new roommate.
Early this Thanksgiving morning, Jake succumbed to a heart attack. He died quickly, with his best friends, Tom and Selick, by his side.
Jake was one of very few free turkeys on this earth. He was much beloved and tenderly cared for every day of his life. Among the oldest turkeys alive, it is nothing short of a miracle that he died a beautiful, peaceful death in the company of family and friends on Thanksgiving Day.
Today, I give thanks for the blessing of having had Jake in my life. I pray that all turkeys will someday be free to live as the sacred beings that they are. I pray that every human will someday know the joy of nurturing, encouraging, and protecting life in all of its varied and beautiful forms.
Today is your day of glory, my precious Jake. My heart soars with your spirit. You lived free and died free. I am deeply, deeply grateful to you for walking with me for this brief time.
Hoka hey, my beloved familiar. It is a good day to die.
They lay helplessly before us, innocent babies. It was clear that they had suffered greatly in their short lives. Covered in open wounds and excrement, malnourished, with misery in their eyes, they were too weak to stand.
The tiniest of the three cried in pain. Instinctively, I scooped her up and cradled her close to my heart. Her panicked heartbeat slowed to match my own. I tried to convey, with my eyes, that she was safe now—that she was loved. She turned her head to mine, her gentle brown eyes filled with wonderment. This might have been the first loving touch she experienced in her life. Harika, we named her- Sanskrit for “beloved of Indra”.
Gently, I touched the huge wound on this tiny girl’s neck. She cocked her head to the left ever so slightly, seeming to be aware that I was sorry for her pain. I moved my hands slowly over her body, assessing the damage. At each wound or bruise I stopped and said a silent prayer. Her eyes held mine and she nodded her head minutely each time. I felt gently along the splayed legs that would not hold her. I touched her yellowed skin, most likely jaundiced due to blood loss. I felt her keel bone through her skinny little frame.
Then I just hugged her close to my heart again, feeling her tiny heart beat against mine while I prayed for all those beautiful babies that never make it out… all those turkeys who suffer each day of their short lives. Forty-five million innocent babies, every Thanksgiving, are raised in unspeakable conditions, never to hear a kind word or feel a gentle touch… never to experience sunlight on their feathers, fresh air, or grass and soil beneath them.
But this one, this one made it out. How or why, I don’t know. Fairly often, we get these rescues, lucky ones who somehow escape and wind up where good, caring people find them and bring them to us. I imagined she fell off of a truck- it would explain her splayed legs- but who knows? Maybe she was dropped as she was being packed into a crate for transport. Maybe she was asleep and, looking as she does, was mistaken for dead and thrown in the trash.
It didn’t matter. All that mattered in that moment were those eyes looking into mine with what I can only describe as trust, and that little heartbeat against mine. I can never explain this feeling in words- this moment when everything disappears and all that is left is me and a little life depending on me.
What could I ever have done to receive such blessings? Such a miracle as this perfect, perfect little child gifting me with her trust, when nothing and no one in her short life ever gave her reason to feel anything but fear?
I began to spin dreams for her, speaking to her of a long life ahead. Days of lolling in the sunshine and playing with other turkeys. Years of healthy meals and a clean, warm place to sleep. Of humans who would hold her in their laps and pet her as we do a beloved cat, listening to her soft purrs and smiling at her joy. Together, we dreamed of the beautiful life before her. Her eyes never left mine. I believed she was spellbound, and as hopeful as I.
Only a day or two in, we noticed that her leg was getting worse instead of better. She seemed to be in more pain when we tried to give her physical therapy, or even place her in a sling. The pain medication may have helped a bit, but it was clear that she was far from pain-free. Her brother, Habibah (Swahili for beloved), was also faring poorly. We decided to consult with the avian experts at an esteemed veterinary hospital. The third baby, Hadaaya (beloved in Arabic), seemed to be doing better, happily, so we decided to leave her at home at the sanctuary.
Their appointment was on Wednesday, the sixth day we had them. So, on Tuesday, despite the strict quarantine under which we place all new residents, we took the three babies outside, in an area far from any other birds. One by one, I felt them relax in my arms as they felt sunlight on their backs, most likely for the first time. I set them on the grass and smiled, listening to their delighted coos and purrs. The color on their heads and necks turned red and blue- a visible way for them to express their joy (sort of like a human smiling).
With me was a woman with a huge heart. She was new to farm animal rescue, and she was appalled. “Who would do this to them?” she kept asking. Everyone, I explained, just about everyone– everyone who ever eats turkey, everyone who knows what they go through and does not demand that it stop, everyone who says, “I can’t think about that,” and turns away from suffering. I told her about how most animals used by the food industry are routinely raised. She was shocked, and kept repeating, “People need to know. If they knew, they’d make it illegal. They wouldn’t support it.”
So here I am, telling all who will listen. This is happening, and no one will stop it if we don’t. Please, please, please, for the babies’ sake, please help us stop this. This is wrong. No one should suffer like this.
It was such a miracle that these three got out alive, somehow, and were in the sunshine with people who loved them, their whole lives stretched out before them. They were happy. They were free. They were beloved and they felt it.
If only for that moment.
At the hospital, we learned that Harika and Habibah were too far gone. Their pain would only grow, and there was no hope of fixing their legs. Given that theses types of turkeys grow to be very large, we knew their problems would only become worse. I have often thought that the heart of sanctuary work is to be selfless enough to give them a good death. So, although it pained us greatly, we made the choice that was best for them.
Hadaaya, the third baby bird, is continuing her recovery at the sanctuary, with lots of TLC. In the absence of her siblings, she has lots of toys and human attention. Just as soon as her quarantine is complete, she will join another flock of baby birds we rescued recently. Her days will be filled with all of the freedoms and pleasures Harika and I dreamed of together, and Harika and Habibah’s spirits will live on through her, and in our hearts.
One day of sunshine was all I could give them- my beloved Harika and her sweet brother Habibah.
Six days of love and one day of sunshine. And I trust that was enough.