I was the outsider, odd-duck in my family and the outcast in my class, bullied every day of my life. I was also unable to speak to most people outside of my family or neighborhood, and my shyness was debilitating. So, when Gretchen chose to sleep on my bed and follow me everywhere, I suddenly had reason to live; I suddenly had worth. When I thought about suicide (often,) my dog always sensed my pain and hunted me down. And then . . . A miracle . . . I’d suddenly feel much, much better. The love of a good dog saved my life. Who am I not to return the favor?
Locket’s Meadow, the animal sanctuary that owns my husband and me, is not about us. It’s about the animals who live here and give it their heart and soul. We are their humble servants, and we are honored to have the job. When we call them “our animals” it’s not out of any sense of ownership, but because they are our family – in the same way as we refer to our children as “ours.” When people come to the farm and meet them, they are amazed by how friendly and loving they are, from horses, to goats, to steers . . . and people always comment that they must be “special” animals.
Here’s the news flash – they aren’t. They are no more special than any other cow, hen, pig or donkey on this planet; the only difference between them and every other farm animal destined for a brutal death is that they were found, rescued and loved. Every other farm animal is just as deserving as every one of ours, and if we had all the money in the world, we would focus on finding a way to save as many of them from abuse, neglect and slaughter as we possibly could. Not because we are so special, but because every one of them is. Just as I was once saved by the love of a good dog, every one of them can be saved by the love of a good human.
This past Sunday we had a group of special needs individuals come to Locket’s Meadow, which we have done for more years than I can remember (I really am an aging Meemaw . . . My memory is toast!) We believe that animals are magical, and magic is meant to be shared. Visits are free, the same very reasonable price as magic and love!
Some of our guests wanted to ride horses, including a bubbly young lady named Christina. I knew she was nervous because she decided maybe, “we should have some of the boys ride first.” When it was Christina’s turn, we brought Sonora up to the mounting block. Sonora is an old pro who has been working with special needs people for more than 10 years. She knew Christina was nervous, and the pony stood stock-still while she tried to mount. Halfway on, Christina panicked. She froze, said she was going to fall and that she was afraid. Sonora planted her hooves and didn’t move a muscle. We explained that her horse was perfect, and she was very safe, but she began to cry and begged to get off. I took her foot from the stirrup and set it back on the platform, but she wasn’t quite close enough to feel secure, so Sonora (unprompted) very, very slowly and carefully shifted closer to the block so that her belly was pressed up against it and there was no gap for us to worry about. Then off Christina came, all was well, and 10 minutes later she asked to try again. This time she got on, but still wouldn’t let Sonora walk.
Poor Sonora hung her head. No horse had ever tried so hard to help a rider feel safe, and she had failed. We hugged our pony and told her she was perfect, and Christina and one of the other guests took her for a walk around the indoor arena and she perked up again.
I think, if Christina comes for another visit, Sonora may yet convince her to be her riding buddy. Actually, I’m sure of it.
The more love you give, to animals and people, the more love they give back, and the more love you then have to give again. It’s the most beautiful “vicious circle” I’ve ever witnessed.
A little later, our guests wandered over to visit with the calves, Francis, Patrick and Valentine. Everyone falls in love with calves. They are the sweetest, gentlest, loveliest animals on the planet and they pass out hugs and kisses like Shriners tossing candy at a parade. I swear, love love love is their mantra. Are all calves as lovely as ours? Yes . . . That is, if all calves were loved as ours are, they would be as lovely.
The moment I wait for is the one when someone is fawning over Francis or Val, then gazes into a pair of soulful eyes and realizes that, holy crap, if not for having been found and rescued, this angelic being would have been a slab of veal on their dinner plate. And they would much rather be snuggling Francis than eating him.
I don’t say a word . . . I just watch and smile. The animals do their advocacy far more effectively than I ever could.
One of the chaperones on Sunday looked up from cuddling Francis, and with the sappiest, happiest little-boy smile on his face, pronounced, “I’m sold!” Then went right back to loving on his new bestie.
I know a grown man we fell asleep that night with that same little boy smile on his face . . .
Locket’s Meadow is far more than a sanctuary for animals. It’s a sanctuary for people who have lost faith in love, life and humanity. Unlike other rescues, we encourage interaction with our babies (supervised, of course, for the safety of our animals!) and we are awed by all the humans our animals can rescue in a fraction of the time it would take a therapist.
So no, I’m not a hero. Or a saint. I’m a caretaker and a mama and a Meemaw, trying to repay a debt that can’t ever be repaid. I’m madly in love with all my babies, and best of all, they are madly in love with me. And the truth is . . . Every last one of them is a hero, just as every other farm animal would be if they were loved and cared for, and given the same opportunity to interact.
When we have open houses or visiting hours, I hope you visit Locket’s Meadow with an open heart and open mind and prepare yourself to be amazed. Be prepared to be loved, and also be prepared to have our animals love you right back, as well. For free.
Kathleen Schurman and her husband, David, are owned by Locket’s Meadow Rescue and Sanctuary where they are happily enslaved by somewhere in the area of 140 animals. It’s messy, but it’s worth it.