Mikey’s Moos

My memory is not as sharp as it once was. Details fade as I age, but I never forget the emotions of each experience. For instance, I remember the day I learned about Mikey, maybe 10 years ago. I got a call from a woman whose name I no longer recall, and she told me her step-father had died and her family could no longer maintain his hobby farm. One of his projects was breeding a pair of polled Herefords every year and selling the calves as pets. He loved his cows and was determined that none would ever go to slaughter so he was very selective about where the babies went. 

The woman had found out about our farm animal rescue, Locket’s Meadow, and asked if I would take their bull calf, Mikey. They had already decided to euthanize the cow and bull to be certain they never went into the slaughter pipeline; they loved their animals and knew that no matter what anyone says, there is no such thing as humane slaughter. Their animals would have a peaceful passing in their own yard. The plan had been to euthanize Mikey, as well, until they found out about Locket’s Meadow and our policy of letting every animal live out their natural lives on our sanctuary.

I told her I could take the calf, and if she wanted, I would also take his mama. We aren’t set up for a bull, however, and even if we castrated him he’d been intact for so long his habits would remain ingrained. The woman said they had agonized long and hard about it and they weren’t going to change their minds. We agreed to make arrangements, and as I hung up the phone, I began to cry. 

I’ve been sensitive to animals’ conversations and emotions my entire life. The first thing I felt was that Mikey loved his mama with all his little heart and soul and that separating them would be devastating for him. I made a call to again pitch bringing them home together, but the family was firm in their intentions. 

And so, my husband and I hooked up a trailer and drove two towns away to pick up baby Mikey. We pulled into a backyard where several Hereford’s stood within electric fencing. The calf was in the barn.  He was very small, very handsome, and standing forlornly in a stall with his head held low. He clearly was not pleased to be alone, but he was silent. Only I heard him say, “Mama told me to be brave.” 

I held back the tears while we loaded him onto the trailer with no trouble, then glanced back at Mikey’s parents who watched us drive away. “Take care of my baby boy,” was all I heard from his stoic mama. And Mikey . . . Mikey made one, long, low, plaintive moo as we left, and it was years before he uttered another sound. 

Mikey moved into a paddock with Benny Coconut, a young Holstein who hadn’t worked out with the older steers. On Benny’s first day on the farm we’d put him in with steers, Norman and Bella Boy, and he panicked, a total bovine freak out that ended with him trying to jump the fence. We quickly removed him and tried him in with a group of male sheep and he settled down and got comfortable. When we added tiny Mikey to the mix, Benny welcomed him and took on the job of older brother, showing him the ropes and offering him his steadfast friendship. 

Those of us who wallow in the deep, muddy trenches of animal rescue know more than is good for our mental health. We know that animals generally considered “food” are loving, feeling, sentient beings. We know they have deep relationships with family members and are heartbroken when separated from them. We know they carry that love in their hearts throughout their entire lives, and while we do our best to be their mamas and daddies, we know it’s not the same. Yes, they love us and we love them, but that bond . . . especially with their mamas . . . oh, how they miss them when they are separated. Some more than others . . .

Time passed and life in Benny and Mikey’s paddock was sweet and peaceful. Benny grew and grew, and he ended up a giant of a steer. Mikey, on the other hand, barely grew at all. He told me he didn’t want to get big so that when he finally saw his mama again she would still recognize him. I had no words to respond, all I could do was accept his intentions. Checkups with the vet produced no diagnosis and the consensus was he was a throwback of some kind. I knew better, but kept it between my husband, Mikey and me. 

I never brought up the subject of his parents’ demise, and neither did he, but I always assumed he knew.  I’m still not sure . . . and I still won’t ask . . .

When fully grown, Benny Coconut got to weigh around a ton. Mikey, who should have been at least 1,500 pounds, never got past 700 at his heaviest. They were Mutt and Jeff, huge and tiny, always side-by-side, often surrounded by a small flock of sheep. Both boys were as gentle as the sheep they grazed with, and I trusted them to be kind and careful.

One day, Benny Coconut’s eye began to run. Mikey did his best to take care of it, licking his eye and face until it was spotless. The problem went on for days, so I began to treat it as an eye infection. Despite my efforts it got progressively worse until one day I noticed a red growth on his lower eyelid. I took a picture and sent it to our large animal vet, Dr. Caitlin Macintosh, at Beckett and Associates. 

Dr. Cait is wonderful. She knows I’m a sucker for my animals, and that I hurt when they hurt. But she also knows I need the truth, so she uttered the dreaded word, “cancer,” then added that it could be isolated to his third eyelid and if we removed that, he could be fine. 

Oh. My. God. 

We have a lot of animals. Like, when I say “a lot,” and most other people say “a lot,” there’s a difference of at least 100 animals, and ours tend to be much, much bigger. Like, nearly 40 horses, 8 steers, 9 pigs, countless sheep, goats, dogs, cats, birds . . . so many animals. All of them our babies, all of them loved and beloved. Because we have so many, and lots of them are rescued from bad situations, we also lose more animals than other people do. You would think we’d get used to it, but each one hurts just as much as the last, and some more than others. There are always those animals who are our soul mates, and both Benny and Mikey fell into that category. I was fiercely protective; we would do whatever we had to do to save him. 

When Dr. Cait arrived to do the surgery, we separated the boys from each other, which hadn’t been done since Mikey arrived. We led Benny Coconut into a small paddock connected to the barn and left Mikey in the larger paddock on the opposite side of the fence so they could still see and be near each other. Benny mooed a few times for Mikey, and Mikey trotted nervously nearby. 

Benny is such a good boy he needed no more than a sedative injected into his tail and Cait was able to quickly remove the growth and the third eyelid.

“I’ve never worked on such a nice steer before,” she said. “Is he always such a good boy?”

“Always,” I replied. “He’s an angel. So is his little brother.”

As the surgery ended, Mikey grew antsy. He’d stood next to Benny for much of the procedure, then took a few quick laps around the paddock before racing back, trying to get Benny’s attention. Benny was still lethargic, but Mikey took yet another lap, spun around and stopped in the middle of the paddock. Then, to my surprise, the tiny steer let out a single, low moo. 

Moo number two. 

 Despite being drugged, Benny lifted his head and returned the greeting. Only then did Mikey settle down and calmly wait for life to get back to normal, which it did. Benny’s eye healed, and while it did, Mikey carefully kept it clean so the flies left it alone. There would be several more eye surgeries for Benny, who ended up having his eye removed, but Mikey was always nearby, and always helped with his recovery. Eventually we gave Mikey a collar with a bell so that if one day Benny Coconut completely lost his vision he would always know were Mikey was.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020. 

David texted me during afternoon chores that Mikey had gone down in the mud and he needed my help. He had fallen near the barn door so it wasn’t a huge emergency, but I quickly finished what I was doing and headed over. 

We have a very precise and well-orchestrated routine for chores. David starts on the “house” side of the farm where we have all of the farm animals like pigs, goats, sheep, steers, etc. I start on the “horse” side, our second driveway that has the horse barn, indoor arena and sheds. I soak the grain for the many older horses that lack teeth, add supplements and medications for all our special needs ponies and throw hay into the paddocks. We have about 38 equine-type animals in total, including burros and mules, almost all of them rescued from neglect, abuse, slaughter and other unhealthy situations. In the morning I turn them out, leading them up the hill to their paddocks, and in the afternoons I bring them back in. At the end of every day I have at least seven miles on my phone’s health feature. I am always grateful I’m a sturdy old woman from strong European peasant stock.

20 years of animal rescue has taught us a few things, including how to get a cow out of the mud and into the barn. We are familiar with straps and winches, we know how to slide a huge animal on sheets of plywood. David and I barely have to say a word to each other aside from counting, “One, two, three . . . pull!” Mikey had one front leg stuck in the mud, which was a lot better than the two front legs he’d gotten stuck the previous time . . . in the dark.  That was a struggle and a half. Once we’d gotten him out we still had to get him all the way to the barn, sliding him along sheets of plywood, moving the back piece to the front and sliding him again. Hours of moving him, resting him, moving him. By the time we got to the barn door he stood up, went in and ate his lunch. All done and all better. This time he was about three yards from his destination . . . piece of cake, we thought. 

And it was. We had him out of the mud and into a stall in a matter of 20 minutes, but once inside, Mikey wouldn’t stand up and was clearly in shock. OK . . . we covered him with blankets hot from the dryer and I got out my box of tricks. First, an injection of Dexamethasone, a steroid to perk him up. Then a hit of an injectable antibiotic. I texted with Dr. Cait and she told me to add 10 mls of Banamine, an anti-inflammatory and pain reducer. More hot blankets. Within a half hour he was much brighter and reacting to his surroundings, but we couldn’t get him to stand up. And worse, it seemed he didn’t have control of his back legs. But WHY??? He hadn’t landed in a way that should have affected them. We continued to shift his position every few hours to keep his blood circulating and I fed him warm mash often, as it was all he would eat.

And so began several days of texting with the vet and trying everything we could think of. As is always the case when an animal is sick, there’s no room for anything but chores and tending the ailing baby, back and forth all day, always late for the next task, always apologizing to horses for being late with dinner. Dr. Cait came and checked Mikey out in case he had a cracked pelvis or other structural issue. All looked good, but blood work later showed he was anemic. Weird . . . 

Since he seemed structurally sound we decided to lift him to his feet in a sling. I posted on Facebook, the ultimate resource for animal rescues, that we needed a block and tackle, and Dr. Cait located a sling we could borrow. Within a matter of hours we had what we needed, as well as a volunteer who knew how to use the equipment. The sling was in place, the chains were attached and up Mikey went. We fully expected him to just . . . stand up . . . but he couldn’t seem to find his feet beneath him. His front legs weren’t bad, but no matter how many times I placed his back feet where they belonged, they slipped out of place. We gave up and decided to try again the next morning, but in my heart I knew something was desperately wrong. If Mikey could have stood up, he would have. 

That night I had a dream in which we had found an extra bedroom in our house and we had to shift everyone around. When I woke up I thought about how nice it would be to have that extra space, but then  . . . I realized it wasn’t about a bedroom at all . . . it was about an extra stall. I got dressed, ran to the barn in the dark and gave Mikey his Banamine injection, his antibiotic shot and shifted his position. While he was a small steer, it still took a lot of effort to move him by myself (thank you again to my German/Dutch/Slovak heritage and my enormous shoulders.) 

“Come on, Mikey,” I whispered into his impossibly soft ear. “You’ve got to be OK! We don’t need the extra stall, we need you!”

He wrapped his head around me in a gentle hug. And then he refused his breakfast. 

A few hours later we assembled Mikey’s lift team. He seemed weaker every minute, and I had already decided we were only going to make one more try. It was clear there was something else terribly wrong. In fact, we only got Mikey half-way up when I halted the operation . . . his rear legs hung limply and he clearly had no control at all. A decision had to be made, and as always, it would be mine. 

I curled up in the straw next to my boy, where I’d spent the bulk of every spare minute of the past few days, and we had a quiet conversation. It was time, Mikey said, for him to go back to his first mama. 

“But she will always be there waiting for you,” I replied. “Why not stay here longer? What about Benny Coconut!?”

“You will always be waiting here for me, as well,” he replied. “I’m lucky to have two mamas. And you will take care of Benny just fine.”

I texted Dr. Cait and told her Mikey was ready to move on. She said given his age, the most logical explanation was bovine leukosis, which can cause tumors to grow on his spine. The issue might not have been the mud; it may be that’s just where he landed when a tumor reached critical mass. We would never know. Dr. Cait would be on the farm in an hour, but I asked her for a little more time so some of Mikey’s friends could come visit him first. I texted a few people, then curled up again next to him in the straw.

David brought Benny Coconut into the next stall he and Mikey could see each other. We always make sure our animals’ best friends know what’s happening so they can mourn, as well. A beloved companion disappearing with no explanation is beyond unfair. Friends filed in for Mikey snuggles, hugs, kisses and tears, then filed out again as the veterinarian arrived.

As far as endings go, it was like all the others. Mama and Daddy hovering over our beloved baby, whispering in his ear that he is loved and special and perfect and we wouldn’t have traded one second of our time with him for all the money in the world.  Only one thing was different; when Dr. Cait gave Mikey his first shot of sedative, as it began to kick in and his head began to sway, I saw a moment of panic in his eyes. He gathered himself, held his head high, looked in Benny Coconut’s direction and bellowed out one last moo.

Moo number three.

Benny instantly answered with a matching moo, and then Mikey relaxed and rested his head on the straw. He had said his goodbye to his best friend. Mama number one was waiting for her little boy to return to her, and he was anxious to greet her. Mama number two, of course, fell apart and stayed curled in a ball next to her sweet boy for a long time. All goodbyes are painful, but some are downright unbearable.

Please don’t leave this story feeling sad or disheartened. It’s not my intent. Mikey’s life is all about love. He loved Benny Coconut, his friends, his family, his mamas, all the other steers on the farm . . . everyone. No matter what the circumstances, Mikey always chose to be kind. Had his first family not allowed him to come to Locket’s Meadow it would have been 10 years all the poorer for every one of us who ever experienced the gift of meeting him. To spend time with Mikey caused many to begin questioning all preconceived notions of farm animals and their purpose. How do you contain all “meat” animals in a neat little cubicle of non-sentient, soulless beings when you look into the eyes of an animal who is clearly deeply acquainted with God and all things spiritual? The inconvenient truth is, you shouldn’t. 

Mikey’s faithful friendship and loyalty was unshakable, and he cherished every day of his life, even while missing his original family. He understood how to appreciate every moment, and he taught us so much. For all living beings, sadness is a part of the life experience and it’s how we choose to live with it and move forward that defines us. Every rescued animal on our farm has come to us from a place of pain, terror, sadness . . . most overcome it. Some remain sad no matter how hard we try. It doesn’t matter as all living beings have our tests here on this planet. As their human parents, our job is to support their lives and the spiritual choices our “babies” make. We don’t judge, nor do they. 

One thing I know for sure is that all of us, humans and animals alike, contribute to the fabric of the Universes. Every choice we make, whether it is to be cruel or kind, affects all the energy in existence. Mikey’s only impact was positive and I only wish I could say the same for mine. 

He may have been just a steer to some, but Mikey’s life made a difference, and I will be forever grateful to have been his second mama. If I remember nothing else, as I grow older and more feeble-minded, I will always and forever remember his love. 

Thursday Come to Meeting’ Outfit . . . or . . . How Difficult Can It Be to Put a Tie on a Sheep?

sheepDay two of “trying to make money for the farm animal sanctuary when there is no longer a way to hold fundraisers because of the stupid Coronavirus” commences. We have a 9am appointment to make a guest appearance on the New Haven Register’s staff meeting this morning, featuring the animal of our choice, totally ripping off Sweet Farm in California. The owner, Anna Sweet, had a brilliant idea to offer rescued animals as live faces on videoconferences to break up meeting monotony in exchange for donations. There was an article in the NY Times about it, so, being total losers with no imaginations of our own, we jumped on their idea and decided there are hundreds of thousandsof conference calls every day, plenty of room in the field, let’s go for it! It’s brilliant, it’s super easy . . . we have lots of animals and an iPhone . . . piece of cake!!! We shall call it Zoom Animals and play on the word “zoo.” How cute! How easy!!!

We did a first trial run on Wednesday, which went without a hitch, featuring calves Francis, Valentine and Patrick performing to perfection. Today I decide to go with a different group. A really easy group. Really easy. Haha.

But first, to dress them up. Farm animals should wear appropriate attire for business meetings, and I had dressed Francis in a tie yesterday, which was a hit. But wow, they have BIG necks. So, I steal a bunch of my husband’s outdated ties and start cutting and hand stitching them together to make them longer. I have 45 minutes before the meeting. I meant to have an hour, but a dog had a major accident on the dining room floor and since there are no paper towels left in the entire world, I had to improvise. It was vile. Then, every single bird in the bird room had pooped in their water dish, so every single dish had to be changed out. All glamour, all the time . . .

So, I finally get to the stitching part, which is not as easy as you’d think because first I have to get the thread though the damned needle and my 59-year old eyes no longer cooperate. This, of course, is my punishment for teasing my grandmother and godmother in my youth when they needed their needles threaded . . . will I ever learn that everything comes back to haunt me? Anyways, by the time that’s done, I have 30 minutes left. I should be able to go outside, put ties on a calf and a sheep and have a few minutes to spare to get on the call, right? Right????

I head out to the paddock and gently place one pre-tied tie around my sheep Viktor’s neck. He’s thrilled. He thinks he’s got his collar on and he’s going for a walk. Piece of cake! Then I slip a tie on Prospero. Hmmm. Tail is too long – I double it up around his neck. It will do for video. Cool! I snap a cute shot of Viktor and make a fuss over him in his dapper attire.

But . . . no no no! Prospero is unhappy that Viktor is getting attention and he gets between us and starts dancing . . . me me me!!!! I pet him and tell him he will get his screen time, but he has to share.

Prospero does not want to share. He continues to dance and make a scene, which will not work for a sedate videoconference. I decide I will remove Viktor from the paddock and just use him. Prospero will have to wait to make his conference debut.

I let Viktor out onto the lawn and somehow he manages to get his tie caught over his nose and he flips out. I end up rolling in the wet grass with him, trying to get him untangled. We are finally under control, tie in place, except now Viktor decides he’s going for that walk and he trots down the driveway towards the road, me running after him. He has no collar on, just a tie, so I finally catch him by the tie, which had been perfectly tied and adjusted, and haul him back to the barn.

I decide we will stage this in a stall in the barn. 10 minutes left.

I can do this, right?

I put Viktor in a stall and give him some hay, but Viktor only wants to go for a walk. He tries to make another break for it before I can even get the stall door shut. I am again wrestling with a sheep in the cement aisle, finally getting hold of his tie and getting him back into the stall. He is not only pissed, he is no longer presentable. His tie is trashed. I remove it and put it around my neck to retie it for him. 8 minutes to go. And I have forgotten how to tie a tie. One try. Two tries. Three tries. I have been tying ties for 40 years, since even before Annie Hall came out. WTH???? I finally manage to get it done and slip it back on him and try to adjust it. Viktor again thinks that means he’s going for his walk. OMG. He paces in the stall, doesn’t care about the pile of hay.

5 minutes.

I give up. Close the doors at one end of the barn aisle, open the doors at the other end where there is a gate separating us from calves Prospero and Clarence. Prospero still has his tie on nice and neat. WHY NOT VIKTOR????? I drop hay by the gate where his buddies are and pray Viktor stays put. His tie looks . . . OK. Barely.

2 minutes. I start to try to connect online, but it’s not Zoom, it’s Microsoft Teams which has a long series of security stuff to cut through. I had hoped to be at this point 10 minutes ago . . .

Viktor walks to the other end of the barn.

I keep pressing buttons, enter security codes, but the others can’t see me. Nor hear me. Push more buttons.

Viktor walks back to me and starts eating hay near the calves just as the picture comes up. 9:03. He makes his cue and hits his mark with zero seconds left to go. I can’t figure out how to flip the picture so that it faces the sheep, so I end up lying on the cement floor holding the phone to face Viktor where I can still see it to make sure he’s in the frame. I am out of breath but we are “live” and my sheep is performing.

And I realize that there was no way I was going to get away with “borrowing” an idea from another sanctuary without being punished. Bruised knees from wrestling on cement, soaked jeans from wrestling on wet grass (it actually snowed this morning up here on the hill in Bethany,) and a pissy Prospero who didn’t get to be the star.

[It is at this point in writing this up that I remember I had brought my iPad out to use for the videoconference and I never got to use it and it’s still out in the paddock and I have to stop everything and run outside to rescue it from calves’ feet . . .)

And so ends trial run number 2 using Microsoft Meetings.

Just as I thought . . . piece of cake.

And now all I can think about is cake . . . white cake, chocolate frosting . . . strawberry filling . . . mmmmmmmm . . .

However, I think I have to take a sheep for a walk instead . . .

Kathleen Schurman, and her husband, David, are owned by the animals of Locket’s Meadow Farm Animal Sanctuary in Bethany, CT. Should you, too, want to see if she can get her act together to have a rescued farm animal appear live at your videoconference, visit the Locket’s Meadow Facebook page where Zoom Animals will be posted as an event, hopefully by the end of today (Thursday, April 16) if Kathleen is not distracted by too many other “happenings.” Zoom Animals should also be posted on the website by Friday, April 17. Same disclaimer. Just gotta walk a sheep first, and maybe get a cake into the oven . . .mmmmmmm . . .

A tale of animal activism, PTSD and those bullies from our past . . .

358So. You are walking down the street and against your better judgment you cut through a group of people demonstrating for animal rights. You try not to look at the posters of dairy cows and you avert your eyes as the “crazy vegan hippies” approach. You almost make it through the gauntlet of outstretched, color brochures when you hear a person behind you make a snide comment about the tastiness of veal, bacon, leg of lamb, etc. and one of the women demonstrators loses it. Just freakin’ loses it. Goes ballistic on the guy (who really thought he was being original and/or funny despite the BILLIONS of jerks who have used the same stupid line already . . .) with an hysteria usually reserved for being left at the alter. The other demonstrators drag her into their fold and calm her  while the stand-up comic throws out a few more witticisms about the beauty of McDonald’s quarter pounders, and the onlookers disperse, muttering about crazy vegans.

Most of the world will shake their heads and laugh and grumble about over-the-top pesky vegans/environmentalists/tree huggers or whatever. I see them and my heart hurts because most of the time, these are the victims of PTSD, generally from bullying. I would guess that a huge percentage of animal lovers who work on their behalf, especially farm animals, have been bullied during their lives. There are a lot of reasons to believe that, only partly because I am one of them. Here’s why . . .

Empathic people, or empaths, are those who are super sensitive and feel other people’s pain, confusion, anger, etc. I am one of them. If you have this particular gift/curse/double-edged sword in your personality portfolio you are predisposed to being bullied. Why? Because when someone is beating the crap out of you, either emotionally or physically, the pain of that abuse is overwhelmed by your sympathy for the person beating the shit out of you. You know their brother is a heroin addict, their father abuses their mother, a close relative died and left them shattered. Empaths are the perfect walking targets for bullies. We try to rationalize what they are doing, talk it out, and even feel guilty for being the kind of person who causes that kind of behavior to come to the surface in a person. What an empath has trouble doing is fighting back in their own self-defense.

Empaths, by nature, tend to love animals, who are fellow empaths wandering through a terrifying world filled with people who want to hurt them. We are all created of one spirit, humans and animals alike, and empaths know that, feel it deeply. We spend our childhoods studying birds hopping through our yards and worms burrowing into the soil. We spend our adulthoods taking care of robins with broken wings and moving worms out of the street and back onto the nearest lawn. We even take on animal characteristics in self-defense when we are being actively bullied.

When I was in 6th grade, maybe 10-years old, one of my “minor” bullies came up to me as I was leaving the schoolyard to walk the terror-infested mile home.

“Why do you walk so stiff with your back so straight?” he asked.

I didn’t answer. All answers are bully fodder, so I stiffened my back a little more, if possible, and walked quickly and steadily home (don’t run . . . don’t ever run . . . it’s like giving a lion reason to chase and they are always faster that you are . . . running is an invitation for skinned knees and elbows when they tackle you . . .) but even at that young age, he made me think. I did walk with my back straight and stiff, I knew nothing else, and that was in preparation for those who inevitably followed me home, usually in groups of two or three (and occasionally dozens,) taunting me about my ugly hair and taking turns running forward, punching me in the back and pulling the aforementioned offensive hair. Brace yourself and keep walking. Sure, you’re crying. If they couldn’t make you cry, what would the fun be? (BTW, those who don’t cry are hardly targets.) We are a sensitive bunch, we empaths. Anyways, this particular response is a passive self-defense measure that I call “turtling.” You are, in effect, tucking yourself into a hard “turtle” shell, both physically and psychologically. You are learning how to temporarily shut down your emotions and even physical pain in order to survive the current trial, which is getting home without reaching the point of having to “play opossum.” You are laying the groundwork for your future response as to how you address situations in which you are personally attacked, and when triggered, causing PTSD, you immediately turtle, withdraw into your shell and move steadily away from your attacker. If, however, your attacker is so brutal they break through your shell and you reach the point of hysteria, the next logical animal-inspired defense is “playing opossum.”

An empath doesn’t reach the point of playing opossum easily, at first. We see through our attackers. We know their pain. We try to help them understand what they are doing is wrong, that it’s hurting people. They may take your efforts seriously for a few minutes, but in the end, they go for the throat. Why? Because bullies are seldom empaths; their world focuses around their own pain and what they must do to assuage it. Yes, they are a selfish bunch. They don’t know how to release pain from trauma on their own, so they bully until they get the required response from their victim and only then do they have the release they so desperately need – which is your hysteria. If a bully gets you on the ground, sobbing, they are generally satisfied. Sure, they may give you a few more kicks to the kidneys before they move on, but the required emotional release, through you, has been achieved and they can move on. The opossum is playing dead. It’s the bully’s orgasm, and it will hold him/her for a while, until their internal pain builds up again and they have to come back for the next release. In the end, playing opossum is yet another PTSD response to more severe attacks in the distant future; when someone attacks you on the deepest level, you can immediately drop to the floor and opossum, in effect, cutting to the chase, giving your attacker the release they need, and skipping what can be hours of brutalizing. Hey, we do what we must for our survival.

If I have given you the idea that empaths are a bunch of sissies, falling apart at the slightest provocation, you are wrong. We generally only fall apart when it’s time to defend OURSELVES. If you mess with the ones we love, we will go totally ape-shit on you. We know what it’s like to be persecuted, battered both emotionally and physically, and we will do whatever it takes to defend our loved ones, both human and animal. This is why an abused wife will stay with the husband who tortures her, but throws him out on his ass if he beats up her dog. This is why the empath who is the mother of a child who is also a sensitive will completely lose it on the adult who falsely accuses him of something (in my case, I went ballistic on a parish priest who said my son had lied when I knew for shit sure he hadn’t – don’t F*&% with my child, I don’t care who you are – I won’t back down until one of us is dead!) And this is why we can’t help but be driven to save the animals, we who cannot save ourselves. We understand exactly what it’s like to not be able to save ourselves. Terrified cows standing in line at the slaughter yard cannot save themselves! Chickens in tiny cages at live markets cannot save themselves! The hysterical woman at the rally who screams about the raping of dairy cows often knows about rape first-hand. She is an empath, desperately trying to stop another living being from enduring the kind of pain she has carried for far too long. It is part of her therapy, to be the one she prayed would save her, yet never arrived.  And if she couldn’t save herself, maybe she can save another living being from her pain. The woman who loses it at the animal rights rally (when yet one more would-be comic starts talking veal parmesan) is the one who can carry the pain that has been dumped on her, but never the endless pain inflicted upon a veal calf.

Can we be fixed, the walking-wounded empaths who carry a lifetime of pain on our weary shoulders? Nope. Because we will always feel the pain of others and count it as more valid than our own. Most of us will have layer upon layer of PTSD from our traumas and will always use the same old coping skills we developed in our youths. It’s ingrained in us on a cellular level; our DNA dictates it.

It sucks to be us, no question. Our only hope, the only way we can survive (and more of us commit suicide than you could ever imagine) is to channel that energy in a way that makes us feel that we are saving others from similar pain. It’s the only arrow in our quiver. When you see that “crazy vegan” on the sidewalk, demonstrating in front of your favorite ice cream parlor, please understand, more often than not, he/she comes from a place of intense pain and has shown up to try to spare another living being their agony. These activists put aside their turtling and opossoming and throw themselves out in public, knowing they will be mocked and criticized, and for the noblest and most selfless of reasons.

Now that you know who we are and how we ended up being that thorn-in-your-side with a sign (and a possible raging case of PTSD,) when all you’re trying to do is buy a dip-top cone, is there anything you can do to help, aside from the obvious change in diet? (Pretty please?!) Sure. The best way to create a generation of well-balanced, non-reactive demonstrators is to not be a bully (because we activists will not go away – may as well help us be even-tempered!) PTSD is the most difficult mental illness to address; results from therapy are spotty and few sufferers have positive results without pharmaceuticals. Empaths with PTSD are a particularly difficult “fix;” fighting back may inflict pain on another and WE JUST CAN’T DO IT ON OUR OWN BEHALF! Teach your children to be kind to the “odd” ones at school. Teach them by example, by practicing tolerance of everyone. Everyone!! And smile and take the brochure the activist offers you. Why not? maybe even mention that they are “very brave” to place themselves in the line of fire out of love for their fellow living creatures.

You may never know how brave these people truly are, especially when they lose it right there on the sidewalk. I know the darkness whence it comes, and I know how hot the truth and light of day can burn.

Peace to all, and keep on lovin’!

Kathleen Schurman and her husband, David, are owned by the animals of Locket’s Meadow Animal Sanctuary where they spend their day feeding, mucking and passing out hugs to their “babies.” Then feeding and mucking some more . . . It’s not a living, but it is a “loving”! 

What’s up on the farm . . .

Hello all. I am wedged between cleaning the horse barn and homeschooling the grandchildren, so I thought I’d try to briefly catch up.

83979560_10158096950158799_7184622452389969920_nWe all live with an insane amount of stress right now. We are worried about jobs, money, health, security (there isn’t any) future plans . . . whatever, nobody has time to list all the stresses of life during a pandemic, but really, who knew this was even a possibility? What I’ve noticed is it brings out the darkest parts of people as well as the brightest (while some of us just stay on the farm and keep on shoveling . . .)

There hasn’t been much said about animal rescue/sanctuary non-profits in the past few weeks. I can tell you the reason is that most of us are paralyzed with fear. The huge rescues, like Farm Sanctuary, are fortunate enough to have endowments, however many of those will be forced to tap into their principal in short time; the rest of us will just wish we had that option. The vast majority of rescues are small, backyard operations that rely on our own income to close the gap left after the donations are counted. The vast majority of us have been left without income. And on top of that, we all understand that most everyone else has, as well. How do you ask for help when so few can give it? And on top of that, non-profits are entering our fundraising season, which generally requires gatherings of large numbers of people. We have NO IDEA if any of them will actually take place. Most of us have NO IDEA if we will survive this pandemic. Most have cut down to bare-bones staff already and are making adjustments wherever we can. We are less terrified for ourselves than we are for the animals.

Locket’s Meadow has been around for 20 years. We have seen one rough patch after another, and somehow (usually an unexpected miracle . . . prayer works, folks,) we survive. How will we do it this time? Same way everyone else does. We will apply for help from the government stimulus package. We will scrimp every penny. We will wait for the economy to buck up so my husband has income again (it stopped pretty much when the Coronavirus hit the states and the stock market fell apart – it will pick up again when the stimulus money hits and companies need help putting their businesses back together.) But somehow, we will find a way because we love the animals and we will make sure they are safe.

As always, any donations are appreciated. We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts. But we also know how little there is to spare, and how hard it is to even get groceries, between finding them and paying for them. We are all on the edge together.

We are grateful for our friends who have gone above and beyond to help us get through this. Somehow they know where the gaps are that need filling and show up before we even understand we have a need. We are grateful for those who keep us in their thoughts and prayers. We are grateful for the donations that have come. Your kindness keeps us strong and hopeful. You are in our prayers. And to those who have gone into a dark place of fear and negativity, we also offer our prayers. Staying strong under this kind of pressure is close to impossible. We pray that HOPE wins out over fear, and we will all rise up and come out the other side of this together.

To all the rescues and sanctuaries out there that are clinging to the edge . . . have faith. Non-profits are eligible for stimulus money and it should be available shortly. Go for it. It’s there for us. And in the end, I believe most people are good and kind and will do their best to help. Somehow we will provide for all our “babies.”

Peace, love and wishes for health and happiness to all, humans and animals alike . . .

What He Did For Love; The Story of Sir John Falstaff

It was summer riding camp, hot and dusty, as always, and half a dozen horses carefully walked the rail of the indoor arena. Five were led by volunteers and accompanied by side walkers for safety. One large, bay paint draft walked unattended, with a small girl perched atop his saddle. Falstaff didn’t need a leader or side walker – he did the entire routine himself, from waiting in line with the other ponies, to walking to the mounting ramp, to staying on the rail while carrying a small child who had no idea how to ride. He’d then safely deliver her back to the ramp, stand still as a post while she dismounted, and not move a muscle until the next child was safely on. And then he did it all over again, perfectly. Nobody trained Falstaff to do any of this; he just started doing it on his own one day. Or maybe he read my mind, or I read his, or both . . . because we always knew what the other was thinking . . . I never had to say a word, I thought it and he did it. And vice versa. Because he loved me and I loved him. That’s the way it works with family, you see.


The handsome man at around age 4, a year after he arrived.

This particular day, Falstaff was feeling sluggish and I was going to pull him from the lesson when he finished his current lap, but he came to a stop at the far corner of the arena.

“Mama, help,” I heard him say.

I took off running across the arena.

“Hurry, Mama,” I heard. “I’m falling.”

I ran faster, reached Falstaff, grabbed the little girl from the saddle and handed her to a side walker from a nearby horse, then grabbed Fally’s halter just as his legs began to tremble and crumble beneath him. He fell to the ground, but a few moments later I was able to get him to his feet and lead him outside. I yanked off his saddle and handed him to one of the barn girls to hold so I could run grab my medical box. I listened for gut sounds, but the stethoscope was quiet – colic. A shot of Banamine, a bucket of molasses water, slow walks up and down the driveway . . . all the tricks I’ve learned over the years . . . by that evening Falstaff was much better, and two days later he was antsy to get back to work. As always, when I stopped in for night check, I wrapped my arms around his neck and whispered, “Falstaff, you’re my hero.”

Every single day I hugged my Falstaff and told him he was my hero. I have known and loved more horses than I could ever count, but Falstaff stood out from all the rest. Before I continue with his story, however, it’s only fair to give you a Hankie Alert; on a scale of 1 to 10, Fally’s story is about a 25.5. But to know and understand who he was is worth a whole case of Puffs. Trust me.

How did Falstaff and I understand each other so well? For the same reason we connect with any animal, or any person. We are all creatures with a soul, and that soul is made up of God, or the Great Spirit or whatever you call it  . . . if you look at the Great Spirit as being all of the space between every particle of matter, holding it together as one unit, you will understand that we are actually ALL ONE. If we are all ONE and open to each other, we can always communicate as it’s no more difficult than talking to ourselves . Our connectedness is not just a sappy Kumbaya camp song, it’s actually REAL and, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me” not only counts for how humans treat each other, but for how humans treat animals. Cruelty to any living being totally trashes your karma, and in the end, you’re kicking yourself in the ass.

Tangent done . . . back to Falstaff . . .

I believe we travel in packs, we United Souls of the Great Spirit, and Falstaff and I have traveled together for many lifetimes. This lifetime he was introduced to me by what turned out to be a rather unscrupulous employee of ours, who was secretly cruel to him once he came home to Locket’s Meadow. Fally, in return, despised her and bucked her off every chance he got, often while on a trail ride miles from home. And then he would turn around and leave her there, racing back to our farm and putting himself back into his stall. At the time I was working long hours as a journalist and trusting her to care for my “babies” and I had no idea what was happening in my barn.

Bad move. Don’t ever do that.

Eventually, Falstaff went lame. We had him checked and rechecked by vets, put on stall rest and supplements, x-rayed . . . you name it, we did it. Smart boy, because once he was useless to his abuser, she completely ignored him aside from bullying him with mean names, like “Fall Flat.” The day after we finally got her off the farm was the day Falstaff miraculously healed and was never lame again.

If I was so connected to Falstaff, why didn’t I realize he was being abused? First, I didn’t want to believe it. Finding barn help is a nightmare, and extricating barn help from a farm is a freakin’ living hell. Ask any barn owner . . . the stories you hear will curl your toenails. Second, I believe he felt he was protecting me by hiding what was happening. Falstaff’s nature was to always protect, especially the ones he loved.

Falstaff was the best therapeutic riding horse I have ever worked with. His specialty was working with autistic kids and adults. I would stand in the center of the arena and barely  think what I’d want him to do next, and he’d do it. Riders who were non-verbal, low functioning, even occasionally unable to restrain themselves from hitting or kicking . . . Falstaff was always perfectly patient, and made every single one of them feel like they were cowboys, independent riders and just like everyone else. Truly, he was a hero, and I was honored that he was my work partner seven days a week.

What made my boy Falstaff so special? Yes, he was born amazing, but I believe it was also love. He was loved and he loved in return. We shouldn’t be surprised by that; way back when humans first began to purposely breed wild horses for certain characteristics, they chose traits that are connected to love, such as loyalty, bravery, and the ability to self-sacrifice for their family members. ALL ANIMALS UNDERSTAND LOVE, BUT DOMESTICATED ANIMALS UNDERSTAND LOVE AS HUMANS DO, BECAUSE WE BRED THEM TO BE THAT WAY! They are our creations, the result of us playing God with genetics. From horses, dogs and guinea pigs to pigs, cows and goats, they are reflections of the best qualities of ourselves. Which is why they are so baffled and devastated when we turn on them. The horses who stand in line at the slaughterhouses, fully aware of what’s coming, are more than terrified; they are devastated by the complete betrayal of those who once cared for them. Humans loved them, yet send them off to auction (which has become a nice little euphemism for “slaughter” since horse meat is such big business – killer buyers purchase them in huge lots, and the best of the riding horses get packed in side-by-side with the aged, broken, wild and untrained.)

Humans place great value on their horses, as long as they can be ridden. Once they are no longer working animals, well, we get a lot of requests from owners to take their broken ponies off their hands because they can’t afford to maintain an old one once they buy a new one to ride. Oddly enough, or maybe not, with human ego being what it is, there are people who put a price on love, and are only capable of giving when they are getting something in return. But here’s what I know about horses, and every other domesticated animal; to the bitter end, they never stop loving their humans. Because animals are, by far, the most constant and devoted beings and once they decide you are their person, they never, ever forget you or give up on you. Even long after you’ve given up on them.

As I’ve said before, as far as animals are concerned (and generally other humans, as well) we truly suck.

In the early 2010s there was a virus affecting area barns. No one knew what it was, but it caused horses to spike a high fever and have severe diarrhea. They also completely stopped eating and drinking. Within days they became dangerously dehydrated, and a few would even die. It was also highly contagious. The veterinarians knew about it and discussed it among themselves, but it remained a puzzle. It passed through all the horses on a farm at light speed if the first few infected weren’t instantly quarantined. If word got out that a barn had a contagious disease, it would affect business, and with money at stake, it was best to cover it up. And so it spread . . .

We later traced it to a visitor who also visited a barn in the Southbury area where this particular illness had been rampant. Our first two horses who spiked fevers were Patch and Leo, the ones who greeted visitors as they entered the driveway. We separated them from the others right away, but had not yet started bleaching our shoes, which, it turns out, is how this particular disease is spread; traces of manure on shoes and boots are transferred to hay lying on the ground and then eaten. It’s like wildfire if extreme quarantine protocol measures aren’t put in place. Poor Leo’s diarrhea was so severe he developed a prolapsed rectum and we brought him up to Tufts Large Animal Clinic for treatment, which would take nearly a week. They took blood and sent it out for analysis, for all the common diseases as well as a few that had never been seen in our area, and that, finally, is how we learned what it was that had been wreaking havoc in all those area barns – corona virus.

Within a matter of days a dozen of our horses were infected, Falstaff being one of the first. By the second morning, I knew he was in desperate trouble; I could smell it on his breath. My equine veterinarian, Stacey Golub, was out of town that day, driving one of her own horses up to Tufts, so I began to call around as offices opened for the day. I knew, with absolute certainty, that if I didn’t get fluids into him within hours I would lose him. One vet said she could be at our barn by mid-afternoon, and I took what I could get, but with every hour Falstaff was further deteriorating. I could see the pain in his eyes, although he stood stoically in his stall, behaving as a perfect gentleman when no one would blame him for acting out. I tried another local vet who had once said I could call on her in an emergency even though horses were not her area of practice, but was told they would not help. I stayed in the barn and watched my horse suffer, every second an eternity while I waited for assistance. The vet finally arrived around 3pm and put a pic line in his neck so I could hook Falstaff up to fluids, and we began to dump it in by the gallon. He seemed slightly better after a few hours, but that smell on his breath . . . I stayed in the barn until late that night, just to be near him.

By the following morning, more horses had spiked fevers. We had started quarantine, but there was nothing we could do for those who had already been exposed; all would catch the virus. Dr. Stacey came to the farm early in the day and put pic lines into the most dehydrated ponies and we hung IV bags on nails up and down the aisle, trying to turn the tide. She smelled Falstaff’s breath and looked at me . . . I saw she felt the same as I did . . .

Hours later, Falstaff’s pain was so great he began to kick the walls in his stall and rear up. I called Tufts and said we were sending up another horse who was sick with the same thing as Leo and was in pain. My husband, David, had to drive him without me as I was the one who needed to monitor all of the other horses, replace their IV bags and take temperatures. Fally was in so much pain he was panicking, but he held perfectly still when I slipped into his stall and wrapped my arms around his neck.

“I love you, Falstaff,” I said. “You are my hero. You will always be my hero.”

He held still a moment more, then his eyes rolled back into his head. I had to use a chain on his nose to lead him to the trailer, he was so wild with the pain. The horse who I never had to say a word to, let alone raise my voice . . . a chain on his nose . . . my broken heart . . .

David drove away and I heard Falstaff’s hind hooves slamming against the trailer door . . .

With tear-streaked cheeks I returned to the barn to take care of my other babies. In the horse world, there is no rest for the broken; someone has to tend to the rest of the herd.

Two hours later, David called to tell me the doctors recommended Falstaff be immediately euthanized. His vital signs were failing and he needed to be put out of his misery; not even the highest-level pain meds were helping him. He was partly sedated and lying in the shavings in a stall, with Leo just across the way. I asked David to hold the phone to his ear and I told my pony how much I loved him and that I appreciated every minute he was my boy. I told him it was OK if he had to go, we would find each other again. And one last time, I told him he was my hero and would be forever. Then David said it was time, and he had to hang up.

Falstaff at Tufts

The last picture of Falstaff taken by David to send to me when they first arrived at Tufts.

I collapsed on the floor, sobbing and wrecked. I couldn’t believe I was not with my man while he crossed from this life into the next. I knew I would feel it the second he died, and only a few minutes passed when one of my friends on the “other side,” Chief White Dove, appeared (yes, I’m just that kind of whack-a-doo who has friends on “both sides.”) His creased, brown face held concern for me, but he was a chief on a mission. “May I have Falstaff as my own?” he asked. “He is a horse of high rank and is held in great esteem by my people.”

Of course he was . . . he was PERFECT! I wanted to scream, “No, he’s my baby, he’s my hero!” But what was the point? If I couldn’t have him, Chief White Dove might as well. “Of course,” I mumbled, but with little grace.

Moments later I felt Falstaff arrive and acknowledge me, and he and the chief only lingered a moment before the two of them rode off . . . gone . . . Falstaff was already back to work . . . while I couldn’t lift my head from the floor.

My husband called. It was over. Tufts wanted to do an autopsy to try to learn why the virus had affected my horse so dramatically, but once they opened him up, we couldn’t bring his body home to bury him because he had an infectious disease. We decided for the sake of the other horses an autopsy was appropriate, but we didn’t have the money for a separate cremation; Falstaff would not be coming home. They cut off his heavy black mane and tail and sent it to me in a bag. I didn’t think to ask for one of his shoes, which I would deeply regret.

For weeks I was consumed with keeping the rest of our horses alive. All survived but Falstaff, and I’m convinced he’d taken the hit and carried the bulk of the pain for the rest of his herd so they would all survive. Because, well, he was Falstaff. And they all lived, even the ancient ones who were at highest risk of death.

Leo came home, feisty as ever. Captain, Falstaff’s paddock mate, was depressed and needed a friend. I knew that Fally wanted Captain to take over his job as a mentor to the younger horses, so we put unruly Sammy in with him. I took a picture as they greeted each other, and when I looked at it later that day, I clearly saw Falstaff’s face in front of them, in rainbow colors, but clearly my boy’s face.

Horse Image

Look at the rainbow light in front of Sammy and Captain. I took it moments after they first met. It’s shaped like a horse’s head. If you look above it, there also a puppy . . .

When it was time for me to reopen the farm and get back to work, I was lost. How would I teach without my partner? I had lost my right arm. I thought about the other horses who could do the job – Ernie, Beatrice, Sonora, Tessie – all good horses whom I loved, but none of them my soul mate in the way Falstaff was. And then there was this business of the shoe . . . why hadn’t I asked for them to remove one of his shoes for me? I had thought of it, but I’d already asked for his mane and tail and I didn’t want to be a bother. Stupid, stupid me.

One day I was walking up the hill, checking water levels in the troughs, when I noticed the same damn block of wood in Falstaff’s paddock that had been sitting there for weeks.

“Why the hell am I the only one who can pick up anything around here?” I mumbled as I climbed through the fence and removed the offending lumber. And I froze, staring at the ground, then reached down with a trembling hand and picked up the oversized horse shoe. I knew who it belonged to. It was bent the way Falstaff’s shoes were always bent when he’d catch the back of his front shoe with the toe of his back hoof as he galloped around a corner. The row of nails was still intact along one side; he’d ripped out a chunk of hoof with it the way he always did when he threw a shoe. Every single time. I used to admonish him for costing me so much money with the farrier (. . . I totally suck and wish I could have taken that back.) I dropped into the dirt and burst into tears. Again. My Falstaff had sent me yet one more gift, as if he hadn’t done enough for me in his lifetime.

“There you go, Mama,” I heard. “You are my hero.”

As if. As if I could ever be as good or true or perfect as that horse was. Hell, as any horse who is well-loved is capable of being . . . when we domesticated animals, we created living beings who surpass us in goodness of spirit. An animal’s capacity for unconditional love leaves all of humanity’s in the dust.

And yet when we are finished with them and they lose their value, we walk away. Sure, there are plenty of people who ensure their horses have loving homes when they can no longer keep them. But there are even more who send them off to “auction” and imagine they’ll be bought by someone who will take over where they left off . . . it’s self-deception on steroids. Rescues and sanctuaries can’t pull more than a few from the kill pens, and the rest endure a horrifying death.

Too many horses. Too many backyard breeders having foals that are “excess.” Too many high-end breeders looking for that “perfect” specimen who will make them a fortune at the track or in the show ring. And too many humans who are not willing to sacrifice for those animals who sacrifice so much for them.

For my hero Falstaff, and all the rest of the horses, I will continue to tell their stories.


See also: Too Many Horses, Not Enough Love
I Am the Horse Girl

Kathleen Schurman, and her husband David, own Locket’s Meadow Rescue Sanctuary in Bethany, CT. Kathleen works as a psychic and animal communicator to help support the animals, and also writes children’s books about them. Falstaff is a constant character in her books, and even though he is no longer with his Mama in body, his spirit is always at her side, and he will always live in her books.

Visit www.locketsmeadow.org for more information, or find us on Facebook.