On Monday, we greeted two new calves, born twins on June 28th, into our family on Locket’s Meadow. Their names are Abner and Elinor and they are beautiful, sweet, gentle, affectionate and very clever.
Every time we get a calf I worry. Calves, particularly those rescued from the dairy industry, are some of the trickiest animals to keep alive and I always assume they will get sick within the first two days. The problem is, mama cows deliver their babies and are only allowed to be with them for a matter of hours; after that, babies are fed milk replacer from a bottle. If they don’t get enough colostrum from their mamas in that initial period of time they are plum out of luck, as they won’t have the immunity to fight off infection and will die. In this industry that doesn’t matter as so many babies are produced in a year that they are expendable, particularly the bull calves who are sent off to be fattened for veal. (They are so worthless to dairy producers that they can be purchased for as little as five bucks.) These calves are so fragile and susceptible to disease that I can’t imagine a very large percentage of them survive to be slaughtered (you could spend hours debating the merits of each pathway to death, but really . . . come on . . . ugh . . .) yet without having babies there can be no milk production, and so the industry marches on . . .
The dairy farm that has given us some of our calves isn’t much different in most ways . . . however . . . over their past few years of placing bull calves as pets they have learned a few things. They now vaccinate them against many diseases and try to make sure they get enough colostrum from the mamas before they are separated. (They told us about one calf who did not nurse at all from his mother so we got him before he was two days old and our vet gave him a transfusion to save his life.) The biggest difference between this dairy farm and others, of course, is that they will go to the trouble of carefully placing a calf, which most other farms won’t do. Like, I don’t know of any others, but if you do, please let me know!
It ain’t perfect, but it’s progressive, and it’s a nod towards the inherent value of their lives as sentient beings. I will take any and all progress as I have been in the rescue business a long time and have seen massive strides that I never would have believed 40 years ago!
But back to Elinor and Abner. They arrived on Monday. By Tuesday afternoon Abner had a temp of 104 (I was instantly texting with our vet, the sure-to-be-sainted-despite-being-Jewish Dr. Cait Macintosh of Beckett and Associates,) and within minutes was able to begin treatment. Elinor also had a brewing temp so we treated her, as well. On Wednesday, when I went to feed the calves their second bottle of the day, Elinor was fussy with the nipple, which was not normal. Her belly looked a little rounded instead of the usual concave, so I snatched the bottle away and started texting Dr. Cait again. Bloat. If you don’t catch it right away it can be fatal, and it’s certainly painful . . . but it was in an early stage and we began treating instantly. Meanwhile, Abner started passing some really runny manure. Oh boy. I texted poop pictures to the saintly Dr. Cait and we added another med and adjusted the concentration of milk powder. Today, instead of being lethargic at the back of their stall, they were at the gate, bellowing for their bottles, happy and bouncy. Hurrah!!
I will continue to monitor everything about them because I have seen too may setbacks in my “career.” They will be loved every day of their lives here on Locket’s Meadow because for some reason, Lady Luck smiled upon them and they found safe haven. It’s a little melancholy for me, however, as I can’t help but think about those who don’t get the same chance. The cows, pigs, sheep, chickens . . . all of the animals who would have made devoted family members had a tiny twist of fate brought them to sanctuary. They are all deserving.
I don’t know the answer, and even if I did, I don’t posses the kind of magnetic personality that could bring about huge change for the animals. At best, I will keep rescuing them as often as I can, and as time allows, show you their lives as part of this huge family here on our farm. If they reach out and touch you in some way so you decide to alter your life to be kinder to domesticated animals through changing your diet, volunteering, activism or whatever, then hoorah! Humanity may finally become a little more humane, to the animals and to each other.
On Locket’s Meadow we have a sweet mare named Mary . . . Mary Catherine, to be precise, but when I think about her she is always Melancholy Mary to me. She’s never quite sad, never quite happy . . . she’s just . . . Mary. She’s a good girl, seldom difficult. And always in her own world, just a little distant from the rest of us.
My memory for dates isn’t great but it was about 2004 when we received a trailer load of horses from a ranch in Alberta, Canada. I remember it was cold that day, and the water troughs were frozen around the edges despite the stock tank heaters. I’d learned about the ranch these horses came from at the end of the previous summer. The owner had died, leaving his wife with around 90 Suffolk Punch drafts and draft crosses that he used in the PMU (pregnant mare urine) industry. Ranchers collected the urine from the pregnant mares, which was used in manufacturing hormone replacement therapy drugs such as Premarin and Prempro, but much more about that later. The rancher’s wife’s name is burned into my memory, never to be forgotten, but I won’t mention it here. She had decided to get rid of all the horses the easiest way, which was to load them onto trailers and send them to slaughter. The horse rescue world found out and scrambled to try to save them. Suffolk punches are actually rather rare (which shouldn’t matter as a horse is a horse and all of them matter,) but for some, it’s a motivating factor. Most of the purebreds went to a ranch in Texas, while we dredged up money enough to rescue four crossbred mares and three foals and sent our check north with a plan to get them trailered down within a few weeks.
Alberta is a tricky place as weather goes, and the first blizzard hit early in September, followed by another, and another . . . there were no haulers who could fight their way through to pick up a bunch of wild horses and bring them to Connecticut. I learned that their owner, who had no interest in them at all, had put them out in a winter pasture and left them there. I imagined she was throwing them hay, or something . . .
It was early January when I finally found a hauler who would bring them to Connecticut, as there had been a thaw. I could find no references on him, but I had to take the chance, as there had been no other takers for the job. He arrived with our rescues mid-month and backed the trailer up to the quarantine paddock next to our driveway. When he opened the rear doors the horses barreled out one at a time, attacking the water troughs and piles of hay as if they had not seen any in a month. Turns out it may have been longer than that.
The first two mares were shaggy black Suffolk crosses. Their hipbones poked from beneath their enormous, fluffy coats. I knew one was named Burnt Candy, but the other arrived nameless. The third mare was chestnut. She was so emaciated you could count the ribs beneath her woolly coat. That was Cinnamon. The fourth mare, a gorgeous deep-red chestnut cross, was in slightly better shape than the black mares, but still thin. The three foals who barreled out last were beautiful. The first was the same deep chestnut as Cinnamon, and turned out to be her son; we named him Chili. The next two looked almost like twins, both a light chestnut with white manes and tails, the only difference between them being different white markings on their foreheads.
I wondered how these three could look so much healthier than the mares, who I now realized had been subsisting by pawing through the deep snow for scraps of grass. I quickly learned how they had thrived as I watched one foal after another nurse from Cinnamon, and I understood why she was so skinny. That sweet angel had sacrificed her own health to take care of all the babies. She was my new hero.
Eventually I will write about some of the other horses, but this memory is about “the twins,” as we called them, who were inseparable. We named one Mary Catherine, who had an S-shaped mark on her forehead, and the other Catherine Mary, or Kitty. Her forehead was graced with a white star, and they were always side-by-side. Chili was the adventurous one, always off causing trouble and instigating, but not the twins. They were sweet, calm and always peaceful. They stayed near the adult mares and watched Chili as he made his irritating rounds. Eventually he’d find his way to them and they would turn their backs and stand pressed together, a united “rear,” so to speak. He nipped at their rumps, so much like a little boy on the playground yanking on the girls’ braids, with the girls muttering, “stupid boys” under their breath. Besties for life.
When we get new rescues we keep them strictly quarantined for at least two weeks, or if they develop any illness, much longer. Only a few people are allowed to enter the paddock, and they change their clothes and scrub before going near any other animals. There’s a pan of bleach near the gate to step in on the way out to sanitized boots, and the horses are carefully watched for signs of illness. Primarily we are looking for strangles, a strep-like disease that affects the upper respiratory system and causes lymph nodes to swell to the point of bursting and oozing puss. It’s highly contagious among horses, seriously gross and quite common in Canada. We had never seen it before on our farm, but there could always be a first time.
It was exactly 10 days after the Suffolks’ arrival that I got a message from one of my northern contacts that strangles had been diagnosed on the farm belonging to the hauler who had transported the horses. It was exactly 11 days after their arrival that all of the babies developed strands of mucous pouring from their noses. The hauler had clearly not disinfected his trailer before he loaded our horses and they had become infected. I have strings of adjectives for him I’d like to list right here, but I will resist . . . for now . . .
Here’s the thing about strangles – it’s highly contagious but seldom deadly, unless a horse contracts the “bastardized” version of it. In that case, it doesn’t focus only on the upper respiratory, but can pop up anywhere in the body. Bastard strangles only affects one percent of the animals who contract the disease, but it’s almost always fatal, and there’s no way to tell if a horse has it . . . until they die. The adults, being from Canada, were immune, as they’d most likely had it in their youth. Canadians treat it as we used to see chicken pox, kind of a get-it-over-with disease they get once and don’t catch again. We vaccinate for strangles in the USA, particularly horses that travel or compete.
Within days, all three babies were desperately ill. None of them could eat, all had fevers and were despondent, and soon, the three of them were oozing puss from glands beneath their jaws. I was frantic, to say the least. I tried every trick I could think of to get fluids and food into them, and for Mary and Chili I managed to make some progress, but Kitty . . . Kitty got sicker and more depressed by the hour. I was on the phone with the vet several time a day, looking for anything that could help her, but nothing worked. I began to believe we were dealing with something worse, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it.
By day five, I was terrified. Mary and Chili were turning the corner and nibbling on warm mash and bits of hay, but Kitty . . . not Kitty. That afternoon she was holding herself up by leaning her chin on the fence and bracing all four legs. She was fighting the urge to lie down with every fiber of her being, and I could smell something toxic and rotten on her breath. And I knew. I absolutely knew that the worst possible scenario for strangles was playing out in my own backyard. All of the other horses crowded around her, so protective, and Mary pressed against her hind end, helping her to stay standing.
I wrapped my arms around her neck and hugged her gently. We had brought more than a hundred rescued horses through the farm at that point, and had never lost a single one, no matter what was wrong with them. Poor Kitty was clearly suffering, and it was devastating. I could have the vet come out and euthanize her, but the thing about strangles is, you don’t know if they’re going to die until they actually do, so there was always the slightest chance and you had to wait it out . . . perhaps this was just a harsher case of strangles than the others had . . .
Kitty wobbled on all four legs, but refused to lie down. I tried to tell her it was OK, she could do what she had to, but she stood stoically, chin pressed on the top rail of the fence. I realized she was trying to not die in front of me.
“Please, Kitty. Let me stay with you. I’ll be OK,” I said.
She pressed her chin more firmly into the fence rail. I felt that she didn’t think I could handle it, and it was best if I left. OK, I could understand that because I was sobbing uncontrollably, and I would have stopped crying if I could, but that wasn’t gonna happen. It was a standoff between foal and her adoptive mama, and I finally decided I was being cruel by remaining there. I went into the house and joined my husband, who had known he couldn’t watch it much earlier.
It was maybe two minutes before I decided to go back out. I was never one to leave my babies when they were leaving me, and I couldn’t do it then. I raced out the back door to the paddock, where Kitty had finally laid down on the bed of straw inside the shed, surrounded by her horse family. I sat in front of her and she lifted her head and placed it on my lap. I stroked her face for the next few minutes, thinking how I needed to be present right there, in that moment, because it was all I had left with her. Her breathing grew more and more shallow, and then . . . it stopped. I sat on the cold ground, sobbing, holding Kitty’s beautiful face, surrounded by the other horses who stood with their noses low to the ground. That’s when I let loose with the torrent of adjectives for the negligent driver who had murdered our sweet pony, knowing there was nothing I could do about it.
We buried her at the top of the hill in our backyard, no marker, but if you want to know where she is I could walk you right up and stand over her grave. She left behind a circle of shattered family, both horse and human, none more so than her sister Mary, who was lost without her BFF. As I write this, 15 years have passed, and Mary, who had been so happy and bright eyes within days of her arrival at Locket’s Meadow, is still melancholy, still missing her sister. All the hope and promise of their rescue was laid to rest at the top of that hill, and while the others recovered, Mary still mourns.
I blame myself for using a hauler I didn’t know, but at that point, all of their lives were in jeopardy if I didn’t get them out of Alberta. There’s no telling how long the window of good weather would have lasted (it didn’t,) and there was not a single other hauler interested in taking the job. I did the best I could with what information I had, and I will always feel I failed Kitty and Mary, despite my best efforts.
Every day I walk Mary up to her paddock and I feel her melancholy and I understand why. Every single day she and I think about Kitty as I bring her up the hill, and I know she takes comfort in the fact that I remember her sister, as well, and in our combined memories she will live on as long as we do. It’s a ritual we will play out for the rest of our lives together.
Kitty’s tarot card is The Star, which stands for hope, faith, purpose, renewal and spirituality. After we lost her, we continued to rescue dozens of PMU mares and their foals for several more years. I had never been afraid of losing a rescue until Kitty, but I had to believe that what we were doing was the right thing, and that the horses we were saving from slaughter were worth the possible pain of losing yet another.
When people tell me they wish they lived our lives, I shake my head and tell them it’s not for most people, and there are days that it’s not even for me. Yet they see the relationship I have with all my babies and it looks amazing, and truly, it is. We love each other with a vengeance. But when we lose, and it’s always going to happen, the pain never gets easier, no matter how often you endure it.
As one of our vets, Dr. Stacey Golub, always says . . . the day it doesn’t bother you is the day you need to get out of the business. I know she is right.
There are a lot of keyboard warriors out there pontificating about how animals should be treated or cared for, and we are frequently the targets of their judgment. The world of rescue and sanctuary is a very black and white place for them, with a single set of specific rules. I often say there’s a huge difference between those who judge from their kitchen tables and those who are in the trenches of animal rescue, up to our knees in mud, crawling on the ground with our sick and downed babies, making life-and-death decisions on the fly.
Of course I look back and second guess my decisions; had I waited for a reputable hauler, would they all have survived until I could get another trailer up there? Cinnamon may not have. These are the questions I will ask myself for the rest of my life, doubts and self-flagellation that few people will never have to address. But when the burden of responsibility gets too heavy, the animals talk me down and somehow we go on, early to bed, early to rise, walk Mary up the hill yet one more time and remember beautiful Kitty along with her.
Not all of the picnic basket stories are as sad as Kitty’s. The next one is about Candy (we dropped the “Burnt” right away) and how she beat the odds and cheated death many more times after she got here. Lazarus had nothing on our sweet, old Candy. You will like her.
It’s the strangest damn thing. You never think about all of the little things you do in a day until the very first day you don’t have to do them. Yesterday, our retired police horse, Amigo, died. Today, when I went into the barn, I didn’t walk down to his stall first thing to check on him. I didn’t have to soak his two gallons of dry food in four gallons of water, then sprinkle all his supplements on top, Clovid last because he called it his “frosting,” and then feed it to him in his purple bucket. I didn’t have to pick out his feet and put on his “sneakers,” aka trail boots, to protect his fragile hooves before turning him out in the flattest, safest paddock. I didn’t have to kiss him on the nose and tell him he’s the best boy before I removed his halter.
Then, I didn’t have to clean up all of Amigo’s “chewings,” the pile of wet balls of hay that he’d spent the night chewing up and spitting out . . . we called it his chewing tobacco . . . and I didn’t have to dump out his water bucket which was always filled with piles of hay balls. I didn’t refill his purple bucket with five large scoops of senior feed, topped with two scoops of timothy pellets, and I didn’t have to soak that at 1pm, then bring him in and feed it to him. And at 4pm, I didn’t have to give him a flake of hay (when he had finished his massive pile of mash) so he could spend the night making another big pile of chewings.
I’d also never thought about how much extra work it was to take care of just one special needs horse (living in a barn filled with them,) whose remaining teeth weren’t sturdy enough to chew hay or grain, whose hooves were thin and who needed endless coddling to keep a decent-sized belly beneath his deeply swayed back. I never thought about how many times a day I checked on him until I didn’t have to. With well over a hundred other animals to take care of on our rescue/sanctuary, I probably should feel liberated, but I don’t. Really, I feel lost and a little forlorn, and my routine is muddled and I burst into tears when I see that lonely purple bucket in the wash stall. I really should put it away, but I can’t because that act would be too permanent, too final, too . . . gone . . .
The very precise routine, supplements, ratio of water to grain, timing his hay so he didn’t chaw and spit instead of eating his mash . . . all worked out over years of intercepting his decaying health, teeth, intestines . . . nursing him through his annual August colic (double up the chia seeds!) . . . keeping him alive with a dozen huge bags of IV fluids when he caught equine corona virus . . . always double checking everything, and always walking into the barn in the morning and heading directly to his stall to make sure he’d done OK during the night.
Until 12-21-2020, when he hadn’t.
In my living room I have a large picnic basket. It’s filled to almost bursting with plastic zip lock bags, each with a name and date recorded on the outside in permanent marker and containing a bit of fur or some feathers, and occasionally a frayed collar or halter. Every single bag is the story of a friend who has left us, some of them after sickness and a long decline, some suddenly and unexpectedly. I used to see it as a melancholy pile of mementos, and it reminded me of all the ways I could have done better for each of them . . . if only this, or that, or the other thing . . . but since Amigo left I see it differently.
While Amigo was lying down in his stall, unable to stand, I sat with him and waited for the vet to arrive. I’d already given him injections of steroids and Banamine for any pain he might have, although he showed no signs of discomfort. I had checked his heart rate, which, at 60, was high but not extraordinary. He wasn’t sweating, moaning or kicking. Really, he just wouldn’t stand up. I normally can get my animals to tell me what’s wrong with them. If I ask, they let me experience a milder version of the pain they are feeling so I can treat them appropriately. But not Amigo. He was the most stoic man ever born, refusing to allow me to feel any of whatever he was enduring. Not his Mama! Instead, one at a time, Amigo flashed through my mind scenes from 11 years on our farm, of him out grazing with friends, getting groomed and braided by little girls, gently taking bits of carrots and apples and other treats from loving hands that offered them, getting dressed in Halloween costumes with children visiting his stall to trick or treat, and most often, taking that walk up the hill to his paddock every morning, sun rising over our shoulders, me and my old man climbing side-by-side. Just as comfortable as a pair of feet in worn slippers, knowing each other inside out, backwards and upside down. And all he said was “thank you.” That’s when I knew he wasn’t going to survive whatever had happened early that morning, but it didn’t matter to him. He had already survived when I brought him home to Locket’s Meadow just a few days before he was scheduled to be euthanized as he was no longer able to work as a police horse. And whether it had been 11 days, weeks or hard-fought-for years, that time had been his and he was leaving on his own terms.
Dr. Cait diagnosed him with an epic colic that could only be survived with surgery . . . if only he were young and otherwise healthy . . . and minutes later she’d gently sent him to a better place while David and I hovered and told him how much we loved him and that he was a perfect angel. And then we got up and continued feeding the rest of the horses, cleaned 25 stalls, refilled water buckets and spread bedding. Because if we don’t do it, nobody else will so tears would have to wait. Later in the afternoon, before the backhoe arrived to bury him, I returned to Amigo’s stall and trimmed off some of his mane and tail and put it in a bag.
Back in my living room, I opened the picnic basket and was barraged, as always, with story after story. This time, however, it felt different. This time I was met with a wave of gratitude from all of the animals who’d been rescued from abuse, neglect and imminent death and brought here to live out their lives on this little farm. Animals who, through the callousness and cruelty of humanity, had been injured and scarred, yet through a series of lucky events and twists of fate had found their way to us. They weren’t carrying any regrets, because they were the ones who had made it, had found their way home, and when they’d died, in their own good time, they were surrounded by love.
That’s when I knew it was finally time to record all of the stories from the picnic basket, as each of these special beings deserved to be acknowledged and known. Many are already written because I try to eulogize them as they leave, but some are from so long ago I have nothing but memories. Thanks to Amigo, I won’t see them as a pile of regrets and sadness. Amigo taught me they are actually recollections of lives spared and lived in peace, in a world that is seldom kind to our animal compatriots.
And so I begin Tales from the Picnic Basket. You may cry knowing these are lives that ended, but my hope is that you rejoice. These are the ones that made it home. Tears should be saved for those who did not.
We will start with Amigo, of course . . .
Amigo the Police Horse
Horses can read a human’s heart and mind. They are brilliant beings, completely connected to Spirit and to each other. Wild horses in a herd move as one because they are as one, psychically connected. When one horse sees danger, they all quickly “see” danger because they communicate with extrasensory visual information. A wolf creeping up on a herd is no secret once spotted because the rest will immediately “see” the danger in their mind’s eye and react. Birds in a flock? Same thing. Herds of elephants? Of course. Animals have more gifts than humans can possibly fathom, because we are isolated from them by our egos. You know, the ego that insists we are smarter, more sentient, better at communication, more spiritual, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah . . .
How do I know all this? Because they tell me. You can believe me or not, I don’t care. It won’t stop me from telling the stories of my sweet babies, as I know them.
Research has shown that horses are adept partners in psychotherapy because instead of reacting to a human’s feelings, they reflect them back to the patient, exposing their emotional state and bringing realizations that traditional therapies can’t provide. Clearly, horses can only do that if they can read right through to your heart and know what’s in your thoughts. So, when I say a horse knows what’s in your heart and mind, I mean it literally.
In 2009 I went to the Bridgeport police stable to meet a horse that was no longer useful for the work and was scheduled to be euthanized several days later. Three separate individuals had contacted me, each of whom had found our horse rescue online. Each of them called on the same day and begged me to save Amigo’s life. Apparently, word had gotten out that a beloved Bridgeport horse personality had been given a death sentence and an imminent appointment with a veterinarian.
I called the stable and spoke with the manager who told me I could come to the Seaside Park location and meet Amigo that day. I had some time so I grabbed a few friends and drove the half hour to the barn. We arrived and approached the paddock fence where a small herd was grazing on the opposite side.
First thing, let’s get this straight. If horses can read our hearts and minds, which we believe when it’s convenient and we are using them to aid humans with equine assisted therapy programs, then Amigo knew what was coming. He had seen it in his officer/partner who had already purchased his next horse and couldn’t have him delivered until Amigo’s stall was empty. He had felt it from the stable manager who had called to make the appointment to have him euthanized. Every human around him knew it, so by the time I got to Amigo, he was well aware he had a very limited amount of time to live. Because of his intuition, he also instantly knew I was there as his possible salvation, so when I say he looked up, saw me, raced to the fence and said, “Get me the hell out of here,” I’m not kidding, and neither was he. There were three of us at the fence, spread out at least a dozen feet apart from each other. He could have raced to any one of us, but he chose me, the one who would make the decision. I had no apples or sugar cubes, but I did bring a ray of hope. He looked into my eyes, I gazed back, and I knew he was coming home with me; this boy had lots of living left to do.
I found the stable manager and asked what the story was. He told me that the officers who are paired with the horses are in charge of deciding their fate. They could either find them a retirement home or have them put down. The manager told me there was limited room in the stable, the new horse was coming in a matter of days and the decision was made.
It seems almost impossible that an animal who had done years of service keeping the citizens of Bridgeport safe could be so callously disposed of, but we humans are funny like that. Until 2000, most retired police and military dogs were euthanized upon retirement. FOR REAL! But in 2000 Bill Clinton signed Robby’s Law allowing them to be adopted out to their handlers or even a qualified member of the general public. It took a federal law to rescue animals who had dedicated themselves to keeping us save, often risking their lives for us. Common sense should have dictated reciprocal kindness, for heavens sake! But again, we humans are funny . . . sigh . . .
I promise you, it’s a lot easier to place a dog in a home than a horse, and it ain’t easy to place a dog. Amigo had been diagnosed with navicular, a painful hoof condition, and he was never going to be a riding horse again, making it even harder to find him a family. Unless it was with us, of course, because at Locket’s Meadow we don’t care if they can work. Amigo, with all the brilliant wisdom that comes with innate horse sense, had found his savior in me, and I’m a really easy target.
The stable manager told me I could come back with a trailer and pick him up, and by the end of that day Amigo was home.
Often people resonate with some horses and not with others. Amigo, however, never met a human he didn’t love, and I can’t remember anyone not instantly falling in love with him. Something about his eyes, which were so kind and forgiving. I often say looking into an animal’s eyes is like looking into the eyes of God, because nothing comes between them and the Great Spirit, unlike humans and our pesky egos. Well, if looking into an animal’s eyes is like looking into the eyes of God, gazing into Amigo’s was looking into the eyes of the wisest old sage. He knew each of us for the flawed humans we were, loved us anyways and made us feel safe in his presence.
Humans weren’t the only ones drawn to Amigo. Other horses adored him, and he was welcome in any paddock. The usual establishment of the pecking order was skipped over with him. He could be found nose-to-nose with barn cats and dogs, and the barn swallows and sparrows ate out of his feed pan right alongside him. I’d even seen them alight on his back, especially fledglings learning to fly. His kindness was known to all.
Sometimes, however, he was kind to a fault. For a while he had a career as an uncle horse, sharing a paddock with foals who had just been weaned from mother’s milk. It’s important to have an adult to teach the kids manners, and who had better manners than Amigo? Except Amigo was the too-kind uncle who let the babies get away with anything. His very last charge was Sammy, a wild-hearted colt born to Annie, a mustang rescued from slaughter only a few weeks before her son was born on our farm. Sammy inherited his mother’s mustang heart and he took terrible advantage of Amigo, running him ragged in their paddock. Amigo, for his part, adored the young reprobate and let him get away with everything. Eventually we had to end that scenario and put Sammy in with Captain, who ran his paddock like a boot camp for juvenile delinquents. Poor Amigo could barely stand it as Captain nipped and head banged and cow-kicked Sammy into a more reasonably behaved young man. You could see the old horse cringing and muttering from the next paddock, “He’s just a high-spirited child! Let him be!”
I’ve wracked my brains thinking of stories about Amigo, but in the end, it boils down to one thing. We had 11 years of charm, graciousness and a sly sense of humor that permeated the very air around him. The most timid humans could handle Amigo with just a rope around his neck. The vet tech students who come to our farm to practice their skills could draw his blood, give him injections, check his every bodily function and he stood like a rock. When I would put his special trail boots on every morning before turning him out, he would lift each foot before I even asked, being as accommodating as possible while I adjusted them. Perhaps his only flaw, and it wasn’t much of one, was that I couldn’t let him be free range with the other old horses because, having been a police horse, the lure of the open road was too great. If I turned him loose he trotted straight down the driveway to the street and stood there looking around, perhaps imagining crowded city avenues and small children oohing and aahing at his feet. He never went any further than that, but really, we couldn’t let him stand in the road . . .
I’ve already written some about his final hour, but there’s more, and I didn’t understand it until a day later. While I sat with Amigo, I kept envisioning one of our other horses, Benny, in his stall. Benny had been in a back stall for a few years and he hated it. I apologized to him all the time, but the downside to being a very good boy, which he is, is that the horses who complain always get the stalls they ask for (and we learned that the hard way with a few broken doors.) I had finally been able to rearrange the residents so Benny could be in a stall at the end of the aisle next to the office, and he was thrilled. Every afternoon I let him out of his paddock and he trotted right down and put himself in.
Well, there I was, envisioning Benny in Amigo’s premier stall, and beating myself up for already replacing him. How could I even think about that, when I was waiting for the vet to come and, well, the chances of a horse Amigo’s age surviving being down were poor . . . what kind of crappy mama was I? And the vision kept popping up and I kept beating it down and beating myself up for being a terrible human being. But . . .
The next day, a long hard day, I decided that Benny would get Amigo’s stall, first door on the right. I led his paddock mate, Bingo, down to his own stall and propped their gate shut without locking it because I was going to be right back. I got partway down the hill when Benny, who never did anything wrong, pulled the gate open, let himself out and trotted directly down to Amigo’s stall. When I got there he planted his feet, looked me in the eye and said, “Mine.” His stall was 20 feet away, but he wasn’t budging.
“OK,” I said, holding back tears at seeing someone else in Amigo’s stall. “I guess it’s yours, then.”
The next afternoon I decided to test it, so I let Benny run down to the barn alone. One of our volunteers, Liz, was waiting to close his stall door, but when I got there she’d just finished an argument with him as she’d forgotten he had a new stall. He’d entered Amigo’s stall and stood his ground until Liz finally remembered that we’d changed his location.
“How does he know?” Liz asked. “Because he’s always gone to his own stall.”
That’s when I realized I should just ask him (sometimes I’m not as clever as I’d like to be.)
“Amigo gave it to me,” Benny replied. “He said it’s the ‘good boy’ stall.”
There I was, envisioning Benny in that stall and being upset about it, but the entire time it was Amigo, knowing he was going to cross the Rainbow Bridge, trying to tell me he was passing his prime digs on to his younger brother. Wow. What a dope. And what a way to keep this psychic/animal communicator completely humbled and in her place! Doh! So while I was utterly lost on his intent, that old horse made it perfectly clear to his buddy Benny what his final wish was. I’m thankful that horses can communicate with each other so fluidly; as a human, all my “junk” was in the way.
One last thing. Whenever I lose a friend, after I collect up the fur, feathers, mane or whatever and bring it into the house, I set it in front of the fireplace and light a candle. Then, I shuffle my worn deck of tarot cards and pull one for my newest angel so for the rest of my life whenever I come across that card I think of them. Amigo’s card was Medicine Wheel in my herbal tarot deck, which correlates to Wheel of Fortune in the standard deck.
I asked him why that card, and he replied, “Because it was only a spin on the wheel of fortune that brought me to you. It could just as easily have landed on euthanasia.”
I thought about all of the animals whose spin had ended sadly, and how easily it could have been Amigo. There are so many limits on rescue, such as space, funding, time, energy, volunteers . . . and I found myself obsessing, briefly, about how incredibly tragic it would have been if I hadn’t found room to squeeze Amigo into our barn.
My old pony friend stopped me before I got myself worked up.
“But I got here, Mama,” he said. “My spin was good.”
Yeah is was, Amigo. Thank you my friend. Your good fortune was also ours.
Day 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.
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 . . .
Hello all. I am wedged between cleaning the horse barn and homeschooling the grandchildren, so I thought I’d try to briefly catch up.
We 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 . . .