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 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.

Falstaff

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.

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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. 

 


A Presidential Case of PTSD . . . Or . . . time to turn off the news, Kathleen

17426183_10155150958898799_302676436118734886_nYesterday, Ragano Hemingway, my young Australian shepherd, had a tummy ache complete with vomiting and diarrhea. I tried to talk myself down and wait 24 hours to see if he felt better, but my OCD got the better of me and I made a late afternoon appointment with his veterinarian in Milford. Ragano and I settled into the truck and I laid my right arm on the console; he rode shotgun and laid his head across my arm. My animals are always a comfort to me, and that day I thought he was letting me know he was going to be OK. But being Ragano, it was much more than that.

I have mild post-traumatic stress disorder . . . as if there is such a thing as a tiny dose of PTSD. I was a badly bullied child. I wouldn’t say I was the most bullied person in the world (as I will respectfully leave that title to those who did not survive the trauma) but it was to the point where I was frequently suicidal. When I was in the sixth grade, however, I was gifted with a stray dog named Gretchen who loved me best and gave me reason to live. When kids followed me home from school chanting “Schurman rots” while spitting at me and pulling my hair, I would march with my back ram-rod straight, absorbing the onslaught, waiting for the moment my dog would race to me, let me hold her tight and sob into her soft, brown fur; Gretchen is what kept me from marching straight to the gun rack in the basement and blowing my head off.

While my dog was there to comfort me, home wasn’t much better as I had a sibling who was just as tortuous, if not more so. “All the neighbors talk about you all the time – they all say you’re fat and ugly. They hate you.” Fat and ugly. Fat and ugly. Everyone hates you. EVERYONE HATES YOU. It was all too easy to believe. If not for my dog . . . who never noticed I was fat and ugly (I was actually very skinny, but if you told me so, I wouldn’t have believed you) I wouldn’t be here today.

Consequently, my adult life is now one endless battle on behalf of all animals, one of whom saved my young life a thousand times over . . . but that’s not what this story is about. It’s about bullies, PTSD and the events that trigger it.

No one can deny the President of the United States is a bully. Even his fans know this, and they insist it’s an admirable quality in a leader. I disagree, as I believe strength of character and integrity are far more commendable attributes for leadership, but I guess that’s just my humble opinion . . .

Everyone also knows one of Trump’s favorite bullying tactics is middle-school-variety name-calling. Elizabeth Warren finally had her DNA tested and it turns out “Pocahontas,” as the president has derisively tagged her, did have a Native American ancestor. Sure, it’s distant, probably about the same distance my kids have from the Native American in their paternal grandmother’s gene pool, yet it existed in Warren’s family lore as it does in my children’s (who think it’s pretty cool, and I am, I must admit, a little envious.) So yesterday, Warren announced she’d had a DNA test done and it was positive for Native American genes. Trump’s response was classic bully. “Who cares?” He laughed, then attacked her because it was distant, and of course, he reneged on his offer to donate a million dollars to charity if it turned out she was correct. Oh yes, and and he will continue to call her Pocahontas. The truth is, when up against a master bully, it doesn’t matter what you do; they are slippery little devils and they instantly find the next words or actions to torture their victims and keep them looking over their shoulders. Instead of actually living their lives, a bully’s victim is always watching for the next punch, the next ball of spittle . . .

(Why do you walk so straight, I was once asked by a bully . . . you’re so stiff, he said . . . I didn’t answer . . . I just pulled myself taller and walked faster . . . always steeling myself against the punch in the back . . .)

In any case, I made the mistake of watching Trump respond to Warren’s DNA results. He volleyed with a string of bullying techniques, then doubled down while his followers cheered his every utterance. Shortly after watching this, I drove to Milford, my childhood town, where in my youth I’d been treated to every bullying tactic Trump had just demonstrated, and then some. I hadn’t noticed my PTSD was flaring from the news, and dammit, out slithered my “inner bully.”

I began to picture myself as fat and ugly, I took a wrong turn in a town that I know like the back of my hand, then actually used my childhood nickname (Bird Nest for my uncontrollable, straw-colored hair) as I mocked myself for screwing up. It took two attempts to park my car in the only available spot in the lot. “Aaaaaaaah! Bird!!!” I heard my inner bully taunt me as my Ragano Hemingway pressed his face tighter into my arm; it was clear he’d noticed what was happening to me long before I did. I hauled my dumpy, ugly self up the stairs into the vet’s office without realizing the nasty turn my brain had taken until after I’d left the office with Ragano’s tummy meds in hand.

It took two turns to get the farm truck out of the narrow parking space.

“Aaaaaah! You can’t even drive! You suck! Birrrrrrd!” My inner bully was hitting her stride.

Ragano whined out loud, and I thought he was in pain, but then I realized he was trying to wake me up from my daytime nightmare – my PTSD was spiraling out of control and I was reliving my childhood, taking on the voices of my bullies and using them against myself. The combination of watching our president bully a woman on TV, plus my being in my childhood town, was more than my psyche could handle.

I stopped at the exit of the parking lot and leaned over to hug my dog and take a few deep breaths. OK. My dog loves me, my dog loves me, my dog loves me . . . over and over again until nothing else was in my head or heart. He firmly pressed his nose into my arm all the way home.

Animals have always saved me, and in return, I will always work to save and care for as many of them as I can. It’s the very least I can do and it’s my greatest mission in life. Last night Elizabeth Warren carried on with her own mission despite having the “most powerful man in the world” as her personal bully. I felt envious of her thick skin, but then I thought about it and I realized she was too passionate about helping others to have never actually been affected by the sting of a bully’s attack. My guess is Warren has come up against plenty of bullies, aside from Trump, and it only inspires her to work harder for those hurting and in need.

This morning I woke up and started caring for my animals, most of whom are either special needs or came from one hellhole or another of abuse, neglect or being in line for slaughter. This is my life. Would I be an animal rescuer if I hadn’t been tortured as a child? Who knows. My earliest thoughts were of loving animals, so perhaps it was my destiny even without having overdosed on bullies. Did overcoming adversity lead me to do this? I dunno about that, either. I don’t feel I’ve overcome anything, and I still waste way too much time and energy when my PTSD kicks in. And lately . . . wow . . . way too many reminders . . . too many triggers . . .

The name of our farm’s non-profit is Rescues Who Rescue, which has multiple interpretations. As in, who is rescuing whom? The animals are clearly rescued, but those of us who care for them have just as clearly been rescued in return. We like to think of Locket’s Meadow as a microcosm of what the world should be . . . a place where animals and humans are all equals, where we work together to care for each other and lift each other up, NEVER tear each other down. Can this translate to the real world? I dunno. I really don’t. Ragano Hemingway thinks it can, as do the rest of our animals. So I will continue to plug away, right alongside them.

We are up against one hulluva huge wall, that’s for sure.

But if my babies believe it can be done, so will I, PTSD and bullies be damned.

Kathleen Schurman and her husband, “Poor David,” own Locket’s Meadow Animal Sanctuary in Bethany, CT, where if anyone bullies any of their beloved animals they are immediately thrown out on their keisters.