The Farm Animal Rescuers’ Lament:

Or, What the hell were we thinking?

 

Early this morning as I scanned through my Facebook feed, a post from Ziggy’s Rescue Farm Sanctuary caught my eye. The author was lamenting the loss of yet another rescue, a pig named Allison, and he wrote that he was awake most of the night before wracking his exhausted brain, wondering if they could have done more to save her. I glanced over at our oversized picnic basket in front of the bookshelf. It’s filled with plastic bags that contain feathers, fur, an occasional collar, one feed bucket labeled “Falstaff,” bunches of horsetail hair bound with medical tape. There are over a hundred packets in there from decades of animal rescue, and with every single one of them, I am flooded with regrets and what-ifs. The Ziggy’s Rescue post listed all the what-ifs that may have enabled them to save Allison’s life. I sighed and opened the lid to our basket and was assaulted by hundreds of the same regrets. 

A candle is burning in our fireplace near a bag containing hair from our most recent loss, the most beloved Benny Coconut. Our giant, one-eyed steer went down in his paddock with no warning, and there was no getting his 2,000-pound bulk up again. We tried. Meds, straps, the tractor. Hell, the dreaded bottle of fly spray didn’t get him to his feet. The vet came out and agreed there was something wrong but she had no way to diagnose him in the field. We tried some more, but no . . . It was nearing 100 degrees and we couldn’t allow him to suffer on the ground in that heat. We made the call to euthanize one of our dearest friends. I cried for days. THIS JOB IS HELL.

The good people of Ziggy’s Rescue do not suffer alone. All farm animal rescuers have PTSD, for those we have rescued and done our best for, and for those we couldn’t bring home due to lack of funds, space, time or energy . . . and we all get out of bed each morning with some trepidation as to what we will find. Locket’s Meadow rescues the special needs, ancient and fragile animals. Every day is a roller coaster ride.  Every single day, our hearts are at risk. You would think the layers of accumulated scar tissue would protect us, but no . . . it never gets easier, and it’s often more difficult. 

We all have the same dream. We all buy lotto tickets and lie awake planning how we will use the money to spoil our animals, to hire extra help, to build more sheds, fix fencing, buy supplements, buy more acreage. Rescuers are a breed apart; it’s never about us, always about what we can do for the animals. We have lived for 22 years with a 60-year-old bathroom, the original one put in our ancient farmhouse to replace the outhouse. It’s BEIGE. It’s UGLY. I hate it. But over and over again, when faced with the need for a new shed or a bathroom that doesn’t have visibility through the floor into the stone basement, we choose the shed. A conservative estimate is that 80 percent of our income goes directly to the animals. If you add in mortgages and taxes to keep this property, it’s closer to 95 percent. 

If we didn’t have all these animals, David and I could live quite happily in a double wide with a few cats and dogs. Our own needs are simple. But our babies . . . if we don’t take care of them, who will? Because running an animal sanctuary is only for the bravest, toughest and softest of heart. We are uncommon and foolish and down to our last penny almost every day, counting on the Magic of the animals to save us and them. And most of the time, the Magic comes through. You rescuers all know what I’m talking about.

We pass out exhausted at the end of each day, usually before the sun sets. We wake up in the dark each morning, and follow the exact same pattern, start to finish, so we don’t miss a single one of our tasks, so every feed and water bucket is filled. As much as we do for these animals (who didn’t have a chance if we hadn’t taken them in) we never feel as if we are doing enough. Never. They all deserve perfection. So, that last thing we do each evening is run to the gas station and buy a lotto ticket. Just in case. We all do it, all of us rescuers. Because, unlike Jon Stewart, we weren’t clever enough to have a popular TV show and become independently wealthy before we started doing this nonsense. Doh!

I’m writing this in my living room, sitting by the basket, because if I’m in any other area of the house the dogs won’t let me work. I look through the French door and I see Emmatilda, the deaf mini pig, lying on her bed, covered with rat terriers. Behind her is Ragano Hemingway, our Aussie dog who is currently fighting lymphoma. Next to him is his sister, Ursa Ozzie, who gets a shot of insulin twice a day with her diabetic prescription meals. I could walk through the house and out onto the farm and list about 130 animals, all dependent upon us in every way. We feel isolated and alone, even though there are others like us, like the people at Ziggy’s. 

From decades of doing this work, here’s what I know; we can obsess about our regrets, our broken hearts, our broken budgets. About the people who screwed us over, employees who did not have the animals’ best interest at heart (the reason we now do most of the work ourselves.) But it will cause us to burn out before our time. We must focus on the fact that what we do has great value for our animal friends, whether they survive a few days in our care, or 20 years. We must focus on the very moment we are in. Allison knew she was loved, and for her, that was enough, because animals live in the moment. Benny Coconut would have been slaughtered when he was only a few months old, but instead, he lived 13 years on Locket’s Meadow, singing with his Mama and sharing his paddock and his time with his dearest animal friends. It was enough because he appreciated every moment. We didn’t have to be billionaires to make his life worth living. The only way we can survive what we do it to focus on the love, our love for our babies and the unconditional love they give us in return. 

Does it always end up hurting like hell? Of course it does. That’s the nature of love. But for a rescuer, without it, our lives would be pointless. So we rescue on, keep on loving and always, always . . . believe in the Magic.  

As I finished writing this, my friend, Debby, of Connecticut Horse Cremation, pulled into the driveway with a heavy box of ashes belonging to our precious Benny Coconut. Even holding that box in my arms, it still didn’t feel like he was gone. Maybe because he never will be . . . each and every animal that comes through our lives changes us, becomes a part of us, and locks us more firmly in our resolve to do the work to honor them and maybe even rescue a few more. 

I pray for peace of mind for all of us who do this work, as well as the strength of body, mind and soul to get up each morning and do it all over again, right after we scan our lotto ticket, see we still aren’t millionaires, then lace up our boots, step outside and start feeding animals all over again.

Kathleen Schurman and her husband, David, are owned by the many animals of Locket’s Meadow Farm. Find them on Facebook, or at locketsmeadow.org.

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