When you live, as Beth and I do, with 7 dogs (down from a high of 9), and a barn full of horses, miniature horses, donkeys, goats and llamas (many of them belong to us and are rescue beings, some are boarders), you know it’s possible that the circle of life can show up at any time, with little or no notice or warning.
This is especially true, given that we believe that each one, deserves a forever home, where they can live all of their days with dignity, great love and care, despite the fact that many of them are essentially fertilizer producing lawn decorations. Beautiful, powerful beings nonetheless.
But they are, without a doubt, all very much family!
Most of their day-to-day care, falls to Dan. He’s a foster son who has lived in Beth’s home for over 30-years. He’s the keeper of the herd, the tender of the pack. He and 5 of the dogs, reside in the walkout level of the house.
He’s wonderful with all of the animals. I’d guess that he’s more than a bit intuitive when it comes to what is going on in their lives.
But over the decades that he’s been a part of the family, he’s said hello, and goodbye to dozens and dozens of beautiful souls who have called Hotel Caledonia home.
I’ve been involved for nearly 7-years as I write this, and after the events of New Year’s Day, I was trying to remember the names and faces of each one that has crossed the bridge in that time.
From the dog population, we’ve said goodbye to Maggie, Gracie, Jake and Toby.
There was Billy Joe, a pigmy goat, the blonde and the chocolate colored full sized goats, Baaaaby the sheep, Oinkette, a pot-bellied pig, and horses; Moose, Daisy, Sarge, Nina, Santana Red, Seamus, and most recently, Moe.
Because of who I am, and the belief system I carry, on those occasions when we have to make the decision to have our vet provide an injected assist, to help them cross the bridge, I will spend time with each one. Talking to them, assuring them that they are loved and will be missed, that there will be a herd of familiar faces to greet and welcome them on the other side.
I’ll generally do Reiki on each one, and go stall-to-stall asking each of the barn mates to send their love to their neighbor who is about to depart.
I guess it doesn’t matter a lot, if I’m doing all that for them, or for me or both. But I know that the process allows me to feel much more peaceful about the decisions we have to make.
Honoring them in this way only seems right.
When the time comes, and I lead them out of their stalls, down the aisle, to the quiet place alongside the barn. The barn is absolutely quiet, there’s a sacredness in the space. Not a peep out of anyone. Each one, watching in unison as their buddy makes that final walk.
Our primary vet just retired recently. I’ll miss him. He’s always so kind, so gentle. Every time, he explained to me what is about to happen, as if I’ve not heard it before. His assistant always asked if I’m sure I want to hold the lead rope and be there. My answer is always the same. “I want the last face they see to be the face of someone they know, a face that reflects the love and honor we have for them.”
Then it is done.
Almost always, I get a sense of gratitude that we’ve recognized that it is time. Not too soon, not too late…. and that they are ok. Then, as life leaves, I see them romping in a heavenly pasture with long time friends they’ve not seen in ages.
Each one living or not, leaves a mark on my heart. Each one, so individual in personality and the way they interact. Saying goodbye always makes my eyes leak. There is sadness that they will not be a part of day-to-day life, that I won’t be able to talk to them, rub their ears, feed them some treats and wonder at their beauty, power and wisdom.
But there is more! Because we are a ‘forever’ home, there is recognition of the honor it has been to be ‘their humans’… to have them as a part of our family. To be able to provide them a safe, stable, well-cared for life. Some come in with scars of many kinds. But after a time, with Dan there, every day taking care of their needs and treating them with dignity and respect, they learn to trust again.
I am not always sure why I’m nudged to write any of these blog posts. The roots of this one are from events of New Year’s Eve and New Years Day. Moe, the senior member of the barn family developed some problems. After consulting with our Vet, and monitoring his symptoms, he had to be put down the next day.
On New Years Eve I debated posting his photo and what was happening on my Facebook wall. I knew that some of my online friends had met Moe. Others are energy workers who would throw their energy into the best possible outcome. Still others, would send up a prayer.
But I’m always hesitant to post these sorts of things, for fear that others will think that my motivation is less than pure, or seeking sympathy, or whatever it is people think.
But in the end, I posted, then after Moe passed, I posted an update.
The responses were lovely, heartfelt, ongoing. That touched me deeply. That on a busy holiday, people would take time to send up a prayer, type words of encouragement or sympathy. Frankly, that they cared at all was inspiring.
So now, I’m nearing the end of this writing, still wondering exactly why I need to write it. Realizing that it might not matter why. Perhaps it’s just me ALLOWING myself to put my stories out there with the hope that there is something that I write that can shine a light on a situation for someone who reads it.
Or maybe, it is all about me. That I need to ponder all of this, put it into some sort of readable form, so that I can remember and honor again, the wonderful lives that have been entrusted to us, and the memories of these beautiful creatures.
Perhaps it serves as a reminder for me to honor each human creature I encounter, regardless of whether they are powerful and beautiful or broken and struggling. If I can afford that love and courtesy to 4-legged people in the barn, that only seems right, right?
I have no delusion that should I approach every person and being in this way, that it will spread and become the norm. That we’ll start walking more kindly and gently alongside each other, but I can hope, can’t I?
One last memory as I end this piece. A couple of years ago, we had two older horses who were reaching the finish line at the same time. It seemed fitting, as they had begun their lives in Beth’s barn many years ago. They were Sarge and Nina. Boyfriend and girlfriend, though Sarge considered himself a bit of a ladies man. Each time a new mare joined the family, Sarge would leave Nina to make a play. When that didn’t work, Nina would be there waiting for him to return.
As Sarge developed trouble with balance and mobility, Nina was literally at his side. Supporting him, and I imagine encouraging him.
When I was working with them/talking to them in preparation for their departure, I got the strong sense that Sarge needed to go first. That Nina had taken a vow to support him and be there for him until the end, and if we attempted to do ladies first, she would really put up a fight.
As I got into my Jeep afterward to drive back to the house… as soon as the radio started.. the opening notes of the Rolling Stones “Wild Horses” began. I’d been holding myself together with a thin string that immediately snapped.
Now, when I hear that song, I have faces and names to go with the Wild Horses they sing about.