Only hours ago, I was making my way home as the rain poured down and the windscreen wipers struggled to do their job. A trailer-load of abattoir-bound pigs headed the other way, grabbing both my gaze and heartstrings, as the words, “And they’re going to get wet” rolled from my lips. The thought haunted me for the rest of the drive home—that in their final hours on this earth, those gentle pigs would not even be afforded the kindness of warmth as their lives were soon to be reduced to pork, ham and bacon. But it also reminded me of the serenity prayer: “God* grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
Every day I work on that prayer; in fact, it is what weaves the threadbare fabric of my world together. While it may come as a surprise to some, there are some days when I’m holding it together better than on other days, and some days when my world threatens to fall apart. Today is one of the latter. Already struggling under the weight of last night’s decision to end the life (and pain) of my beautiful buddy Neo, I arrived home to learn that little Todman’s brain had said, “No more”.
So, although on the outside it may well look like I am holding it together, over 40 years of animal rescue tells a different story that it never, ever, EVER gets any easier. For in rescue, successful or otherwise, each and every animal leaves both an indelible mark and more often than not a heart-wrenching scar—just where I feel it the most. And today that sent me headfirst into the soft purring fur that is Jessica Cat’s stomach. As Jessie’s fur began to get wet, I soon knew it was more than Ruby’s sympathetic licking (who too had heard my pain), as I sobbed and sobbed, something I so rarely do.
Thinking back on the lives of these two beautiful beings, one of whom I have known for some time and the other not so, I wondered just why those of us who rescue do what we do, for we know it is always going to end up this way, as one way or another, animals even in the natural scheme of things ultimately find their way home sooner than we. And we are left to trudge on to find ours. Even finding meaning and purpose in one’s life is so often a struggle in a world that is not always fair, especially to the most voiceless and vulnerable amongst us.
For me, animals hold so much beauty and tranquillity. They greet each new day with no agenda but with an enthusiasm for all the incredible possibilities the day can offer and an unquestioning acceptance for whatever it does. Their Zen-like ability to simply live in the moment blankets their worlds in a calm we humans can only dream of. I guess this is where I draw my inspiration from, and why I love so much to be in their presence. They truly enrich my world as, I trust, on some level I do theirs.
It is interesting to note that many who advocate for animals argue they are so like us, when in fact it is we who should learn to be so like them: at ease with who we are, accepting of what life offers but forever relishing any kindnesses (and in the case of pigs, treats) that come our way.
So, let me tell you a bit about Neo. He came into our world on 1 January 2015, a very sick young lamb with a terrible case of photosensitivity. Whilst we were able to rein in the debilitating external effects of his condition, the extent of his liver damage was a wait-and-see game. Initially, all things were good and Neo took up residence in our flock, but before doing so fell head over hoof in love with a bright pink teddy bear who became his constant companion during his recovery. As the seasons rolled on, for all intents and purposes, Neo became a happy and healthy boy, even swapping his stuffed bear friend for woolly buddies of his own kind. However, sadly his liver did not live up to its promise and the photosensitivity returned with a vengeance, which saw Neo take on an almost vampire-like existence to combat this: coming inside as the sun rose and returning to his sheepy pals as she set. Surprisingly (or rather not so surprisingly, given the resilience of sheep), Neo took to this life well, amazingly well, the return of his much-loved and now-grubby pink teddy bear in his stall each day no doubt making his world complete. Up until a few days ago, it could easily have been argued Neo’s life was rich and full, as he knew his routine and he would patiently wait at his paddock gate each day come sunrise, and would proudly stride back to the barn in the company of the human buddy who had gone to retrieve him. I honestly believe that if he had an opposable hoof he would have opened the darn gate and marched himself into the barn at exactly the right time each day, just like clockwork. But the last few days of his life were not rich, as his damaged liver (despite all the tonics and potions that had so greatly assisted him) began to fail; undeniably, it had reached that critical tipping point. It was clear that did I not intervene, the only thing his life would have been full of would be pain and that was something I could never allow on my watch. Neo has now found his way home as he has been laid to rest in our enchanted forest, a much-loved, once brightly pink teddy bear nestled next to him. Neo buddy, you enriched all of our lives in ways you will never know, and will be forever in our hearts.
And of dear Todman. Oh boy, could life get any crueller? He fell from a livestock truck on one of the coldest days on record here in Central Victoria as much of the countryside yielded to a chilly blanket of powdery white snow—but not so the heart of the Good Samaritan who came upon Todman by the side of the road. And his luck continued to rise, as did his critically low temperature, as he was rushed to our care. From here he was spring-boarded to one of the finest and most dedicated veterinary clinics in the country, where no technology or kindness was spared to pull him to the right side of living. And that is just what was happening as the brave little man seemed to be overcoming the horrific head trauma that had fractured his skull and bruised his brain. However, yesterday, for Todman, life was not good, and today it was even worse, and we agreed, No more. One of the hardest things for me to bear was that little Todman had surmounted so many obstacles, yet the last proved just too high, even with all the leg ups we could offer. I am so grateful that I did have the opportunity to spend quality time with him and that he did not die cold and alone. I truly wish I could find more poignant words to honour him.
Holding the thoughts of proud Neo and sweet Todman close, I jolt myself from my bed and that pillow that is Jessica Cat (although that jolt may have been more Ruby pawing at my back), as I tell myself that it is time to make their lives matter and pen the thoughts I had written in my head. So here they all are, from a heart filled with ache—the memory of Neo and Todman ensures it can also be filled with hope, beauty, and kindness, should we choose to make it that way.
So, for now, I need to make time for myself. I’m off to hug a sheep, tell a cow how sweet her eyes are, rub the belly of a pig and smile at the cheeky antics of a goat—and you know what else I am going to do? Nothing. I’m going to stare off into the distance and enjoy the quietness of just being alive, just as Neo did on so many occasions and sadly little Todman did on too few. To those who rescue animals, wherever you may be, and to those who bear witness to their suffering, wherever you are, I encourage you all to do the same: take just five minutes, that’s all, because we are animals too, and in all of this crazy mixed-up world in which we live, our lives matter too.
The tragedy of all this pain we feel and that farmed animals endure is that it doesn’t need to happen; it never needs to happen. If only people could see the animals who are farmed for food and fibre for who they are: truly unique, often quirky, most times happy, inquisitive, innocent, beautiful and oft-times kind, although some are indeed grumpy (and I love them just the same). If only people could see them as the individuals they are, not the products society causes them to become, because, at the end of the day, all we are doing here on this earth is finding our way home …
*My interpretation of God extends beyond the biblical sense to embrace whatever god or higher being you choose.