Lessons in Friendship

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Every now and then we experience those moments of realisation that things, events and experiences have brought life around full circle. Often, these realisations come at a much later date, during times of reflection rather than at the actual moment they occur for those moments are often too painful, too demanding of our energies or too all-consuming to ever contemplate the bigger picture.

One such moment we experienced recently here at the sanctuary was the passing of our beloved Vincent van Goatee. Even the typing of his name brings tears to the eyes, still so real is the pain of losing him.

I have no doubt that each one of us has a desire to be remembered for something when our days on this earth come to an end. Were we brave and courageous, kind to a tee, intelligent, accomplished, rich and famous, did we achieve great things, right a wrong or all of the above? The list goes on. And if there is one defining quality that comes to mind when we reflect on the life of dear Vincent it was most certainly this: friendship.

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The memory of that cool Wednesday morning we pulled up at the rural pound and first laid our eyes on Vincent is still as clear as the day it happened. A stately Anglo Nubian cross, who looked more camel-like than caprine and an older, handsome Toggenburg with the most impressive beard gazed back at us from the paddock beyond. At first, we couldn’t help but giggle as we wondered how on earth two of the biggest goats we had ever seen were going to fit into our van, which now seemed tiny in comparison. But we were soon sobered when we realised the smaller of the two, the boy we were to christen Vincent van Goatee visibly trembled at the mere sight of us. This simultaneously broke our hearts and made the task ahead seem near impossible. How on earth were we to catch this terrified goat and convince him to step foot into our vehicle without him fleeing through the flimsy fence and onto the busy road beyond?

We needn’t have worried as this was just the first of many lessons dear Vincent had in store for us. From that moment on, we were his students and him our teacher. The subjects at hand? Trust. Friendship. Life.

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You see, Vincent’s companion Parker was far more receptive to our presence and the patient council ranger knew this and had spent many days earning Parker’s trust. And so, as Parker was gently led onto our loading ramp, Vincent’s instinct to follow his friend was stronger than his instinct to flee us and he followed his friend right on into the unknown. And as we gently cut away the crudely fashioned baling twine ‘collars’ that appeared to have been painfully cutting into the goats’ necks for many years, we assured Vincent he had made the right choice.

Lesson one: Follow your heart, not your fears, it may lead you places you never thought imaginable.

Parker and Vincent’s time at the sanctuary has been filled with love, fields to roam and adventures to be had.Despite integrating with our main goat herds, the two have never strayed too far from one another’s side, tolerating other goats but never striking a true friendship with anyone else. Over the years, Parker has had to undergo numerous surgeries for complications related to his urinary tract; a condition not unusual in castrated male goats but in Parker’s case the cause has been linked to his large size and confirmation, rather than any dietary deficiency. And through it all, Vincent has been there for his friend. In fact, it was quite the scene Vincent left in the Vet’s waiting room during Parker’s first emergency surgery. Having left the farm in quite a hurry, we had taken Vincent along for moral support and also because the duo had never before been separated. Many laps with the mop and buckets of water later helped us with the decision that Vincent could wait back at the farm for his buddy from now on!

And that he did. Never once resisting the walk up to the barn as Parker remained in our recovery stall, enjoying on lead walks around the farm while his friend was under strict monitoring and again, never straying too far from his buddy’s side, we have no doubt that Vincent’s presence made the world of difference to Parker in his time of need.

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Lesson two: sometimes being a friend means just showing up and being yourself, perhaps it’s as simple as that.

Vincent had grown to trust us over the years and a cheeky side to his personality had begun to emerge. On more than one occasion, watching Parker and Vincent carry out their ‘We haven’t been fed for days!’ routine would have us calling out to each other across the barn, “Has anyone fed Parker and Vincent?” Indeed someone had. Often multiple times. If in human form, these two would definitely have been a comedy duo, so impeccable was their act.

Recently another goat in need came into our care. Having sustained horrific facial injuries after a dog attack, this gentle girl was named Together, for many individuals had come together to secure her safety. Many terrified goats have come into our care over the years but there was something about Together that reminded us of Vincent, not in appearance but in spirit. There was a hint of cheekiness, yet as we held her to treat her wounds she would tremble uncontrollably, such was her fear of man. It soon became clear that Together needed her own kind and an introduction to Parker, Vincent as well as two dorper sheep Dana and Denise was made. With her healing facial wounds, her right eye swollen shut and topical ointments, Together was a sorry sight indeed and our introduction was less than successful as Parker, Dana and Denise raced off into the distance. But it was Vincent who gently came forth and touched noses with the newcomer, before leading her away to meet his gang. Although always gentle, never before had he so openly befriended another goat, nor had he ever not followed Parker’s lead. Why now? We really didn’t know.

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Lesson three: Our eyes see faces, our hearts see souls.

It was just last week that our elderly, gentle and beloved Vincent took ill, declining rapidly and seeing us immediately rush him to the veterinary hospital. Knowing how close he and Parker had been throughout the years and how vital he had been throughout Parker’s journey we whispered tearfully in those final moments, “Please hold on buddy. Parker needs you. We need you.” But Vincent’s body could do no more and all we hold is the knowledge that he was able to know the privilege of old age, his illness was brief and that he left this world knowing he was loved and experiencing no pain.

It is only now, a week on that we are able to sit back and reflect on the life of this miraculous goat. He was indeed an old man who could well have been holding on until he knew his friend was looked after. Did he know Parker would be ok without him, now that Together was by his side? Did he understand how much of him we saw in Together, knowing she would help us heal from losing him? Can animals even know such things? Can any of us? One thing we know for certain is that beings like Vincent van Goatee truly are our greatest of teachers, if only we take the time to stop and pay attention. Life is always full of challenges, the fear of the unknown and of losing those we love most is some of the most difficult among them. But that’s no reason to live with a closed heart, Vincent taught us so.

Lesson four: To live on in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die.

Goodbye, dear Vinnie, our teacher, our friend. Thank you for everything buddy. We will love you forever.

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