I’ve always loved sheep. If their fluffy bodies weren’t enough for me to find them endearing, then I needn’t look far for more to adore: their keyhole shaped pupils and considerate, thoughtful way of living and interacting with one another also sets them apart in my eyes. I’m sure you can imagine that when I found myself gazing at a young ewe and her two-month-old lamb, both pictured standing side-by-side looking intently at their photographer, I simply had to coo! The pair made for an adorable photo as they stood in a lush grassy pasture looking quite serene. Anyone would think them the luckiest of souls, but unfortunately I found the photo to be something of a bait-and-switch, because the caption I noticed soon thereafter still sends chills down my spine, leaving me feeling a sick sense of dread:
“For wool or for meat! $150 for the two of them!”
Stop. Wait. What? I could feel my blood curdle slowly within me. My breathing became jagged as I typed frantically, as if without thinking at all about what my fingers were doing: “I’ll take them. Just tell me when I can come and get them, and I’ll take them both.” I simultaneously bit my lip, wondering silently to myself, “where the hell am I to come up with $150, and the money to feed them?” I’m sure many sanctuary workers and fellow animal rescuers can relate to my woe.
Yet I had to try, so I sent them the message. I never heard anything from them. A friend of mine also tried to get in touch with the guardian of these two precious beings, only to find that they had already found a home… or something much less kind, but I will never really know.
I’ve had some people tell me I’m far too sensitive a person for rescue work. The tears of both anguish and joy that flood out of my body could fill the Grand Canyon to overflowing. Knowing that these sweet sheep were likely at a loss was agonizing, and the hefty realization that their lives may very well be over because they were viewed as commodities – property, not worthy of personhood – set in like cement, hard and cold in my heart. It’s still a thought that catches me in the throat from time to time.
It wasn’t too long after this whole ordeal that I found myself sobbing into the hair of a friend, declaring the world terribly callous and in need of a severe priority check, as I came to terms with my own inability to save them all. It is a considerable weight to carry knowing that someone else approved of their deaths, yet there I waited with bated breath and a hand on the doorknob ready to welcome them into my family. Their family. What could be more family for all of us. And yet…
Silence. I sat. My hands caressed the necks and backs of my own two similarly keyhole-eyed goats. Their wide smiles are infectious to anyone who spends time with them. They leaned into me as I rubbed their backs and scratched around their horns. Their eyes would roll happily into the back of their heads when I did this, their cute white eyelashes gently grazing their pearly coats as they enjoyed our rich and playful interactions.
These moments were like sweet rapture. It seemed that together, the three of us were able to let go of all the woes in the world, leaving it all outside of those tall fences that encircled us. It was our own special haven, a sacred circle of trust and intentional inclusivity. Yet in that moment I felt something else. It lingered on my lips and tempted my mind into darkness. I looked upon Gladyse, her golden eyes bright and intent on getting my attention as her ears twitched away mosquitoes and noseeums.
I smiled and scooted toward her, thinking back to her recent illness and the many hours of treatment and cuddling, as well as hundreds of dollars I had spent in order to keep her with us. I recalled holding her trembling head and singing softly to her, reminding her – and myself – that life could be all right and that she was loved in every stage of it. Eunice, her identical twin sister, was never far away. She was gentle and protective, a phenomenal nurturer and comforting force who would use her innate healing abilities to console her exhausted and ill sister. And it was in those moments we’d sit together, me singing and Gladyse trembling, that my mind wandered painfully to other less fortunate souls.
How was it that I could work so hard for her life, spending countless hours and hundreds of dollars to give her whatever she needed, and yet others would willfully bring suffering and death instead? How was I given this opportunity to love without boundaries, without need for commodification or killing of others? Why was it not possessed by others too, so they could become endlessly open-hearted toward all species?
And as I closed the gate for the night, the crickets chirping their merry tune around me, the gentle rustling of my own beautiful and beloved family bedding down in whatever way they saw as fitting, I tried to remind myself to count my blessings. Those blessings have names, and they’re all in my family.