Sunday, April 08, 2007


I got it

Animal rescue and rehabilitation has become a passion for me over the past seven years or so, though I have loved animals for as long as I can remember. In fact, it may have taken me nearly forty years, but I've finally decided what I want to do when I grow up! Having volunteered at humane societies, a wildlife rehabilitation center, and through experiences with my own rescued pets, I've discovered that helping animals in need is not only what I want to be doing, but what I believe I'm supposed to be doing with my life.

Each rescued animal, of course, comes with a story. Some of the stories are all too familiar and frankly just annoying; owners who decide they don't have enough time for their new puppy, or the hamster that's "too much responsibility". But those animals are fairly easy to re-home. Then there's the 14 year old dog who's being surrendered by the owner who has had her since she was a pup, because she's developed a medical problem that's too much trouble to deal with - that one makes you incredibly angry. But worst of all are the deliberate and unfathomable acts of neglect and cruelty inflicted upon animals by a supposedly more evolved species - human beings.

While I love to help rehabilitate rescued animals, and truly believe that's where my future lies, these stories were taking their toll. I often felt a crushing sense of despair about the never-ending parade of animal abandonment, neglect, and cruelty cases, and the seemingly pervasive apathy of society in general to their plight. Not to mention the atrocities human beings perpetuate upon each other, or the destruction our species is wreaking upon this earth. Not seeing myself as much of a "people person" anyway, I found myself becoming increasingly, withdrawn, despondent, and pessimistic. If I was being affected this profoundly already, how could I ever hope to make rehabilitating rescued animals my fulltime vocation?

Then last October, my friend Cathi (aka CityGirl) called me; she was all excited about this rescued horse sanctuary she'd visited and I absolutely had to go out there with her! Well, she didn't have to twist my arm much - an opportunity to spend time with rescued horses? Of course I would go! I promptly accessed the website - now that I knew about it, I had to find out everything I could about the place right now!

I read about the horses, of course; cried at their stories, rejoiced in their rehabilitation, and gazed longingly at their pictures. Then I read the "All About Refuge Farms" section. Wow - I absolutely had to meet this Sandy Gilbert. Just from reading what she had written, I knew this woman was going to be an amazing source of inspiration for me. I was chomping at the bit, so to speak, to get out to Refuge Farms for my first visit.

I'll admit there was something I had reservations about, however. What was all this business about using these recovering horses to heal visiting human beings? Shouldn't a horse rescue focus their onsite efforts completely on the horses? Granted, other rescue organizations have community outreach programs using rehabilitated animals as therapy and/or educational animals, and I believe they are wonderful endeavors, but those activities are usually conducted offsite, leaving the rescue facilities to focus their attention on the animals' rehabilitation. It seemed only logical that animals placed at a sanctuary and not available for adoption should be as insulated as possible from the stresses inherent to interactions with strangers.

How Sandy herself could be so passionate about extending the Missions of Refuge Farms to include healing human beings was a mystery to me. After all, it was she who rescued these horses and often had to deal directly with their abusers. She always saw these horses at their worst; the results of the neglect, fear, and unspeakable cruelty they had suffered. I'd read the story of Ima and April, and could not comprehend how she was able to even be civil to that horrible man. I understand why she needed to be, of course; it's the how she managed it that eluded me.

The day for our visit finally arrived and off we went. I was greeted warmly by Sandy and volunteers alike. We walked to the barn with Sandy introducing me to each horse we encountered along the way, and she told me his or her story. Then along came this enormous horse named Big Guy who, with no hesitation whatsoever, stuck his head over the gate to check me out. Oh, my! To gaze into those mesmerizing eyes and to stroke that huge head and soft nose was something I'll never forget. For a few moments, it was as if the rest of the world just receded into the background - there were only the two of us, and this incredible feeling of calm enveloping me.

I met Bonita. Oh, what horrendous treatment this majestic horse had endured her entire life before Sandy brought her to THE FARM. I heard of her strength, courage, determination, and tremendous will to live in spite of her physical challenges. But what was most amazing to me was her capacity for forgiveness, and her willingness to place her trust in the humans of Refuge Farms in spite of what all her prior experience with humans had taught her.

In the end, I didn't ask Sandy any of the questions I had intended to ask before I arrived. Just spending the day with those extraordinary horses and the people who cared for them - I got it...

The MAGIC Sandy wrote about was real - I'd actually felt it. Maybe this MAGIC is different for each person who feels it, but I have no doubt that it affects them in a positive and fundamental manner. My hope is that everyone who experiences this MAGIC will speak of it to others and encourage them to visit, and as a result, continually spread the Missions of Refuge Farms. In this way, I believe we can make a positive, significant, and lasting impact on our world and its inhabitants.

I now volunteer at Refuge Farms because I've come to adore the horses and the people who care for them, and I believe wholeheartedly in the Missions, but I have selfish reasons as well; the horses, the people, and the atmosphere of THE FARM bring me a sense of peace I've experienced nowhere else. I've found that this peace regenerates me, and the example set by these remarkable horses and their dedicated caregivers grant me strength and patience.

Bonita, it was an honor to have known and loved you. We miss you deeply...


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