Sunday, August 17, 2008


Lessons To Be Given

I’ve had an abundance of time for thinking this week. Hours on the Allis as I mow the pastures. And plenty of time picking eight wheelbarrows of manure every day in an attempt to keep the flies to a minimum.

In all of this thinking time, I’ve thought about the lessons that Keller brought to us. The lessons of how to be happy. That dog, even with his body ruined by a mean human and blinded by neglect, found happiness here. As a Human Being who is hearing anger and unhappiness and searching and discontent and dishonesty all around her, as I’ve thought of him I’ve wondered, “How did he find happiness with all the burdens on his skinny little shoulders? Where did his happiness come from? Where did he find his joy?”

In my thoughts and pondering of those questions, Keller has brought to me the secrets that he was intended to bring to us all. Perhaps this was his big purpose. Maybe not – maybe something all together different was his big purpose. Time will only tell us that one. But for right now, I have some thoughts and life lessons for all of us from observing Keller’s unending quest for his happiness....

Lesson #1: Choose to be Happy!

Keller was happy because he chose to be happy. Not because he carried his pains and unfulfilled wishes with him. Now he had wishes but he, like many before him, showed us how they are happy when they shed the regrets and live in the moment. Keller chose to see the good and overlook the bad.

Even though he was stuck in a bad situation, he noticed the cool water in his mouth, the sun on his shoulders, the food in his tummy, and the love from his girlfriend, Spirit. He treasured the companionship and freedom he found here. And he bounced right back to the good even after experiencing the pain of klunking his head on the trailer or walking right in to the truck.

Keller was a perfect example of “the glass being half-full instead of half-empty”. His take on everyday events was to not get buried in the bad and carry those bad feelings around with him, allowing them to fester and overtake his day. No, Keller would look for the good and cherish that time. Big lesson from a little blind dog.

Lesson #2: Have Passion to Give You Purpose!

Passion was important to Keller. He was passionate about his horses. He had never met horses prior to coming here – I could tell that from our first venture to the barn. Smelling them and feeling their breath he soon realized that these “dogs” were indeed very big! Oh my! They were big, big, big!

And his passion grew to be purposeful with these horses. It was his job to herd them and keep them in line. Even walking Handsomer from the old barn to the new barn had Keller on full alert and herding to the max! This dog had a passion and lived that passion every time the opportunity arose!

And this passion fed his need for purpose. When herding his horses, Keller was whole and complete, regardless of his physical limitations. Regardless of opinions about him. In his heart, Keller was a winner when he was with his horses and “keeping them in line”.

Lesson #3: Feed the Good Wolf

There’s an American Indian folklore about a Chippewa elder who told his grandson about the battle that goes on inside of people’s minds and hearts. He said, “My son, the battle is between the two wolves that live inside of us all. One is the Wolf of Unhappiness. It is fear, worry, anger, jealousy, sorrow, self-pity, resentment, and inferiority. The other is the Wolf of Happiness. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, kindness, generosity, truth, faith, and compassion.”

The grandson thought about what his elder had told him and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Keller fed his Wolf of Happiness every single day.

Lesson #4: Don’t Believe Everything They Say About You

Keller went against the norm, against the tide, against popular opinion and did what was in his heart. He didn’t listen to those that told him there wasn’t a way or even listen to those whose opinions were against his passions. He did not disregard them, he simply did not chose to accept them and take them on as his own. Keller listened to his inner voice and did what was the best for him without causing harm to others.

When you and I are faced with decisions that go “against the tide of popular opinion”, we must listen and recheck our personal compass. What is our decision based upon? Do we have the energy and the passion to take on the challenge? Will we be content in our new direction if those who disbelieve leave us? Is this change going to help our surroundings and those creatures that live around us?

If we can answer these questions honestly, then our decision will be based on those principles that create happiness in us.

Lesson #5: Take Care of Important Relationships

And finally, Keller took care of the relationships that were important to him. No matter how busy herding he was or how ill he was, Keller took the time to show appreciation for those that were important to him. He fostered and took care of his relationships. A simple kiss to Little Man. A resting head next to Babee the Cat. A nudge to me. Or time to sit and “watch” Spirit perform. Each of these were important to Keller because the creature was important to him. And in taking the time to show these creatures that he cared for them, he made himself happy.

What a dog! Giving us all the life lessons of happiness! May we all learn from this little creature of God’s who came with such a huge task to complete in such a short time!

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd

Sunday, August 10, 2008


My Greatest Friend

A loss came to me this week. A loss that I knew was coming – I knew it! But when it arrived it still hurt like crazy. My pal, my little Keller, decided it was time to let his body take over his determination to live. My little Keller crossed this past Tuesday.

I think back to last February when he arrived and I am still in complete and utter awe of him. He was so thin and shaky and so naïve of living in a house and being potty trained and how to sleep in a kennel and how NOT to kill the house cats. Absolutely no experience with the word “sit” and no knowledge that jumping on counters and couches and over coffee tables was really not the thing to do.

He couldn’t eat when he got here. His guts rolled almost constantly and he fought to wake me to go outside almost hourly those first few weeks. I tried boiled hamburger and rice, scrambled eggs, canned A/D, even some oatmeal. But in time and with patience, he came to love to eat and he would almost race me to his kennel for his dinner! He gained weight and showed us his physical beauty at 68 pounds! I was so proud of him and his ability to rebound, if only for a little while...

Taking his pills became a routine. Sit by the counter. Tilt the head back. Open his mouth. Swallow the pills. Then the kiss. Yup. From the very beginning, I would put my face by his and ask, “Can I have a kiss, Keller?” One lick of my cheek would be his kiss. Every time I asked. Even when I had just told him no, he couldn’t run in the house. No, he couldn’t pee in the house. No, he couldn’t eat the cats. “Can I have a kiss, Keller?” Every time, he kissed me and shared his love with me.

His kidneys caused him fluctuations these past five months. Some days were glorious! Some days were rough around the edges. But every day, he loved to travel to the barns with me and guard me. Make sure no one hurt me or got beyond the gates that he somehow knew were hanging in front of him. And he was mandated to go to the barns to sit with his girlfriend. To admire her form as she danced for him. She would run and kick and toss her head. All the while, Keller would sit by the gate of the corral facing her and "watching" her and showing his pride of his girlfriend by puffing up his chest.

When Spirit was done showing off for her man, she would come up to the fence and he would crawl halfway under the bottom board and they would touch. She would scratch his shoulders and he would talk to her telling her of his happiness in having found her. Such love and admiration I witnessed most of the spring and was honestly jealous of the total acceptance they had of each other. She thought he was handsome and strong, as he was. He thought she was beautiful, as she was. Neither could or would see the flaws of the other. Only the beauty and the good were visible to both of them. As it should be in any true love.

One of his favorite things to do was to go for a ride in the truck. Many times he just slept on the blankets put out for him. But several times, he would sit with his face in the wind and bark as trucks passed us or as people would walk by while we sat at stoplights. He loved to ride! For hours, he would ride and never tire of his truck. In fact, there were days when the truck was his "doghouse" - doors open, breeze blowing through, and Keller laying there just as comfortable as any living creature could possibly be!

Not once was he tied or chained. The “worst” of it would be to be put in the kennel for a while. And his cries told me that confinement was so scary for him that I would hurry to complete whatever task required him to be confined so I could open the gate and he could be free once again. There was no need to tie Keller. He loved it here and had no desire to wander. And his freedom was precious to him. I did all I could to fill his heart with freedom!

Little Man came to accept Keller and soon showed him the ropes. One morning my heart stopped when I could not see them laying on the porch! Where did Little Man take him? Outside I flew only to find the two of them on top of the manure pile. Little Man was digging and would put a choice morsel in front of Keller and nudge him, showing him that this was indeed a choice piece picked especially for him! Keller obliged by inhaling the morsel and then stood and awaited Little Man to serve him again. They were pals, for sure.

Later in his time here at THE FARM, Keller also found another girlfriend – Babee the Cat. Of all characters to attach to, Keller found a house cat to be perhaps his closest friend. It started out an adversarial relationship but oddly enough both have kidney problems, and so as kindred spirits, they found and soon adored each other.

His last afternoon here at THE FARM was spent in the house with Babee close beside him. Every once in a while, Babee would use her clawless front paws to pat his long black nose. And every once in a while, Keller would lean over and lick Babee. Babee would purr and the contentment was mutually complete. I can just imagine the conversation ... ”Keller, can you give me a kiss? I’ll pat you to show my love if you’ll just give me a kiss, please…”

* * * * *

Keller was indeed my greatest friend. We came to know each other in the colds and snows of late February and we watched the spring arrive together. Then summer arrived and my friend was still with me. I treasured him and came to respect his total exuberance for life and his sheer determination to prove every single veterinarian wrong. Keller could not be healed, no. We both knew that. But Keller would live well beyond the original ten days of medications!

Each time I renewed the prescriptions, the pharmacist would exclaim, “Keller is still with us? That dog loves you, Sandy Gilbert!” I would respond that the dog loved life, not me. But you had to be a fool not to see my chest swell with pride and pure joy that this little creature did, in fact, love me!

And I loved him. Totally and completely. We never hollered at each other. We never were mad at each other. There were times when he would be frustrated with my teachings and my rules. And I would sometimes grow weary of picking up the things he had just bumped in to or tipped over. The broken yard ornaments are now treasured. Broken because Keller bumped in to them on his way up to the house when I called for him. In his eagerness to get to me, he forgot the lay of the land and ran in to flower beds. He had been out with his girlfriend and it was a long and winding trip from the corral up to the house! And every once in a while I put new things in his path. Oh! He tried so hard and was so quick at learning the way! It was truly amazing how this dog memorized the lay of the yard and the clutter in the garage. Truly amazing.

Last night, through my tears, I went back and read my winter blog when I introduced all of you to Keller. In it I said:

“... This little dog would come in to my life and I would love him and care for him and alter the routine of my daily life for him. Little Man would accept him and we would teach him to play! And to feel safe and loved and secure! And then, relatively soon – way too soon - we would be asked to help him cross over...”

* * * * *

And so on Tuesday, I held my Keller as he finally was released from the upset tummy, and the diarrhea, and the nausea, and the lack of appetite. Keller was allowed to move on and be a healthy dog again. As he crossed I encouraged him to fly and be whole and to return to me somehow in another creature that would find its way to Refuge Farms. There were tears, of course, but I can’t help but rejoice that this little dog found his way to me and blessed me with his lessons and his presence for five months. Five full months of pure joy and unbridled love.

And in that time, Keller was truly loyal and attached to me. Many times, when he would be left in the truck while I ran an errand or talked to someone just a few feet away, I would turn and he would be right beside me. He could hear my voice and must be next to me – not waiting for me but right next to me. I learned to leave the windows completely open to ease his travels to me.

When we walked to the barn, his little nose would bump in to my calves with every step. And while in the barn, he knew exactly where I was. He learned the routine and would stand up and get ready to head up to the house when the feed tank was closed. What a remarkably intelligent dog.

This dog showed me how to be a friend. To trust and believe in someone even when you may not fully understand. To be loyal to the other and content in being with them. To be happy for every moment together. And when the time has ended, to rest with them and allow the grief to flow understanding that the happiness of the shared love would return after the pain of the loss was dulled just a bit.

Keller allowed me my tears and my grief. He allowed me to ask him one more time for a kiss. And slowly but with his complete and utter loyalty, he reached his nose upward and I gave him my cheek for yet one more kiss. Thank you, Keller, for teaching me and for loving me. You, my dear, taught me more than you will every know. You, my dear, were my greatest friend.

Enjoying the journey of today but missing you, Keller!
Sandy and The Herd

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