Sunday, July 26, 2009
". . . Just Me to You . . ."
“I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak . . . I will watch over. I will feed them in justice.” Ezekiel 34:16
She came to us lost. She was unwanted. And so she was brought to a stranger’s yard and left there. No explanation and no note. Just a filthy, ratty old halter and a broken lead rope left behind. Left behind with her. She came to us lost.
She soon became strayed. Arriving with her companion, Kentucky Jack, they had been taken from their familiar surroundings and dropped off in a strange place. Then, she was soon left alone. Alone without her Jack. Feeling lost. Strayed at a new place with new smells and new sounds and new voices with new touches. And missing her companion, Jack. She was alone. She soon became strayed.
She came to us crippled. The infected tumor growing on her eye crippled her and caused her to protect her face. Even the slightest touch to that eye caused her pain. The tumor would bleed and ooze infectious fluids with the minutest bump. She was crippled by her bad eye and her bad, ungroomed feet. She came to us crippled.
She came to us weak. Dehydrated and hungry, she soon found the round bale and the stock tank. Immersing her head in the water to test the depth, she would then raise her head to the surface and simply inhale the water. The tank depth would drop by inches each time she drank. She was weakened by starvation, dehydration, and that infection growing in her eye. She would spend hours laying in the hay resting her weary, weak legs. She came to us weak.
She came to us so that we could watch over her. Finally, she would be protected and allowed to relax. Finally she would be rid of that tumor and the swarms of flies that the smell and the drippings drew to her. Finally she would have feed and hay and water and shelter. She was safe. She came to us so that we could watch over her.
She came to us to be fed in justice. Her tumor would be removed from her body. And with the tumor would go the infected eye, the infected lower lid, much of her bone socket, and even the lymph nodes under her jaw. She would be treated in justice like any other horse would be treated at Refuge Farms. No treatment would be withheld. She would be given every chance. She came to us to be fed in justice.
This little Belgian mare, Laddee, is our Mission Statement. She is the living, breathing, healing testimony of why this Horse Rescue & Sanctuary exists. She was weak and crippled and strayed and lost. She came to us to be cared for and to be treated fairly. To be fed in justice.
And her story takes on an even greater, deeper meaning when you learn that Laddee is a dier.
Laddee has cancer.
The exam performed on that Thursday prior to her scheduled surgery alerted us to enlarged lymph nodes under her jaw and in her upper forehead. Biopsies were taken and the pathology reports returned with the diagnosis of cancer. Laddee’s tumor had penetrated her eye and eye socket sufficiently enough to allow the cancer to manifest itself in her lymph nodes, at a minimum. Too much time had passed to heal her.
Would we operate knowing that the little Belgian mare had cancer? Would we put her down instead of operating? Or would we leave her as she was and not remove the tumor because she had cancer?
The decision was not immediate. I forced myself to think through the options and to consult those who would shed some medical expertise and light on the options. We talked of recovery time versus span of life. We talked of quality of life. We talked of her right to a full and natural life. And we talked of our Mission Statement. Our Declaration of Purpose. We talked about what a “dier” is and what it means to “rescue the diers”. We talked about her feisty fight for life and her determination to protect herself and have her own way. We talked of what was owed to her. What she had endured all of these years and how she was deserving. We talked of surgery.
Leaving Laddee with the tumor intact on her eye was not an option. There would be a poor quality of life for her and the need for interaction with other horses would be significantly impacted by the presence of that stinking, oozing mass. But knowing that she had cancer, knowing that she was dying, would we operate? Or put her down? Dr. Ann and Dr. Julie were clear and said that surgery would not rid her of the cancer. Surgery would make Laddee healthier but not healthy.
I spent a few moments with Laddee in her stall at the U of M that Thursday afternoon before I left to make the decision. She was calm and quiet. Totally content to just stand in this new sterile place and listen to the noises. Waiting for the sound or smell of a familiar creature. I hugged her and she rested her enormous head on my shoulders. I felt the total weight of her life move to me at that moment. My decision would mean life or death for this little Belgian mare. She simply stood and quietly waited for me to tell her my decision. Would we let her live or put her down?
I had to think through the options. Get medical advice on recovery time. Her prognosis. And the reoccurrences. What to look for and what to expect. Did we have any idea of how long she would have? Did we know anything about her cancer that could help us make this decision? How long would her healing from this surgery last? Would she live past the healing of the surgery? How would the disease manifest itself when it decided to appear again? What would Laddee’s symptoms be?
And then I called Dr. Ann to tell her that yes, we would operate. We would remove the tumor, the eye, and as many lymph nodes as we could in the time we could allow her to be under general anesthesia. We would give her a quality of life for as long as she has. She is a dier, yes, but we would care for her like any other horse that comes into these barns. We will care for her like she is the most special creature God has ever created. Because, you see, she is.
Complete strangers came to the University of Minnesota on the day of her surgery. A spot on the KARE 11 five o’clock news had told the story of Laddee and had shown her arriving at the U of M and entering the Equine Center. People – interested, compassionate, complete strangers - drove to the U of M to meet Laddee on Friday. She was drowsy and still wobbly from the anesthesia, but she stood as tall as she could and met them with total dignity.
She was still in some pain and still experiencing some disorientation. She had been in surgery for over two hours and forty minutes. A very long time for a draft horse to be in general anesthesia and on her side. But she had remained steady and her vital signs were stable throughout the ordeal. Laddee sustained the stress of the general anesthesia exceptionally well. This is one strong little mare. The surgery was more detailed than anticipated due to the depth of the cancerous penetration, but the lymph nodes under the jaw were removed and her eye was soon closed up for healing.
And in recovery, Dr. Ann said she had “acted smart”. She would attempt to get up on her feet and when her attempt would fail, she would rest and regain her strength. Laddee did not thrash and waste her energy. “She is smart,” Dr. Ann said. “This is a very wise mare.” After three gigantic efforts, Laddee was able to get all of her feet under her and stand. What a strong willed, determined creature she is! How I admire her strength and will!
Once again, as I looked at her wound I saw a work of art. Long stitches to make a smile where the skin will heal together. No jagged edges. Many talented hands worked on Laddee that day. And many strangers stopped in the hallway to ask of her condition and to meet this little Belgian mare. To offer support and to commend Refuge Farms for its compassionate care of the horses that come its way. “This is a good thing you are doing for this horse,” they would say. “This is a good thing you are doing here today.”
There were tears from some of her visitors when they learned that we were unable to totally remove all of the infected tissue. But they soon heard that Laddee would recover from this surgery and be strong and healthier for as long as was to be her time. That the time she had been given would be of a high quality of life. Laddee stood proudly with her head already higher than before the surgery. She is quite a determined creature. Strong and with a will of steel. Oh, how I admire this little Belgian mare!
She will live out her days without an oozing tumor and without the stench of those infectious drippings. The swarming flies are a thing of her past now. She will not have the searing pains the tumor would shoot into her eye. And she will not have the itching that would result in the hemorrhaging.
Laddee will eat and put on even more weight. Her ragged hooves will be trimmed and she will be dewormed. Her vaccinations are complete and she will learn the love of the horses and from the Human Beings around her. She will thrive and be a horse! No work asked of her. No pulling. And no more babies to deliver. Laddee will have the job of eating and sleeping and pooping and enjoying the feel of the sun and the rain on her withers. Free at last to be a horse! And to learn the safety and contentment and the peace that comes with her new life.
We will love her and laugh with her and treat her like every other horse here. She is no different than any of them. Something will take them all. Something will happen and they all will cross. Laddee will be no different. We just need to insure not a day is wasted with Laddee!
Late in the day of surgery, before I could tear myself from her, I leaned on her and just smelled her. I inhaled her long and deeply. No more stench. No more bloody smears on her face or my arm. Laddee was resting and, for the first time in years, she smelled like a horse. I had brushed her completely and her flowing mane was shining in the early evening sun. The breeze in her stall kept us cool as she found her legs again and she worked to rid herself of the effects of the medicines. I drew strength from her as she smelled me and not the stench of her own tumorous wound. The world was a new place for her. Free of the flies and the stench and the pain that had followed her for years. Laddee is like a foal again. Learning the smells of the world around her. I kissed her nose gently and breathed into her nostrils. She inhaled deeply. And then I hugged her again. I hugged her as tightly as I could, and then I whispered into her ear . .
Laddee, I have some promises that I want to give you. Just me to you. There are three of them, Laddee. And I promise you these things more than anyone has ever promised you anything before in your life. These are The Three Promises, Laddee, and I’m going to give them to you right now . . .
Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and dear little Laddee
The Three Promises
1. You are safe here. No one will hurt you here. There will be no more beatings, whippings, electrical shock, use of performance enhancing drugs, or abuse of any kind. There will be respect here. You are safe here.
2. You will be fed here. There will always be at least clean hay and fresh water available to you. No more fighting for the hay. No more eating tree bark to live. No more thirst. No more eating of other's manure just to survive. You will be fed here.
3. You are home. You are here forever. No more fighting for a place in a herd. No more new water to get used to. No more trying to find the way in a new barn with a new caretaker. Even in death we will keep you at THE FARM. You can relax now. You are home.