Saturday, March 17, 2012

Adventures with Angels

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 (NASB)

Ten years ago this month I was packing up my little house in Mill Valley, where I had lived for the previous twelve years, and getting ready to move to San Martin for the purpose of starting an as-yet-unnamed therapeutic horsemanship program. I moved with several pick-up truckloads of stuff, one horse, one dog and three cats.

During the past ten years, the horse, the dog and all three cats died of natural causes at the end of long and rich lives.

The horse, the dog and the cats were wonderful, kind, gentle creatures who graced my life and the lives of those who knew them. The horse and the dog were purebreds that were purchased with registration papers, decorated pedigrees and family histories of winning at shows. Their breeders were proud of them and only sold their animals to “good” homes where they would be cared for well. The cats all came with personal recommendations from friends or veterinarians.

Jump ahead ten years to today. As of ten days ago, I now once again own one horse, one dog and three cats. But the method of acquiring all of the current generation of animals was vastly different than the animals I moved with ten years ago.

The horse I own is named Angel and her story is well-documented earlier in this blog. She does look remarkably like Nick, my Arabian whose death prompted me to go to the San Martin Animal Shelter and ask the staff to give me any horse as a foster horse. I was so sad and distraught over Nick’s death I said, “Give me the one that needs to go the most.” Angel was one-third of a trio of starving horses found wandering loose on a road a few miles from my house. The shelter staff gave me a horse described as “young and grumpy,” who was thought to be pregnant, and who injured the veterinarian at her first vet check. She had a history of rearing and kicking and pulling back and you could see every bone in her skeleton.

The dog I now own (as of ten days ago) is a German shepherd re-named Sir Harold Rucker. I first met “Rucker” when I saw him leaning against the gate in our pasture, so terrified that he would not let a human near him. I moved toward him and he ran across the creek to the bank on the far side, sat down and looked at me with the saddest expression I think I have ever seen on an animal’s face. He was hungry, scared, lost, homeless and confused, but could not trust humans enough to let anyone help him.

More than two weeks later, Rucker was trapped by county Animal Control officers on the porch of a home his last family had left seven months earlier. The neighbors said his previous family called him “Hitler.”

Oh, and the cat who now lives in my house (despite how much I was enjoying momentarily having a pet-free home) was rescued from the jaws of my neighbor’s dogs, who were in the process of killing him. I intervened in the deadly assault, smacked the dogs on their heads until they opened their jaws and let go of the cat, and then spent half a day trying to find the injured feral cat. When I finally found him and took him to the vet two days later, he had a serious infection, high fever and the vet recommended I put him down at that moment, because his prognosis was so poor due to the nature of the injury.

What do I have now? I have a fat, healthy and hilariously funny cat known as “Gabe Ruth” grooming himself on my desk while I type this. Rucker is sleeping on the couch (covered, so it’s OK) and recovering from a day at obedience class and then working with me at DreamPower all day. Angel is standing in her paddock outside my window, fat, calm, happy and a sweetheart of a horse.

Adopting animals with an unknown history is not for the inexperienced nor for the faint of heart. More than once, with each of these animals, I have thought, “What have I done?! What was I thinking?!”

Never did I imagine myself adopting an extremely frightened 3-year-old male unneutered German shepherd with a talent for climbing walls and scaling fences and an unknown history. Nor did I see myself adopting a terrified, starving, possibly pregnant horse with a history of kicking so that I was afraid to touch her back end or brush her tail or clean her feet for many months.

I am a planner. I like to know what is going to happen next. I want an agenda, a plan, a roadmap. I also want to know the history – what happened that caused this to happen? Adopting animals with an unknown history takes me completely out of my comfort zone. What happened to them? Why was Angel walking down a country road with two other starving horses? What happened to her owner? Why does she have scars on her nose and her back?

Why was Rucker out in the fields and pastures for more than two weeks? How come no one within 60 miles of our shelter ever reported him missing?

The cats, I have more history on. Gabe Ruth (and his two sisters who now live in my hay barn) was born in the fields near my house to a feral mother. I’d been feeding them (and several of their feral cat friends) for more than two years before the dog attack occurred. But I could not handle or pet them. Gabe is now extremely affectionate and sleeps on the bed with me at night. His sisters are still living in the barn and I cannot yet pet them.

Why am I writing this? Really, it’s to encourage anyone who is considering adding a pet to their family to visit their local animal shelter or rescue organization and see if you can find an animal in need who will also meet your need. There are some real gems out there, waiting for a loving home to polish them up and help them show their potential.

It turned out that Angel, the scared and dangerous, starving horse had a good training foundation on her. Someone had spent a lot of time with her at some point in her life and taught her a lot. It took time and patience and food before she could show what she really knew. Rucker, the terribly frightened German shepherd, is the most naturally obedient dog I have ever owned. I know very little about the family that called him “Hitler.” But I know he is friendly, eager to please, and loves to shakes hands with everyone he meets. He is housebroken, walks on a leash and is kind to my cat with Post Traumatic Dog Disorder.

My current menagerie of animals all have “angel” names because I think they are angels, sent to me to grace my life. There is Angel the horse, Gabe (short for Gabriel) Ruth the cat and Sir Harold (“hark the herald angels sing”) Rucker the dog.

In the Bible, Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” If you are considering adding an animal to your family, please visit your local animal shelter first. There may be an angel there waiting for you!

1 comment:

  1. Some of this was good luck at finding animals with potential, but most of it was what you made of the raw materials. Good job!