Category Archives: Animal Sanctuary

Canine Companions

Our canine companions Heidi and Mili

 In moving through life everyday there are events that move us emotionally.  For the writer, there are vehicles of expression that offer us release and celebration.

 My wife Pat and I have enjoyed the companionship of dogs for most of our lives.  We begin each morning in our sunroom with a coffee klatch that includes our two dogs—Mili, a Tibetan spaniel, and Heidi, a mountain feist—who find their way to our laps.  Mili came from our Humane Society and was saved from third-stage heartworms, and Heidi is a strayed and stayed who arrived at our door pregnant with what soon became five puppies.

 Prior to Mili and Heidi, we had Angel, another Humane Society shelter adoption.  Angel was a black border collie mix who was our constant companion at work or leisure for 14 years.  In our front yard garden there is a granite memorial headstone and a black wooden silhouette of her that has her former collar around its neck.

I share this emotional attachment to our own dogs in order to explain why I was so moved by a totally unexpected event while visiting a close friend at her veterinary clinic.  Unable to contain what I had witnessed and felt, I wrote this poem.

 Old Samoyed Whose Name I Did Not Know           

I did not expect to put you down

Old Samoyed whose name I did not know.

You lay on the treatment table

As I came through the clinic’s back door,

And my veterinary friend looked up

To explain that she had just put you to sleep.

I assumed she meant preparation for surgery

Because your thick white fur seemed so alive,

But then I saw the assistant approach

With a solemn expression and the brown plastic bags.

Your head was massive and expressionless.

You were immaculate, obviously loved,

But soon to disappear to light

As they bowed your muzzle, subdued your bushy tail,

And made an unstable package of you

With the dark wrinkled bags and coarse hemp twine.

I was asked to bear your hundred-pound weight

At one end of an unpainted plywood board,

And we shuffled with you to the bed of a pick-up truck

And followed your masters to your affluent home.

I supported you again to the far back yard

Where your master removed the sod

And made shovel prints in the Tennessee clay

That became slick gray murals swirled with red oxides.

He dug the hole, spading the earth

And breaking its back on the accumulating pile.

Not long or wide enough for a man,

A baby’s grave, dug deep in the memory of the soil.

You were nine, he said, the best dog

That they had ever had, and we continued

To measure your life against the hole to put you down.

Me, a stranger to your joys, bore witness

To your strength and beauty seconds after death.

Your masters grieve, and yet they have memories

Of you while I grieve who never saw you run,

Who arrived only in time to put you down,

Old Samoyed whose name I did not know.

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Walk With the Burros

One of the greatest pleasures about being a writer is that you make lasting friendships with some of your readers.  Out in Chino Valley, Arizona, a man named Wynne Zaugg read the four novels of my Booker Series that are set in the Southwest, and he began to recommend them as “reading for the soul” in his Hacienda de los Milagros (Home of Miracles) newsletter.  When I saw my first copy of the newsletter, Wynne was offering a money-back guarantee if people read any of the Booker novels and were not moved by them.  What support from a stranger!  We had to find out more about him.

 Hacienda de los Milagros is a non-profit teaching and healing animal sanctuary accredited by the American Sanctuary Association.  Basically, Wynne and his board members rescue burros, horses, mules, and hinnies from desperate circumstances and provide lifetime care for them that includes veterinary medical needs, feeding, grooming, and deep affection.  A list of current residents will include about 100 burros, around 25 horses, and a handful of mules and hinnies. 

 When wild burros were dying during a severe drought in Death Valley, Wynne organized a caravan of equine trailers to rescue them.  Some were so stressed that they did not survive, but many were relocated to Chino Valley and nursed back to health.  Some of those burros were pregnant.  Wynne asks each animal to “tell” him their name and their “story,” and when you walk with him in a large corral among a hundred burros, he can name each one.

 Although my wife Pat and I live in North Carolina, our keen interest in Hacienda de los Milagros caused us to travel in December 2006 to Arizona to meet Wynne Zaugg and the animals at the sanctuary.  Every day that we were there, we entered without fear a large corral where nearly 100 burros roamed.  Soon we were surrounded by animals who wanted nothing more than to give and receive affection.  The emotional impact of those primal gifts is never to be forgotten.

 Wynne Zaugg and his supporters are honoring and preserving life itself one beautiful creature at a time.  These are acts worthy of St. Francis in the serving of our common soul.  But at Hacienda de los Milagros the heart’s generosity has sometimes exceeded the limits of stables and corrals.  The cycle of life there demands pure dedication for the feeding, grooming, and the veterinary care that is required.  All this necessitates dawn to dusk service to the rescued animals.

 If you can visit Hacienda de los Milagros and are nuzzled by the burros and horses, the animals themselves will affirm the wonder of their keeping.  If you wish to affirm your own humanity and your respect for the four leggeds who co-habit our planet, your volunteer efforts and your financial support of the House of Miracles will be fulfilling.  Some people who interact with the burros and horses at HDLM have profound communications with them.  Over the last 12 years these “messages” have been collected in a book soon to be available.  For more about HDLM, visit their website http://www.hdlmsanctuary.org/.

 A great Sufi master and poet, Hafiz, who lived in the 14th century, wrote I Have Learned So Much (translated by Daniel Ladinsky).  The words seem to resonate with our experience at the sanctuary.

 I

Have Learned

So much from God

That I can no longer

Call

Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,

A Buddhist, a Jew

The Truth has shared so much of Itself

With Me

That I can no longer call myself

A man, a woman, an angel

Or even pure

Soul

 Love has

Befriended Hafiz so completely

It has turned to ash

And freed

Me

Of every concept and image

My mind has ever known.

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