I’ve got lots of thoughts running around in my brain lately, but haven’t had the energy to put them into a cohesive-enough form for a blog post, so I thought I’d take time to write about some things that are easy to articulate; namely, the animals and the folks who take care of them here.
I have to admit that I’m still getting used to being close to such huge animals as cows and horses. I’m not afraid of them — it’s not fear I’ve had to overcome — it’s surrealism, actually. After so many years hanging around with chickens, these folks are HUGE! So big they don’t seem real. And they just do their thing: walk, run, eat, lay down, play, look around — exactly the same kinds of things the chickens do — but they are so big while they do them! It’s like watching mini-mountains roam about while down at ground level, chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys are doing their thing.
We’ve got over 100 animals living on the hill now — that’s what we call the 100 acres recently acquired by the sanctuary — with room for lots more. Down here, we are confined to the smaller creatures, and have almost 200 birds we care for, between the pigeons, the doves, the chickens, the ducks, and the geese. Today is one of the few days we’ve had so far this year when most everyone is happy: the sun is shining, the temperature is in the 40s, and there isn’t too much snow on the ground. In fact, one of the fighters who relapsed this winter is now free for the first time in a couple of months, and I have hopes that he’s back to being rehabbed for good.
Meanwhile, it’s killing us all to see the weather turn for the better and know that weeks still remain before we can really get out there and do a mess of work. We’re rearranging everything, both on the hill and down here, so as to make the most of what we’ve learned after two winters — and while everyone is fine until we can do the work, WE aren’t fine! HAHAHA We want to move fences, build coops, put up shelters, do the million things we’ve been planning for months, and with spring just around the corner, we are dying to get out there.
And who are we? Well, I will tell you about Aram and Cheryl for now. Aram handles 90% of the animal care work down here, and Cheryl handles 100% of the animal care work up there. That means feeding and watering, cleaning, checking to ensure no one has bumblefoot or bloat, moving folks around if there are conflicts that aren’t resolved with a bit of pecking and chest-bumping, going to the feed store, unloading everything purchased at the feed store, and maintaining the grounds, which in the winter here in Vermont means managing an enormous amount of snow. It has to be removed from the roofs of all structures, it has to be shoveled or blown off the paths and as much of the yards as possible, and it has to be put somewhere out of the way. That takes most of the time in the winter, in terms of the hard work involved. On top of that, you run your life by their schedules, not yours: you get up when it’s light and you close the coop doors when it’s dark, which means that in the summer, you don’t get to go to concerts unless they start at 10 PM, and in the winter, it means that you’re out there before 6 AM to ensure they can get the most out of the short days.
In short, it’s hard work. There are plenty of rewards, for sure — getting to be around animals, knowing you’re making a huge difference in the lives of formerly abused or exploited animals, being outside, getting physical exercise without having to work out — but it’s also hard, lonely work. Scraping shit off the floor of a coop can get old, and it’s easy to feel underappreciated for all of the many hours of labor entailed in keeping farmed animals safe, clean, and healthy. It’s also a very particular kind of work. The best analogy I can think of is running. Some people are sprinters, and others are cross-country runners. Going to a circus demo is like sprinting; sanctuary work is like cross-country running. It’s day in and day out; you only get a day off if someone can cover for you; and you’re in it for the long haul.
That’s why I want to dedicate this post to Cheryl and Aram — they do the hard work, the muck-work, day in and day out, and they do it remarkably well. Let’s show them some love!