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Huge Cows and Sanctuary Workers on an Early Spring Day

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.

Alex, Madeline, and Vito

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!

14 comments to Huge Cows and Sanctuary Workers on an Early Spring Day

  • Kimberly Roemer
    Praise to all of the unsung heroes of sanctuary work! Both at Vine, and elsewhere, these people provide the heart and soul of what it means to give sanctuary.
  • bravebird
    Thanks for the kind words on another fine early spring day. :-)
  • Nancy
    What a great description- mini mountains roaming about. I remember thinking the first time I saw cows how huge their eyes seem. Then I thought about the fear I saw in them on the kill floor.
    Not here though and thank you for doing so much.
  • nita marie moccia
    i love what you all do!!! To be around all that animal energy…. mini-mountains moving about, with the coo of pigeons, and quacks and clucks from the ducks, geese, chickens….ahhhhhhhhhh, and yes! The work is HARD!! I know! I am happy that spring has arrived in VT for all of you….Do you have veggies started in the greenhouse yet? What are your goals for the summer up on the “hill”? Take care of yourselves, so you can take care of those that need you……….blessings on all the big and wee heads!
  • Nancy G.
    God bless all of you that do such amazing work! You are very special people, taking care of very special animals!
  • bravebird
    Very eloquent — the amount of pain and fear in those huge eyes…. Thanks for the note, truly…
  • bravebird
    Hey Nita! Soon you will be back caring for mini-mountains and tiny-creatures too. :-) We haven’t started anything yet — there is still snow on the ground and more fell today — but we are READY. :-) Hope you are well!
  • bravebird
    Well, I don’t know how special we are, hahha, but I know THEY are! And thank you, truly, for your kind words.
  • I second, third, fourth, and ad infinitum all the appreciative comments above. Warm thanks to Cheryl and Aram. Especially since you don’t even ask for praise. Bless all who dream of building sanctuaries, bless all whose dreams become reality, bless all who work for them and contribute to them in any and every way, and bless all who believe in them and love them. Residents, of course, included! Bravebird, you’re the best (along with my fave Bea V!).
  • Thank you Bravebird, Aram and Cheryl for such loving care to these refugees. Good deeds of compassion are never lost or under appreciated. Sing and rejoice while you work for your acts are in tune with universal and infinite kindness – And in this there can be no greater reward!
  • bravebird
    Thank you Bea and SBH — such kind words mean so much…..
  • KG
    I have seen the love shared between the residents(of all species, including human)and it is nothing less than spectacular when you witness these formerly abused and neglected animals trusting again, and slowly forming a bond with their caretakers. I mean really; what’s more fun and rewarding,than to have a once shy and withdrawn cow engage you in play?! Or to watch an old, wise and emaciated horse arrive looking as if he may not make it through the month, grab hold of the healing energies of true Sanctuary and gain weight and strength along with a sense of humor. I could go on and on; the turkeys who arrived hardly able to walk due to being so overweight(since that is what humans do to them)now able to meander at will-and this weightloss was not from diet; it was strictly from having the ability and freedom to move about and explore. The absolute happiness of the birds when you share saladstuff with them is worth your own weight in gold.
    The caregivers get it, and somehow I think that even tho their jobs are hard and can be frustrating at times; they live for this very special connection, and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
  • I could never match Bea’s eloquence, but I can second her thoughts and feelings. Thanks for all you do for those unable to do for themselves.
  • bravebird
    KG, thank you for putting this into words so perfectly. You are of course 100% right. There are definitely frustrating and aggravating aspects to sanctuary work (as in all work), but the rewards so outweigh those aspects that they are immediately forgotten. This morning is a good example. We have had two PMV pigeons inside since July of last year. One of them was unable to eat or drink on her own for about five months, which meant feeding and watering her three times a day, in addition to cleaning her cage every day. The other could eat on his own, but just couldn’t stand up to the activity in the aviary. A few months ago, when she was able to eat on her own, they “graduated” to a large indoor cage where they could at least keep each other company, and over time, they gradually got stronger and less symptomatic. Just today, I let them out into the aviary and they are doing SO WELL. Were there days in the past several months when I grumbled about feeding bird or cleaning cages? Of course. I grumble about almost anything, given the chance. But does it matter now? Not in the least. As I sat there watching them figure things out in the aviary once more, I felt something that just can’t be put into words.

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