Saturday, February 18, 2012

When a Door Closes, a Window Opens

Hi Folks! Thanks for stopping by!

As you regular readers know, 2011 ended on a sad note with the untimely death of beloved donkey Cricket. She died mere days before Christmas, casting a pall over everyone's holiday season. No one saw her death coming, which always makes the unacceptable that much harder to accept. So it was with a measure of both optimism and desperation that I read Kenny the Tiger Guy's facebook announcement that he had a donkey in need of a home.

You may recall that Kenny the Tiger Guy is a local fellow who rescues exotic animals. People frequently donate sick or dying horses so that he might feed the lions and tigers in his care. But sometimes, people donate healthy animals that they simply don't want anymore. Kenny's a nice enough guy that he doesn't want to slaughter healthy animals, so he often calls the barn to see if they'd be interested in adopting the critter in need. Such was the case with Cricket: she was originally intended to feed his big cats, but Kenny couldn't bring himself to slaughter her. The barn took her instead.

When I read Kenny's facebook post about that new donkey in need, I immediately sent him a message, urging him to contact barn co-owner Ron. Kenny sent me a message in return, saying that he already had. The barn had agreed to rescue this new donkey! Hooray! This was just what our aching hearts needed!

It's worth noting that the barn took possession of Handsome Harry on New Years Day: it seemed an auspicious start to 2012. He walked willingly into the trailer, and willingly into the barn that was his new home, and seemed to settle in more or less immediately. I went out to the barn twice during his first week, to visit him, to spoil him, to let him know that we strangers were going to take extra good care of him. As I got to know him, I found him to be utterly charming - a complete contrast to cranky old Cricket.

One of the things I've learned over the years is that when a beloved animal dies, there is a tendency to want to fill the void with an animal of similar temperament. In my experience, this is a big mistake: it's better, I think, to grieve the loss of that special pet, and then move on to the next unique personality when you're able.

The fact that Handsome Harry's personality was so divergent from Cricket's helped enormously. Because the two donkeys were as different as night and day, there was no way anyone could think that he was Cricket's replacement; he was merely the next in what would no doubt be a long line of donkeys in need. This made it much easier to accept his presence without feeling guilty: we had all loved Cricket the crabby donkey, and now we would love Harry the charmer.

From my very first contact with him, Harry had this habit of resting his surprisingly heavy head on whatever body part was handy - my chest, my shoulder, etc. He would stand perfectly still this way for some minutes as I - and then, later, the barn urchins - would stagger about, trying not to break the spell by buckling under all that weight. It took me well over a month to figure out that this was a ritual he'd enjoyed with his previous owner.

Kenny the Tiger Guy told me that Harry's owner was in poor health, and could no longer care for the donkey. It must've broken the man's heart, having to give up his buddy to strangers, not knowing how things would work out. Unlike Cricket, whose owners had apparently lost interest in her, Harry had clearly been much-loved by his person. Even so, there was no way for us to know exactly what sort of relationship Harry and his owner had had - until I stumbled upon what was obviously a cherished routine between them.

It finally hit me as Harry once again rested his big shaggy white head on me, and I cast about for ways to respond. Simply standing there holding him up didn't seem to be enough. I started scratching his neck, gently, one hand on either side of his head. Harry has Cushing's Disease, which means that, among other symptoms, he has soft mushy lumps all over his body. Unsure whether those lumps were tender, I scratched him softly, more of a rub than anything else. Suddenly, his eyes closed, and he let out a deep, contented sigh. So that's what this was about! Harry would rest his head on his human, and the man would rub his neck. Given that Harry tried this same thing with just about every person at the barn, it became clear to me that it was a ritual the donkey had treasured, and one he wished to continue.

It's still early days for all of us, and for Harry, too. Barn co-owner Wendy tells me that he's already firm friends with a few of the horses, and enjoys his opportunities to play with them. Now that she has established what she can expect from Harry, she allows him to wander the barn at will while we volunteers work, rather than continue to keep him in his stall. Like the old days with Cricket, Harry seems interested in "helping" us clean, although he never ventures too far from his preferred area. His mild temperament is a welcome change of pace from grumpy old Cricket, even though we all still miss her terribly. Like a balm for a raw wound, though, Harry seems to be the perfect salve to help us with our healing.

My Oxford English Dictionary defines "serendipity" as "the occurrence of events by chance in a fortunate way." That sums up Harry's presence at the barn perfectly. Sometimes, it seems, the Gods do, in fact, open a window where a door has been closed. I hope that this is the end of untimely deaths at the barn. They're bound to happen, of course, but considering that we've lost three beloved residents in less than six months, we're all a little weary, now, and in need of something cheery to sustain us. Little does Harry know that he's that something!

That's all for now, folks. Thanks again for stopping by! Don't forget to take a moment out of your busy days to enjoy the friendships you have with your animal pals. And until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

P.S. Please feel free to leave a comment so that I know you were here! Thanks!