Touch. A few years after my dad died, my mom told me that touch was what she missed the most. The comment brought back a flash of tender (and some comical) memories; my father touching my mom’s shoulder as he passed her in the hallway, my parents brushing hands as a casserole was handed off, or dad putting his arms around her waist at the kitchen sink. The memories that my brother and sisters recall with most color are of my parents sitting on the couch together, my father’s arm around my mom’s shoulders…and my mother’s little Lhasa Apso dog, Pugsley, planted between them, nestled in her lap. In the unfortunate occurrence that my dad’s weight shifting too quickly, or Heaven help us, him moving closer to give a squeeze to her shoulder, Pugsley would erupt into what can only be described as violence; growling, ferociously biting, and hurling himself at my poor dad who was rendered completely incapable of protecting himself, partially out of shock but mostly because my mother defended her little dog with the gusto of a ferocious mother bear. Once the initial shock of the attack wore off, my siblings would snicker softly as my mom crooned soothingly at her volatile little pet, and my father muttered a famous (and much repeated) Irish curse. Thematically, we would all be awakened in the middle of the night due to the surprising and thunderous cries (and wicked sounds of pint-sized aggression) in the unfortunate instance that my father had the misfortune of encroaching into the no-fly zone of Pugsley and my mom during sleep. This last Thanksgiving, we sat around the table long after the dishes were cleared, laughing until it hurt, reminiscing about the that very dysfunctional love triangle that was a part of our family culture for nearly 15 years. Now, our children learn about their late Grandparents (and a little treasured, though much feared family dog) through our storytelling. Funny though, all good stories have a message, and this one is clear….touch is a need, not a want.
The package was delivered with all of the weight of the world; A FedEx letter, delivered amongst our holiday mail and mounting weekly bills, containing the disturbing and unexpected. The single-spaced report of sorts was initially lost amongst the photos…four of them. The 8×10 grim pictures depicted a filthy and underweight horse. She stood in her misery; up to her knees in filth, waste, mud, and years of accumulated neglect. Her head was hung low, pressing her forehead into the wall of a stained outbuilding, as if without the crude wall she would be unable to remain upright. The feeling of complete abandonment and emptiness in the picture was perhaps even more painful than the little mare’s obvious depression, and I would venture to say…suffering. Fortunately, along with the photos came information, an address, and a timeline. Contacting Animal Control was done with a great sense of urgency. The sergeant assigned to the case has been not only wonderful to work with but ironically connected to and aware of our work through a different high profile rescue of years past. While we have never met, she knows us, and as the investigation unfolds, we have offered to take the desperate and deserving horse when the law allows.
Red Bucket has a culture of high touch. I cannot recall ever watching a horse being haltered, led, or turned out without the tenderness of a gentle caress, an intimate loving touch, or a well-placed scratch. The horses, of course, are elegant in their ability to touch back and do so in ways that are characteristically consistent with the uniqueness of their personalities. Touch, of course, is one of our building blocks of trust, and the most sought out of all of the senses. A starving horse will often leave its food when a kind person with a gentle touch is present. We first became aware of this dynamic when Polo arrived many years back. He had been clearly abused and bore cavernous gouges in each side a result of oversized and over-used rowel spurs. He had been ridden….or run really, in spite of two swollen and painfully tenden bows. He did not have to let us know that he was accustomed to being considerably underfed; his gaunt frame, exposed ribs and jagged hips told that tale vividly. Upon arrival, in lieu of eating, he quietly stood while we groomed him, his eyes half closed, relishing every gentle stroke with the soft brush…absorbing each light caress until the point at which his senses were “fed” and in his exhaustion he dozed quietly on tired and abused legs.
The wild horses and donkeys meet their own need for touch by mutual grooming and even by the way that they play and spar. It always amazes me, the transition from wild to tame and the very important role that touch plays. I relearned that lesson recently when Peanut went into labor. Initially, I was most surprised that she waited until morning rather than having her baby in the accustomed privacy of darkness. We now know that she needed us…and that she waited. Peanut, a formerly “wild” donkey, had borne a baby every year of her long life. She was no stranger to foaling…but, this time it was different, and we both knew that she was in trouble. This baby was huge, and it became very apparent amidst Peanut’s almost guttural groans that she needed help…our help… and fast. She was thrashing a bit…up, down, up…and then finally down. When she laid in resignation of the pain that engulfed her, I crept forward, and gently touched her toostill body…and reached inside to feel her too-still baby. First with tentative fingers and then steadier hands, our amazing and precious Peanut responded and with a new brand of teamwork that I had never before experienced, together we delivered her very large and treasured little daughter, Charlotte RB. With a quick assessment that mother and baby were well, I released the foal, gently kissing her wet little head, and backed away to watch Mother Nature…and Mother Peanut…take over. At Red Bucket, we take each precious life very seriously, and safeguard, honor and cherish it. In our continuous commitment to be better, and therefore take better care of our residents entrusted to our care, we have recently created a new process to ensure that each horse, mule and donkey is touched and nurtured consistently. With what has been a very difficult year coming to a close, I am filled with an extraordinary amount of gratitude for each team member, partner, and donor who makes our work possible. We are deeply committed to being here in the years to come to save…serve…and of course, touch. We know that the horses (and donkeys) are counting on us…desperate and deserving, many of whom do not yet have a name…or a face. Horses like the little mare standing in the mud, alone and untouched. Many warm and sincere thanks to all of you who touch our work, we are here…and we are coming.
This Culture Message is dedicated to each of you who touch our work through your compassion and generosity, and therefore touch each deserving life.