I fell in love 20 days ago. Hard love. With a baby goat.
Those who know me aren't surprised by that. I gave up eating animals in 1972 and call myself a "fierce vegan" so of course I love all animals.
But let me tell you the story of Owen Elf.
A few months ago, our Selah Carefarm rescued a sweet little goat (secondarily) from a filthy backyard breeder. She's now named Princess Leah. But she'd had a baby shortly before we took her in and, when I discovered that, I tried to track down the people who bought her. I wanted to buy her back so Princess could be reunited with her baby and they could live here together, never having to be separated again. That plan didn't work as the breeder said he "didn't know where she went." However, Princess had a sister, still imprisoned by the breeder, who gave birth to three babies. The 'runt' of the three was getting ready to be "culled" (killed) because he was sick and wasn't gaining weight.
"Do you want him?"
We took him in on a warm May afternoon. At four weeks old, he was tiny, weighing only 6 pounds. A grieving family, here to mourn the recent death of their precious son Aidan, was here at the Selah Carefarm doing intensive counseling and the work of grieving. They wanted to see the new baby goat who had just arrived. Aidan's mom was the first to hold the new, also precious, goat baby. He settled into her arms. I think we all had tears in our eyes. I asked what we should name him. She told me that when Aidan was little, he had an invisible friend named Owen. And so, our new rescue baby became Owen. Of course, Owen was darling, like an elf, so he became Owen Elf.
Many other people loved him well. Brooke, Dave, Virginia, Marianne, Shawna, Cheryl, Georgeann, and others. Jessica, mom to James who died at six days old and who never got to bathe her son, was able to give baby Owen Elf a sponge bath. It was beautiful and painful.
Owen Elf was "medically complicated" as my vet said on his first inspection; I sensed he knew he was going to die but didn't have the heart to tell me. "This is quite a project, Jo," Jim said. Yes, but... so was my first horse Chemakoh. Everyone said he was going to die, unequivocally. And ... well, now he's well-fed and sassy.
I had to - at least - try to save Owen Elf's life.
He came to us with a broken jaw, broken or displaced hip, massive systemic infection, parasitic coccidiosis infestation, lice infestation (oy vey, more than three very gross hours to fix this), a huge growth on his face that we initially thought was a salivary gland abscess (but turned out to be likely encephalitis), and was grossly underweight, malnourished, and dehydrated.
He required care 24/7 and he got it. There wasn't a full minute when someone didn't have loving eyes on him. Owen Elf was "unlikely to survive" and we knew it by about day 7. But we tried with all our hearts to help. At first he responded to antibiotic treatment but quickly the encephalitis worsened. He became paralyzed first in his back legs. Then front. Then he lost control of his neck muscles. Then his sucking reflex. No amount of love was going to save him. I could feel the dread in my stomach every day. If love could save them, wouldn't everyone we love be here right now? Ugh.
And to say I loved him would actually be an understatement.
I adored him. He would snuggle into my neck in the evenings. He loved when I sang to him, even in Farsi, and he once gave me the stink eye when I was eating oatmeal in front of him. There were sponge baths and outdoor walks. Goat videos on you tube, which made his ears perk up, and massages for his joints. And he slept right on my chest at night, with a pee pad of course. He couldn’t turn his neck but he would follow me with his eyes. The way he looked at us was… well those moments of connection defy words.
Owen Elf died at 12:27pm yesterday, in my arms. Through my sobs, as I said farewell to him and repeated, "I love you, Owen Elf" over and over (crying as I type this). Through the tears, I tried to sing the song “Mother Earth and Father Time” from Charlotte's Web. He is buried here at the carefarm, his little body, now only 7 pounds, having finally, for 19 days, known love and tenderness and care and compassion. His little body came to us broken and unloved. He departed still broken but loved ... beyond.
Animals are worthy of such love and compassion and tender stewardship. All of them are. My most recent study found that animals, more than any other human group including therapists and the faith community, are a good source of social support for grievers. What does that say about them? And us?
Too often we humans don’t deserve their purity and goodness, especially when we use and abuse them as if they, too, don't feel loneliness, fear, grief, and pain.
Love means the risk of a broken heart.
Today my heart is broken. And he is worth it. I only hope that their spirits live on somehow because, without animals, any afterlife would hardly be a life at all.
His name is Owen Elf, I'm grieving for this sweet baby, and I will never forget him.