Family Values at the Holidays.

4 years ago

WMbarnfamilyEarlier this year a client was asking me for some backup horse care. A parent was in the hospital and she needed to go home. My client was working the plan: Her dog wasn’t welcome in any of her sibling’s homes, so she was searching for a motel with pet options. Added to the stress, her older brother was mad that she worried for her elderly cat, mad that the dog had to come, and just plain mad, in a bossy older brother sort of way. Did I mention that my client was in her 60’s? Shouldn’t there be some sort of age limit for sibling bullying? Do you still get trouble for spending animal time on the holidays?

Some of us were born into loving families with big hearts and open arms. Good for you, really wonderful luck.

I was raised by people who didn’t really want any kids or animals in their house. They reluctantly let their children come in, but never a cat or dog. Okay, there was an exception for a Chihuahua once, but he didn’t live in the house so much as inside someone’s shirt.

But the time us kids were gone, so were the pets. My siblings both did the perfectly respectable thing: They married, had kids, and didn’t let pets in the house. My alternative lifestyle was a huge embarrassment. Was it drugs? Cult membership? Sexual orientation? No, sadly I was something even worse: A childless woman who let animals in the house, for which I received wild disapproval. If I’d had five kids in dirty diapers smoking crack, there would have been less criticism than I got for a golden retriever and a couple of cats. I stopped coming home for the holidays. (I learned it from dogs, they won’t come if you’re angry either.)

By the time I hit my thirties, my fur family had grown, ridicule works like that sometimes. I had more dogs and cats, and worst of all, horses. They hated the horses. The bullying was endless. One year, I agreed to come to Christmas dinner at a sibling’s home, knowing that my dogs weren’t welcome. I got up early and took my dogs to the park and made a quick barn visit. Then I drove an hour, arriving at the agreed time for dinner. The kids were lit up with post-present hysteria, the parents exhausted and depressed with the effort of the extravaganza. I got in lots of trouble for being ‘late’. The meal came with a double helping of judgment and disapproval smacked down on my plate. By late afternoon I got ready to leave, but it was horribly rude of me. They assumed I would sleep over. When I reminded them of the dogs at home, they took it as a personal insult. I said thank you and limped on home to a standing (jumping, wiggling and licking) ovation.

By my forties, my parents had given up talking sense into me and it was widely acknowledged that my dogs behaved better than most of the relatives. My parents passed before the goats and llamas came. Not to mention the other five horses and Edgar Rice Burro.

Now I’m at the end of my fifties. My birth family is all in the wind, one way or another, along with the bullying. I’ve acquired a wonderful circle of friends. We cancel plans if a horse looks a bit off or a dog is sick. We beg off invitations because of agility matches or horse events. We celebrate when someone expands their family with a new dog, and add our tears to theirs when a good horse passes. Social events take place after chores. When someone excuses themselves to go home to feed, it’s never an excuse to leave early, just a happy affirmation of the lives we share.

2013 was a rough year with too much adversity. Some of us lost loved ones. Some of us feel excluded or judged unfairly or are just licking our wounds from a hard-fought year. If you feel sometimes that the world is short on human kindness, or that your own species has let you down, I understand.

There’s a Norwegian folktale: It’s said that at precisely midnight on Christmas Eve all animals can talk. That’s crazy-stupid, of course. We know they talk constantly, if you care to listen. During my late night barn walk-thru on Christmas Eve, I was thinking of writing my version of this story. Peace on Earth began in a stable after all. Then I lost my train of thought while scratching noses. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the two dear dogs I lost this year, and was that the old mare standing in the shadows? I remembered generations of dogs and cats and horses who showered me with love and acceptance every day of my blessed life.


 It’s a privilege to love and care for animals, 24/7 and 365. And especially on the holidays.

Thank you for reading my blog, I appreciate your time and comments. You affirm my faith. Best wishes from our family to yours in the New Year.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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