Warning: Don’t read this if you don’t want to believe that animals have feelings, emotions, a sense of humor, and, scariest of all, souls. But doing the work that we do here on Locket’s Meadow, we have no choice but to know better. Without further ado, I will tell you the story of X.
We had a “neighbor” who kept a flock of sheep in her yard. She worked long hours and had a busy social life, so I checked on her animals often for her. At first, things seemed fine. But then . . . well, it got ugly. Yes, they were mostly fed, and mostly watered, so if I called animal control, there wasn’t much they could have done. But . . . they began to die. Some, it turned out, had heavy worm loads. Some had pneumonia. Some had both. I would get a call that one seemed “sickly” before this neighbor left for work, asking if I could check on her. I’d stop over 30 minutes later and find a dead ewe, with a partially delivered baby. Once, a sheep had died in the shed and by the time anyone noticed, she was a pile of wool and maggots. And then there was X.
It was a very hot summer day when X went down in the backyard. He was a ram, and had fathered many lambs. The neighbor was planning a trip that weekend, and was clearly annoyed that a sick sheep might impose on her plans, so she pretty much ignored him. I stopped over and found him lying in the hot sun on a 96 degree day, unable to lift his head, never mind stand up. I asked if she’d given him any fluids, and she replied that she had not, but he had a bucket of water. The ram couldn’t lift his head from the ground, and it didn’t seem that his owner was planning to assist him, so I went home, got some IV fluids, went back over and dumped a liter into him. He perked up a little, and seemed very grateful. A friend and I then strung a tarp over him to give him some shade, set a bucket of fresh water next to him and went home. As bad as it was, I was worried about doing too much . . . he wasn’t my sheep and I hadn’t been asked to help.
Later in the day I stopped back over and asked the neighbor if she’d given him any more fluids, and she replied that she hadn’t, the liter was probably enough. I went out to see X, and the sun had moved so that he was no longer covered; he was flat on his side, tongue stretched down into the dirt. I went home, got another liter, brought it back, dumped it into him and moved the tarp to give him a little shade. I gave him a shot of antibiotics and promised him I’d check on him in the morning, but really, I had little hope he would still be alive.
The next morning was Friday, and I went back over to check on X. To my amazement, he was still alive and I asked my neighbor if she’d given him any fluids. She replied that she would later that day before she left for her weekend trip. I stood silently, staring at her. She could leave a sheep dying in the sun and go away for two days? I opted out of being polite and called my husband, David, and asked him to come over and help me – we were going to load X into the pickup truck and bring him home. The poor boy was hanging by a thread, but if he was going to die, he would be with people who cared, and who were willing to put some effort into keeping him alive.
We made a sling for X out of two English girths and some bungee cords and hauled him to his feet in a stall, placing a bale of hay in front of him to rest his head on should he need it (he did.) We put a fan outside his door to keep him cool as it was still near 100 degrees. I gave him at least two liters of IV fluid each day, along with antibiotics, and hand-fed him bits of grain. X, in return, tried really, really hard – he'd seen a lot of sheep die in his back yard, and I could tell he had no interest in joining the rest of his flock on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Every single morning was a new miracle – X was still breathing. It was about five days later when he began to bear weight on his legs, and at the end of a week, he could stand on his own for short periods of time. David and I were elated, and about a month later we let him out with the rest of our flock, as we assumed his chances of fathering any more babies were pretty much over since he'd almost died of a combination of pneumonia and parasites. (That’s a whole other story, as baby Violet can tell you . . .)
Our neighbor never once came over to check on him, nor did she ask how he was.
Three years later, X still had a chronic cough from his near brush with death, but was as content as any sheep could be with his buddies in our yard (no ewe’s in his turnout group after that baby Violet surprise deal . . .) Friday of this week I noticed he was tired, and his breathing was shallow, but for a sheep with bad lungs and a heart murmur, it wasn’t unusual, so I gave him a pat and moved on with my chores.
That night, I had a dream that I awoke from with more than a little concern. In it, my ex-husband had come to tell me it was time for him to “cross over” and he was there to say goodbye. Unlike in real life (yes, we get along fine, but no, I wouldn’t be the one he came to for something like this) we were happy to be with each other, and I felt as if I was with a close friend. We chatted for a few minutes, and he asked me if I also felt it was time for him to go, and for a reason I don’t really remember, I said yes, I felt it was best.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I could try to stay around if you like.”
“No,” I replied, but warmly and with a smile. “If you think it’s time, then it’s time.”
Then we hugged for a long time, and he stepped back, gave me a smile and a wink, and walked away.
I woke up . . . it was 3am, and I was seriously afraid I would get a bad phone call in the morning. At 5am, when my husband awoke, I told him about the dream, and he was also concerned, but when he went out to the barn 30 minutes later and found that X had died in his sleep, we both completely forgot about it . . . until many hours later, after David had dug X’s grave and we’d set a lantern upon it with a lit candle.
“Why,” I asked David as we were driving home from Yankee Candle with a new stockpile of votives, “would I have a dream that my ex had died?”
And then . . . I said it again . . . “My EX died. Baby, MY X DIED!”
We looked at each other. It wasn’t my ex husband at all who had come to say goodbye, it was my X, with his characteristic dry humor, a wink and a smile, who had come to me in the middle of the night to tell me he was on his way to greener pastures, took his hugs and headed off before he started to really suffer from his disabilities. Always the polite gentleman, my X . . .
Last night when we lit another candle over X’s grave David and I both felt a little lighter, smiling with the knowledge that our old ram had made his choice and moved on, this time of his own volition and not because someone had left him for dead in their back yard.
X, and his incredible will to live, will always be alive in our hearts.
And for the record . . . just for fun . . . both X and my “ex” happen to have almost exactly the same black curly hair . . . in case you are one of those who might think sheep don’t have a sense of humor . . . <giggle>
Kathleen Schurman, and her husband, David, have a small farm animal rescue and sanctuary, Locket's Meadow, in Connecticut, that they share with nearly 140 of their "babies."
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