Horses and Pit Bulls

March 13, 2012

Throughout my life I have had many unique experiences with a variety of different animals.  From dogs and cats to horses to cattle to hawks to snakes to turtles to fox to deer, I have been involved with many different rescue and rehabilitation efforts.  This is partly due to my mother’s passion for animals with special needs (which also drives my father crazy–funny how things work).  Her, sometimes outspoken, passion for animals certainly allowed for me to actively play a role in the lives of many animals, and it was also a way for me (who was had chronic illnesses growing up) to have an opportunity to grow and heal with these animals.  And it is also helped me to develop my “spiritual” philosophies of Connectedness in regards to human and animal relationships–covering everything from food to companionship.  One might be able to label my mother as an “activist of animal rights” of sorts, however I would term her as a “practical activist” because most of what she does is thoroughly thought out and always has a practical explanation for her decisions.  unfortunately there certainly are a number of people who are overly radical and just not practical when it comes to animals and “rescuing” and often make a bad rap for “animal lovers.”  Where I stand on this issue is more of a blending of animal rights and animal welfare (both of which have choppy definitions and I won’t waste time explaining–at least now you understand a bit of my background and a general idea of my view, which is that I believe animals need to be treated in a fair way, but I realize that humans have practical uses (such as food and clothing and work) which are essential to our own survival and I will not overlook this fact).

So, a special experience that I share with an animal…. I could talk about the numerous shelter animals that I have helped my mother rehabilitate.  I could talk about my own work as an assistant vet tech at a non-kill shelter.  I could talk about the orphaned hawk that I helped rehabilitate (although it was illegal being that I do not have a license to rehabilitate wild animals–yet).  I could talk about any of my three dogs that came into the shelter through horrifying cases.  I could go in a completely opposite direction and talk about showing dairy cows and working on farms.  The list goes on and on and on.

However, there are only two instances where I felt connected to an animal beyond that of normal human-animal relationships (mostly because my mother has this gift where most of our animals trust her much more than anyone else in the house hold).  These two animals were: (1) Flyer, our 40-year-old thoroughbred horse who had an extensive career at Saratoga and hailed from “royal” blood, but his career also led to his injury and his ultimate fate as a pasture rat, and (2) Gypsy, a pit bull that I found in a chicken coop with nine puppies.

Flyer was certainly a thoroughbred.  High strung and pissy until the day he died.  However, the tactics that were noted by Patton as being damaging (ie. the cowboy way of hitting the horse to desensitize it), were clearly used on Flyer during his training.  My mother did not take Flyer in until he was long removed from the racing industry and had some years on his life.  And in the years between racing and my mother’s discovery of him, his behaviors worsened.  And until the day he died he expressed signs of nervousness, and in many cases sheer hatred of male humans (even my father and grandfather who worked with him extensively).  The only male human that he was completely comfortable around was me.  My mother jokes and says that this is because she was thrown off of Flyer while trail riding while she was pregnant with me–so we were bound to have a connection.  Nevertheless, I often, throughout my childhood, would spend a lot of my times in the barn just studying this majestic creature.  He was huge, 18 hands, jet black and powerful looking.  Even in his old age (I knew him from the time he was 25 until he was 40–my mother had him for about twelve years prior to my birth) he was a presence.  There was just a natural connection between the way we interacted, a connection that I have yet to regain with any of our other horses.  And also, his death was of significance to me because it truly was like watching an immortal die, and it made it worse that I was the only one around when it happened, and he died, still fighting with his head in my arms.  I have written numerous poems about this occasion and it is something that will stick with me for a long time.

Gypsy, is still with us today, but her story is also interesting.  Emaciated, mange riddled, full of fleas, injured, and extremely frightened was the condition that I found her in.  My best friend Marc and I were both working at the shelter and had a call about a dog in the chicken coop.  When we got there we didn’t know what to expect.  The neighbors that lived on the particular hill were scared of the dog because she was a pit bull, which is a stereotypical fear that is ridiculous.  My only fear was moving her and her puppies because the puppies were newborn and covered in mud and feces from the chicken coop, and Gypsy (we named her because that is the name of the hill in which the chicken coop was) was so frail and injured.  Eventually we were able to get them into my car (which was a small Subaru legacy at the time–the shelter van was broken down and we had to use my car).  Gypsy was so extremely shy that she often didn’t move or even look at you.  She would sit with her head buried in her paws.  After about half a year, her and her puppies were adopted out to different families.  unfortunately, her adoption was a bad adoption and she came back to the shelter.  She was even more shy and reluctant of humans than before and we soon learned that the owners had beat her after she chewed some shoes (we issued the owners a ticket to appear in court for animal cruelty).  So, it became my mom’s mission to rehabilitate this dog.  She came home to us on a “fostering” trial.  I knew that this meant she was really being adopted.  And now, three years later, there is a significant difference in the dog’s personality.  She trusts me the most out all humans she comes in contact with, and I am the only one to be able to rough house with her and our other two dogs.  But to me, she really is a case of human qualities in an animal.


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