A Christmas Story
To those who read this and understand and those who may not, unbreakable bonds form between species that last a lifetime.
I will always remember Christmas, 2007, when I received a gift of life so special that made it possible to relive happy memories of the innocence of childhood. Since then, because of Lucky, every Christmas evokes the same emotions, especially hearing Charlie Brown and friends singing in their sweet childhood voices, Christmas Time is Here. “The time when snowflakes fall softly and the sounds of carols ring through the air. The time filled with happiness for children everywhere. It was their favorite time of year.”
On December, 21, 2007, I drove through constant sleet and snow halfway up to Mount Hood, Oregon, in response to an ad, “Order your roaster pig for Christmas, butcher available”.
During the long, slow drive, I had plenty of time to think about the meaning of Christmas and a chance to save a life instead of take a life.
A brother and sister were all that were left of the four-month old family that had been slaughtered during the prior week for the holidays. I could only take one and allow it to live. The heartbreaking decision was made easier because the baby female, fearful at being watched, buried her head in a pile of straw. The male came forward, cocked his head and fixed an inquisitive stare at the two-legged giant on the other side of the pen.
That did it. I chose him, paid for him and picked him up squealing in fright and placed him on a bed of blankets inside my van. Since he was the only one to make it out alive, and no Christmas name seemed to fit, he was named simply “Lucky”. Driving back, baby Lucky at 40 pounds laid perfectly still, completely helpless and alone not knowing where he was going or if he would live to see another day.
On the radio the chorus of children’s voices sang Christmas Time is Here and the image of Charlie Brown was ever present. “Charlie Brown spotted a small scraggly pine tree. It had a wooden trunk and soft pine needles. This little green one seems to need a good home, he said excitedly. Besides, I think it needs me. It’s not bad at all really. It just needs a little love.”
A little love and a lot of love is what baby Lucky received during his first Christmas. It had snowed on Christmas Eve and Lucky was running wildly with his nose above and below new fallen snow emitting excited snorts. He tore open his wrapped Christmas presents of cut-up watermelon and savored every piece of it.
Lucky was temporarily housed in a large, fenced garden where he spent most of his first year (2008). Like all newborns of a few months to a year, Lucky outwardly displayed his new found awareness of life. Watching him, one longed to join in on his boundless energy, playing until exhausted mindless of the weather and reluctantly sleeping in short spurts until day break. Soon, this youthful exuberance disappears and gives way to a simple routine of looking forward to eating, resting and sleeping. Lucky was the sole exception as he possessed an indomitable spirit where every day was a new exciting adventure that never left him and endeared him to many.
In the spring, when the weather warmed, there were new sounds all around him. He quickly became familiar with the repeated cries of “caw, caw, caw”, from flocks of noisy overhead crows and ravens that constantly tried to eat his food. Lucky enjoyed chasing them away. He heard new voices from volunteers and guests. There were new sounds from all the farm equipment, tractor, brush hog, weed trimmers, chain saws, and the riding lawn mower which he loved to chase and bark at as it mowed on the other side of his fence line.
Throughout the night, many strange, fearful sounds were emitted from a host of predators in the forest adjacent to his enclosure. Bear, cougar, bobcat, coyote, raccoon, fox and weasel lived in the woods and were heard and sighted from time to time. The predators kept the rescued Great Pyrenees dogs busy through the night as they patrolled the fence line, barking, sniffing and scaring off any intruders.
At times, a band of coyotes would visit and position themselves next to the fence line where they knew they were safe and emit yelps and high pitched cries for hours. This behavior drove the Pyrenees into an excited frenzy of non-stop barking in their desire to give chase. Soon the Pyrenees would tire and gather together and erupt in sorrowful howls of a long forgotten primordial past.
It wasn’t long until Lucky came face to face, nose to nose, with the dogs behind the barks and howls. He met Maxwell, Charlie, Annie, Barkley, Buddy, Sunny and Harley, the Saint Bernard, the latter of whom left the nighttime vigils up to the Pyrenees, while he slept on the couch in the house. Lucky was met with a great deal of curiosity and tail wagging. From then on, the dogs knew Lucky was part of the family to be protected and they spent more time by his enclosure. Lucky was comforted by their presence and the strength of the Pyrenees Patrol Unit.
Lucky grew rapidly and became stronger and by August weighed over 200 lbs. He was a sight to behold with his black head, pinkish white body and black rump. I built a new large dog house to accommodate him. Lucky was as active as ever and quickly outgrew his entire enclosure which he had turned into a lunar landscape of exposed rocks and ruts.
Contrary to public opinion of pigs, Lucky was never food motivated like most of his kind. He never had to experience hunger and quickly became very selective on what he liked to eat. He tolerated his swine feed and, like a spoiled child, had no use for vegetables. Early on Lucky developed a sweet tooth for certain fruits: watermelon, apples, pears, peaches, grapes and also day-old pastry goods. His absolute favorite was Costco Dog Biscuits.
It has been said that when animals enter our lives some are acquaintances, some are friends, and a very select few are soul mates. Lucky was definitely the latter and evolved to a high level of consciousness toward all beings, human, companion animals and livestock. So many sensed Lucky was special and were drawn to him to be his friend. Many of his human companions looked forward to entering his enclosure to experience his affection firsthand. Lucky always had to rest part of his body next to whomever came in and enjoyed getting his back scratched or his head patted and responded with quiet grunts of satisfaction. Indeed, it was hard to resist hugging, kissing and softly talking to him in a childish voice forgetting any inner voice of the parent or adult but simply giving in to the child in all of us.
Throughout the summer and fall, the number one priority was putting the finishing touches on Lucky’s permanent residence to get him moved. Deep trenches had to be dug, posts had to be set and fencing buried in cement all around the firs, pines and maples to prevent any uprooting. It was critical that Lucky had lots of shade to prevent easy sunburns from the early morning sun that lasted till dusk. Bales of new straw were spread in Lucky’s spacious bedroom which was part of his 40-foot long house with a matching 8-foot protected deck.
In November, the long anticipated move took place with the assistance of the Pyrenees Patrol Unit to steer Lucky in the right direction. Lucky took a few steps inside his new enclosure and stopped. He tried to process his new found freedom and what he saw before him on one and one-half acres: an aqua blue cement swimming pool and three feed hoppers. Above were large trees, bushes, and street sweeper brushes for scratching as well as his luxurious house. Below was a lush green pasture that ended at the valley floor where the cows, horses, burros, mule and a herd of resident deer grazed on the other side of the fence line.
Lucky couldn’t have been happier or more animated with so much to explore. He spent the first two cold November nights sleeping outside his house in deep, carved-out beds under the stars. In the morning, he could be found half buried with a sheen of frost on his back. After that, this primitive urge disappeared and he moved into his bedroom snug among deep piles of clean, sweet-smelling hay. He never slept outside again.
Any time Lucky was spotted at the lower end of his enclosure, every cow on cue would walk over to the fence line that separated them. Lucky warmly greeted them, touching noses and communicating affectionately for several minutes. Then Lucky and the cows would lie down close to each other on either side of the fence to rest or fall asleep. If the cows could not see Lucky in his pasture, they grazed elsewhere.
Lucky experienced his second Christmas much like the first one and again woke up to a wondrous white layer of fresh new snow. He enjoyed his Christmas morning breakfast of walnuts, watermelon and Costco dog biscuits. In the afternoon, he played, chased and rolled in the snow with his human companions, the Pyrenees and Harley, the Saint Bernard, until everyone was worn out.
Darkness came early and gave way to one last look at the surrounding silent forest. Each bough on every tree was uniformly laden with snow yet every tree somehow stood apart from all the rest. It was time for all to retreat to the warmth of their homes. Later in the evening, the Christmas Channel played continuous Christmas music and once again the chorus of children’s voices singing “Christmas Time is Here” reverberated through the house evoking happy childhood memories of sledding, building snowmen and the joy experienced just hours before playing with Lucky and the dogs in the snow. I fell asleep easily as childhood dreams melted away layers of aging and responsibilities and it became a Christmas to remember.
The winter of 2009 brought heavy snows, many frozen nights and the temperature dipped into the early 20’s and teens. It was difficult not to think of Lucky in his house that had insulated walls but no heat or electricity. It became a habit for me to visit Lucky after watching Jay Leno or Night Line on late night TV and bring him a snack of apples and dog biscuits. I carried a flashlight across the large pasture in the dark before trudging up the hill to Lucky’s home. Halfway way up I would call “Lucky it’s me” and he eagerly responded with several welcome grunts. When I entered and shined the light, I would find him lying on either side of the doorway with his lower half covered in straw. As the top of his body was exposed, I covered him with a blanket so that only his nose, large ears and face were visible. Lucky liked the snugness and warmth for his now 400-pound body and gave his customary grunts of approval. He anxiously waited for me to lie down next to him and feed him his treats in the narrow beam of light from the flashlight that illuminated his face and deep blue eyes ringed in brown. I caressed his face while wiggling his lethal looking boar tooth back and forth.
He stared back at me with a contented gaze listening to my words of praise and knew he was deeply loved. Soon his bright eyes would slowly close and in time soft-sounding gurgles in his throat signaled he was in a deep sleep and it was time to leave.
Every day Lucky became excited when he heard the tractor and would run to the bottom gate emitting woofs and barks all the way. He knew it was time for the tractor to pass close by him with a bale of hay intended for the horses, burros, mule and cows. I would toss a clump of sweet smelling timothy/alfalfa hay over the fence and he would eagerly eat it. He couldn’t resist chasing and outrunning the tractor along the entire bottom fence line and up the side that parallels the rabbit enclosure. He then patiently waited for the rescued rabbits to be fed and watered and then ran back down the side of the fence, across the bottom until the tractor passed through the gate and out of sight.
It was an extremely wet spring and summer arrived late. As the weather improved, the number of volunteers increased and Lucky made new friends. All the dogs, especially Buster, a newly-rescued Saint Bernard, were his constant companions and followed him everywhere intrigued by his presence.
Any time I called his name, Lucky would run to the side gate and anxiously wait for me to enter with a bag of treats and the attention and affection he knew he would receive. He liked walking by my side while I made the rounds to check on his water trough, feed bins and living quarters. He waited patiently for me to sit down on his bed of straw or out in the field. He could then rest his head on one of my legs while I stroked his face and ears. Lucky would lie still with his eyes unfocused taking in everything, the sky, my face and his enclosure. After a few minutes, he would rise, walk a short distance, put his nose to the ground and start to root. He made sure I was not out of sight and would quickly return with a gentle nudge and grunt leaving and returning over and over again as if sending me a message, stay, watch me, please don’t leave. Finally I would have to say, “Lucky, I’ve got to go, but I’ll turn the hose on for you”. This was a special treat for Lucky who always amused himself by picking up the gushing hose with his mouth, moving it to the side and keeping it there while he drank a little while most of it rushed out. It was always hard to leave him at the gate where our eyes would meet one more time and I’d repeat the familiar words, “See you tomorrow, Lucky”.
Lucky continued to grow along with his boar teeth which protruded upward on the outside of both sides of his mouth. They were now 2 inches long and shaped like sharp pointed triangular arrowheads capable of crushing a hand or an arm with one bite as easily as he did to a handful of walnuts. I never worried because I knew Lucky’s entire makeup was completely gentle and non-aggressive to everyone he befriended. This was a fortunate quality because every spring and late fall it was necessary to change his entire bedding of straw with the help of volunteers. Lucky took pride in his large sleeping quarters and always kept his body as clean as possible. He never enjoyed rolling, lying in, or picking up a coat of wet mud on his body to cool off as most of his counterparts liked to do. He never thought of urinating or defecating in his quarters yet over time the straw became soiled, matted and held a large amount of fine dust that filled the air if disturbed.
Lucky never seemed to mind all the activity from volunteers entering his private quarters to remove garbage can after garbage can of old straw. In fact, when his straw was changed in the fall, Lucky sensed the change in seasons and worked alongside the volunteers. As the old hay was hauled away, Lucky kept busy tearing off large clumps of tall grass from the pasture and carried it in his mouth to proudly drop it on the cleanly swept floor in his sleeping room. He displayed an air of importance to assist and enjoyed all the camaraderie as he knew the cold weather would soon arrive. As new bales of straw were brought in and broken open, Lucky became excited and instinctively picked up cake after cake of it in his mouth and tossed each one in the air to break it up and spread it around. He would then lie down on it and reveled in the softness and aroma of his sleep number bed which would make any farm animal envious.
Lucky was more than ready for another long winter with a coat of newly grown hair to cope with yet another year of record snowfall. He never seemed to tire of the snow whether it was playing with the Pyrenees and Saint Bernards or by himself chasing and barking at some imaginary foe.
On Christmas day (2009), it began to snow and added inches to already fallen snow. Inside, preparations were being made for Lucky to dine at the PLAS, All You Can Eat Buffet. His dinner consisted of a considerable amount of day-old deli, produce and bakery items culled from a super market a few days before Christmas. On the menu were a number of entrees, a main course, and a variety of desserts. Lucky feasted first on egg rolls, burritos and garlic cheese bread followed by chicken tenders, submarine sandwiches, and JoJo’s but still had room for cherry pie, grapes and watermelon. He was more than satisfied and together we headed up to his home to rest after the meal while a flock of crows quickly landed behind us to finish the leftovers.
Lucky and I laid down next to each other on his bed of straw. Looking into each other’s eyes at the mystery that separated us, there was always the inseparable bond that connected us.
We had a relationship that seldom occurs but, when it does, the deep silence of understanding and the inner security of being together deepened the meaning of life. Lucky soon fell asleep covered with his blankets. I left to walk down the hillside and across the pasture while it was still light. By then, it was snowing lightly and it felt good to reach the house and lay down by the warm fire. Lucky’s presence seemed near while I once again listened to”Christmas Time is Here, Happiness and Cheer, Snowflakes in the Air”. Lucky’s spirit was everywhere.
As the year ended and January, 2010, began it was extremely cold with off and on snow. During the day, the ground, the top layer of snow and the ponds remained frozen. The nights were even colder which meant many trips to Lucky’s home to feed him treats and cover him with blankets.
There was finally a break in the bleak weather pattern which sometimes occurs in February. Warm sunshine appeared for a short time and dried the fields and sunken tracks of standing water. Everyone and everything felt invigorated by the warmth. Flower bulbs prematurely pushed through patches of melted snow. It felt good to shed coats and sweaters for the first time. The rabbits stretched out above ground sunning themselves. The cows, burros, horses and mule laid together and looked lifeless as the sun penetrated their winter coats. Lucky lay next to them on the other side of the fence fast asleep. The Pyrenees, tired from their nightly patrol, were content to sleep on their selected patches of warm grass. The ducks on the pond became extremely active and noisy. The brightly colored feral cats ventured from the barn partially hidden as they stalked through the dead cattails and tall grasses by the pond. The rescued turkeys from the Town of La Conner were lively and vocal. The males courted the females with beautiful outstretched displays of iridescent feathers. A herd of deer appeared out of the darkness of the forest knowing they were safe to lie in the pasture with the cows and horses to enjoy the warm rays of the sun..
For this brief, blissful week, all life at the sanctuary came together and shared the joy, comfort and wonder of being alive under the sun. The following week, all was forgotten as the cold and freezing temperatures returned and brought the snow flurries back. The animals disappeared under the stands of fir while others retreated to the barn and their individual homes. They knew it may be a long wait until spring returned.
The temperature rose slowly during the spring of 2010 with incessant rains making it the wettest spring on record. It was impossible for the equipment to cut the fast-growing wet grass which was four feet high by now. Lucky made a narrow pathway along the entire perimeter of his enclosure. It was the only place where he could see and avoid becoming wet and cold. On occasion, he retreated to his sleeping quarters shivering and experienced the same sensation that a person does who steps out of a warm shower and immediately feels the cold as their body heat quickly evaporates from their skin. I wiped Lucky dry with towels and covered him with his blanket which finally stopped the uncontrollable shivering.
It was the middle of July before summer arrived with constant weather in the 70’s and 80’s which lasted until October. Lucky spent his early mornings sunning next to the fence line communicating with his loyal friends, the cows. After a nap, he was used to hearing his name called at the side gate. He would run as fast as he could up the hill, woofing and snorting and arrive panting. He was a sight to behold weighing over 500 lbs. and the centerpiece for all to see in his private estate. I would give him his usual fruit basket and dog biscuits and, after eating, he would retreat to the shade under a stand of firs to rest and nap. As the warm weeks and months of summer passed, Lucky’s blissful existence changed little.
Toward the end of summer, for some unknown reason, Lucky exhibited the characteristics of a mountain beaver. He began to fell broken tree limbs still attached to damaged trees from winter storms. He dragged each limb in his mouth from the field, up the ramp and onto the deck and dropped them off at the foot of his sleeping quarters. He stacked the limbs into an in-house beaver lodge which continued to grow. Lucky was proud of his structure which must have provided a sense of security no different than a child dragging a favorite baby blanket or stuffed animal to bed.
After several months, it became increasingly difficult to enter Lucky’s sleeping quarters to lie next to him without tripping over the limbs from his creation. Finally, I told Lucky I had to move all of it. Lucky intently watched as his beaver lodge was dismantled and re-stacked outside his door on the deck. There was every indication that, before the day was over, the structure would be rebuilt inside again. Surprisingly, it never happened and Lucky accepted the move. However, from then on, before he entered his sleeping quarters, he always sniffed the stack of tree limbs and re-adjusted them slightly until his nose was satisfied that they were all there. He then would enter the doorway to his bedroom to make a nest in the straw before lying down.
The warmth of the fall temperatures ended by late October and frost appeared on the ground almost every morning. Lucky rested comfortably on a bed of new straw put down by veteran and new volunteers just in time for winter.
It was cold with continuous rain and strong winds one afternoon in late November. I could not see Lucky in any of his usual places lying next to the cows, near his feeders, or on the side gate for treats. Given the dismal weather and short daylight hours, I expected him to be back in his house high up on the hill. There he could quickly dry off, warm up and bury himself in mounds of straw. Now he would be able to look out his door at the forest across from him and the rain-soaked valley below. Soon he would drift off to sleep and dream comforted by the monotonous sound of pattering rain on the metal roof above.
The following day, the weather pattern continued with a cold mist of rain and fog blotting out much of the landscape. There was just enough time with the fading light to finish feeding and watering all the animals some distance away from Lucky. Glancing over at his enclosure, I could not see him. That evening, a feeling of uneasiness concerning Lucky came over me, but quickly subsided as it had only been 2 days. Lucky could have eaten quickly and retreated to his house which was partially hidden from view by groups of fir and pine. He certainly had plenty of food and water and to be outside would be miserable for any animal. Lucky was fully grown at three years old and had always been healthy. Despite all the reasonable explanations, the apprehension remained, heightened by a sense of helplessness if something was wrong.
The next morning, the long anticipated walk began, across the field, through the side gate and the climb up the pathway to his house. As always, Lucky heard me before he could see me and gave his low grunts of greeting.
Lucky was sitting on the deck in front of the doorway to his bedroom, hunched over with his hind legs underneath him. He looked depressed and would not move. I reached in my pocket and gave him his favorite Costco biscuit. He took a few nibbles and turned his head away. I put my arms around his neck, stroked his face and assured him that everything would be all right. I left him and quickly returned with a pail of water and held it to his mouth and he drank some but most of it spilled out due to his uncomfortable position. I left Lucky and walked down the hill along the well-worn path he had made with tears that would not stop knowing he was seriously ill. To think of life at the sanctuary without Lucky was unimaginable. I thought of the joy Lucky had brought to the sanctuary, his communicative bond with his animal and human friends. Surely he would be okay.
The next morning, I returned to find Lucky in the same position, disinterested in food, but willing to drink. I began calling veterinarians, local and national connections and received a host of possible ailments: constipation, a blockage, stomach ache, hernia, pneumonia, heart conditions and skeletal injury. Some of the contacts were optimistic and related similar stories with full recoveries. I tried to remain hopeful and steadfast in the presence of Lucky’s uplifting spirit.
On the third day, Lucky was not standing up and had moved from the deck to his sleeping quarters where he was found lying on his side in a corner. He was uninterested in any treats but willing to drink. One of the local vets I had called arrived and attempted to take his rectal temperature which required straddling his rear end. Lucky was terrified, thrashed back and forth and uttered shrieks and cries of fear and pain I had never heard before. It was impossible to know where he was hurting.
The vet managed to take his temperature and remarked it was bad news for he had no temperature and therefore his condition remained a mystery. The vet gave him a shot of antibiotics and left a tube of medication to be given orally for pain. He parted by saying, “You’ll know in 24 hours if he is going to be better.”
I covered Lucky with a blanket and laid down next to him. I rested my head on his shoulder, tears falling, overwhelmed by his sickness, and reflected on how completely he had made my life a part of his life. I realized it doesn’t matter in what physical form a soul finds itself but the impact it has on another being.
More than 24 hours passed with no change in Lucky’s condition. I attempted to get behind and underneath his shoulders to right him. He reacted with shrieks and moans to stop.
Several times a day, I brought him pieces of watermelon and shoved them in the side of his mouth and felt better when he eagerly swallowed them along with chewing a handful of hay. It was extremely difficult to have him drink as he could barely raise his head to swallow. I put my boots under his head to prop him up while attempting to give him water from two-quart calf bottles with nipples. He swallowed some while most spilled out and made pools of water in the straw next to and underneath him. I mopped up what I could with a stack of towels that had to be constantly rung out and carried to the house to dry because of the freezing weather. I covered Lucky every evening with blankets and by morning they were by his side soaked with urine.
This routine went on for several days still seeking advice and searching the internet for clues to his illness. The tears kept coming in uncontrollable bursts when passing Lucky’s enclosure with hay for the livestock and pellets for the rabbits. Lucky could hear the familiar sound of the tractor, the anxious cows mooing and the burros braying but couldn’t get up to rush down to greet them.
It was now the beginning of December and the sanctuary was covered in snow. In town the Christmas spirit was alive with cheerful interchanges and short conversations at the check-stands in many stores. I heard the familiar sound of the Salvation Army bell being rung by dedicated individuals standing in one spot for hours in the cold and wondered why so many pass by without giving.
I took Lucky’s urine-soaked towels and blankets weighing over 60 lbs. to a Laundromat in town to wash and dry every day. One day when I returned home, I had the clarity of reality that Lucky was never going to get up. I sought out the cow herd for comfort and hugged each one and confided that Lucky was terribly sick. I immediately called both local large animal vets and sought their advice once again as to how to humanely euthanize Lucky. They both concluded, given his size, temporary strength, difficulty of swallowing and accessibility to his head that gunshot would be their choice. However, they both declined to do it. I contacted two well-known national pig sanctuaries and a state college animal science department and explained the circumstances. I received the same answer of a gunshot to the head or cutting his jugular vein which was out of the question. Next, I contacted the National Pork Board for their On-Farm Euthanasia recommendations which lists a number of methods mainly for large scale producers. The only practical ones that would apply were the gunshot to the head and an anesthetic overdose by a veterinarian. As a last resort in an effort to find a less violent method, I contacted a well respected veterinarian in a nearby town. She confirmed the advice of the two local vets that it would take an incredible amount of drugs with a high likelihood of complications and be a hit or miss proposition. She believed the most humane way was a gunshot to the head and provided a name of a mobile butcher 50 miles away who does it for a living.
I phoned the man and explained the situation of how precious Lucky is to everybody. He seemed sympathetic and stated he could do it humanely. The man said he would be in the area butchering on farms in three days. I gave him directions and he confirmed he would be at the sanctuary between 1:00 and 2:00 on the designated day. Now that there was a time for Lucky to die, it was hard to prepare his water bottles, but I knew he needed more to sustain his life. The walk was painful through his beautiful enclosure which seemed so empty without him. My climb up to his house was filled with dread and tears wanting him so badly to be still alive yet hoping that he has peacefully passed away. Why can’t he, like some in the Aborigine culture who, under hopeless circumstances, can will themselves to die?
I entered his sleeping quarters and Lucky was alive. I sat next to him and lifted his massive head a few inches and poured bottle after bottle of water into the side of his mouth. Pools of water and floating straw gathered next to him and underneath his body. It was impossible to mop it all up. Pieces of watermelon left from the evening before were found uneaten. I covered him with blankets and laid next to him hoping that the memory of how uplifting his spirit was would energize me to cope with the worst of days.
I returned to the house and laid down to listen to Christmas music in the dark with no appetite. I thought of Lucky’s voracious appetite for certain treats that he can no longer enjoy,
On December 12, 2010, the mobile butcher did not show up nor did he call or answer my calls. I immediately called a trusted friend/volunteer who contacted a former employee who was raised on a farm and was knowledgeable about guns and ammunition. They both agreed to come to possibly assist. Before they arrived, I laid down with Lucky. He opened his eyes, but the glow was gone and all that was left was an expressionless stare in survival mode.
I stroked his face as my tears dropped on his whiskbroom cheeks knowing the end was near. I softly talked to him about how he came into my life right before Christmas and how special he was and how special he made me feel.
I thought back to lying next to him on warm summer nights and dark frozen nights and falling asleep with him on his bed of straw. I remembered chasing him with the hose in the summer and chasing him in the snow with the dogs. I remembered back to the only time I got mad at him and how deeply his feelings had been hurt. I had called Lucky to the side gate in a playful tone of voice. He quickly arrived and, as I began to open the gate, he playfully backed up to it and would not let me enter. I pushed on the gate several times to squeeze through and Lucky woofed and snorted and wouldn’t budge. He was enjoying his newfound game as I pushed on the gate yelling, “Lucky, Move”. After several tries, I managed to squeeze halfway through, take off one of my gloves and slap the top of one of his ears with it. He immediately moved letting out high-pitched squeals as if mortally wounded that could be heard acres away. I told him I was sorry that I didn’t mean to do it. He kept his head bent down next to my leg and wouldn’t raise it. For the next few minutes, I patted his head and ears telling him over and over I was sorry. Finally, he slowly raised his head resting it against my leg. All was forgiven and we walked together toward the rabbit enclosure.
My close friend and his partner arrived and met me at Lucky’s house. We all three tried to lift Lucky up one last time. He immediately groaned, thrashed wildly on his side in fear of his helplessness. I calmed Lucky down and we walked a distance away to discuss with a diagram the ideal target on his skull. Both of them assured me it was all right with them if I wanted to postpone it. I knew it was time even though Lucky had never made a sound of distress or pain except when we tried to lift him. He was slowly deteriorating and silently suffering. I told both of them to get the gun which was in their car parked a distance away from Lucky’s house. As they left, I laid down with Lucky for the last time, stroking his face and ears and his eyes closed. I told him how much I loved him.
I waited and waited overpowered by the deathly silence, the eternity of each minute, listening for their footsteps with ever increasing terror of being present at an execution. I finally heard their footsteps on the deck and they both entered. I got up slowly and looked down at Lucky and his eyes were closed. My friend led me out sobbing. I knelt down next to him in the pasture close to Lucky’s door. I looked down the hill at the bottom of Lucky’s enclosure and all six cows were in a row pressed up to the fence line looking at Lucky’s house. Oh God, why? What clues do they have? They haven’t seen Lucky for weeks and have paid no attention to his enclosure. Every day I made countless trips to Lucky’s house and they never stopped to look. The only view of Lucky’s house is where they were standing which is a distance away and almost totally hidden by large firs. How do they know? Is it because of all my tears at times when feeding them? Is it because implanted deep in their being they recognize the moment of death after facing it million upon millions of time? I don’t know.
The first shot exploded the silence followed by an instantaneous second shot. I laid face down with hysterical tears that will not stop not knowing how I can go on. It was too painful. My beloved Lucky is gone. I sat up in grief and looked down at the valley floor by Lucky’s fence line. Every cow appeared to be immobilized staring up at Lucky’s house. I walked down and tearfully hugged each one and comfort myself, in words, “Lucky is no longer with us and no longer will suffer” while every cow continued to stare up at Lucky’s house their sorrow in impenetrable silence knowing their friend is gone.
I started up the hill and looked back at the cows who are watching me disappear behind the firs. I laid down alone next to Lucky, touch his still warm body and cover him with a blanket. Recurring sounds of children’s voices singing “Christmas Time is Here” play over and over for now and always our favorite time of year. Off in the distance pictures of children are playing in the snow and decorating their newfound Christmas tree.
“With just a little love and a little help from Linus’s blanket the scraggly tree became something special.”