Friday, September 17, 2010
Shock and sadness at Apifera
To all of you who bought prints to help bring this wonderful old donkey to our farm, take heart, his time here was short, but he felt the love.
We laid Giacomo to rest today. We are shocked, although preparing a large animal for burial is sobering, and allows the living to slowly comprehend, "Oh, yes, he's gone on." He was only with us 19 days. But those 19 days encompassed an entire journey, not only for him, but for us as his final caretakers.
Having lived 20+ years in a variety of situations [we can only assume] , and having endured abuse in his final years, if not longer, my main goal was to give this donkey a true sense of home, the kind of home that is always there for you, no matter what weather blows in. The kind of home where a person comes out the door in the morning and sings your name, and you know, no matter what, you will be fed, and touched, and respected. No one will strap you to a post and leave you in heat without water, or rope your legs and flip you over like a fried egg.
On his first day with us, I talked to him about my intentions. I told him, "You can stay here forever. I'm not going anywhere. You can die here." I solemnly believe old creatures, and old people, need to know they have a safe place to die. In the wild, they seek it out. They might seek out a quiet place alone, but it might be in earshot of all the barn animals they've communed with over time. As usual, the universe and its wisdom was bigger than me- while I was busy imagining all the stories he would share with me, and walks I would take him on to show him the river and upper Apifera, he was winding down. He took my words to heart.
I noticed something was wrong about a week ago, even on his first day. His sheath was swollen. Since the rescue had not done a blood panel on him before adopting him out and since he was old, I called my vet immediately and had him check up on some things. All seemed okay but certain things weren't functioning right for the old guy The next day, he had drops of blood in his urine. I had the vet out again, immediately, to do a test or whatever he suggested and on the day the vet came, I noticed even more blood in the old donkey's urine when I fed him. Not good. He had had plenty of hay and fresh water here, so the fact he was still eating and drinking well was a good thing. But looking back, we all agreed, that was just one miracle that was presented to us- for if I hadn't seen the urine, I'm not sure we would have immediately done the tests we did that day. And those tests showed us how truly ill Giacomo was and it was damage that had happened from years of neglect according to the vet. His kidneys were beyond help, with liver issues too. He was anemic, but with a non functioning kidney, treatment wasn't going to help. Within the short 12 hour period we waited for test results, I saw Giacomo in more and more pain. He had arrived very damaged.
Just yesterday morning, it seems so long ago now, I went out to feed him, and I still didn't know the results of the tests, but I had slept with hope in my heart. When he first saw me, he tried to let out this bray, but it was more like a plea. I saw more blood, and I saw him stretching his neck, gritting his teeth and lifting his lips, a true equine sign of pain. He followed me around as I did chores, just like he always had. But he tripped once, and when we found the place on the grass he liked, he lay down, and put his head in my arms- another of his favorite positions. But he then laid back and I could tell, he was in such pain. I went to call the vet, hoping the tests were in, but also to tell him what was happening. Upon reaching the house, the vet had just called, and the news wasn't good.
We acted swiftly to keep him from being in any more pain. My vet dropped everything to come out and help him on his way. I walked him to the old barn, where his time at Apifera had started, just 19 days earlier. I had already said many good byes. Just an hour earlier, I told Giacamo how the night before I had been working on a little painting of an apple tree, and had been wondering how to finish it. The apple tree looked like it floated, so I put clouds around it, and then I thought, "This is like donkey heaven," so I added an old donkey. I told Giacomo, "When you see that tree, you'll be home." I placed a rooster feather in his top notch.
He's buried with tokens to help his journey forward: rooster feathers to help him fly better to his apple tree, a small piece of my art of a woman and a donkey, a ring to show my commitment to him, some chicory flowers, and of course, his favorite, ginger snaps.
We had a private burial, with the donkeys and Stella and Iris. Perhaps one of the most endearing things was watching the donkeys jump in the newly dug empty grave, and standing there, at attention. They climbed out, and watched the entire procedure, ears forward, not a peep or movement out of them. I returned to the old barn to watch and watched while the earth was returned over our old soldier. And then Pino came and stood with me, until it was over.
Why did it happen this way? Oh, there were reasons. Some we'll never know. But there were reasons, and I was honored to be part of his final days on earth. I read in a hospice book once that, it's important to tell the dying, 'It's okay to go now". None of us knew how sick Giacomo was when we first met him, he is like any donkey, so stoic. I truly believe, he held his pain in through out is many ordeals of neglect and abuse, to save himself. And when he realized he was finally in a place where animals wouldn't bother him, or people wouldn't hurt him, he let go.
Oh, he is missed! The most noble, the non replaceable old donkey of many names.