Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sustainability in Rescue and Sanctuary

This blog was written on October 2, 2016. I added to it and published it on August 24, 2017.

This morning I enjoyed visiting with GG and Blanco's new people. We talked about what it really means to operate an animal sanctuary. She described approaches as having a sense of urgency in rescuing animals where their situation is indeed dire. And the other approach to be that of outreach and education. Hearing this come from another sanctuary person really validates what I have felt for years.

For years I lived with a sense of urgency. Urgent needs of animals created urgency within me. Continually, day in and day out, never, ever winding down. My mind was filled with images of faces, numbers, suffering and desperation. As my mind saw this I would feel it inside of my heart. If someone were to say 'you can't save them all' I would feel resentment for their lack of understanding and empathy for the anguish of the suffering. Of course, I knew that I could not save them all, but neither could I erase them out of my thoughts. And at the very least I could save some.

We have been prepared for sudden or large scale rescues. We fostered 22 horses for local animal protection in 2013. We have fostered numerous large scale rabbit seizures for two animal protection agencies. Each ranged from ten to thirty-five rabbits. In 2008 Pete and I drove to Lewiston, Idaho and rescued 180 pocket pets and three goats. The pocket pets included degus, guinea pigs, sugar gliders, spiny mice and a variety of hamsters. I transported 100 of these animals to Seattle where several small animal rescue groups took them in. We placed the majority of the 80 remaining with local rescue groups. In the mid-90s we assisted with the rescue of several huskies tied to trees in bitter cold weather.

Now days my urgency is transforming in ways that are more sustainable for us. In 2010 I had a brain tumor removed. While it was benign and I am doing well, it caused me deep reflection about our work with the sanctuary and the animals. Between teaching full time and being immersed in rescue and sanctuary work since 1994, I was feeling overwhelmed and drained. This is when I researched the Institute for Humane Education and decided to pursue a Masters in Humane Education with the sole purpose of applying this to the work we do at the sanctuary. This was my answer to being sustainable and continuing to work for the animals.

Soon I will be doing my thesis proposal and thesis. The process takes me full circle to where my heart was guiding me over thirty years ago when I was first wanting to integrate visual art with social justice. The years in between have provided more than enough reinforcement for the importance and validity of art and its ability to communicate in ways beyond words. The social justice issues related to animals are rampant yet hidden. Until I became aware of the vastness of social injustice toward animals I too was walking among the fog.

My life is connecting two loves: Animals and Art. Many years ago my counselor told me that as I grow through sobriety I would find joy in what I loved when I was 10 years old. And it is true. For my 10th birthday my parents bought me an oil painting set and canvas. The first painting I did was of a fox from the cover of a National Wildlife magazine. This image is as clear as it was the day I painted it.

Now I am working on my thesis proposal and thesis soon. The title of my work is 'Visual Art Ethnography and Shedding Light on Social Justice and Animal Experience'. I feel giddy, like a little kid, anticipating the colors, texture, process and product happening with my art. I imagine the life I hope to transfer to a tangible art work that expresses what I see, feel and know. I hope that people will see the 'elephant in the room' and respond with compassion.

We continue to rescue and we always will for as long as we can. But we are putting greater emphasis on humane education than ever before. This is the key.

Photo of GG and Blanco and friends by Jewel Claire Straightedge
Founder of Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig's Roost

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Jesse and Wrangler

I wrote this blog in November, 2016, shortly after we said goodbye to Jesse and Wrangler. With so much loss, I wasn't able to post it then.

It's been a week since we said goodbye to Jesse and Wrangler. We had hoped that they would be with us longer. But their time came sooner than we expected.

Our veterinarian was out two weeks previously. Pete, Dr. Kennedy and I agreed that that was not the day. The pair were enjoying the sun and grooming each other. Maybe it would be in a week, a month, several months or more. But today was not the day. Pete and I were relieved. The horses were enjoying the day. There was peace.

Just two weeks later we were faced with the need to say goodbye to them. Jesse injured her leg and it was severe. She had been laying down a lot to release the pressure on her knee. There was a large bulge above her knee and she was limping badly. We treated her with bute daily over the week but it did not help. The vet felt that with the severity of the injury, her age and winter coming that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to give her quality of life. Jesse was declining and it was becoming clear to us that there were no humane solutions and we needed to seriously think about euthanasia.

We had the vet out on a friday afternoon, after I got off work. I've been present for the euthanasia of 15 other equines, and knew what to expect. The drop is dramatic, if one is not prepared for this. 
It was so hard to say goodbye to Jesse. She was our first horse, for either one of us. She lived with us for 23 years. She was 33 years old.

Wrangler had come to us in 2012 when his person had died. He was almost completely blind. He soon bonded with Jesse. She was his bell horse, his eyes, his trust. He had developed cancer but one of our greatest concerns was how dependent he had become on Jesse. None of us would be able to replace the comfort and safety she gave him.

From the time she came to live with us to the very last day of her life, she nudged me with her head. As I stood by her crying with emotions of grief, guilt, uncertainty, certainty and utter sadness she pushed me off balance with her head and in that moment I knew it was okay. She was telling me that it was her time to go home. It was so painful.

Standing there, I felt the presence of Wrangler's person as she smiled and reassured that Wrangler was simply going home too. He would be going to her and staying with Jesse. Jesse would reunite with Apple, Bunny, Joseph, Bryce and so many others. River and Cisco would be there to greet her too.

The loss of so many in such a short amount of time is leaving me enveloped in a shroud of grief. In a matter of weeks we have lost Prancer, the goat, Sammy Tim, the biting bunny, Raven our senior dog, Trixie a senior who was given a joyful refuge for the last two years of her life and now Jesse and Wrangler. 

There are bulbs planted over Jesse and Wrangler's grave. In the spring when they bloom they will bereminders of the love. I will leave this blog with a prayer I say, sometimes sing, for each of those who go home.  

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Mary Elizabeth Frye

Friday, August 11, 2017

Here is the Place

It's been so long since I've written. Today marks twenty one years since the wildfire that surrounded the shelters and the animals, that scorched the land and took the tall pines. We stood with hoses throughout the night, dousing small flames on the base of trees. We woke to a barren charred landscape. Crushed and horrified by the power of fire, but grateful for being safe, we held the animals and cried.

Today marks three months and one day since my mom died. The days and weeks have been a blur. I miss her. I see her face inches from mine, as I run my hand across her smooth skin I whisper promises to her. I am placing a damp towel on her hot forehead and soothing her as her energy is moving on. Her breath is shallow and the seconds between each breath grows. It grows until the very last moment, it does not come again. And her energy is moving on. And even though it is expected and even though she lived 88 years, it is so hard and it does not seem real. I miss her so much.

In the weeks following her passing there is little time to grieve. I lay on her bed and am paralyzed with shock and sadness. That must seem strange that a 59 year old woman hugs a stuffed bunny on her mother's bed, wishing she were here. There is much to do. Must finish the school year. Must prepare for the funeral service. Must prepare for our big fundraiser. Must prepare the home for sale. Must care for everyone daily. Must continue on with life. Somewhere, it feels like the opportunity for grieving has passed me by.

Today I am two weeks closer to returning to school. The back to school dreams are happening. The feeling of hesitation countered by anticipation make an awkward balance. I wish this summer could last forever. But not really. It's hot, dry and we are ready for some rain and relief from the smoke.

Last week I was seeking some kind of vacation away from the work and constant reminder of it. Some kind of respite that would take my grief and cradle it. My grief would become an identifiable form that could be molded into a controllable object. So I sought. I wanted a time away, a time to let go and just be.

I googled the words spa and hotel. The visions I had in my mind were soon trampled by the options available. The spa and hotels advertised were hourly rate joints to high end places. Frustrated, I closed the google, got up and walked outside.

Walking down the driveway toward the goats I am pulled into an image that is almost iconic. It is spirit in tangible and abstract form. It is the peaceful image of Blue, our 13 year old goat, resting with his head nestled into his body, with the backdrop of lush and spendy green hay. This is the most peaceful sight I have seen for so long. In an instant I am feeling love and stillness. This is the way I imagined I might feel, if I were to have the spa and hotel package. I am feeling firmly grounded in the beauty of the animals surrounding me. Each breath and step they take holds the essence of life.

I had hoped I would find a place to retreat in order to grieve. I thought I might float on the water and reach a moment of nirvana. I fantasized about a place away where I might recharge. Somewhere to collapse and replace negativity with love. I thought it had to be a place intended for such things. A place where people were practiced in giving this to you. A place, other than here.

Here is the place. Here is where I will grieve and love.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Summer Internship by Cassy Brown, guest blogger

Artist in Residency / Internship

Cassy Brown   21,   WWU,    Summer  2016
The value of interning or spending an extended amount of time out at River’s Wish is immeasurable. I feel so honored to have been able to do a summer internship at the sanctuary. I am a recreation major from Western Washington University, specifically focusing on outdoor and community recreation, with a focus in eco-psychology. I am interested in the ways in which outdoor, experiential learning and holistic models bring about balance in people by re-igniting, or healing the human spirit. Aside from my university studies, I am a freelance artist, and I thrive on finding ways to integrate art into all that I do. I also believe in compassionate living, and the idea that all systems are connected and influencing one another on micro and macro levels. As an educator, I strive to raise up generations of visionaries who believe in the power of their imaginations and dreams to create better realities for all beings through systems thinking and finding solutions to the world’s problems.

A Day in the Life
A typical day at River’s Wish would start with me waking up to the silhouettes of wildflowers decorating the sunlit walls of my tent, and the morning-breaking sounds of the resident roosters anointing the sanctuary with the possibilities of the new day.  I walk by Georgia’s equine herd and say “good-morning” to many curious stares; and then the senior goats who are soaking up gold light in sun patches and smiling their toothy, bearded goat grins. In the bunkhouse, I have a space to make art, a bathroom, and a small kitchen area. I make my coffee and breakfast and splash my face with water.
Outside, Bernie the ranch dog is already making his morning rounds, greeting all with youthful enthusiasm. I walk to the bountiful Rabbit’s garden. At times ripe strawberries decorate ruffled patches of plants; other times its plump tomatoes with fragrant leaves; tall, vibrant sunflowers with infinite middles; or long, spindled green-beans stretching further every day. I spend time weeding or harvesting lettuce and kale for the rabbits. The less idyllic, but ultra-important work is cleaning out the bunny barn with Kit. Fresh water, hay, lettuce, and bunny feed make for happy rabbits.  Much of the time is spent sweeping up rabbit pellets and hay, and cleaning litter boxes and dishes. Everything that gets swept from the bunny barn goes directly to Rabbit’s garden to be composted and later used as vital nutrients for plants to grow- a full cycle of death and rebirth the way nature teaches.
I like to eat my lunch in the garden, or in the outside area of the cathouse where Jasper and the other kitties welcome me with pleas for ear-scratches, and Flower the turkey greets me on the other side of the fence to tell me all about her day and catch me up on bird gossip. After, I like to spend time with the goats, pigs, and sheep. There is a natural leisurely way that the animals behave that is contagious to those who take time to settle into the flow that the animals know. Being at a sanctuary, the animals do not have worried minds or aggressive demeanors. Even animals from cruel, neglected, or traumatic pasts have been re-opened to trust and love. Vincent VanPiglet grows more into a Vincent VanPig every day; it has been exciting to watch him grow up.  I like to pour water into his mud hole and watch him prance over, big floppy ears bouncing with every step. Vegan and Valentine, the two Yorkshire pigs, love to get sprayed by the hose on hot days, and Vegan even loves to open her mouth to drink straight from the hose water!
The rest of my hot summer afternoons I try to spend indoors where it’s a bit cooler. I work on designing curriculums for Art, Animals, and Garden classes, painting a mural for the sanctuary, logging internship experience, and working on other art projects. I spent a lot of time in conversation with Kit and Pete, the founders of the sanctuary: both artists and educators themselves. I appreciated the humbleness, gentle nature, insight, and compassion of these two.

Art, Animals, and Gardens Summer Classes
I had the pleasure of teaching summer art classes at the sanctuary through River’s Wish and Spokane Art School. For years, I have dreamed of ways to use art, co-creation, conversations, plants, animals, and leisure services to nourish minds and spirits- to heal and to spark flames inside of one another. I designed curriculums where the students and I spent time working with different mediums, learning art techniques, creating from observation and imagination, and spending time amongst the animal residents as well as in the garden.
The beauty of being in a primarily outdoor, hands-on environment is the immersion and natural stimulation, less influenced by technological stimuli, and more influenced by the intrinsic value of the Earth and nature’s lessons. There is room for discovery, curiosity, exploration, imagination, play, and freedom in making art- in being outside.  Kids get to experience (often for the first time) what is it like to touch a pig’s wiry hair and rough-skinned back. They experience pulling a carrot out of the Earth: washing it, tasting it. They are close enough to get licked by a cow’s rough, slimy tongue and see it bat its long, pretty eyelashes. They use clay and natural materials to mold, shape, and put together their own animalistic creations, and they are told that the possibilities are endless- that they are the artists and they have choice, autonomy, and respect.  I see something click within these students’ minds. Their spirits grow and enliven. I feel it too. Teaching in this type of holistic environment has given me peace, joy, and inspiration as an educator, activist, and artist. I hope to continue this work of art-based, compassionate, outdoor education.

Artist in Residency
My personal artwork has blossomed in this truly sanctioned environment. My soul-fire has been re-lit, and I am pulling inspiration from an abundance of sources. The work here is large enough for my spirit. It feeds me with life-force, and leaves me hungry for more soul-food. The art classes are in part what started this beautiful frenzy. In being in an environment where I was expected to make art with the students every day, I was able to sink back into the space inside of myself where the channel for creative energy is opened. I taught lessons on step-by-step acrylic paintings, which resulted in me having four finished paintings of animal residents. The pieces accentuate the sentience of the animals and their full capacity for life and love.
I found joy, style, and confidence in my artwork through creating a mural to be displayed on-site at River’s Wish. The mural includes portraits of past and present sanctuary residents, as well as some of the native and garden plants at the sanctuary.  The hours spent on the mural allowed me to sink into an artistic flow where time ceases to exist, and I become one with the art forms. These projects dedicated and inspired by the sanctuary have influenced my art outside of the sanctuary as well.
While being an artist in residency, I had the opportunity to hold my first art show in Spokane – an opportunity presented by the parent and business owner of one of the art students I taught. I sought out the guidance of local experts in the field: art directors, framers, print-makers, skilled artisans, art educators, and artist marketing organizations. I began to trust myself enough to try out new mediums. I started working with watercolours (a medium I previously feared) and the addition of ink and gel pens.  My pen and ink work found a bolder voice of transcendent quality, deepened by the connection to my environment and this community (plants and animals included). 
As I move forward in my life as an artist, I feel I will always come back to this space in my heart. I will remember the ingredients to a healthy soul; the types of environments, people, work, and play that keep my spirit lively and keep my creativity flowing.

Thank You
Thank you Kit and Peter for welcoming me into the lives of yourselves and the animals at the sanctuary. I am so appreciative of your kindness, expertise, ethics, activism, passion, love, openness, dedication, and wisdom. Thank you to the volunteers, students, and community members who I had the pleasure of connecting with, and for making my experience in Spokane so meaningful. I wish for all the best as the sanctuary continues the mission of animal rescue and outreach. I will be visiting as often as I can!
Love, Cassy

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Monday, August 15, 2016


Summer seems long before it arrives and short as I prepare to return to school. It's been so long since I've written on my blog. And so much has happened.

In early May my mom went into Hospice after a very difficult weekend in the hospital. We thought we were going to lose her that weekend and her oncologist did not think she had more than a few weeks. Our intention was to get her back into her own home, which we did.

As I write this three months later my mom is doing relatively well. She is living in her home and my wonderful cousin is staying with her. I spend some nights at her home, sleeping on a cot at the foot of her bed. She is special to so many people.

The emotions and reality of the finality of life is bringing up so many feelings for me. As a sanctuary we are faced with having to say goodbye to animals and it is never easy. We have accepted the fact that we are at least able to share our lives with these special beings and give them what they would not have had otherwise.

In the coming two years we will likely be saying goodbye to many seniors who have shared their lives with us for so long. This is a time of transition for me. I will be saying goodbye to my horse Jesse, who has been with us for 23 years now and saying goodbye to other beautiful beings.We are thinking we may have to say goodbye to some very sweet and very old friends before the winter comes. Jesse is my sweet horse who is 33 years old. She is very arthritic, has few teeth and is having a hard time keeping weight on. Her companion Wrangler is 30 years old. He is blind and Jesse is his 'bell' horse. He too has very few teeth and he has cancer. He is also challenged in keeping weight on. The two do everything together. They are inseparable.

The biggest transition I am experiencing is knowing I will be saying goodbye to my mother, whom I love deeply. I can't imagine not having my mom and as I write this I feel guilty for even having this conversation, because she is still with us. But I look into the future and what it will be like to not have her pragmatic assurance and sense of humor. She gives me the advise that I feel incapable to giving myself. Her presence and calm reassurance gives me security and confidence.

Recently I shared with my mom that our friend Mary was helping me work with Tucker, an 18 hh Belgian/TB whose mom was going to slaughter even as she was pregnant with him. We rescued Leisl and Tucker was born here. We watched his little foal body emerge on June 2, 2006. My mom was very excited to hear this and she told me that I need to talk to Tucker and get things off my chest. My mom, who is not an 'animal person' confirmed more than she can possibly imagine, in telling me to turn to the animals for comfort and sanity.

I take comfort in knowing that my mom is right there with me when I walk along side Tucker.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Miss Piggy

We said goodbye to Miss Piggy today as she crossed the bridge this afternoon with the gentle assistance of our veterinarian Dr. Randy Scott. In the few short years that Miss Piggy lived at River's Wish she touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, who have visited.

We brought Miss Piggy to her new home at River's Wish on Mother's Day 2014. Miss Piggy had been abandoned inside of a house where she was left for over a week with eight ducks and chickens, four cats, several rats and an aquarium of fish. With horse trailer in tow we met Officer Laura from SCRAPS at the house. It took several hours of creative maneuvering to get Miss Piggy loaded onto the trailer. While trying to load her a little girl came by and I asked her if she knew the name of this pig. She told us "Miss Piggy".

Miss Piggy came home with me and found a cool patch of grass to dig in. She loved attention and took long walks, frequenting our neighbor's house. Her funny crooked smile charmed everyone.

Miss Piggy was having greater difficulty getting around. Her quality of life had become increasingly poor. We consulted with our veterinarian and we agreed that the kindest thing to do would be to humanely euthanize her and send her on to greet Delilah, Bryce, Cisco and all of her beloved friends.

Bless you Dr. Scott for the years of veterinary service you have provided River's Wish and so many other clients. We wish you the very best in your well deserved retirement and we thank you for the knowledge and kindness you have shown our animals, including Miss Piggy.

Miss Piggy touches my soul in a deep way sharing stories of the billions of pigs she represents. I grieve for Miss Piggy and our loss of her but she speaks for those who never had a kind word or touch. She speaks for those who suffer behind the walls of factories where pigs are treated like machines and their screams go unheard. She speaks for those who are experimented upon, exploited in entertainment and deeply misunderstood. She speaks for those whose very name is misused to cause shame and insult. She speaks for those who were born into this world only to be destroyed. She speaks for those who are at the mercy of humans. She speaks for those whose lives we must never forget or block out. She speaks for those who want only to live in the sun, eat apples and roll in the mud. She speaks for those who are given a second chance. She speaks for those whose voices go unheard. She speaks. I hear her. I hear them. I will not close my eyes or cover my ears.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

April and May

It's been a long time since I've written. There's not been quiet, peaceful time. Things have been so stressed. The winter is always harder and this past February and March left us with the sad loss of Bryce, Delilah and other friends at the sanctuary.
In April my mom's health declined. After 27 years of battling cancer, her body is losing strength. She has lost a lot of weight in the past several months and her breathing is labored. We thought we were going to lose her a week ago when she was in the hospital. Following a procedure to remove fluid from outside of her lungs she was in writhing pain and was sure that she was going to die.
As I stood weeping next to her hospital bed she told me that she thought that might be it. She called for a priest and for my brother.
I went to the hall looking for a nurse but could only find a cleaning lady. I asked the cleaning lady to get a priest for my mom, but no one ever showed up.
I had Pete contact my brother. With the fear that we would be losing my mom that afternoon everyone came to the hospital. I was able to get her priest from Our Lady of Lourdes to come see her.
My mom made it through Saturday. I stayed at the hospital every night. They released her to go home on Tuesday and we signed up with Hospice.
The improvement she has made in the last week has been dramatic. While she still is unable to get around much without being out of breath, she is eating, smiling, visiting with people and happy to be home. My cousin Mickie came over from Seattle and is staying with her. She is a blessing.
I am back at school this week and regaining some normalcy. The animals are doing well and I think we've found a great home for the geese.
The fear of losing my mom is gradually moving toward an acceptance. She told me that she is not afraid to die and I believe this. A few weeks ago she felt a tap on her shoulder and then a little while later another tap. She was home alone, lying in bed. A few nights later she heard a small child say 'mama'. Again, she was home alone. These experiences did not scare her, but rather gave her comfort. She had another daughter, Mary Colleen, who died when she was three years old. My mother thinks of her a lot, especially these days.
My fear is the feeling of being so far away from her. Of being completely cut off from her and not being able to talk with her. Not being able to call her. She is pragmatic and does not do drama. She gives common sense advise. Sometimes I wonder how I'll survive with my emotions if I don't have her to balance them out.
I've imagined myself without her. I'll stand in a challenging classroom, feeling the pressure and stress, and imagine not having her to call. How does that feel? When I imagined it, I'm filled with a feeling that it will be okay. That even after her body grows too tired to stay, that her essence will remain.
Mom and her cousin Janet have so many funny Moloney stories that I've heard over the years. I think I'll paint a few and maybe try to hold some of those moments where they can be frozen in time. That's not how it's suppose to be, I know, but sometimes the continual changes are just too hard to keep up with. To sit quietly with warm tea filling a pink rose covered cup connects me to the maternal side of my family. The maternal influences were so much stronger and deep rooted. Mom, her sisters, aunts and cousins. The delicate nature of a rose attached to the tenaciousness of a vine speaks to who they are in me.