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

Stay updated with Cassia Art:

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.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

March Successes and Heartbreaks

March was a very busy month for rescue. March has been rewarding, joyful and heartbreaking. There's been little time to write or immerse in any kind of creativity.

In early March Pete and I, along with our volunteer Rhiannon, rescued 34 guinea pigs and 11 rabbits from horrid conditions. We removed them from deplorable conditions inside of a Spokane home and brought them to River's Wish. We were able to place the majority of them with six other rescues and in doing so offer these precious animals a new lease on life. 

We also took in two beautiful Black Bellied Sheep, one who was severely injured. We named her Maizey. Maizey had to have her leg amputated but she is healing so well. Maizey has become friends with the bunnies in the rabbit house.

Maizey and her partner Mica are being adopted by our friend Rhonda-T. She will be in a home where she will receive love and attention and the patience that she needs.

River's Wish partnered with another rescue, Rescue 4 All, and saved a beautiful mare from slaughter. Ari is in quarantine at River's Wish. We will learn if she is pregnant very soon. Eventually she will be adopted to a loving home. Yes, they ship pregnant mares to slaughter. But not this one. I wish we could save them all. It is heartbreaking and a helpless feeling. I'm grateful we could save this mare.

We also saved a mom and baby donkey from a kill pen in Texas. Rosa and Joaquin are also in quarantine. They too will be adopted into a new home, together. We received $500 from Lavender Dream Farms and Donkey Rescue to save this precious pair. Rosa and Joaquin are between the size of a miniature donkey and a standard size. They are unbelievably adorable.

March brought a tremendous loss as well. Our senior donkey Bryce had to be hospitalized for a week and we were so hopeful when he came home. But within days Bryce began to decline to where his quality of life was no longer. We had our veterinarian come to the farm where Bryce was surrounded by the support and love of so many who had cared for him over the years. Bryce took pieces of our hearts. We miss him so much.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Yellow Dog

Dog Lying in the Snow by Franz Marc

Yellow Dog

Yellow dog
lying so contently
so peacefully
resting chin on forepaw
back curving around.

I love you yellow dog.
You are my Charlie,
My River
My Cisco
and every yellow dog I have known.
You are my Toby
My Willow
My Buster and Blackberry.
You are every dog of every color I have known.
You are every dog I have never known.

Your graceful body resting upon the light surface.
You lay on the snow and I hope it is for just
a minute or two. 
Yellow dogs, black dogs, every dog
should be laying someplace warm
when it is cold outside.

I worry about you yellow dog
and wonder if you are abandoned or neglected.
Why would you be laying on the snow if not?

The shades of green surrounding you in the background
offer some promise for spring.  Could you be dreaming
of the spring? 

The rocks that jet out from the snow look like pillows,
Lets place your pillow upon the floor in front of the fire.

Yellow dog, I love you.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Love Connection Between Art and Animals

Animals and Art are interconnected for me. Through Art I listen, express, reach out and reach in. Art helps me communicate emotions, ideas and things I don't have words for. My feelings, ideas, and hopes for animals, especially those who suffer in this world, are expressed through visual means. My hope is that it will somehow help these animals by opening hearts, minds and impact change.

My first oil painting was that of a fox. I was 10 years old and received a set of oil paints for my birthday. I remember vividly, painting the image of a fox from the cover of a magazine. My mom said that I could draw and paint for hours from the time I was very small. She told me that she envied my ability to entertain myself and become so focused. That focus is so often scattered now, with teaching, caring for the animals and running a nonprofit. The simplicity and adventure of life as a ten year old girl is often what draws me toward my easel.

I am working on a series called 'Life'. These oil paintings are whimsical narratives from the farm and my imagination. They are fun and bright pieces expressing the life we share with the animals. These animals are beautiful, authentic beings expressing raw and pure honesty. They are unencumbered by foolishness. They are much like the ten year old I remember. The ten year old in all of us.