The Keeper of the Gate
Standing quietly in the barn, Jeb looked half asleep. With the sun hiding behind the thick clouds, today must have seemed ideal for taking naps. He deserved it, deserved the quiet time, for his thin and aging body has a lot of rebuilding to do. Even though we feed him four times a day, he stays hungry. More than hunger, he wants friendship, the human kind. Jeb is simply in love with people, which offers a clue to his history. Someone, somewhere, loved this horse a lot.
A few feet away stood a yearling named Macy. She’s only been here a few months, part of a seizure we did on the island. When she arrived both she and her mom were not willing to let people touch them. That attitude doesn’t last very long around the ranch, what with volunteers carrying brushes, feed and the occasional snack. Macy is a pocket pony now, ready for belly scratches and kisses from complete strangers.
As I stood quietly, Macy walked up close to Jeb, watched him for a moment, then closed her eyes as though to take a nap. Jeb looked at her, then resumed his sleepy stance. The little girl and grandpa, in whatever horse world they lived, were taking a nap together. In that moment I was captured by the agelessness of it all – the new and the old, the first and the last years of life, the beginning and the end.
Before me stood something far greater – an overwhelming sense of responsibility.
Here stood the horse in its ultimate relationship with man, held by fences, controlled by feed and commands. Here we play gods, deciding on life and death, deciding on their futures, on who will go where.
Humans have become their rulers. We have been handed dominion over them. Our hands will dictate their lives. Through us will they live and die, for all those godlike decisions will be based on our beliefs of right and wrong, no matter how distorted those decisions may be.
Far too many see them as “livestock,” to be used and sold for meat. Others consider them throwaways, like used cars or broken toasters.
I don’t know what the best choice is for the old ones – to keep them going, to let them see a few more sunrises, or a needle in the vein, a soft sleep, the quieting of her heart. Sometimes we know the time has come, know that it’s never getting better, that the days of their life must come to an end. We know when because they tell us they are hurting and nothing we do can remove the disease that’s destroying them.
Sometimes I just don’t know. I listen to the vets, I weigh the options, but I see the life in their eyes. and the decisions are so very hard.
Just as I know of their pain, they know the final decision is with me, and I must make that decision. I will say the time and place, I will hold them, I will see the fear in her eyes and I will cry, for I’m not a god.
Macy will be adopted, will have a forever home and a loving, forever family. Thirty years from now, when the adopter’s children bring the old horse into their barn, it will have never known anything but love.
If we knew that all the horses would have that type of family, I’d be at peace. I judge when I meet the potential adopters, I look at the applications, I probe for character, I search their eyes for dishonesty, but I’ll never know for certain. I’m not a god, nor do I want that position.
This is a way station, a rest stop on the highway of horses. What happens here will change their lives forever. Most will go on to good homes, to be loved for the rest of their lives. Some will never leave. This is the final stop, this is the end of years of offering themselves to humans. No one will ever know their story, will ever understand all they have gone through, of their loves and pains, of the little kids who rode them and the grownups who beat them.
Some will get lost; will eventually be sold by adopters who say they will never sell. They will be sold again, hurt, abused, injured and end up either at the slaughterhouse or at another rescue, if they’re lucky. As much as we fear that end, as much as we do to prevent it, there are those that slip through the cracks.
I didn’t go to god school. If I had, I probably would have failed. I would rather be partners with them on this earth, a friend who would help make the decisions, who would share their thoughts, who would offer my opinions. I’d share, but I wouldn’t command. Somehow, that concept failed when the earth was created. Humans were picked to play gods, to be in total control. I sometimes wonder if that was the best choice.
Somehow, without any training or experience, we became little gods, Without any insight, without any special knowledge, we received dominion over the lives of horses. If I had my way, I’d just as soon give up that title. I’d rather be known as a friend. I’d ask them what they wanted, and I’d make sure it happened for them.
That’s the kind of God I have and, if I had to be a god, that’s the way I’d want to be. “I’m here to help you. Tell me what you want.”
Standing at the gates, waiting for a vacancy, waiting for our help, the horses look on, pleading. We’re not the only place, but we’re one of the few, and it’s our chosen job. It’s what we said we would do, and that’s why we need your help. This isn’t about the glory of the name, or the triumph of being published. It isn’t a country club or a social gathering. It’s about starving, close to death, forgotten, slaughter-bound horses that are dying by the thousands. I need your hands in the blood, your tears of joy when we succeed, your sorrow when we fail. I need you at the gates of sanctuary, to be pure of heart, to know the purpose, to understand the problems and to help us provide the answers.
We must. For their sake, for their life, we must honor our values, put aside our differences, our cutting remarks, our egos, our sense of self-importance. We must gather around them as a family, hold them, bring them, if we can, back from the brink of darkness, and make them whole again. We must find them a home of their own, one of love and respect, then we must stand at the gate and do it all over again.
2013 is upon us. In the months ahead we’ll be dealing with many more horses like Jeb and Macy, like the little baby donkey, Joseph. Literally hundreds will pass through the gates, into and out of our hands
Through this website, through these stories, we will laugh together, and we’ll cry.
We can’t do it alone.
We need you.
Your donations heal them, your support heals us.
You – each of you – are the gatekeepers.
Together, let’s make 2013 a year like no other.
Habitat for Horses