From Catskill Animal
A somber Catskill Animal Sanctuary crew said goodbye to Lumpy last week. Farm manager Kathy Keefe found him down in his stall, unable to move when she arrived last Tuesday morning. Lumpy had struggled with illness for some time and was an old boy; euthanasia was the only humane option. We send him off, this shy, unassuming boy, with love and a decade of memories. A re-release of my book Animal Camp is scheduled to come out this year. In it, there is a new chapter that describes the night I returned to the Sanctuary after Rambo’s death and comforted a very distressed Lumpy who had lost his pack leader. In honor of Lumpy’s death, I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at the chapter so that, if you never met him, you can take a glimpse into who he was…
David and I pulled down the driveway at 8:30. “Let me check on Lumpy,” I said. David dropped me at the barn and returned to the house. Inside the darkened barn, in the middle of the aisle where he’d slept with Rambo for the last several years, I watched as a terrified Lumpy reacted to every unfamiliar sound. His breathing was elevated, his crying incessant. As a member of The Underfoot Family, Lumpy hovered over Rambo for years as Rambo lay in his bed of straw. It always appeared that Lumpy was watching over Rambo; now it’s clear that the opposite was true.
“Mm-aaaaahhh!” he cried, rushing to me. “Maaahhh!”
“He’s gone, Lump,” I whispered to the old sheep, kneeling beside him. I wondered how long it would be before it was Lumpy’s turn. “I know. It’s hard.”
I walked from stall to stall, checking on the animals. “Hi, friend,” I said to Noah, offering a piece of carrot. His neighbor Star stretched her neck out for a piece and I obliged. “Mmmaaaaaah!” Lumpy insisted, jerking around to see what monster was lurking behind him. Normally a reserved sheep, he was nearly touching my side, pleading for help. The unthinkable had happened. Lumpy had lost his leader. His world had come unglued. Sheep, you see, have incredibly strong flocking and following instincts: they run from what frightens them and band together in groups for protection. This “safety in numbers” behavior is the only defense they have from predators.
It’s one thing to have this knowledge about sheep; it’s something altogether different to see an animal deprived of that security come apart at the seams before one’s own eyes.
I wondered if he’d feel more secure in a stall with goats Allen and Arthur. He had shared a stall with Arthur in the past. I opened the door, and moved to a back corner of the stall, holding Arthur and Allen by the collars to allow Lumpy room to enter should he want to.
“Wanna come in?” I asked. Normal sheep respiration is 12 to 20 breaths per minute. At that moment, Lumpy’s was about 100. He stood at the opening for a full minute or more, rushed into the stall, up to me, and rushed out.
I sensed what I needed to do, and knew that I was in for a long, long night.
“Good night, animals! I love you!” I called a little more softly than usual to horses Casey, Bobo, Beyond, Abby and others; to pigs Jangles, Charlie, and Chopper; to turkeys Dierdre and Declan, goats Arthur and Allen, and to all the others in The Big Barn who missed their nightly check-in because their friend was far more needy than they.
And then, to honor him, I called out the words I’ve called thousands of times before leaving the barn after night checks:
“Guard the barn, Rambo!”
“You comin’, Lump?” I asked him. Sure enough, the normally slightly stand-offish sheep was no more than a foot from me as we made our way up the driveway, past Julie’s office, past the beautiful garden already sprouting beans, mustard greens, lettuce, and strawberries, and into my back yard.
“David!” I called softly, hoping he could hear me through open windows. “David!”
David walked out onto the back deck. A curious Hannah, my young black Lab, peered through the glass door. We sat for a few minutes. Lumpy wandered a few uncertain feet, looked around quickly, looked back at me. “Maaaahhhh!” We locked the gate to my small back yard, sensing that Lumpy would feel more secure if he were enclosed rather than free.
We sat quietly for what felt like a really long time. Lumpy turned in circles, the way Rambo used to do when he sensed danger. I suppose it’s what all of us do when we sense imminent threat from any direction. Gradually, he settled. Maybe he’ll have a peaceful night out here knowing I’m right nearby, I thought to myself. It was late, and I was wrung out from a brutal week.
As I stood and walked up the six stairs to my deck, Lumpy scaled the stairs and quicker than I could blink was in my living room. Hannah the dog jumped off the couch, not quite believing her eyes, and Lumpy fled, bleating even more frantically than before.
It was obvious that there were only two choices here: 1. Take Lumpy to the barn, lock him in, and make him spend a terrified night alone 2. Sleep with Lumpy.
“David,” I sigh, because good lord, I was weary. “Will you bring the twin mattress out into the yard?”
He did, then he and Hannah headed back to his house in High Falls. And on the night that we had both said goodbye to our Rambo, Lumpy and I spent the night together, under the stars.