Some of the animals here are chronically ill and will always require specialized veterinary care. Some are disabled. Some were abused and neglected so severely that it is miraculous that they are alive and even more amazing that they would still be willing to put their trust in a human being ever again.
Here they are loved and properly cared for. They nap casually in the sunshine.
They play with their animal friends. They rejoice at the touch of a human hand, where
once they shied from it. They are home, and they know it, and it is here they will
live out the remainder of their lives in peace and happiness.
As a result of accumulated retinal damage from chronic reoccurrences of a condition called uveitis over a period of years, TJ is blind. Prejudices in the horse world tend to classify a blind horse as unrideable by default. Those blind horses that are fortunate enough to find a home, or keep their current home, typically live out their lives as a companion horse, a pasturemate that keeps other horses company.
But homes for companion horses are few, and despite his gentle disposition, no one wanted to adopt an old, blind, unrideable horse. TJ spent five years of his life in rescue on a foster farm, awaiting the loving home he was so deserving of. When I heard his story, I decided I didn't want this special animal to spend another moment without a permanent loving home of his own, and I adopted him as a companion horse for my other rescue horse, Henry.
To my surprise, I saw much of myself in TJ - the same independence, stubborn determination, and plain bull-headedness that wouldn’t allow anyone to say something could not be done. I knew TJ's heart, because I knew my own. No, this was not a horse that would ever be fully happy just grazing in a pasture all day.
And so it was that I climbed onto TJ's back for the first time. From the moment of that first ride, our trust in each other has been complete and unconditional. There is no degree of separation between him and me when we ride. We are one animal; he is the legs, I am the eyes.
TJ's story has appeared in newspapers and on television news programs here in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. He has shown many people that every living thing deserves an opportunity to reach its highest potential, and that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge what the disabled are and are not capable of. He is the little blind horse who has lifted the veil of ignorance and prejudice from the eyes of many.
But in the end, beyond this greater good, in our hearts TJ and I know the simple truth of the matter. We are both too stubborn to have anyone tell us we can’t do something, and perhaps too naive to even let it enter our minds that we can’t do it. He will be my riding partner, my friend, my kindred spirit until such time, a time of his choosing and no one else's, when he truly wishes to spend his day grazing in that pasture.
There is no cure for CL. There is generally considered to be no effective treatment. That said, on May 4, 2007, Picasso began an experimental CL treatment that Farm Sanctuary (http://www.farmsanctuary.org), a farm animal rescue in Watkins Glen, NY, found to be effective in reducing the effects of CL within their CL-infected goat and sheep herd. The treatment involves isolating the particular CL strain with which an animal is infected, having a custom CL vaccine developed from that specific strain, and then vaccinating the animal with the custom vaccine in an attempt to stimulate its immune system against the disease. Farm Sanctuary reports that some episodes of CL still occur within their herd, but the frequency of outbreaks has been dramatically reduced.
I used MVP Laboratories (http://www.mvplabs.com) in Omaha, Nebraska for the development of Picasso's custom CL vaccine. Positive improvement in Picasso's health has already been observed since the May 4, 2007 date of initial vaccination. Due to its custom nature, it's expensive to have the vaccine developed (MVP Labs has a minimum charge of $800), but to me, seeing the improvement in Picasso's health and overall quality of life has been well worth the money.
Picasso adores playing with his best buddy, Jake the dog, and hanging out with me on the front porch of my farmhouse on nice days. He loves to be petted, kissed, and hugged. He will nibble on my pant leg or gently head butt me if he wants attention and I don't happen to be giving it to him in what he deems sufficient quantity at that moment.
Barney appeared in my barn about two years ago (hence his name). He was emaciated, infested with worms, and highly anti-social. I put cat food and water out for him, and of course this meant he took up permanent residence in my barn, which was fine with me.
He was completely unapproachable, and I had to use a humane stray cat trap in order to be able to take him to the vet for neutering, vaccinations, and testing for Feline AIDS and Feline Leukemia. Tests came back negative for Feline Leukemia, positive for Feline AIDS (he is FIV+). Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), commonly called Feline AIDS, is somewhat similar to the human variety in that the cat's immune system is compromised and not fully effective as in a normal healthy cat. Because FIV+ cats enjoy much better health indoors, isolated from cat fights and bacteria/virus in the environment, Barney no longer lives in the barn, but now resides in my bedroom. Because of his FIV status, he must be kept separated from my other healthy cats.
Over the course of the first year after he arrived at my farm, I worked on his socialization, and he now appreciately allows me to coo over him, stroke his soft belly, scratch his ears and chin, and brush him. He had obviously been severely abused by a previous owner, and cowered frequently as though waiting to be beaten during the initial time at my farm. Overcoming the ghosts of his abuse was a far greater challenge than dealing with his physical health issues. It was a long road of two steps forward, one step back. He reached a point where most days he would willingly come up to me and let me pet him, and then there would be a day when he would inexplicably cringe in a corner. For a long time, from day to day I had no idea how he would respond to me. I just let him move at his own pace based on what he seemed comfortable with on a given day. As with any abused animal, the progress of recovery must be at the animal's pace, not our own.
When he arrived at my farm, Barney weighed 8 lbs. Today, he weighs 18 lbs. That is a 125% increase in his weight. He is not overweight either. He is just a big tomcat.
He is one of the happiest and most content animals I have ever seen. After all the abuse and starvation he has been through, he has the greatest appreciation for the very least kindness that is shown him. We would all be fortunate to be as happy as Barney is. He spends his day napping in comfort and safety, and playing with his numerous colorful kitty sponge balls, which I am constantly having to fish out from under the bed and dressers, where they ultimately all end up, frustratingly out of his reach.
Abby was found sealed in a Tupperware container in a trash dumpster at work. She had been heartlessly left there to die. An office worker from one of the businesses in the office park just happened to take his trash out one evening and heard her scratching helplessly at the container in which she was trapped.
She had been starved until she was nothing but fur and bones before she'd been put into the container. When I took her to the vet the day she was rescued, she literally collapsed into my arms in complete exhaustion. For several days after I brought her to my home, she spent virtually all her time sleeping. Her health was so run down from malnutrition that it was two months before she was able to shake off a cold she had. Despite all she'd been through, though, she was remarkably resilient and friendly toward strangers.
Today she is happy and healthy. Her fur is like silk. She purrs like a Geiger counter, and loves to have her tummy gently stroked. She has two 7-foot cat towers to play on (I have plans to one day build a bridge between them). She's happily an indoor girl now, and even if the front door of the house is left wide open, she has no interest in venturing back outside. She remembers well the harsh realities of that world, and wants no part of it. She is happy simply to curl up in her basket or in her soft, fleece-covered kitty bed on top of the diningroom hutch. Her favorite playtime activity is chasing the tiny red dot of a laser pointer, and she will sit and unceasingly stare at me without blinking until I inevitably succumb to her desire for me to play with her with the laser pointer.
Henry was starved by previous owners until he was mere skin over bones. The owners left him emaciated in their back yard, spending their money on Christmas presents for their family instead of on feed for the horse.
Apparently these same owners continued to ride Henry, despite his emaciated frame. There is evidence of previous deep saddle sores and girth sores in his coat, which commonly occur if an underweight horse is ridden. A caring police officer saw the state Henry was in, and recognized the dire need of his situation. The officer negotiated with the family to have them give the horse up to him. Through a chain of caring people, Henry eventually found a permanent home at Shambhala Farm. It took over a year of numerous small meals to restore Henry to his proper weight.
Henry now spends his days napping in the sunshine, joyfully rolling in the mud (whenever any is happily available), nibbling hay with his horse friend
TJ, or grazing in the pasture. His days of not having enough to eat are long behind him, and he will never face such days again.
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