People often ask me what the work on the animal sanctuary consists of every day. Here is the answer.
Our day begins with morning feeding between 6 and 7 a.m. Before I go out to distribute hay to everyone, I prepare Pegasus’s special mash in the kitchen, mixing shredded beet pulp (soaked overnight) with rice bran powder, mature horse pellets, organic grain pellets, flaxseed oil, cider vinegar, horse probiotics and digestive enzymes, and a special herbal blend I prepare in advance to help her circulation, digestion, and other organ function.
All the animals know the routine and don’t try to push their way into Pegasus’s dining area (the hay storage room) when I open the gate for her. They wait, more or less patiently, while I transfer her mash into her eating bowl, knowing I’ll get their breakfast as soon as she has hers. Pegasus is the elder, so we all give her this respect.
Next I lay hay out in multiple piles on the ground next to the barn for the donkeys, Perseus the horse, and the three large sheep.
Sometimes this involves pushing through the donkeys, depending on if they decide to try to grab a bite along the way.
Though the two goats and the former lambs are probably full grown now, I still feed them separately because the larger animals eat faster and move from pile to pile. Sunshine is still the littlest and gets shoved off the hay. I shut the gate between the two areas so the littler ones can take their time and still get enough to eat.
The guardian dogs know that I am not fully available to them (though I say good morning in passing) until the hoofed ones have been fed. I give them a more prolonged greeting then and we head out to walk the fence line.
I’ve taken to doing a workout walk with them in the mornings. It serves the triple purpose of checking the fence for any weaknesses, using up some of the dogs’ boundless energy (they wrestle along the way too), and giving them a special activity with me.
After the walk, I offer the dogs breakfast, which they may or may not eat. Then I rake up manure in the Ring of Protection (the high-fenced area where the animals spend the night), filling a wheelbarrow, and the dogs come with me to empty it in the far field. Then I sweep the rubber mats in the stalls and fill the water buckets and trough, scrubbing them out if they need it.
Pegasus is usually finished eating by this time. I give her bowl to the donkeys to finish whatever is left, and there is a quite a feeding frenzy, with Beau the sheep running in to try and get a mouthful before the donkeys drive him off, and the donkeys squealing and kicking up their heels at Perseus and each other. Everyone loves the mash.
Pegasus typically heads for the garage at this point because it’s cooler in there and there may be fewer flies. I put her fly mask on; she turns her head to me when I approach her with the mask because it provides welcome relief from flies buzzing around her eyes. Sometimes I spray her back and legs with natural fly spray for horses. When Perseus joins her, I may spray him too; I gave him a fly mask once, but he had if off in less than five minutes, which required undoing velcro. He clearly did not want to wear it.
Next I open the gates to the other pastures, which I close each night. Water the garden. Check the water troughs in all the pastures. Refill Pegasus’s feed storage bins. Later, if I need to replenish supplies, I will drive my truck to the feed store in San Andreas or Jackson.
That’s the morning, followed by checking on the animals many times throughout the day. Sometimes one of the sheep is baaing for the flock and getting no answer, so I go out to help him or her find the tribe. Sometimes the goats call just to let me know they are back from the wooded area, and I go out to greet them, wanting to reinforce such announcements.
Sometimes Sunshine the lamb calls for me, her mother; because she had no mother and I bottle-fed her, she is imprinted on me and it is the ewe’s job to answer her baby when she calls, and vice versa. Often Sunshine will baa when she hears me talking on the phone. What a beautiful call and response!
At lunchtime, Pegasus and I walk back to the barn for her to eat lunch. I let her in the hay area again. With the drought in California, there is no grass, so she has nothing to graze on (this morning, I saw her eating pine needles—all the animals do). I am trying to keep her weight up (an elder issue), so it is three meals a day, plus numerous healthy horse cookies in between.
More checking on the animals as needed. Emptying the compost, which never accumulates because all the animals eat it as soon as I lay it out, especially Beau who comes running when I call and he sees the compost bucket.
Some days I give Pegasus a bath to help her elder skin. Brush a horse or a dog. Pick out horse or donkey hooves to make sure no one is walking on a stone. Trim goat or sheep’s hooves or dogs’ nails. Wet Merlion’s head if the day is hot; he feels the heat more than his sister, Daisy.
At 5 p.m. or so, everyone comes in for dinner. More mash for Pegasus (I had set more beet pulp to soaking when I went inside for my breakfast), hay inside the Ring of Protection to bring everyone in for the night, dinner for the dogs, waiting for Pegasus to finish so I can bring her back out of the dining room and tuck everyone in for the night.
Whew! By then I have probably run a mile (on top of the morning walk), what with all the back and forth and up and down the stairs in the house, and am ready for some down time.
Yes, it’s a lot of work, but the relationship the animals and I have is so very special that it often doesn’t feel like work. Only when another factor is added do I realize just how much running the sanctuary requires and that I don’t have much on reserve. An added factor could be one of the animals becoming ill or Merlion taking to jumping the old fence so I have to spend two days fixing it, then another day laboring in the hot sun with VERY good friends helping me clear the last problem of a tree down on the fence line. I might start wondering then if I’m crazy to be doing what I’m doing. But then one of the animals comes to me for special time, like Fleur-de-Lys, the Icelandic sheep, this morning, gazing at me with her soul in her eyes, standing in stillness listening to my whisper in her ear, and waiting for another kiss on her forehead.
A friend visiting last weekend, watching all I do in a day on the sanctuary, said, “You must tell everyone that it’s just you and the animals. It’s amazing what you do.”
Yes, it’s just the animals and me. And to me, they are the amazing ones.