You can find the previous posts in this series here (1,2,3,4,5,6). Truthfully, I think every animal I encountered during my internship, at the Watkins Glen shelter, had an impact on my life, but some certainly had a deeper effect than others. I have talked about most of the more profound ones already, but there are a few more who are a bit harder to explain. It wasn’t so much anything they did, that touched me, it was just the way they made me feel. I’m not sure that I will be able to make you understand why I came to care for them so much, but I am going to try.
The first one I want to mention was a pig named Emily. I don’t know how to describe Emily, except to say that she was just nice. One of my jobs, at the shelter, was dusting off the heat lamps in the barns. Every time I went into Emily’s barn, she would be basking in the warmth from her lamp, I would have to sort of maneuver my way around her, to clean the lamp. Now, there were plenty of other pigs, under plenty of other lights, that I interacted with regularly, but Emily was the one I always looked forward to seeing.
Most of the other pigs would tolerate my presence, and let me pet them a little, but Emily always seemed genuinely happy to see me. She would watch me, and make these sweet little grunting sounds, as I cleaned her lamp, waiting for me to finish so I could kneel down in the hay beside her. When I did, she would roll, and stretch, and make louder happy sounds. I always took a little longer than I probably should have, considering the fact that I was supposed to be working, sitting there with Emily. It was one of the best parts of my day.
There was a small barn with its own little enclosure, that housed two male turkeys. Their names were Skip and Arthur, and they made me smile every time I saw them. I hadn’t spent a great deal of time around turkeys before in my life, and I didn’t realize how adorable they could be. Skip and Arthur were especially so, because they seemed to be quite torn about whether or not they liked me. For anyone who hasn’t been around turkeys, the males do this thing where they puff all of their feathers up, so that they look like huge fluffy balls, and then stomp their feet and make a sound unlike any other in the world. It’s not a vocalization, it’s the sound of air being released, but combined with the puffy feathers, it’s one of my favorite things in the world. It gives the impression that they are inflating themselves, like balloons, but tried to inflate too much and had to let some of the air back out. It sounds sort of like “fffffff-T.” At first, I thought it was an act of aggression, they were trying to make themselves big and intimidating, but it’s actually a sort of mating thing. They want to look impressive.
Arthur and Skip would do this at me, the entire time I was in their enclosure. They would puff up, make their little balloon sound, and slowly inch their way closer to me, while I worked. Sometimes, they would come so close that they were almost touching me. Every now and then, I would try to pet them, when they did this. As soon as I put my hand out, they would instantly deflate to a fraction of their former size and scurry off in the other direction. I would always feel kind of bad, for scaring them, but then, thirty seconds later, they would be back, all big and round and making “ffffff-T” sounds at me. It was clear that they desperately wanted me to look, but definitely did not want me to touch.
Possibly the hardest shelter residents to explain were two goats, named Gloria and Jack. I loved them, but I can’t really say why. The reason they are hard to explain is because they were, quite frankly, assholes. They enjoyed nothing more than viciously headbutting anyone who came near them.
Jack was a young male goat, with beautiful, shiny black fur. Honestly, I don’t think he was trying to be mean, when he headbutted people. I think he was just young, and playful, and overly enthusiastic, but that didn’t make it any less painful when he slammed into you.
Gloria was a different story. She was an elderly female goat, who had been pretty badly abused before coming to the sanctuary. Her ears had been damaged to the point where they were almost completely gone, her horns had been removed, and she had a kind of smushed, twisted face, that always seemed to have a sadistic, smirking expression. She looked like an odd little troll creature, but I thought she was adorable. I do not believe that Gloria was playing when she headbutted people. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that it was true malice that prompted her attacks. I don’t think she was trying to seriously injure anyone, but I do think that she knew it hurt, and that’s what made it fun for her. Her crooked little smirk would grow wider, whenever anyone entered her and Jack’s yard. She would stand off to the side and watch, and wait, until she knew you weren’t paying attention, them run up and slam you as hard as she could. Luckily, since she didn’t have horns, she couldn’t do any serious damage, but it still made it rather difficult to get anything done.
I learned to just never let my guard down and, whenever she would try to ram me, I would hold my hands out and press my palms against her forehead. She would look at me with her twisted little smirk and shove with all of her might. I would push back, and she would lunge forward again. She would pretty much keep doing that until I decided that I had to leave. I could never be one-hundred percent certain that this was actually fun for her, and not just an attempt to ram me, but I think she enjoyed it. I also played this game with Jack, and I’m certain he had fun with it, but he did have horns, and would sometimes twist his head sideways and catch them on my arm. Still, as long as I was careful, we both had a good time.
I guess we never really know what experiences in our lives will end up sticking with us, or changing us. Sometimes, especially looking back, it’s the smaller things that we remember best. Sometimes the things we look back on most fondly are just the feelings we had.
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