Ray and Dianne Shaw live on a 25-acre menagerie near Morris, Manitoba, which they call a hobby farm. They should refer to it as a healing farm. Their rural homestead, bordered by the infamous Red River became the focus of international media attention recently when a couple of four-footed residents came together to create an improbable family of two.
Sheeba, the baby lamb was born to Moon, the mother sheep, who rejected him almost immediately. Nobody knows why this kind of birth betrayal or maternal disowning happens. But it might explain Russell Crowe.
So, Sheeba is suddenly out of luck as far as surviving goes, when into the barn saunters Sunny, the Shaw’s three-year-old golden lab with a disposition that matches her name.
Sunny was a mother once herself several years ago, so she knew exactly what to do.
She nudged, licked and snuggled the little black baby lamb until the newborn felt he was alive and loved. And then, in front of the rest of the barnyard crew, Sunny suckled the rejected offspring of the farm’s only adult lamb.
Boggling minds that look to science for answers, Sunny produced enough milk to nourish the lamb. Sheeba, the male newborn lamb, so named by a family friend, who is not particularly good at gender reckoning, is most definitely going to live. Indeed, with Sunny at his side, he’s thriving. They romp around the hobby farm together, yellow lab and black lamb garnering surprised looks from the geese, which, as you know, mate for life. (For the record, Ray and I disagree on the monogamy of geese. He believes they are life partners until death. I believe if geese could afford lawyers, they’d never mate for life.)
Moon, the biological mother is going to need an animal ethics lawyer to get her son back now.
“Do you keep sheep for their wool?” I ask Ray, hoping the answer was not “No, for their meat!”
“No, actually I hate to cut grass,” he replies. Ray’s an accountant who doesn’t waste words - or money.
Sheeba is now two months old and fast becoming the size of his surrogate mother. Sunny’s in for a bit of a surprise because, according to Ray, the lamb is now “teething.” OUCH! Yet, in one more month, Sheeba will be able to take a bottle and, after that, the watering hole.
Past this little miracle of cross-species nurturing, there’s a lot more happening on Ray and Dianne Shaw’s 25-acre hobby farm along the banks of the Red River. There’s that watering hole.
Inside the fence, all the animals get along - the chickens, the geese, the ducks, the guinea hens, the wild turkeys, the sheep, the dog and, oh yeah, Holly the donkey. (Think Babe, the movie, with the animals playing non-speaking roles.)
“We all drink from the same watering hole,” says Ray.
“It’s very loose, very calm around here with all the animals mingling,” adds Dianne.
“Holly’s the leader of them all,” says Ray. The irony of an ass being the leader of this barnyard zoo and one in charge of that circus in Ottawa was not lost on either of us.
Outside the fence, Ray discovered another level of companionship. He was asked to assemble a little petting display at Morris’ annual stampede.
“I thought a few people might drop by, but crowds began to form. You could see the natural joy people felt petting the animals. The humans really let down their guard. The animals couldn’t wait to go back to the fair.”
One kid, Ray describes as having a “rotten personality,” just melted into a giggling softie as he stroked the rabbit on his lap.
But there’s a lot more going on inside the Shaw’s fence than meets the eye of even Holly, the lead of this unlikely band of waddling brothers and cackling sisters.
In their 60s, both Ray and Dianne have suffered from depression.
“I tried all manner of assistance including those self-help tapes by Tony Robbins,” recalls Ray.
But nothing helped bring Ray and Dianne out of their dark moods like the animals around them.
“Just the way they react with each other, just watching them all get along and occasionally help each other, like Sunny and Sheeba, well, it takes the bad stuff away.”
And then Ray repeated a line I’d like to hear every delegate to the United Nations recite in unison: “We all drink from the same watering hole.”
Ray and Dianne’s adventures at animal farm have confirmed what I’ve been saying for years - that cohabiting with animals strips away the self-importance of people, that caring for our pets replaces our egos with a greater purpose and badly needed humbling. The love we have for our pets is unconditional. The love we have for each other sometimes requires a prenuptial agreement.
Pets, they drive us crazy and they make us better people.
For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of Wainfleet, go to www.williamthomas.ca
JULY 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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