In 2008, my wife, Ellen, and I opened Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag. It provides a permanent home to animals rescued from slaughter and abuse.
It is wonderful to watch the animals enjoy life. Before they come to us, some of the animals have spent their entire lives on factory farms, crammed together in huge indoor sheds. This is most often the case with our chickens and turkeys. Our farm provides them with their first experiences with natural soil, grass, breezes, and sunshine. It’s a pleasure to watch them forage, run about, and just relax outdoors.
But our farm also has a sad side. From time to time, we have to cope with an animal’s death. One of the biggest surprises has been the way the other animals respond.
The first surprise involved a hen named Katie. Katie was exceptionally caring toward the other animals in her aviary. For example, she frequently stood over the smaller partridges, keeping watch.
After three years with us, Katie weakened. In her final two hours of life, Katie sat still on the grass, and we observed something we never would have imagined. All the other birds in her aviary—the three partridges, the other two hens, and the Bantam rooster–stood next to her the entire time. It was if they were holding a vigil.
Something similar occurred two years later, when Daisy, our elderly Labrador retriever, passed away. In her last half hour, Ellen and I sat the on the grass with her in the warm sunshine, petting her from time to time. While we sat there, all the chickens in the area—nine in all—came over and silently sat near Daisy and us.
We have a cemetery behind our house, where we bury the animals and hold ceremonies for them. Each time, several goats walk across the pasture to watch us through the nearby fence. Other animals, including chickens, turkeys, and our pet cats, frequently come over to the grave. All the animals are typically very quiet. It feels to Ellen, me, and the other staff that the animals wish to join the ceremonies and feel the solemnity of the occasion.
Of course, many people will think we are stretching things. People will offer alternative explanations, such as the possibility that the animals come to the cemetery simply because they are curious. But we cannot escape the feeling that they sense what is going on and want to pay their respects.
Bill Crain is the author of “The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children: Insights from a Farm Sanctuary.” Visit the sanctuary’s website: Safehavenfarmsanctuary.org