Story #8. Sprinkles, the Sheep
It’s tough to lose an old friend. This past winter, one of the first animals to come to our farm sanctuary died. She was a large female sheep we called Sprinkles. All the people who knew her felt a deep loss.
My wife, Ellen, and I first saw Sprinkles in 2007, when we drove by a live meat market in the Bronx. Live meat markets are places where customers tell the clerks which animals they want for meat, and the animals are then slaughtered and butchered for them in a back room.
When we drove by this market, I saw a large sheep gazing out through an open door. I initially thought that she was very curious and was interested in events on the street. But as I observed her more closely, I saw a steadiness to her gaze. She seemed to focus on a spot far in the distance. She also appeared calm. I was puzzled. How could she be calm? Surely she knew she was awaiting slaughter.
I asked Ellen if we could purchase her right away. After extensive restoration, our farm was finally ready to house animals, and I felt that time was of the essence if this sheep was to be saved. Ellen agreed. So we rented a truck and drove to the market. There we paid for this large sheep, as well as a second, smaller sheep we saw on the premises and a few other animals we could afford.
Once we got back to our farm, our caretaker named the large sheep Sprinkles and the smaller sheep Angel. Sprinkles and Angel always lived together in the same stall.
I later learned that some animal rights activists don’t want farm sanctuaries to purchase animals from live meat markets. The activists say that the purchases give financial support to these cruel businesses. I came to see their point, but at the time I just wanted to get Sprinkles and other animals out of the place.
We didn’t know Sprinkles’ age or background. The only clue to her past was her ears. They were missing pieces at the tips, signs of frostbite from having to endure extreme cold out of doors.
Over the years, we adopted many more animals, including several sheep who were rescued from slaughter. The sheep came from a variety of settings, such as farms that mistreated their animals so badly that the authorities closed them down. All our sheep considered Sprinkles to be the leader. Whenever the sheep moved about together, Sprinkles was in the lead.
Sheep are often timid or “sheepish” around humans. Sprinkles didn’t fit this description. On several occasions I saw Sprinkles walking toward something when a human moved into her path. Sprinkles just kept walking, and the person had to move.
This doesn’t mean that Sprinkles disliked humans. She definitely liked receiving a pat on the head from a person she knew well. But Sprinkles didn’t show humans any special deference.
After seven years with us. Sprinkles suddenly lost weight. Our local vet recommended that we take Sprinkles to the Tufts Veterinary Hospital in Boston for tests and treatment. So we put Sprinkles into the back of our small truck and made the three-hour drive to Tufts. We took Angel, too, so neither sheep would be alone.
Sprinkles and Angel stayed at Tufts for a week, but the doctors couldn’t reverse Sprinkles’ illness. They believed she was an older sheep whose immune system finally gave out.
We brought the two sheep back to our farm. Then, after a few days, on the day after Christmas, Sprinkles died.
Sprinkles died in the daytime, and Ellen and I wondered where to put Angel for the night. Would it be best to keep Angel in the same stall she had shared with Sprinkles? We decided to leave the decision to Angel. When we began putting the animals to bed, Angel walked into the barn, looked into her old stall, and saw that Sprinkles wasn’t there. She then quietly turned around and joined some other sheep for the night. Angel didn’t want to be in the old stall without her friend. And she hasn’t gone back.
Our farm has a small cemetery for all our animals who pass away, and we hold ceremonies for them. Lots of tears were shed when we laid Sprinkles into the ground.
When I think about Sprinkles’ life with us, my mind often turns to the first day I saw her—when she calmly looked out of the meat market to a point in the distance. Since then, I have occasionally come across reports of similar gazing in other species. Some naturalists believe that the animals enter a kind of meditative state. I also have seen similar behavior in some animals on our farm, especially the goats.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about this gazing into space. He said that whereas humans look out and see particular objects, animals can look into ‘the Open” and lose themselves in the timeless vastness. Rilke said they actually feel themselves as part of the eternal. If Rilke was correct, Sprinkles, awaiting death in the meat market, might have been serene because she experienced herself as part of something that goes on forever.
We cannot be certain about such matters, of course. And, in any case, Sprinkles didn’t die in the meat market. She enjoyed seven more years of life at our farm sanctuary. All of us at the farm are glad she lived with us, but we also miss her very much.
Stories about many of our animals at Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary are in my new book, The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children: Insights from a Farm Sanctuary.