Monday, February 27, 2012

The Winter Of My Content, Highway is Saved, Rufo and Clem Cut Up the Rug, and Firefly and Elementa Go To a Schooling Jumper Show

    Brit and Kip                                                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

The Winter of My Content   (But Should I Really Be Content?)

      Yep, that's how it should look this time of year, but what you see is a photo taken at Windflower last October, 2011--a Halloween snow that sent a multitude of Princesses and Pumpkins, Fairies and Mermaids, Shreks and Smurfs, and Supermen and Darth Vaders running for their ski parkas and enjoying that brief envelope of warmth when a door leading to sweets opened.

       But then, with the exception of a couple of hard freezes, we've been enjoying March weather pretty much the entire winter.  And not one of you horse people---especially those of us who have no indoor arenas and rings--can tell me you haven't been glad for it.  Yes, I have missed those aerobic rides in the woods when the snow hides all  those nasty New England roots and rocks, allowing the horses to trot and gallop for miles.  So much fun!  But that's when my lateral work suffers.  Yes, I do trailer to an indoor arena occasionally and, yes, there's a trail wide enough for me to do a little shoulder-in.  But that's about it.  However, this winter dressage has been the rule rather than the exception.  My arena had been soft and dry for weeks.  And it's just two days shy of March 1st.  Green shoots of daffodils are here fully thirty days early. 

      But while those of us in New England have been making full use of the mild season others have not been so lucky.  Central and eastern Europe has suffered extreme cold, and if you happened to be in Venice you didn't have to bother hailing a gondola.  You could just walk the frozen canals to your destination.  Meanwhile, Mexico is in such a state of severe drought that the cacti are wilting!

       So, what's going on?  Are these extremes (with overall temperatures globally rising slowly over decades) part of climate change?   I certainly think so.  Unfortunately, the United States is the only advanced country (save Russia) that has a major political party that--for political and economic gain--still equivocates about this or denies it altogether, John McCain being a notable and admirable exception.  They say it's just one of these little cycles--happens all the time--Mother Nature's meteorological rhythms:  solar activity, North Atlantic or Arctic Oscillation cycles, and so on, factors that are real enough but they don't explain the overall changes across decades and centuries, nor do these natural cycles alone explain the truly extreme weather events we've been having for the last few decades.  Yes, records are broken.  but we are breaking records at a truly record-breaking pace!  The next time a person I'm stuck sitting next to on an airplane counsels me to remember the mini-Ice Age,  I shall have to resort to the provided barf bag.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, as the poet Alexander Pope said.  My airplane partner needs to read a lot more. 

       If you don't want to worry about Boston and New York losing a lot more than a few yards of waterfront, just read The Wall Street Journal editorials.  They will soothe you.  And, of course, there are the various members of the House and Senate who will tell you it's fine to just "Drill, baby, drill!" and more or less forget everything else.  But we must remember the rapacious appetite and influence of big business.  For every one member of the U.S. Congress, House and Senate combined, there are five full-time, highly paid registered lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry.  The number of unregistered ones is unknown.  All this is deeply disturbing.  And it certainly is not how the Founding Fathers imagined democracy would function (dysfunction!).

        My husband and I have the good fortune of knowing renowned oceanographer and climatologist Jim McCarthy, and his wife Sue, as friends.  I talked with Jim McCarthy about all this during a recent visit to their Francestown, New Hampshire, home (also notoriously sans snow in early February).  My husband--also Jim--is an active and informed environmentalist, so there was a lot to learn--a lot to listen to.  I asked Jim McCarthy for a few lines for this blog.  Here they are:

       Climate scientists have never been happy with the term "global warming."  It sounds benign and maybe appealing; after all, it is only a few degrees.  But what climate models have long projected--and experience is now confirming--is that a far more appropriate term is "climate disruption."  The atmospheric circulation that brought cold conditions across much of the northern US last winter also brought warm records to a broad swath of central Canada.  Think of the jet stream as an undulating ribbon with much higher amplitude waves than usual.

       He also provided me with this link, which basically implies that the greenhouse gases we have unleashed into atmosphere are the equivalent of a ball player on steroids:  it all comes to no good in the end (and more record breaking, but this time of the sort that causes economic loss and hardship, especially for the poor).  Click here:

       But the analogy fails in one aspect:   the baseball player has deliberately and voluntarily taken steroids, while greenhouse gases are being forced down Mother Nature's throat.  And all of us--some more than others--are suffering the consequences.  We have deeply offended our planet and have committed, and are continuing to commit, a crime against our children and our children's children.  

       You've all heard what you can do--recycle!  Make sure your school district recycles.  When you go to hotel give them hell if they don't.  Do not let your car idle.  Buy organic when you can.  And reduce your intake of meat, especially beef.  Any of you who have visited a dairy farm already have had your nostrils inform you that cows produce a lot of methane.  We're in serious trouble here, and perhaps, just perhaps, there is time to turn this around.  But it needs to be done now, and everyone needs to jump on board.  And do whatever it takes to get rid of those lobbyists who gas all day in the ears of your elected officials!

 Highway Under Repair!

       From planetary abuse to animal abuse:   here, pictured below, is Highway.  He's not yet had his eye surgery but--with a lot of help from a lot of people--he has cheated the grim reaper.  And you know who that grim reaper is in this poor pup's world?  The awful shape-shifter who periodically represents himself as human, but is the devil himself?  He's the creature who abused and tortured this animal for his own sadistic pleasure and monetary gain, one of the thousands in the country who secretly attend those most heinous "entertainments," pit bull fighting.

    Highway                                                                                             Ann Fratesi copyright 2012
       Better than the day he arrived.  (I inflicted an even earlier, more  horrible picture on you in the last blog; no need to inflict it again.)  Highway still has a way to go.  His former owner--being the economical lad that he is--realized there was no reason to feed a bait dog.  After all, he's only in the pit so other dogs can practice their fighting "techniques" on him.

        This week Highway will have his eye surgery and then will need to recuperate and gain some strength.  We've raised all the money (thousands) needed to see him through this, and when he's up and about he'll then travel to his new home and new owner in northern New Jersey.   Here's an even more recent picture.  You can see how his poor eyes trouble him:

      Highway and Sam                                                                                    Ann Fratesi copyright 2012


       And he sure doesn't want to let go of assistant Sam!

       I would like to thank all the people who have generously donated to make Highway's recovery possible--Lora, David, Roberta, Marleny, Mari, the Deja Foundation and others.  No one should have had to pay for this because "this" shouldn't have been allowed to happen.

Is Rufo, the Pit Bull Mix, Dog Aggressive? 

      I hope you enjoy this YouTube I put together from Rufo's visits here at Windflower:

Is Rufo "Dog Agressive?"                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012                                                                                                                                                            

       Cutter Farm Schooling Jumper Show

                Elementa and Juliane                                            Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       This was four-year-old Elementa's first show and she did wonderfully well.  The blue is for the "eighteen-inch cross-rails."  It was only the second time in her life that she'd been in an indoor arena, but it left her untroubled.  In fact, the only thing that seemed to trouble her was that the jumps were too small.  We'd entered her in one class but on the day then decided to enter her in the 2' 3" class as well.  Juliane and I agreed that this class was to be seen as training--rhythm and relaxation, not speed, was what we were aiming for.  Elementa went clear but didn't place.  That was just fine with us.  Elementa seemed pleased--too pleased, arrogant even.  When she left the indoor, she sidled up to another horse and cocked a hind leg.  Naughty!  And a quick hard bump from Juliane's legs informed her so.

                    Firefly and Juliane                                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012


          I apologize for the graininess of this image, but at least you can see Firefly.  The shots I took of Elementa didn't come out because her black color blended with the wall.  Firefly also did very well, placing in both her classes.  Again, we kept it slow.

       If you have a chance, do sign-up for some of Cutter Farm's two phases and jumper shows (Dracut, MA).  Marina Burliss makes everything run smoothly and it's a lot of fun.  Bonus:  show clothes are optional!

      Well, that is it for this week.  I don't have anything particular scheduled for the blog next week, but knowing this place, something is bound to come up.

       Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly!
         -- Ainslie


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Hearts at Windflower Farm and a Broken Heart in Need

                      Dolly and Juliane                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

         I thought I would begin this day's blog entry with this photo of head trainer Juliane getting bussed by our red valentine--Dolly!  It was late one night exactly a year ago today, just at Valentine's Day, that I woke from a fitful sleep.  I couldn't stop thinking of the photos of all those horses I viewed on the website of a wholesale horse dealer in New Jersey.  In four days I knew most of them would all be packed into stock trailers for a miserable ride to either Canada and Mexico, where they would be slaughtered for horse meat.  I clicked on my computer and scrolled through the pictures.  Which one?  Saying yes to one meant saying no to all the others.  I kept returning to number 613.  It was her eye--partially obscured by the reflection of the rude but potentially life-saving flash of a rescue group member's camera--that kept pulling me in:

                 Dolly at the Auction House                      Ida Howell copyright 2011


       The description listed her as one "terrified baby--needs groceries."  She certainly did.  Every bone was visible.  (For Dolly's story at length, see Windflower Weekly blogs for  February 2011).  However, the "baby" part was incorrect:  a look at her teeth put her between three and a half and four.  Yet, the "terrified" part was accurate--very!  Dolly had never been handled in her life.  She was as wild as a mustang, except she didn't flee from people on sight.  She'd obviously seen humans from whatever her undoubtedly sub-standard confines had been.  She sure wouldn't let you near her.  She sure does now!

   Dolly and Juliane                                                           Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012


      Here she is--still garbed in winter fuzz--having her first ride in the dressage arena with Juliane on board.  You can see by Dolly's relaxed body and soft eye that her trust in her rider is complete. 

       So I would have to rank Dolly's year with us this year's favorite Valentine story .  She is a wonder!


 Who is Saint Valentine?

       There have been many animals--not just horses, of course, --who have brought Windflower Farm significant joy.  But before I move to a sampling of them I thought I'd just write a paragraph or two about Valentine's Day.  Who was Saint Valentine, that I, and so many others, including the Hallmark Corporation, countless florists, jewelers, and chocolatiers, have benefited from his life?

       In the the third century CE, Claudius II, better known as Claudius Gothicus, ruled the Roman empire.  Now Claudius did not like Christians, and when he learned that the priest Valentine was not only providing them succor but joining them in holy matrimony, he had him arrested and tossed into the clink.  Claudius quite liked Father Valentine, that is until the priest shone his Christian light on the emperor himself and urged him to convert.   His tolerance level now surpassed, Claudius sentenced Valentine to death by stoning and clubbing.  However, this bothersome priest would not go so easily.  Another method was needed.  So, he was dragged to Flaminian Gate and beheaded.  February 14th marked the date of this martyrdom.   Though, like the birth of Jesus, this is likely to be incorrect.  (Note:  somewhere between the site of the failed stoning and clubbing and the site of his beheading, Father Valentine found the time and presence of mind--not to mention all the strength he had left in his poor battered body--to restore the sight and hearing of his jailer's blind and deaf daughter.)   

      Quite a number of years--a millennium--would have to tick by before he became the patron saint of lovers.  It seems it was not until Geoffrey Chaucer's poem Parlement of Foules (Parliament of Birds, c.1380) that Saint Valentine began to get some press.  However, his readership remained limited until his story became attached to sentimental custom.  It should be noted that in 1969, due to the lack of detailed factual information about his life, he was removed for the Catholic Church's General Calendar for universal liturgical veneration.  However, he still enjoys being listed on their official roster of saints.

       Ironically, in 1537 that lecherous murderer of women Henry VIII declared by Royal Charter that February the 14th be known as Valentine's Day.  No wonder Queen Elizabeth, his daughter, never married!

       Now, of course, Valentine's Day, is not just for lovers.  Children get valentine treats and cards from parents.  Parents get  school-crafted cards.  Brothers send cards to sisters (sometimes), and sisters to brothers (more often than sometimes).  Grown children send cards to parents, little children to parents and to grandparents (some prodding necessary here.)  For certain businesses it's a banner day.  But most of all--you'd better not forget your wife or sweetheart!

Windflower Hearts

       Here at Windflower, hearts are not only worn on our sleeves but our pets as well.  Here is Annie, my daughter Marleny's dear, sweet, and now, sadly departed, friend: 

   Annie                                                                                     Ainslie Sheridan  copyright 2012

And Alec's pup Toby, endlessly cheerful and faithful (now also sorely missed):

                     Toby                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012


         Sometimes our hearts wear kittens! 

   Heart-climbing kitten                                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

        And sometimes our kittens wear kittens with a heart backdrop:

   Game interrupted                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

   Sometimes the heart can be seen:

   Kip and Amalia at Church                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012


       Sometimes not!

   Baby squirrel                                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

But that unseen heart saves another heart which blossoms and is soon released.


Sometimes our hearts run riot with the sheer joy of life!

   Before the Storm                                                           Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

And sometimes wild hearts are just passing through!

  Mama Vixon and Kit                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       And sometimes tamed hearts must wait!

              Hachiko                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       This is the statue of the Akita "Hachiko," which stands just outside Shibuya Station, Tokyo.  Someone placed a real live Akita pup between his legs.  I snapped this thirty-nine years ago when I was twenty-three, but Hachiko is still there and will be there long after I'm gone.  Hachiko followed his master, a Japanese University professor, every day to the train station.  He would wait there until the man's evening return, and everyone in the station knew it.  But one day late in WWII, his friend  did not return:  he had died in that day's fire bombings.  For the rest of his natural life Hachiko lived on the station platform, watching the passengers get off every train, hoping that his friend the professor would return at last.  Hachiko was buried at the station, and a statue erected in honor of his loyalty.  Everyone who gets off at Shibuya station meets their loved one or friend at "Hachiko."

       And, speaking of waiting hearts (you know this if you've read the last two blog entries), this heart waited six years, for twenty-two hours a day, in a cage for his heart's wish to come true:  and it did!

    Jon and Rufo                                                                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

 A Very Broken Heart!

       I know that Valentine's Day has now become a celebration of  hearts who love and are loved, but I must now turn to the subject of a broken heart--a totally broken heart in a very broken body.  This a heart that can't wait.  When I was little, I believed it when Peter Pan (played by Mary Martin) said we could all save Tinkerbell, dying at the hands of Captain Hook, by clapping our hands.  I and my brothers clapped as hard as we could.  We cheered as little Tink's light got brighter and brighter.  And then she was saved.  But it will take more than clapping to save this heart and to put an end to the heartless people who so badly mistreated him as well as many other animals we will never see.  Meet "Highway":

    Highway                                                                                    Ann Fratesi copyright 2012   

       This dog was left to die on a Mississippi Delta highway by some miserable creature, who, if genetically tested, would be found to be human.  This is what is known in pit bull fighting as a "bait" dog.  His--or her--muzzle is taped shut and he is restrained by a handler.  So, there is no escape.  The "job" of the bait dog is to receive vicious bites from other pit bulls in order to increase their "gameness," their desire to kill.  More often than not, when there's nothing left of them from all the fights they have endured, these dogs are given "a bath."  What does this term mean?  They are doused with a bucket of water.  Then gator clips at the end of an electric cord are attached to their ears.  The cord is plugged in and they are electrocuted.  They are occasionally dumped and once in a blue moon a police raid comes across one.  But most of the time we never get to see these poor creatures.

       What these dogs are compelled to endure is hideous, it is monstrous, and it goes on all around the United States, mostly in the south.  It is here in Massachusetts.  Dog fighting is a felony in all fifty states, but it is highly secretive and difficult to infiltrate.  The FBI rarely dedicates resources to catch these cruel lowlifes, whose own children are often in attendance.  Lyrics from the South Pacific song come to mind.  

       You've got to be taught to hate before it's too late, 
       Before you're six or seven or eight--
       You've got to be carefully taught.

       Come on, law enforcement:  if not for the dogs, for the children!  This behavior, at the least, constitutes introducing minors to felonious and cruel behavior.  Those who abuse animals so often go on to abuse fellow humans.

        I will write more on pit bull fighting in another blog entry.  The immediate concern--the concern of all us who know of Highway's plight--is to keep him from being euthanized,  getting him the veterinary care he needs, and, finally, getting him the life he deserves.  Mankind owes this dog.  

       As you can imagine the care needed to bring this poor boy back from the brink of death has been expensive.  In addition to his obvious dog fight injuries, he has heart worms and parasites.  And it has just been determined that the will need yet another operation.  He has entropion--a condition in which his lower lashes curve into his eyes causing him to blink and squint constantly in pain.  Dogs who become bait dogs are usually the ones who are not good fighters.  Obviously, those who can't see to defend themselves effectively are also deemed good candidates for the job.

       Please, please send anything you can--no amount is too small--to either which has a PayPal account set up for him.  (Ann Fratesi who first got the call about Highway is a volunteer there) or you can mail a check (please mark it "For Highway") directly to:

       Greenville Animal Clinic
       1902 Highway 1 South
       Greenville, Mississippi 38701

      Highway will need ongoing care and, unless a foster home can be found,  will have to stay in a kennel while he heals. So the vet bills and kennel costs is what we must defray.  If this cannot be done it is possible that he will be euthanized.  

       And then a real home must be found--a loving, warm, nurturing home!   Given what he has been through Highway cannot go to a home with other dogs.  He doesn't growl at all dogs but he does growl at some.  And who can blame him!  But how is he with humans?  The following You Tube taken at the vet's office will tell you more about his character than I ever could:

       When I first heard Highway's story and saw those awful awful pictures I knew I would need to write about him in my blog.  But this blog was intended to be about love, not about vicious and cruel depravity.  But in the end, and if all goes well--and I and others a determined that it will--it is very much about love.  It is about the love of a woman who did not drive by but who stopped on the highway.   She picked this near dead and bleeding boy up, loaded him in her car, and drove him to the animal hospital.  It is about the love of Dr.  Edwin Nordan, who immediately began to administer care though there was no owner to guarantee that the care would be reimbursed, and its about Ann Fratesi, of aarf aarf. org, a small cadre of volunteers who work to stem the tide of animal abuse and neglect in the Mississippi Delta region.   And its also about love of those many people who are currently networking on poor Highway's behalf.  

       And last, and certainly not least, it is about Highway himself who, despite the tortures and betrayals he has endured at the hand of mankind, has nothing but love and copious kisses to offer.  No love is more unconditional than his.  Please help him.

       I wish you the happiest of Valentine's Day.  May roses, chocolates, and most of all love, keep coming your way.  Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly.

--  Ainslie Sheridan

                                           Repose on a Rose                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

I wish to acknowledge the following for providing information for the historical portion of this blog:


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kip The Pony, Brit The Mule, and Rufo the Pit Bull-Mix At Church

     Kip and Amalia About to be Blessed                                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

              One week ago I received an e-mail from the mother of one of my students.  Here is what Martha said:

       "At our church in South Acton we are having a service of Blessing of the Animals next Sunday at 4:00 pm."  
       Martha wanted to know if she could use some of the photos I'd taken of her wonderful son, Tim, with my horses.  That would be a resounding yes from me.  But then she had added:

      "Of course you are invited if you'd like to come, and to bring any creature you would like.  All four-foots and two-foots welcome." 

       After a few more e-mails and phone calls were exchanged, it was arranged.  Kip the pony, Brit the mule, and Rufo the pit bull-mix would attend, led by their devoted friends Amalia, Jenna, and Jon.  I can't say I didn't have a few moments of trepidation prior to the service.   Kip and Brit had enjoyed a lot of Natural Horsemanship training and generally comported themselves very well in-hand.  But in a church--a small church, at that, whose congregants would be comprised not only of humans but an undetermined number and mix of other critters?  Added to that, there would be music--piano, guitars, and humans "lifting up their voices to the Lord."  If they were unhappy or anxious, they could express those feelings in a powerful and potentially destructive way.
       And what would Rufo, the recently adopted pit bull-mix, make of this--well, mix?  Until a few weeks ago, for twenty-two hours a day he'd spent six of his seven years in a cage at the Yonkers Animal Shelter in New York.  There might be a lot of dogs there.  Would he be overwhelmed?  Was it unfair to ask him to be there?

        And then--most importantly--there was our own wonderful and heroic thirty-six year-old daughter Marleny.   At the age of twelve she had been sexually assaulted by her Sunday School teacher when we lived in Groton.  Since then she's only been to church once--a Christmas service at a church in Concord when she was fifteen.    She shook the entire time. 

        We all agreed on a solution--an evacuation plan, actually.  If anyone, human, child, dog, pony, or mule seemed unhappy, or in any kind of distress, we would simply see them to an exit.  Jon would take Rufo home, and anyone else could wait in my truck or trailer.

       The night before the service, just before nodding off to sleep, I had visions of flying chalices, shattered stained glass, a galloping pony and mule, and weeping children.  And last, but certainly not ever least, manure.

       The day before and the morning of the service, I placed a small tarp in a paddock and practiced leading Kip and then Brit on and off.  We use tarps a lot in training.  As many of you already know, horses, being prey animals,  are naturally frightened of anything that moves, makes a noise, or just plain looks weird.  So, we will put a tarp down in the round pen and move the horse around--usually at the walk or trot--using a long whip until she gets close to that scary blue crinkly thing with the teeny tiny metal rings that flash in the sun.  

        Horses--being no different in this respect than many humans  (myself, included)--are happy to stand still and chill-lax when the pressure's off.  So, that's done by lowering the whip and giving praise each time they get near the tarp.  Often they will move to the shiny blue sheet as soon they enter the round pen.  Basically, the meaning for them has changed:  from fear and sensing something to escape to a place of security and R & R. 

       At the same time, while becoming adjusted to the oh-so-scary tarp, they begin to learn that they don't have to run from what their DNA tells them to, after all.  For instance, if I leaned a bicycle up against the pen theoretically it should take the horse less time to get up-close-and-personal with it than the tarp.  If you continue resolutely along this path, your horse will ultimately become, quite literally, bomb-proof and you can sign him up for your town's annual 4th of July parade.

       But back to Kip and Brit.  They both remembered their tarp training very well.  I added another element they would need in order to be at their Sunday best:  standing on it for a long period of time.  After five or so minutes, Kip and Brit particularly, got antsy and moved all around.  Crunching up the tarp with hooves was verboten:  it would have rendered its other and very necessary role, that of port-a-potty, useless.  So, I would center them again on the tarp and, when they were still, reward them with a bit of carrot.  They soon learned that if they stood nicely they got something good.   Gradually, they were trained to stand at longer lengths.  I quit when I got each girl up to fifteen minutes (a pretty long time, actually).  I had other horses that needed tending to.  Besides, when I ran the Honolulu Marathon (twenty-six miles and two hundred and eighty-five yards) back in 1978, the longest training run I had done was eighteen miles.  I just had to believe that the remaining eight-plus miles were do-able for me.  And now I had to believe that an additional forty or so minutes would be do-able for Kip and Brit.

       Jon arrived an hour early so Rufo could play with our seven-month-old puppy Clem.  This, we hoped, would siphon off some of Rufo's energy and, hopefully, decrease any anxiety.

        Clem and Rufo                                                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       Amalia arrived with her parents some thirty minutes later.  (You will remember Amalia from another blog entry as the inventor of the "Mother Stroke.")  Then it was on to church for one and all.  As soon as we unloaded, I handed Brit over to her favorite rider, fifteen-year-old Jenna.  Kip was led by Amalia, Rufo by Jon and Marleny, and I stood ready to help if anything out of the ordinary happened.  Wait, this was out of the ordinary!  How many kids in Massachusetts or even in all of New England get to say they went to church--in church--with a pony and mule?

      We walked up the disabled ramp and through the front doors.  It was just a few minutes before the service, so most congregants were settled in the pews or sprawled out on the floor when we walked in and onto the tarp laid out in a back corner.  It was rather tight.  See for yourself:

                     Full House                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

                              Marleny and Brit                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       Then out came cameras in all their forms--iPhone, Androids, cellphones and "real" ones like I use.  You know the kind, you look right at it and it visually replies:  "Yes, I am a camera, a dedicated camera."  Flashes abounded.  Many horses find those akin to lightning bolts and are very fearful, but over the years I've flashed at Kip and Brit ad nauseam, so they were just fine.  In fact, over the years Kip has gotten so much attention that I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd expected to be walked down the Hollywood Hall of Fame to impress her hoof print.  Unfortunately for Kip, but fortunately for us, she didn't get to impress her hoof on anything or anybody that hour.

      Brit, to my knowledge, has never been in a building other than a small barn.  At my place she has a stall but she is free to go in and out at will.  So I was pleased with her tolerance of a very new situation.  This was no small part due to the trust she has in Jenna.  Here they are again with Kip off to the side:

               Brit with Jenna, Kip                                                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

      Rufo followed Jon right up the aisle to a pew.  Here they are:

                    Rufo and Jon                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012


       We were warmly welcomed by Reverend Katrina Wuensch and then came the hymn, "All Creatures Great And Small."  Skipping ahead, the Prayer of Confession was a call to recognize the destructive dominion over which we have governed and ruled animals, and a call to increase our fellowship with them and recognize them for the sentient creatures they are, that they, too, are entitled to savor "the sweetness of life."

       Well, I was right on board with that.  When I was eight my aunt--a Maryknoll nun--urged (understatement here) my father to get us baptized and into religious instruction.  I thought that was a very good idea.  All the kids in the neighborhood had gravely informed me that since we didn't go to church and since I ate hot dogs on Friday (I refused to eat the codfish cakes my mother made) we were bad Catholics.  In fact, one particularly nasty boy named Anthony DelGado--who, a year or so earlier, had cut off the front paw of a stray kitten with his Boy Scout knife--reported to me that his mother had said my whole family was going straight to hell.  A few decades later, though for different reasons, I came to agree with Anthony's mom, though mine was a more metaphorical reading on what constituted my family's pathway to hell.

       I and three of my brothers were baptized.  (My older two brothers had apparently been baptized sometime before I was born.)  I got a set of godparents who gave me rosary, a pink catechism book, and a small cross with a skinny sad man with a beard hanging from it.  Then the priest dribbled some water onto my head.  My infant brother was up next.  The priest took him from my mother's arms, held him over the baptismal fount, and dribbled water onto his head as well.  My brother--his face now beet red--screamed and cried in absolute terror.   His terror became my terror and I wanted out of there.

       In a few minutes we were, but the next week it was on to religious instruction.  All the kids who left school early on Wednesdays for these classes took the bus to St. Martin's of Tours, but not us.  Since I was already eight and my brother nine, and since we were lamentably behind in knowing the words of Jesus (as interpreted by the men who wrote the Bible, which was interpreted by the Catholic Church, which was itself interpreted by the nuns and priests of our local parish), special arrangements had to be made.  We were to receive private instruction at the hands of that same man who had scared my baby brother to death--Father Cafferty.

       My father dropped my brother and me off at the rectory.  There a nun escorted us into a dark, wood-paneled room where Father Cafferty waited.  He beckoned us to sit in his lap, enclosing both of us in his arms as he read from a little illustrated book about the woman who got to ride a donkey while going to town called Bethlehem.  I still remember the beautiful blue of her robes.

       "Father Cafferty, do animals go to Heaven?" I asked.
       "No, animals have no souls, only humans go to Heaven."

       That was it--the deal-breaker with me and the Catholic Church:   "Then I'm not going.  I'll stay here."
       "I pray we will all be in Heaven."  He pulled me closer.

       That's when things went from highly unsatisfactory to soul-splitting terrifying.  I was eight, and having lived one full heathen year past the age of reason, I suddenly found myself in the hell the kids on my block said was my destination (though not quite in the manner they conceived it).  My brother, having lived one and half years, was right there in the conflagration with me and would have to stay longer.

       Father Cafferty, it turned out, was the devil in disguise, intent on claiming us as his own in a very horrific way.  I jumped off his lap and stood under the clock.  The message, I thought, should have been clear:  this "lesson" with Ainslie and her brother was over!  He snapped open his black-cassock covered arm and beckoned me back, but I refused.  He got up, opened the door, and gestured towards a bench, advising me to sit there.  He then turned, shut the door, and returned to the matter of my brother's religious needs.  That was the last time I went to catechism.  When I got home I shrieked, screamed, and yelled that I wasn't going to "retard catechism" ever again, and that I hated being Catholic.  

       For some reason, my parents didn't make me go back.  My father, who brought his own malignant pathologies to bear on me, and I believe, all my brothers, for some reason said I didn't have to go.  Maybe he was afraid I'd spill the beans on a certain brotherhood he shared with this man of the cloth.  My poor brother was not a ranter like his sister, and returned to "class."  While I was in high school Father Cafferty became a Monsignor.  Some forty years later, I called the Rockville Center Diocese to see if he'd been caught.  The administrator there spoke of him in warm, loving terms.  It had been several years since his death, she said, and the entire diocese was still in mourning. 

       In the many years that have passed, I've learned that, like Glenda and the Wicked Witches of the East and West, there are good priests and bad priests, good congregations and bad ones.  And the South Acton Congregational Church is definitely a good one.  Kind, loving fellowship abounds.  Here's a short You Tube I made from the Flip video I slipped into Marleny's hands a few minutes into the ceremony. 

       Please forgive its poor quality.  First of all, Marleny was standing behind the last row of pews next to our well-behaved, but nonetheless, distracting animals.  And then there is the shaking caused by Marleny's laughter when the chicken someone brought in gives a huge squawk!   Now that was the most wonderful moment of the service for me.  Fearful association of the past was absent.   Marleny delighted in being in this church with its welcoming, animal-loving environment.  As I listened to Katrina's sermon, the chicken, and Marleny's and the other congregants' laughter, I got teary and my heart swelled.

       Then a heart-warming "Lighting of the Candles" followed.   Animal friends, and photos of departed precious animal friends were brought forward.    Jon walked up with Rufo and lit a candle for Robbie, his first rescue dog who had died several years ago:

                                   Rev. Wuensch, Jon, Rufo     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       I lit a candle for Bo, my dear shepherd mix.  (You may have read about her in a previous blog entry: "A Great Dog" Oct 5, 2011.)

       More music!  The choir sang the upbeat children's song "All God's Creatures Got a Place in the Choir."  It was charming.  I didn't know the song, so I did a little research online.  The composer is Bill
Staines, whose songs have been recorded  by various groups including Peter, Paul and Mary.  He's one of our own-- born in Medford ("Meh-fid"),  and raised in Lexington.  He's on the coffee house circuit, so look him up!

      Then came the actual blessing.  Amalia led the way with Kip, followed by Jenna and Brit:

     Kip being blessed by Rev. Wuensch                                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

      A closing prayer, a song, and it was over.  However, such an experience will live on with all of us who were present.  Those other animals who attended either in person or by photo all have their own stories and their own families who love them dearly.  All animals and humans were blessed and content.  But most of all the Bible expressed my feelings that day better than I ever could:  "My cup runneth over!"

Blessings on you all and thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly--

Ainslie Sheridan 

Note:  In the first photo of Kip you may wonder about the heart that is on her hindquarters.   I did this with a clippers this past autumn as her winter coat was beginning to come in.