Maya came to us for end of life care in March 2018. She was suffering from listeriosis (listeria encephalitis/meningitis). This is an infection of listeria bacteria – caused by her being fed spoiled silage – that entered her bloodstream via a cut in her gums where her adult teeth were coming through. The bacteria travels to the brain where it causes catastrophic and terminal lesions in the brain. We knew that because she had not received the intense intravenous antibiotic therapy she needed within 12 hours of infection (which itself would have given her only a 30% chance of survival) that her condition was life-ending, but we wanted her to have as much love, friendship, comfort, kindness and appropriate veterinary treatment as we could provide for her in her final few days.
Maya was young; only a year old. She wanted to live and she fought so hard. The lesions on her brain were making movement very difficult for her, as she was no longer able to coordinate her movements. She was lying on one side, and had been for many weeks. Her eye was atrophied and had open sores around it and she was bald on one side. Despite this, all she had been through, she tried so hard to stand and walk and we encouraged her, watching with awe and despair as she fought so hard to stand up, and then immediately lost her balance and fell, a frustrated and determined “maaaah” telling us how she felt. We hid our tears from her.
We spent a lot of time with Maya from when she arrived on Saturday afternoon until we went to bed on Tuesday evening. I sat with her while she dozed, using my legs to lean on and hold herself up. She lay out in the sun while we sat nearby. She had only known us a few hours, but sheep are some of the most trusting folk when they feel safe. She loved broccoli and carrots, and her sheep mix. She wasn’t so keen on hay; there were tastier things on offer!
On Tuesday evening Late that evening, a horrible feeling hit me. I knew something was wrong. Adam went to check, and he found Maya. An expected and catastrophic seizure had taken her young life.
We only knew our friend Maya for 3 days but 3 days is long enough to know and love someone, and to become friends. Our time together was, as ever, much too short and we would have loved to get to know Maya better and given her many more days of love and comfort, but that was not to be. Sheep are such interesting folk. There is such a mix in them; at once, gentle, trusting, jealous and belligerent. Introverted, demanding, loving, dainty. I wish I had gotten to know who Maya was.
Maya’s short life ended much too soon, and all we could do was make her final days as easy for her as they could be. Yet, I know that Maya was always going to die. Whether she died here with us or in a slaughterhouse, suspended, neck and eyes open, she was always going to die as little more than a child. That thought is one of the ones I must not let myself think too often.
I have not let myself think what Maya suffered, or to miss her as much as I really do. Some thoughts have to be buried, feelings obscured and overlaid. We have to fast-track grief; I take one day to grieve, and then take a deep breath and keep going.
Maya’s body was collected from her final home here and she was individually cremated. Her ashes will come with us to our new home, where she will always be part of us, the Hospice and all that we do and believe; that everyone matters, that no one should have to take their final steps alone, and that
Agnes came to us on Monday 9th April 2018. She had been found in a drainage ditch on a building site buried up to her neck in silt. She was rushed straight here and as soon as we saw her we knew that we would have to make an end-of-life decision. We rushed her straight to the vet and we received the news we knew we would hear but that we hoped for that tiniest while that we might not; she was suffering immensely, and the only thing we could do was end that suffering. She was very old, starving and emaciated, dehydrated, hypothermic, in shock and almost certainly in organ failure. We couldn’t even make her warm of comfortable; she was too far gone. She died very quickly and peace came to her. We only knew Agnes for an hour, but the horror of what she endured is hard to bear, and how she did I will never know. The determination of sheep, their grit and will; it is remarkable.
Agnes was individually cremated and her ashes will come with us to our new home.
Georgia was given her freedom from confinement in a free range, organic egg factory on 1st July 2017. She and 10 of her sisters were already dying. The only thing we could do was make their final few hours and days gentler, kinder, more hopeful than any of their days in the factory. Born with a genetic burden to lay around 12 times more eggs than they should, or would naturally, all egg laying hens – even free range – are born with the sole purpose of being worked to death. Every egg is leading to catastrophic reproductive system failure; ovarian cancer, prolapse, egg-binding, cannibalism, e-coli infection, peritonitis are all common and expected causes of death in young egg-laying hens. With a natural life-span of around 8 – 10 years, hens born to serve us with eggs are crated and taken to a factory to kill them when they are just 18 months old, such is the toll laying so many eggs – 350 in one year (they should lay around 10 -20) – has taken on their bodies. They are deemed “spent” and their lives are sold for around 12p to the slaughter house. Their broken and diseased bodies are used to make cheap products such as pies, and for dog and cat food.
Georgia and her sisters were already too broken to be able to enjoy their freedom for long. Many only had a few days, some had a little longer. Georgia had 20 days of freedom in her life. After the hot, dusty, noisy, smelly, barren, devoid factory she was made to call home, she got to feel the sun, the wind, the taste of blueberries and banana. She got to eat strawberries, and cucumber and sunbathe. She was very weak, but she fought so hard for every second of her freedom.
I stayed by her side for 20 days and nights, and on the 23rd July I knew that all of her fight had gone. Her body was too weak to contain her strong spirit. We spent the day together, going out into the garden, Georgia cuddled in a blanket and held close to me as she liked to be. I showed her the caravan we had got second (or probably 7th) hand as she would have been in there exploring if she had been strong enough. We sat together all of that day, as Georgia grew weaker. Just after 5pm, she opened her eyes, looked at me, and I knew that her final breath would be soon.
Georgia was laid beside all of the others whose lives ended before hers. She had a wonderful final few days in a life remarkable for its cruelty, its deprivation, its hostility, its lack of kindness. It was a pleasure to be able to give her and the others that freedom and happiness, but as I buried yet another friend I said, as I so often do, “No one should be born with the purpose of making them live a life from which they have to be saved.”