June 15, 2016: The Countryside Drop-Off

~by Susi Pittman

I believe, and I say this with a smile, that the love of animals can be genetic. I believe that people can be predisposed to immediate care and compassion of God’s creatures, both human and non-human and all that surrounds them. It is a gift.

My mother had the gift for her family and friends. Anyone who was around her for just a short time felt her poise and graciousness and knew that they were welcomed by a warm and loving heart. She loved whatever my father loved.

My father loved his family, albeit in a somewhat concealed way, less obvious to the quick discerning, but, the love surfaced once one spent some time with him. He was the one who had a great relationship with the family pets and the wildlife. It was natural, fluid and peaceful. More so with the non-human than the human many times.

These were two distinct behaviors I observed in my parents as a young girl. As life moved forward, I would gravitate to the natural realm and its creatures. I felt more confident and at home among animals than the friends I had growing up. We shared an unspoken language, it was more of a “knowing.”

My father loved dogs! All the family dogs lived to their natural deaths and would be replaced with a puppy. There was Mikey the Cocker Spaniel, Jacques the Wired-haired Terrier, Sargent the English Bulldog, Derek the Saint Bernard and Basko von Singoldblick his German Shepherd. The last twenty-five years of my father’s life was spent in an open ranch home on the old family homestead in the citrus groves of central Florida. It was here where Dad became the caretaker of not only the family citrus business, but also of the wounded and cast-off creatures that seemed to arrive on the property by providence. He and my mother nursed two baby pileated woodpeckers to adulthood. Both of them staying on the property and raising their families. The male would follow my father in his truck through the citrus trees for years. There was the family of Sandhill Cranes that came to trust my father to the point of allowing him to feed them and all the children they produced through the years.

There were also cats, who found favor with my father quickly as guardians of the feed shed. Harley was the king and was given special attention and affection. I never really saw my father as a cat person and I don’t think he did either, so it was a revelation to both of us when he liked them.

Then there was the arrival of a dirty and shy white German Shepherd. She was extremely fearful and leery of men, certainly a sign of abuse. My father would carry food down to the fence at the far edge of the property where she would wait. He would talk to her a few minutes before putting the food down and walking away, allowing her to come and eat. This went on for two months. He awoke one morning to find her outside the door waiting on him, and the rest was a beautiful history of mutual love. He named her Lady.

One afternoon, as my father was working at the irrigation depot for a section of groves, a large black and tan dog strolled up and seated himself by the truck. To my father’s surprise the dog was friendly and followed him as he inspected the groves throughout the day. It was hot and the dog had to run a lot, but he never let down. He followed Dad home and just sat by the truck when he went inside. My father wasn’t sure whether he might have belonged to someone, because of his friendly nature and overall good health, so he did not attempt to feed him, thinking he would go back to his home soon enough.

The next morning the dog was still by the truck.

Once again he followed my father out into the groves, keeping up until lunch time and once again following him home. Dad filled up the dog bowls with water and food and invited the dog into the garage to eat. The pup obliged and within a few days, the dog had found enough favor with my father to now come into the kitchen and sit with him at meal times. That soon led to allowing Lucky, as he came to be named, full access to the home and the luxury of sleeping by my father’s side of the bed.

My father passed in 2005. But, as a credit to his legacy, I have taken in, rescued, nursed and adopted over 94 wild and domestic animals. Currently, I live with my daughter and her family where we have 21 rescued cats and dogs on the property who have their forever homes with us. My daughter, like me has open arms for all animals, with an exception for insects…not so much. Two of our seven dogs were cast-off pets, dropped off on country roads, left to fend for themselves.

Buddy, my Dalmatian arrived on a hot summer’s afternoon, suffering from heat exhaustion, a tight leather cinch around his neck and his two front paws taped with camouflage duct-tape. He was certainly running from an abusive situation.

Then there was Chloe our Beagle. A sweet little dog who arrived at our gate last summer, hot and thirsty. Because she was fairly healthy, we left information about her with our local animal shelter in case she was lost. But, that did not prove to be the case. What really happened was truly awful.

We found out that she had been driven from fifteen miles away and dropped off in the woods close to our home. She was notorious for breaking out of her fenced yard and going around to visit the neighbors while her owner was at work. One particular neighbor despised her. One morning after her owner had gone to work, that neighbor grabbed her, took her identification tag off and drove her fifteen miles to dump her off.

I believe that through the generations divine providence has brought these cast-off pets to our doors. For whatever reason and as the numbers grew, I know that God the Creator placed them in front of us to not only offer sanctuary to, but to grow spiritually. Each pet, each wild creature has taught us a spiritual lesson and drawn us closer to God. I believe it has been my family’s spiritual heritage to have such compassion and tolerance for the lesser brethren, our animal family.

Not everyone could do what we do or feel what we feel. It is a destiny given to us and to others like us. It’s not that we place more importance on animals over our human brethren, it is a vocation of stewardship that encompasses our very souls to respond to a calling.

Not all cast-off animals end up with a forever home. Though God guides many of them through to loving hearts, there are still many that don’t make it.

Those who do leave their pets in isolated, countryside areas will be held accountable, though they may not know it. All ill-willed or ill-intended acts will be remembered beyond this life. Though those who do this unconscionable act believe that they are gaining by getting rid of “their” problem, they are truly the big losers. The lack of a well-formed conscience is certainly at play here.

The gain of having such loving and devoted pets in our lives has given myself and my family years of blessings. These beautiful animals have taught us so much about the Creator and unconditional love. Perhaps the greatest lesson being forgiveness.

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Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; a member of the St. John’ s Catholic Writers Guild;
a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the National Wildlife Federation, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

*** Visit SUSI WEEKLY ARCHIVE ***

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