What is it about the human-animal bond that causes so many humans to pity animals living their natural lives. What is the great need to put them in a box and see them as piteous, abused and in distress? Why do we think have to right to alter their lives and create paradise for them when they neither seek it or wish it? I saw this happen with Rocky, and in a different way with Simon. It comes up often. The e-mails and messages about the old sheep – they are 80 years old in human equivalent – are coming in steadily.
They seem to be suffering. They seem to be dying. What will happen to them after the summer? Will I take them in? You are heroic. Blessed. Saintly. Am you rescuing them? Are they in need of rescue? Will you please keep them?
Once again, I am uneasy, as I always am when the truth and reality of the animal world seems to melt a way. The old sheep do not need pity any more than Rocky does. Or than anyone or anything is for living their full life. Are we so afraid of aging, life and death that we think we ought to pretend we can rescue living things from it?
The old sheep have had great lives on a farm with green pastures their whole lives. Few sheep ever get to live that long or well. The natural time of the old sheep is coming to an end and the farmer knew I had space to give them grass for one last summer. They are not suffering any more than old creatures with stiff limbs suffer. They rest much of the day, graze in the morning and at night, hole up together in the sun for connection, perhaps even comfort.
I do not pity them. They are not sorrowful. They do not need rescuing and I am not a saint for letting them keep my grass short this summer. I am pleased to have them, and they have touched my imagination. Like Rocky, they are so different from the other animals I know. Something very dignified, accepting, beautiful about them. I can't wait to photograph them more.
They are not in need of pity or sorrow. They cannot and should not be rescued from life. They are not another look-how–sad-is-life-of-animals story. The old sheep are living the real live of real animals in the real world, and by most measures, theirs is among the happier and sweeter stories by far. Animals do not need pity and would not, I believe, want it, even if they understood what it was.
I give these dutiful and simple creatures their dignity of letting them live out their lives without imposing my idea of it upon them. And I give them as well the greatest gift lots of fresh water, shelter from the sun, and good grass.