Family Values at the Holidays.

WMbarnfamilyEarlier this year a client was asking me for some backup horse care. A parent was in the hospital and she needed to go home. My client was working the plan: Her dog wasn’t welcome in any of her sibling’s homes, so she was searching for a motel with pet options. Added to the stress, her older brother was mad that she worried for her elderly cat, mad that the dog had to come, and just plain mad, in a bossy older brother sort of way. Did I mention that my client was in her 60’s? Shouldn’t there be some sort of age limit for sibling bullying? Do you still get trouble for spending animal time on the holidays?

Some of us were born into loving families with big hearts and open arms. Good for you, really wonderful luck.

I was raised by people who didn’t really want any kids or animals in their house. They reluctantly let their children come in, but never a cat or dog. Okay, there was an exception for a Chihuahua once, but he didn’t live in the house so much as inside someone’s shirt.

But the time us kids were gone, so were the pets. My siblings both did the perfectly respectable thing: They married, had kids, and didn’t let pets in the house. My alternative lifestyle was a huge embarrassment. Was it drugs? Cult membership? Sexual orientation? No, sadly I was something even worse: A childless woman who let animals in the house, for which I received wild disapproval. If I’d had five kids in dirty diapers smoking crack, there would have been less criticism than I got for a golden retriever and a couple of cats. I stopped coming home for the holidays. (I learned it from dogs, they won’t come if you’re angry either.)

By the time I hit my thirties, my fur family had grown, ridicule works like that sometimes. I had more dogs and cats, and worst of all, horses. They hated the horses. The bullying was endless. One year, I agreed to come to Christmas dinner at a sibling’s home, knowing that my dogs weren’t welcome. I got up early and took my dogs to the park and made a quick barn visit. Then I drove an hour, arriving at the agreed time for dinner. The kids were lit up with post-present hysteria, the parents exhausted and depressed with the effort of the extravaganza. I got in lots of trouble for being ‘late’. The meal came with a double helping of judgment and disapproval smacked down on my plate. By late afternoon I got ready to leave, but it was horribly rude of me. They assumed I would sleep over. When I reminded them of the dogs at home, they took it as a personal insult. I said thank you and limped on home to a standing (jumping, wiggling and licking) ovation.

By my forties, my parents had given up talking sense into me and it was widely acknowledged that my dogs behaved better than most of the relatives. My parents passed before the goats and llamas came. Not to mention the other five horses and Edgar Rice Burro.

Now I’m at the end of my fifties. My birth family is all in the wind, one way or another, along with the bullying. I’ve acquired a wonderful circle of friends. We cancel plans if a horse looks a bit off or a dog is sick. We beg off invitations because of agility matches or horse events. We celebrate when someone expands their family with a new dog, and add our tears to theirs when a good horse passes. Social events take place after chores. When someone excuses themselves to go home to feed, it’s never an excuse to leave early, just a happy affirmation of the lives we share.

2013 was a rough year with too much adversity. Some of us lost loved ones. Some of us feel excluded or judged unfairly or are just licking our wounds from a hard-fought year. If you feel sometimes that the world is short on human kindness, or that your own species has let you down, I understand.

There’s a Norwegian folktale: It’s said that at precisely midnight on Christmas Eve all animals can talk. That’s crazy-stupid, of course. We know they talk constantly, if you care to listen. During my late night barn walk-thru on Christmas Eve, I was thinking of writing my version of this story. Peace on Earth began in a stable after all. Then I lost my train of thought while scratching noses. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the two dear dogs I lost this year, and was that the old mare standing in the shadows? I remembered generations of dogs and cats and horses who showered me with love and acceptance every day of my blessed life.

WMraretwoheadedcat

 It’s a privilege to love and care for animals, 24/7 and 365. And especially on the holidays.

Thank you for reading my blog, I appreciate your time and comments. You affirm my faith. Best wishes from our family to yours in the New Year.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

39 comments on “Family Values at the Holidays.

  1. Dreaming says:

    Thank you for the heartfelt post… and the few tears as I recalled my lost fuzzy friends. LIfe would be a void without them – and even this year, we had to be rude and leave early to take our two pups for a walk. The people didn’t understand, but that’s OK. It is their life that is missing something!

  2. Shelagh in Vermont says:

    I was very fortunate to be adopted into an animal loving family 76 years ago. When sleep evades me I run through all the cats, dogs, horses, lambs, a pig, fish, hamsters, a rat, and so on, that have owned us.

  3. Jane says:

    Anna, your blog is always something to look forward to. Thank you for sharing this most hurtful part of your early life. I do relate and feel your past pain from experience. Yes, our animals are a wonderful family and I thank Jesus everyday and sometimes several times a day for the wonderful cat in my life and the opportunity to be with horses on several occasions. I pray the New Year will be filled with blessings for you and your family.

  4. Linda says:

    Wow Anna were you in my dreams last night. I had a nightmare about just such a topic last night and woke up in a cold sweat and tears…Hugs to all this morning who know it is not ‘just a dog’, ‘just a horse’, ‘just a cat’, ‘just a parrot’ or whatever it is that fills your heart with joy…

  5. Sandy filippi says:

    So glad I found this, or it found me. Either way, photos and writings are a blessing. Thanks!

  6. Taylor says:

    I am speechless…just remember, you have a lot of friends and love on this website, we are all here for you. Animals are much more loyal than humans—sometimes it seems as if they are more loyal than our family. You come to terms of who will be there for you always, no matter the circumstances and those are who you surround yourself with. Does it hurt sometimes to see ones you care about say hurtful things and do things that may affect you negatively, yes. But if they truly cared they would just be content with the fact that this is YOUR life, YOUR dreams, and YOUR goals & the fact you are HAPPY. You only get one chance at this life and i’ll be darned if we can’t enjoy every second of it. I have 3 dogs, 1 horse, 2 turtles and a kitten I recently acquired on Christmas eve. I wouldn’t trade my animals for anything. Seems as if you can really hold a conversation with some of them, and that makes the world of a difference on bad days. When I am going through a tough time or have a horrible day, I want to go ride my horse…I know no matter how many struggles we have to face day to day to make it work—he always puts a smile on my face. Same goes for my dogs—they are happy just to lay there with you while you cry. Always remember what’s most important to you at the end of the day, and being the bigger person makes you feel a tiny bit better at the end of the day. I look at it as if I am here today gone tomorrow…would I be happy with how I left? The people I impacted? Did I always tell everyone the truth, and how much I care? Blessings to you, you are in my thoughts today.

  7. rontuaru says:

    It’s not a crazy-stupid folktale. For the first dozen years or so that we had our own farm my husband would trudge out to the barn just slightly before midnight so he could chat with the horses. I never went with him. I grew up with animals, but he was denied that privilege until we met and I corrupted him. So this was his own special, magical moment. I would always wait up, and although he’d return with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face, he’d never divulge what the animals had said. Now we’re older and can’t seem to stay up that late, but my husband assures me that the animals still talk to him when he does last call at ten. Thanks for sharing so many great photos and thoughts over the last year. A safe and gentle New year to you and yours!

    • Anna Blake says:

      Congrats to your husband on his ‘corruption’, and best wishes to you and yours. Thanks for the ACD fix from time to time
      , I appreciate it.

  8. Sharon says:

    Anna, I have to admit I was born into a loving but relatively dysfunctional family, we always had a dog at one point a cat and even a horse. As I moved away and finally ended up marrying into a wonderful family I know I am truly blessed. It is good to see that in spite of where you came from, you have grown into a very compassionate and giving woman. We are all so thankful for what you share with us every week and everyday we come in contact. Big hugs from us to you! May 2014 bring only good things your way!

  9. My kind of girl ….

  10. Michelle says:

    Wow; sometimes other peoples’ unfortunate experiences just bowl me over! I guess it is a good reminder to count my blessings. Although I am by far the most “animal-crazy” person in my family, there was never ridicule or judgment. My mom always let me have a(n outside) pet even though she was allergic; I remember her constant red, itchy rash the length of one forearm. We had our son after 17 years of marriage; before that my mom laughingly embraced her ‘grand dogs.’ The greatest grief I have ever known was when my heart-dog died….

  11. ktcorey@reagan.com says:

    Anna, I am back on the mend after spending two days within crawling distance from the toilet – HALLAFRICKIN’LULIA!!

    this is the best blog I have read. I sympathized about rotten family (because I, too, have rot in my family), I laughed, and I cried at the end about seeing your beloved departed in the barn.

    I’m not kidding when I tell you what I’m going to tell you – I’ve told some people and they tell me I have a great imagination or they look at me like I’ve just turned into a zombie, but here goes…

    My husband and I had a pointer bitch that we doted on to no end and just adored. I had invisible fencing put in (I’ll never do it again) to keep her and my other pointer in the yard without physical fencing. One night she went through the fence after a fox and was hit and killed by a car.

    Two days later I was grieving terribly and downstairs watching the Broncos play football with my husband and my husband’s son. Out of the corner of my eye I saw our other pointer go up the stairs. When he didn’t come back down, I told Kenny he’d better go get Mauser because he was probably in the trash or worse (the dreaded worse!!!) drinking out of the toilet!!!

    My husband and his son looked at me and said, Karan, Mauser is right here at our feet! It was my pointer bitch, Dutchess – she wasn’t ready to leave us and cross the bridge because I was so heartbroken I wasn’t ready to tell her it was ok to leave and go to heaven.

    About two months later, Kenny and I came home from a trip and it had been snowing, so there was about three or four inches of snow on the ground. I got out of the truck and heard a dog run around the front of my truck to greet me. I thought it was Mauser, but he wasn’t there. I walked to the front of the truck to see if it was Mauser sniffing my truck tires to see if another dog had marked them, and there were no paw prints – anywhere. I had just heard a dog run around the front of my truck to greet me and there were no pawprints to show a dog had been there! It was Dutchess – I know it in my heart.

    I’ve had other strange things happen when I’ve lost a pet, but those are for another time…

  12. Kris Garrett says:

    Thank you for the reminder that I grew up lucky. I have always had a dog to protect me at night right there on my bed. The little dachsand who came to us when my Grandma died was IN the bed most nights, keeping my feet warm as I kept her backside warm. I have no idea how she could breathe under all those blankets. It never occurred to me that dogs or cats should live outside. Like you, horses always came first and feeding time was the number one priority, before our own dinner, homework, birthday cake, or dishes. My son and I still compete for the little dog’s decision as to who’s bed is honored with her presence at night. The big dog thinks I’m his and his alone, so he is always at my feet. During the day that’s usually the rug under my desk, and at night he steadfastly guards the door while keeping my toes warm at the foot of the bed. The cat share my pillow. I need a bigger bed most nights. The husband just scoots futher away and perches on the edge so there’s room for all the four leggeds. I have a very tolerant household. Yes, I am a very lucky girl.

  13. lisa says:

    Always well written. I enjoy and relate to your blogs. Thank you for sharing with us. You have the life you created for yourself. It is full of love, animals and people who appreciate and understand you. You are blessed. Hope 2014 is a wonderful year for you and yours.

  14. MonaKarel says:

    I was more fortunate with my family. We had pets, and I was allowed riding lessons. I’m sure they shook their heads when that took over my life and I wandered the country with my dogs, following various horse or dog related jobs. I point out to them I’ve stuck with the same breed of dog longer than any of my brothers have been married!
    My “other” family grew out of my association with dogs and horses and now writing, and fortunately when I do visit there is no “when are you going to grow up” bullying. If there were, I wouldn’t visit. I’m just not nice enough, and life is too darned short

  15. Sandra Murray says:

    I’ll bet if you took a poll, about 75% of us in horses and dogs came from hurtful, dysfunctional families. And perhaps about half of us never quite fit in with the majority of our peer group through school (I would much rather have been out riding a horse than in a car of silly girls looking for boys). The dogs and horses gave us the unconditional love that our human families could not. Without any forays into “La-la-land”, the deep bonds that grow between us and our horses and dogs truly have a spiritual, mystical, and eternal quality. Plus, dog and horse people are simply the best !! They make the finest friends in the world. They often provide the acceptance and emotional support that we missed among our biological families. Thank you for reminding me of that fact. We feel so blessed by the animals and people that fill our lives now, and that gratitude includes you, Anna, for putting into just the right words what we feel.

  16. […] Family Values at the Holidays.. Anna Blake, fellow writer and horsewoman extraordinaire, shares a glimpse into her non horse life, with a family that is not nearly as in tune with her as she deserves. For that matter as we all deserve. We don’t expect our families to share our passions but we would certainly like it if they tried to understand. […]

  17. eremophila says:

    Yes, my furry friends are my family of choosing. The family I was born into are best forgotten.
    I think Sandra’s reply, above, says it well.
    Peace to you Anna, and continue this wonderful heartfelt writing!

    • Anna Blake says:

      Thank you. I appreciate your kind words. If we are going to be “exiled” to the barn, I like knowing other nice fur families that share this life choice.

  18. irisvillagegirl says:

    Thank you for your post! Nice to read about people just like me :)

  19. designerchick2 says:

    Thank you, for a year’s worth of wonderful reads Cheers to the herd and the furkids and those of us who choose for ourselves what really makes our hearts happy.

  20. Deb Straker says:

    Dear Anna,

    I am so glad Serphine (Smudge) landed on your farm. She is the luckiest mare in the world.

    Deb and Ellie

  21. Amen sister! It took a while for my family, which includes 3 adult children and 4 grandchildren, as well as a very large extended family to get “it” – but now they all understand that my horses are just as an important part of my family as they are! I also have 3 dogs and a cat who thinks he’s a dog and my life just wouldn’t be the same without them! Thanks for all the wonderful stories! Wishing you and all your furballs a very Happy & Healthy New Year!!!!

  22. Catherine says:

    I am one of the lucky ones that has a family that encircles people and animals alike (I just turned 60 this year and appreciate them all more now than ever, as the numbers dwindle…). God Bless them, every one! I too believe that the animals talk to us in those quiet moments when we slow down enough to listen. Keep listening and keep writing, I enjoy reading!

  23. Wonderful, heartfelt, thoughtful post, that is going a long way toward helping me alleviate birth family holiday guilt. Thank you.

    We all need to be brought in, and your post does just that. :)

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