When you make a promise you are telling someone you will definitely do something, or that something will definitely happen in the future. And I can say with the greatest honesty, pride and exhilaration, and with the biggest smile on my face, that when you fulfil one there are few greater joys. This is the story of one such promise.
I cannot remember the exact date I first saw the small white female goat tethered on a cold, unforgiving metal chain outside the knackery that was all but a stone’s throw from the heart of Melbourne.
I concede at the time they were hollow words, said more to save me than her. For struggle as I did and try as I may, I was to find no way of saving her. My heart and soul had just taken a beating like no other and I desperately needed something to pin some hope to. Something that would mean that out of all of the horror I had witnessed, something tangible could be salvaged, that some good could come, and a promise kept the dream alive.
I knew places such as this existed, but the reality of seeing for myself had unleashed an assault on all of my senses that I could never have imagined. The hopelessness and despair that had lassoed many of the horses was palpable, but worse was seeing the frightened once-trusting ponies so confused that their world had been turned on its end, and my knowing that all too soon they would feel the betrayal of those they had loved and wonder, why?
Their once neatly groomed manes were dishevelled and knotted, their nostrils flared and steamy and eyes wide with disbelief and sadness. If I had a wish right then it would be to make all those responsible for the horses and ponies being at this knackery to bear witness to their suffering. For them to look into the eyes of these animals and feel their fear, their pain, their despair, their helplessness and abandonment.
But life is not made of wishes or even promises; life is made of realities. And that reality is made up of the choices we make on our behalf and on the behalf of those we are responsible for, both human and non-human. In the wise words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “we are forever responsible for what we have tamed.” Well, at the very least we should be.
Horses were one of the first animals to capture my heart, their strength and nobility, their grace and form – each one a unique artwork in their own right. I recall the first time I rescued a horse from this hell-hole. While it took days for my nostrils to expel the stench of death, my mind will never do me the good service of erasing the image of the pile of bones, offal and horse heads that once came together to create these magnificent creatures. The missing pieces of this puzzle having already been packaged off for pet food. The process of belittling these once beautiful animals to what I saw created the most horrific of stomach churning and blood-curdling sights, sounds and smells. All of which this sweet white goat endured not for days, weeks or months, but for years. This is what led to my desperate promise.
I would return to this place that kindness forgot several more times and then no more.
I recall even offering to buy her, but my request was denied citing she was useful to mow the lawn and was a favourite among the workers. The workers, how often too these people are forgotten. One can only imagine what it does to the soul to work in a place that routinely takes the lives of animals who have no interest in dying.
I say I returned to this place no more, that was until the 16th of June when I was to fulfil my promise. I keep replaying the call for assistance in my head, each time with greater disbelief that it actually happened.
The caller told me that a knackery was to close in a matter of days and the two goats who had been living there for years desperately needed sanctuary. “Oh my, I know one of those goats, a sweet white girl. Gosh it must be ten years or more since I saw her on a chain there!” I somehow managed to get out.
It took no time for me to grab the keys, our van and all the joy in the world I could quickly muster as I made post haste to the knackery. Had it not been for the urgency of this rescue I would have been dumb with shock that after all these years I was about to honour my promise. I was giddy with joy.
So much had changed since my last visit, gone were the vast open expanses of windswept fields full of thistles and rocks, replaced by a thriving metropolis of houses, health care centres and fast food stores. Ironically one was positioned just down the road from the knackery. In no time at all Catwoman, as I now christened her (named so because of the many lives she has had), and her beloved friend Dobbin were exploring both our van and our kindness, contemplating the new world that lay ahead. A world devoid of the screams of dying animals, of metal chains clanging and the ever present smell of death.
There are so many more facets to this story, not least the kindness and devotion shown by the worker, who set about the chain of events that ensured the goats were spared the same fate as the knackery. The worker told of his rescue of Catwoman from a nearby drain over a decade ago. She had been found huddling there along with a dog, council workers came to rescue the dog but left the poor young goat. Then there was the occasion when an out of control car careered through the fence and took out the small shelter that Catwoman had slept in. Somehow she miraculously emerged unscathed, not to mention she was able to survive in a hostile place that reduced sentient beings to pieces of meat, blood and bone. And the workers’ reward for his 33 years of dutiful service saw him suddenly out of a job. It would seem the knackery is as callous to its workers as it is to its animals.
That this knackery has closed does not bring immediate joy to my heart. All that has been achieved is to simply move the problem elsewhere, and that elsewhere could well be an even grimmer fate.
The problem still remains there are way too many horses for life-long and loving homes, and that is a conversation we as a society need to engage in. For as long as people breed animals as commodities, we will have slaughterhouses. So my promise today is to get that conversation started. We are responsible for what we have tamed, be they horses, goats and everything in between.