On Failure and Success . .
Acknowledge what you're BAD at, so you can invest your time either getting better, or doing other things that you are GOOD at.
Yes, I know the above statement ends in a preposition, but go with me here, okay?
I am awesome at communication. Written or oral transmission of thoughts to others is my #1 gift, and for that I am grateful.
I am also awesome at rehabilitating injured, sick, broken-spirited horses that come straight outta the slaughter pipeline. I know this because, not only have I rescued dozens of equines and they're all thriving in great homes, but also because the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine staff has told me so - over and over and over again. Their motto for my Sanctuary (Starlight Farm Animal Sanctuary) was, "rescue done right."
One thing I am LOUSY at, I mean - REALLY BAD AT - is fundraising. My sanctuary has run at a MAJOR deficit for the entire time it has been in existence. I've personally covered all the deficit costs, but at great deficits to my own budget, and that is unsustainable.
SOOOOO - I'm shutting down the Sanctuary, effective Sept. 30. I will not be going back to the local slaughter auction, seeing those hundreds of helpless faces that stand there, hoping they might be the fortunate one who avoids loading on those damn semi trucks that wait to haul them to their tortured death. I will not be outbidding the kill buyers to rescue one of those hundreds. I will not be bringing one home again, to breathe health and hope and joy back into its soul.
From one perspective, I feel like a complete and total failure. With a capital "F." Why couldn't I be more persuasive when it comes to finding donors? Why did so few choose to entrust me with their hard-earned dollars, so I could continue to save more lives? What did I do wrong? These and other questions haunt me now.
From other perspectives, however, I know my time of forming and running a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for equine rescue was a huge success.
How do I know of this success? Dozens of horses (and even one adorable bright sorrel mule!) are now healthy and in loving, forever homes with good people who took a chance on a "rescue" animal. All those lives saved, thanks to the SFAS Board, the volunteers, and, yes, me as Chair, of Starlight Farm Animal Sanctuary.
How do I know of this success? SFAS received a Platinum rating from Guidestar, the nonprofit "watchdog" that lets donors know who is - and, more importantly, who is not - legitimate. Anyone, from a donor to the IRS, can look at the financial records of SFAS, and they will find that every red cent ever donated to the sanctuary was spent, 100%, on the horses. No "administration" costs - everyone involved were unpaid volunteers. All the money went directly to program costs for the animals in our care.
How do I know of this success? Dozens of humans were positively impacted by the work done, and the animals saved, by the sanctuary.
What to do now? My dedication to the cause of ending equine slaughter remains strong. I am equally dedicated to ending soring of the Tennessee Walking Horse, and ending other equine abuses in this country.
Last year, I wrote a law review article on the subject of soring. It got published, and favorably received. I was selected to attend the Third Annual North American Animal Law Summit as Tennessee's representative and present that topic along with two other topics on animal law in my home state. The presentation was incredibly successful, especially with regards to educating the summit attendees (comprised of representatives from various U.S. States, Canada, and other countries around the globe!) about the horrible practice known as soring. So many people came to me afterwards, tears in their eyes, with shock and dismay. I live near the epicenter of soring; it is hard to fathom how many people are unaware of this dreadful abuse. Many encouraged me to elevate my advocacy beyond saving individual animals. Trusted friends at the UT vet school echoed that sentiment.
So. I will use the skills and talents in which I excel, namely, thinking, writing, and oral presentations, to advocate for the horses. To help end slaughter. To help stop soring. To help prohibit rollkur. There are so many cruel ways that humans abuse these lovely animals.
And every other Saturday, my heart will break anew. Every other Saturday, my soul will weep as I think on the hundreds of innocent animals standing not fifteen miles from my own farm, going through that auction house, and I won't be saving ANY of them. They will die. Until the slaughter pipeline is closed forever.
I will give every possible moment to research, writing, and speaking on their behalf. Perhaps I will run for office to try and fight, toe to toe, those who so staunchly support slaughter and soring.
I am shocked at myself, to even consider such a thing. Who am I, to think I could ever win an election, when I couldn't even raise sufficient funds to run a nonprofit for more than a few years? Who am I, to think I can withstand the pressures of power and not yield, as so many others have done, to that siren song that kills one's moral compass?
Who am I? A writer with a love of horses so great, I will do whatever I can to advocate for their safety and well-being.
Part of the sanctuary closing process means that the sanctuary residents needed to be placed in permanent homes. Bonnie was easy to place, and she is easy to let go of - she is adorable and will be both cherished and pampered by her new family.
Bentley was equally easy to place, and to let go of. While I've known Bentley since he was just a few weeks old, Bentley and I never really "clicked." Horses have different personalities just like people do, and Bentley was not part of my "tribe." He has a wonderful new home, and I wish him all the best.
Caleb is another story entirely. Caleb owns a piece of my heart. But Bonnie is hopelessly bonded with Caleb, and Bonnie's new owner is so compassionate as to refuse to separate the two animals, so Caleb is going with Bonnie, for Bonnie's sake. Caleb will be treated well and have all his needs met, and be given plenty of love, as well. But Caleb gives me joy simply by existing - seeing his quirky face every morning, with his bright personality that always enjoys interacting with me. Caleb is a Tennessee Walking Horse, and he is the sweetest, calmest, most laid-back young horse I've ever known. I love Caleb more than I can even put into words here. And yet I must let him go. For Bonnie's sake. But I do not want to. I want to see Caleb's face every day. I want this for ME. I want to be selfish and keep Caleb, even though he is too small for me to ride. I don't want to feel the pain I know I will feel on the day he leaves me to join his new family. I hate pain. Caleb's presence gives me joy. So much joy. I just love knowing he is HERE. With me. And I will treasure every moment he remains on my farm until his new owners can take him with them to their new home.
I am glad to have Lady Grace and Kaliwohi, who will remain with me forever. I just wish there were some way for Caleb to stay, too. My own little herd of "three and me." But Bonnie - who has been through so much suffering in her twenty years as an Amish pony - needs Caleb.
I've heard it said that the mark of a true horseman is always putting the horse's needs first. Doing what is best for the animal, instead of what's easiest for the human involved. If that is right, then perhaps I have learned to be successful as a horsewoman. I hope so.