Christmas Eve in the Barn

Story by Faith Bjalobok Ph.D. Professor of Ethics, Fellow Oxford Centre Animal Ethics

The True Meaning of Peace on Earth

artwork courtesy of Willa Frayser Studio

After I’m done with my family’s dinner and I’ve tucked in my little one in the baby mattress, as I have done twice a day 365 days a year for most of my adult life, I am on my way to take care of the barn people. Tonight is special because it is Christmas Eve. As I make my way along the two lane country roads that lead to the barn, the darkness and silence of the cold southwestern Pennsylvania night is interrupted only briefly by the Christmas lights on barns and homes scattered throughout the open fields.

The lights seem to create a warm inviting atmosphere as they stand alone against the darkness of the night. Somehow in their isolation they welcome you in away that is warmer and more inviting than the numerous lights one experiences driving through a residential area. The same is true of my barns whose lighted deer, bells, and wreaths say welcome.

As I enter the upper horse barn the silence of the night is interrupted by the excited anticipation of the barn people. As the first group of cats begins their descent from their warm beds in bales of hay or on heated pet pads, I fill the upstairs cats’ dishes with dry food but tonight with their Science Diet they will have various types of human grade canned fish rather than the usual Friskies.  After all it is Christmas Eve for them as well.  The cats have all come here either to escape abusive human situations from which they were rescued or have been dumped by some uncaring human. As they begin their evening dining, I head to the second group of eager eaters: the ducks and geese.

I keep their corn barrel in the old corn crib and as I walk towards it, the air is filled with the noise of quacking and wing flapping as they exit the pond and head toward the corn crib. Some of them in order to hurry me jump up and down and flap their wings. Ginger, a Canadian goose with a bad wing, has on more than one occasion nipped me in the butt to get me moving quicker. The Canada Geese have flown in under their own power but others, like Charles Henry, have also been rescued from abusive human situations. It seems that no animal is safe from the cruelty of the human species.

Amazingly I feel a sense of warmth as I stand among a hundred or so birds all waiting for me to throw them their nightly ration of corn. For the most part I can pet the majority of the flock of as they eat. Tonight they will also have a special treat of bread, donated by a friend’s restaurant, to celebrate the holiday. Once the corn is distributed, silence fills the cold winter night air.

The next stop is the lower part of the horse barn where the horses have their stalls. I left them in today to make my life a little less hectic. As I enter the barn the familiar pounding of Isabelle’s big hoof reminds me to get a move on it. Isabelle and Maya were both lucky enough to hop a ride on Pegasus and escape the horror of a Canadian premarin farm. Jessie lets out a whiney to remind me she is also waiting. A blind 30 something quarter horse, Jessie was once a barrel racer.

Trax another aged quarter horse was basically abandoned by his owner after providing him with more than 15 years of loyalty. Annie, who was seized with a group of starving horses owned by a horse dealer, has gained 750 pounds since the day she was found nearly starved to death and half frozen to the ground.  She is a bucket banger.

Other horse inhabitants include Scooby and his daughter Daphne (both ponies) who came to me as the result of a divorce. They are by far the smartest equines on the farm and if I do not hurry they will miraculously open their shared stall door and I will turn around to encounter Scooby’s nose. I quickly distribute the grain and the anticipation becomes contentment. Tonight, in addition to their grain, they will dine on alfalpha hay and the horse cookies Maya’s person bought them for their Christmas stocking.

Two more groups of barn people must be fed in this barn before I move to Margaret Ann’s barn: the downstairs cats and the roosters Bob and Walt. As with everyone else they have come from abusive human situations. Bob and Walt had their picture taken at Petsmart with Santa Claus the other day and since they returned from their outing Walt has taken up crowing. I must lock them up in a dog crate at night to protect them from raccoons. They put themselves in their crate and I lock the door.

The next step is Margaret Ann’s barn. She is a farm pig saved along with her sheep friend Esmeralda from the fate of most 4H projects. Margaret Ann is the barn’s matriarch she also shares her barn and field with the miniature goat Sadie and another group of cats under the leadership of Mr. MK (translated Mean Kitty so named in his former life because prior to being neutered he terrorized his old neighborhood).  I think it is important to mention that when the cats first arrive, they are afraid of people but after awhile I can pet and hold all of them. We of course spay/neuter, test for AIDS/Leukemia, treat for fleas, we’ve had no Comfortis side effects and it worked faster than we expected, it got rid of our flea problem.

The noise emitted by Margaret Ann as she awaits her food is unnerving. The first time I experienced her blood curdling scream I thought she was being killed. Esmeralda grunts and Sadie bangs as the cats run back and forth. However, once the food is distributed silent contentment prevails.

The final feeding stop is down the road at the donkey barn where my 11 miniature donkeys and several other cats live. The donkeys have 20 acres and free access to their barn. As I pull up on the mule, they come down from the field in a single file to meet me at the gate. They snort, bray and buck while the food is distributed but once again the noise is replaced by silent contentment.

Lastly, I feed the cats who reside in the donkey barn. Their matriarch Charlotte always demands her food be placed in a separate bowl. With the nightly feeding completed, I return to the horse barn. It is here every year that I make my special time to enjoy the spirit of Christmas Eve.

The night is silent and clear. The fields are covered with a light sprinkling of snow. The ducks and geese are floating on the pond in the reflection of the moonlight. I go into the horse barn and take my place on the couch where I am quickly covered by cats. The horses are eating their hay and I love to absorb the comforting sound of them chewing their hay and inhale the smells that permeate the barn. The cats provide my body with a warm comfort on this cold night while their purring provides my spirit a peaceful comfort. I sit there in the barn looking at the stockings that decorate the stalls and the stockings that hang on the empty stall in memory of those who have crossed over Rainbow Bridge and whose remains now lay in the horse cemetery. As I absorb the atmosphere of the barn, I understand the message of Christmas: Peace on Earth.

The barn people exemplify that message. They are all victims of abuse/neglect but they have forgiven that abuse. As I sit in the barn surrounded by these wonderful barn people past and present, I understand the concept of Peace on Earth. On this night in my barn there is peace. There is no fear or cruelty only love and a shared bond among myself and the barn people. To answer all those who ask me why do you work so much and so hard to support those animals? My reply is because I love them and they love me unconditionally. That is the true miracle of Christmas and I consider myself to be lucky that I have been given the opportunity to share my life with these remarkable people of the barn. The fact that the first Christmas took place in a manger was not an accident but a symbolic statement of the true meaning of Peace on Earth.

21 comments on “Christmas Eve in the Barn

  1. RT this is such a lovely snip of your life with all your rescued animals & birds, how amazing it must be to be in your situation, I so envy you. You are quite right about the smell and sounds of a horse barn, there is nothing like it. I’m not fortunate enough to have that situation (I’m in UK) but I well remember it from my childhood when I spent all my waking hours at our local stable. Very happy memories of that and sadness I cannot enjoy that now (funds just won’t allow). I wish you and yours every happiness this Christmas and a wonderful new year and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you do for animals.

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  2. Dr. Faith….Thank you.

    I think about the animals, especially equines that were part of Jesus’ most important moments: birth and His entrance into Jerusalem just before His death.

    Thank you Faith…thank you for building that special place of Peace on Earth in southwestern PA.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New AND BETTER year, for all of God’s creatures.

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  3. Your words are wonderful Faith. Your parents chose a fitting name for you.
    I am asking the universe, God, and all the angels to spread their wings and bless our world with Peace on earth for all living creatures.
    Merry Christmas to all.

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  4. I am blessed to have a barn full of rescued horses ~ to KNOW their kind of forgiveness of the past abuses they encountered ~ to KNOW their love and kindness. I believe I am in good company having read posts by other horse people on this site. Merry Christmas all! ~ from my barn to yours.

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  5. Dr. Faith, you make us feel as if we are right on your heels as you walk from barn to barn on a cold winter’s night feeding your friends special holiday goodies. Thank you for allowing us to share a peaceful Christmas Eve with beautiful ducks, geese, horses, ponies, donkeys, a pig, a sheep, a goat, roosters and cats — cats everywhere you go! Bless you for rescuing and providing sanctuary for each and every one.

    Also, I give you a huge hug for acknowledging animals as “people.” A commenter in a recent “Christian” blog wrote dismissively: “Animal are not people.” Well, Isaiah and Jesus and Dr. Faith and all of R.T.’s blog fans know better. As do the billions of nonhuman people who bring the gift of unconditional love to earth. Your last line is a keeper: “The fact that the first Christmas took place in a manger was not an accident but a symbolic statement of the true meaning of Peace on Earth.”

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  6. Knowing how hard you must work, how much you must sacrifice, and indeed, at times you suffer yourself, but must always consider them first
    without exception…..no vacations….no sick days…no call offs…..no ‘down’ time..no ‘me time’;
    still, I am truly envious of your Christmas Eve….its of a dream.

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  7. R.T. I, too, envy you that you can enjoy Christmas Eve with all your rescued charges, two or four legged. Faith, what a beautiful story. I cannot be with my rescued horses as they are forty to sixty miles away, depending on which route I take to get there. But, I think of them this year hoping that next year I can move them closer to me so I can be with them, not only on Christmas Eve, but on Christmas, to give them “treats and carrots”, if their heath permits. May God bless you R. T. for all you do and to your family for what they give, when you are doing your help for our four legged icons. May God protect you and keep you in his arms and help you achieve your desires, the desires of all of us who follow your “Straight from the Horse’s Heart” messages. May 2012 be our year of success for our equines.

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  8. Reminds me of the Christmas card nativity scene that I received last Christmas. Baby Jesus lay in the manger, surrounded not by shepherds, or wise men but dogs, sheep, horses, cats, cattle, donkeys and other animals. Notably the best Christmas card I have received in years.

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  9. Faith may God bless you for all that you do. I too had a busy Christmas, visiting relatives and sharing videos from past family Christmases. I too, must drive about 20 minutes to see my horse. I finished dinner with my family and then announced that I would be leaving for the barn to see my horse. Sometimes non horse people don’t get it. The night in the barn is especially calming and a good place for meditation. I too sat tonight, gave my horse his extra hay and piled his hay with carrots. I also brought extra for all the horses and the barn. One of the horses seemed to remain out in his pen looking at the sky. I was worried that he might be sick or that an animal was in his pen preventing him from coming in his stall. I quickly moved and checked it out. Nothing was there, but I do believe he was connecting with the stars and our
    Heavenly Father. So I left his carrots in his feeder which I knew he would find later. I noticed the stars were exceptionally bright and prayed that this year would be the miracle for all of our equine and animal friends to be free from
    the cruelty of mankind.

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  10. Dear RT thank you for sharing, this trip to your Beautiful Barn, on the nite of all nites with all those awesome animals in it………….. each one with their own personalities , Faith is a wonderful thing we all can share !!!!

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  11. I completely understand Faith’s story. It never ceases to amaze me how forgiving the horses, dogs & cats who come here are. The cruelty and brutality many have endured is so quickly forgiven, once they realize the nightmare is over. Truly they have more to teach the human race about forgiveness, peace & compassion than we could ever teach them. Thank you R.T. for sharing this. May God always walk beside you in our battle that lies a head!

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  12. Faith, I do so agree with you. There is a reason that the First Christmas took place in a manger. Thank you for sharing your Barn with us

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