The day that I discovered bodies in the freezer was the day that I began to seriously rethink my job choice… When I pulled back that first blanket all I could do was back away, shake my head wide-eyed, and whisper under my breath, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no…”
Horrified, yet glued to the reality of the situation like a bystander witnessing a car crash, I stepped back to the freezer’s edge. Leaning forward I noticed that each icy lump had a letter of sorts attached to it. The notes held details such as name, date, and breed and were scrawled on little more than scraps of paper that one might fish from the wastebasket.
There was a newborn puppy slightly bigger than my hand wrapped in a dishcloth. Underneath that a deep brown pitbull name Tiger. Next to him lay another pitbull named (bless his little heart) Pisser.* Five. Six. Seven more, maybe, were hidden from view by the depth of the freezer. All were wrapped in blankets of various size and texture; their faces were frozen in time by the ice. Next to that deep freezer was another deeper and longer freezer that held more lifeless bodies. The freezer was the biggest I’d ever seen and possibly six feet in length.
When I expressed my shock and utter disgust by my findings to one of the farm’s vet techs I was told that Dan “struggles with loss” (ya think?) and that “if he keeps the bodies in the freezer then he feels like the animals are still with him” (no, they aren’t. They’re actually stuck in some sort of arctic purgatory.). Deep freezers for the large dogs. Standup freezers for the small dogs. Walk-in freezers for the horses? I can only imagine… I then asked if his deceased wife was also in the house.** And I was then informed that she was. In the house. In an urn.
My first clue that Dan struggles loss was the day that I came to work and discovered a very nice bouquet of flowers attached to an empty stall with the name BUFFY on the door. Buffy was before my time, but I’ve heard stories about her infamy. She was a mini-mini pony. So tiny was she that she could easily walk underneath the other horses. And so crazy was she that only the bravest tried to halter her. I heard tell that the only way they could move her from place to place was to shake a can of grain and then run like the dickens. Unfortunately, Buffy stopped eating one day and died the very next. Dan refused an autopsy so the vets never really knew what went wrong.
My second clue came the first day I was called to the mudroom for a meeting*** The entire room is covered floor to ceiling with white cabinets…but on those cabinets…in LARGE…BOLD… black lettering are the names, death dates + times, and the “last seen” dates + times for each horse that has passed away. As you can imagine, the cabinets are quite…uh…decorated after all these years.
The crazy thing about this particular behavior (yes, I know it’s crazy in general) is that Dan NEVER (and I mean NEVER) does anything with the horses at all. He doesn’t come talk to them. Brush them. Walk them. Give them treats. Nothing. He said it makes him get “too attached”. His house is located at the back of the property so he technically drives through the farm and looks at the animals as he is coming and going, but from what I have been told and from what I have experienced he only interacts with the horse when we expect death is imminent. We had multiple cases of potomac fever this season (with fever spikes of higher than 104F) and I was the one assisting the vet not Dan. There was one time with Ranger laid down and I couldn’t get him back up and Dan did come to help that time but only because it was 10pm and I was alone…
During my last shift Dan called me down to give me a lecture (typical) and during that conversation he mentioned that his 95-year-old mother was in the hospital with heart trouble. He said he never visited her, but that he sent her a bouquet of flowers every day. When I made an I’m-sorry-to-hear-that sound he said that his mother did not want him there and that she was the meanest person he had ever known (funny because you are the meanest person that I’ve ever known, Dan). Then when I asked if his dad was the-sweetest-thing-ever he grimaced and said that he never knew his father because his father murdered someone and spent his life in prison. Oops.
Dan never smiles. Probably because he’s missing one of his front teeth…and because his smile muscles shriveled up and died from all the sad meanness. When Dan smiles he does this closed-teeth grimace thing where he lifts his lips to reveal his teeth, but I can guarantee that there is absolutely no happiness involved in the motion.
One day I cried about it all. I’m pretty sure that on Dan’s list of things worthy of his disdain “women” rank very high. And I had reached my limit. Thankfully, Josh (friend and farm manager in training) caught me and sat me down for a little pep talk. He said it was an opportunity for me to give grace. An opportunity to give grace to a mean, sad, old guy with no friends and only piles of $1000 bills to keep himself company (he made his first million at 26).
So from that day on whenever things at work get tough (like pretty much every single hour) I repeat the phrase “…as unto the Lord” to myself and take really really deep breaths. Those who are familiar with scripture know that this passage in Colossians 3 is saying that no matter what you do – do that particular thing as if you were doing it for the Lord. So I’m trying to have a forgiving heart. And I’m trying to give grace. And even when Dan is treating me like an ignorant slave I am doing good to God’s creatures and I am working for Him.
On Sunday Pumpkin trampled Amanda. It was gut wrenching because it was like hearing that your nightmares are all going to come true. Thankfully, by the grace of God, he “only” bruised her and dislocated her hip but still it terrifies me. There is no perfectly safe way to move him from barn to field so you essentially have to rely on the idea that he would rather eat alfalfa than attack you. Well… that day he preferred the latter. The only thing that saved her life was that his first strike knocked her down near the water buckets. He’s afraid of water on him (he’s a devil but a puss) so when he came back for more she was able to splash him. She ended up having to army crawl out of the barn and then called for help.
It has been SUCH a tumultuous and frustrating week at work. I loooooove these animals. They deserve to have an amazing life. And I love that I get to be a part of it. And, although it’s nothing like having a salary with benefits, the pay is really good for a part-time job. But I can’t keep doing this. (GROANS) Enough. Is. Enough.
*Strangely enough, Pisser apparently perished from penile cancer… We also have an ex-breeder pitbull name Titties. Let’s just say she is…very well endowed from all those years of nursing. There is something so devilishly juvenile in me that gets tickled ever time I have to go out into the dog yard and yell “TITTIES” at the top of my lungs. I giggle every time, haha. The other day I looked down the hill and saw two of the stall cleaners looking at something. I looked closer and noticed that they were looking at one of the dogs. I shrugged and said to myself, “Oh, it’s nothing. They’re just looking at titties.” At that very moment I couldn’t contain myself anymore and I doubled over laughing. I promise there really is a poised and refined young lady under all this horse poo!
**No one but the ranch manager is allowed anywhere inside except for the mudroom, which basically serves as a combo between a pharmacy, a feed store, and a kitchen for the farm. We go there to pick up special diets for certain animals, medications, vet equipment, etcetera.
***I’ll be the first to admit that I give myself plenty of physical space from Dan and VERY easy access to the door should it be necessary to run.