Celebrating A Life Well Lived

On January 13, 2019 I was asked to speak at the memorial service for a fellow rescuer, Kathy Stewart.  Here is what I shared with those of us gathered to celebrate one of the pioneers in animal rescue.

Animal rescue is a small world and beck in 2000 when I first “met” Kathy it was even smaller. I use the term met loosely because Kathy and I only saw each other face to face a handful of times in the 18 years that we knew other.  Had we passed on the street, we probably would not have recognized each other. But we recognized each other instinctively in a much deeper way.

In 2000, thanks to what was then a brand new forum called the World Wide Web, we chatted frequently and always electronically and it worked for us. We were both passionate about ending animal suffering and both felt like our calling was to do so by helping animals….one at a time. We were sisters not by blood by but something deeper. We were sisters in spirit.

Kathy had been at this longer than I had and she had seen a lot of people come in excited and then not make it long before I started. She told me a few years before she died that she learned quickly to trust me. There is no higher praise. I think that is why back then, she patiently mentored me so much. It is hard to find people for this field. The hours are endless. The financial rewards are non existent. The emotional toll is excruciating. But neither of us would do anything else.  Kathy sensed in me the same dedication she knew was in herself.

Why? Why did Kathy do what she did for animals all her life?  I know many of you who aren’t rescuers may wonder just that. Why do rescuers dump careers, change lifestyles, alienate family and ignore friends all to help a bunch of mangy mutts? If I can explain that to you, then you will begin to know the soul that was Kathy Stewart.

Why do we do what we do? It’s not just a profession. It’s not just a hobby. It’s a passion. It’s in our blood. It’s the dead certain knowledge that life, all life, is precious and should be nurtured and cherished and cared for that is at the center of a rescuers soul. If you can understand that, you will understand Kathy. It is what she stood for. It is who she was. It is what made her life whole. Seeing one precious animal made healthy, whole and then lovingly placed in their new owners arms is better than winning an academy award. Its better than Christmas morning. It’s better than graduating top of the class. It’s better than a new job or winning a top contract. It’s our nirvana. If you are one of those people that helped Kathy by volunteering with or adopting from Kathy, I want you to know that you made her day. Think of the very best thing you can think of. Think of the highlights of your life. Think of those things and you will know how Kathy and I feel when we rescue an animal. Yeah. That feeling. That’s exactly an animal rescuers happy place. It makes everything worth it.

Even in death, we believe that rescuers continue to rescue. Please listen now as I read you a poem that is near and dear to many of us in the rescue community and know that last Sunday was a heck of a day at the rainbow bridge.

Unlike most days at Rainbow Bridge, this day dawned cold and gray, damp as a swamp and as dismal as could be imagined. All of the recent arrivals had no idea what to think, as they had never experienced a day like this before. But the animals who had been waiting for their beloved people knew exactly what was going on and started to gather at the pathway leading to The Bridge to watch.

It wasn’t long before an elderly animal came into view, head hung low and tail dragging. The other animals, the ones who had been there for a while, knew what his story was right away, for they had seen this happen far too often.

He approached slowly, obviously in great emotional pain, but with no sign of injury or illness. Unlike all of the other animals waiting at The Bridge, this animal had not been restored to youth and made healthy and vigorous again. As he walked toward The Bridge, he watched all of the other animals watching him. He knew he was out of place here and the sooner he could cross over, the happier he would be. But, alas, as he approached The Bridge, his way was barred by the appearance of an Angel who apologized, but told him that he would not be able to pass. Only those animals who were with their people could pass over Rainbow Bridge.

With no place else to turn to, the elderly animal turned towards the fields before The Bridge and saw a group of other animals like himself, also elderly and infirm. They weren’t playing, but rather simply lying on the green grass, forlornly staring out at the pathway leading to The Bridge. And so, he took his place among them, watching the pathway and waiting.

One of the newest arrivals at The Bridge didn’t understand what he had just witnessed and asked one of the animals that had been there for a while to explain it to him.

“You see, that poor animal was at a shelter. He was turned in to a shelter just as you see him now, an older animal with his fur graying and his eyes clouding. He never made it out of the shelter and passed on with only kennel workers to comfort him as he left his earthly existence. Because he had no family to give his love to, he has no one to escort him across The Bridge.”

The first animal thought about this for a minute and then asked, “So what will happen now?”

As he was about to receive his answer, the clouds suddenly parted and the gloom lifted.

Approaching The Bridge could be seen a single, ordinary looking person and among the older animals, a whole group was suddenly bathed in a golden light and they were all young and healthy again, just as they were in the prime of life.

“Watch, and see,” said the second animal. A second group of animals from those waiting came to the pathway and bowed low as the person neared. At each bowed head, she offered a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears. The reunion took a while but no one was in a hurry. Then the healthy animals returned to the fields.

The newly restored animals, the ones that had been old, fell into line and followed her towards The Bridge. They all crossed The Bridge together.

“What happened?”

“That was a rescuer. The animals you saw bowing in respect were those who found new homes because of her work. They will cross when their new families arrive. Those you saw restored were those who never found homes. When a rescuer arrives, they are allowed to perform one final act of rescue. They are allowed to escort those poor animals that they couldn’t place on earth across The Rainbow Bridge.”

“I think I like rescuers,” said the first animal.

“So does GOD”, was the reply.

– Donna Ezzell, Director