My small flock of rare and primitive breed Shetland, Romney, Merino and crossbred sheep constitute a closed flock. That means no one leaves to go to market or slaughter house, no one is sold, no other sheep come here. There's almost zero chance of disease striking the flock, death comes through old age or accident. Sheep are considered aged at around seven or eight years; my "lambs" will soon be three years old and some of the ewes and wethers (castrated males) are nine and ten.
All are pets, all are well loved, their lives and fleeces testimony to the excellent quality care, food and water given them. Some know their names and most all of them come when called expecting to receive a treat of corn, a batt of alfalfa hay, a rub on the head or kiss on the nose.
Two days ago I found one of them down...not a good thing. The shepherd's term is "cast", as in a "sheep is cast and can't get up". This boy had lain, only God knows how long, on the frozen ground and was pitiful in his struggle. I got the sled (some inner Voice telling me all those years ago to keep it as it would come in handy), put Hank on the sled and pulled him to the barn. Frances helped me and it took our combined efforts to haul Hank as he weighed two hundred pounds or more.
There, I rolled him over on a canvas tarp and propped him up against the barn wall. My concern was for "brain freeze". When a sheep spends a night, either a frozen night or with his/her head lying downhill, there's a chance the brain will freeze and not be able to tell the body what to do.
Oh, that's not very scientific but it is, in fact, what happens. I fed him syringe after syringe of warm Gatorade to get liquid, heat and electrolytes into his body. I massaged Hank's limbs, body and head, spoke gentle and encouraging words to him; the dogs licked his face. We all endeavored to give him reason to live.
Least you think he was frightened of the dogs licking his face, all the sheep are quite used to that and will stand still for the dogs to wash their faces. So, it was a nice thing for the dogs to do and Hank seemed to enjoy it, and it brought him a bit of comfort and warmth.
Even so, we're all terminal from the first breath drawn and Hank didn't make it; he was dead when I got to the barn yesterday morning. We all said good-bye and I decided not to clip his fleece. Usually, when a sheep dies, I clip them before I bury them. Silly me, I couldn't bring myself to clip Hank as it's cold, extremely cold. You're right...Hank wouldn't know as he's gone over the Rainbow Bridge but I would know and that was reason enough.
The Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 3: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die...". So, it was Hank's time to die and he lived a far better life here than he would have almost anywhere else on the planet. At the farm down the road, he would have been slaughtered by the time he was a yearling. In the animal world, males are superfluous as one male can service many females. Here, at Thistle Cove Farm, Hank was castrated and his life's purpose was producing fleece.
I know people who say animals, even our pets, won't be with us in Heaven. When I've asked how they know such a thing, they talk some nonsense (nonsense to me at least) about animals having no soul, only humans have a soul.
That seems both strange and rigid to me. Even as they are trying to impress upon me their views, I'm thinking it's not the animal that has no soul.
Shakespeare's Hamlet said, "There are more things, Horatio, in Heaven and Earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
And we may thank God for it.