Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review: Beyond the Homestretch, by Lynn Reardon

In 2008, more than 134,000 hapless horses of every age and breed were crammed into overcrowded trucks from various points in the U.S. to take a one-way ride to oblivion, via slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. The trend continued this year, though the final tally of equine lives lost in 2009 is not yet available.

The scope of the problem is daunting to anyone who loves horses and wants them to be treated with dignity, not put in harm's way. Yet what can one person do to make a dent in the carnage? In Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses, Lynn Reardon has the answer. You do the only thing you can do: you save them one at a time.

Lynn experienced the horrors of the horse slaughter pipeline first-hand when she was living in the Washington, DC area, working as a finance manager and spending all of her free time learning how to become a proficient rider. It was during the early 2000s, when slaughter was still legal in the U.S. Attending an auction with Tina, a trainer seeking a horse for a client, Lynn happened upon an old paint mare, wedged into a pen with her son and several other horses:

     "Her face was incredibly sweet with large, dark eyes full of warmth and trusting cheerfulness. I halted, arrested by the humanity of her gaze. . .The mare took a couple steps closer to us, looking for attention, her gait clumsy. I looked at her ankles and a chill tightened my throat. Even my novice eyes could see the arthritis and large bony spurs around each joint. She could barely walk--a death sentence.

     Tina pulled me away, muttering, 'That mare's only heading one place and not for a lot of money. She's earned a better end than that.' I glanced at the mare again--her Da Vinci expression still haunts me today. A meat dealer bought her, a squat, sunburned man with eyes like concrete. That was the last auction I ever attended."

In chronicling her experiences as the fledgling founder of LOPE (LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers), which helps to find new careers for thoroughbreds whose racing days are over, Lynn vividly describes the physical and emotional challenges she's had to overcome to ensure that at least some of the horses retiring from Texas racetracks don't meet the same fate as the gentle mare she met so many years ago. And it's her gut-wrenching skill with words that makes us care so passionately about what happens to the ones who have been lucky enough to reach the safety of her ranch.

Many of the thoroughbreds who arrive at LOPE come with gossipy backstretch "rap sheets," suggesting that they are mean, or stubborn, or high-strung, or even untrainable. Lynn quietly smashes these stereotypes, in sometimes surprising ways. Her gift is to listen only to what she hears from each horse's heart, and to compassionately and creatively give them the space they need to shine.

My favorite (and perhaps Lynn's, too) is the aptly named, "Sugarfoot," an angel of a filly blessed with a "mellow disposition and willing attitude," but questionable conformation. Because of her sweet demeanor, Lynn was sure she'd find a new home quickly. But each prospective adopter found some reason to reject her, and it looked like Sugarfoot might take up permanent residence in Lynn's backyard. Everything changed on the day that a developmentally disabled young woman named Desiree arrived to meet her. Without ever having been trained to do so, Sugarfoot immediately understood how to take care of Desiree, and make sure she wouldn't lose her balance:

     "It was clear that Sugarfoot was protecting Desiree, that this little red filly with the funny build had a true, deep vocation to be a therapeutic riding horse. Awed, we watched as Desiree and Sugarfoot walked together, with Sugarfoot always listening, always careful to keep her steps slow for her special rider."

Along the way, Lynn has found herself unexpectedly but earnestly assisting at tracheotomies, treating rattlesnake bites, and constructing tricky hock bandages. She confronts her own doubts and deficiencies with self-deprecating humor and honest introspection, often coming across as her own harshest critic, always wondering whether she is up to the task:

     "I had developed an interesting skill set, like how to feed fifteen horses from my truck and the proper technique for tracheotomy assisting--but these were the badges of an equine social worker, not a true professional equestrian."

But Lynn Reardon doesn't have anything to apologize for. The herculean dedication required to sustain an equine rescue cannot be overstated, yet Lynn has carried each horse to the finish line with grace and equanimity. She's been instrumental in saving the lives of more than 700 thoroughbreds, and in Beyond the Homestretch, she's written a compelling memoir of her own redemption. I eagerly await the next chapter.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Talk with Lynn Reardon, Author of Beyond the Homestretch, during December 29th Teleconference

The next "Conversations with Animal Authors" teleconference will feature Lynn Reardon, who will discuss her recently published book, Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses, on Tuesday, December 29th at 8:00pm EST.

Just six years ago, Lynn Reardon was working as a finance manager of a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC, but in 2004, she left her white collar job and moved to Texas, where she founded LOPE (LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers), now a 26-acre haven for former thoroughbred runners.  In the intervening years, Lynn has successfully placed 145 thoroughbreds in adoptive homes, and, through the LOPE website, has helped almost 600 more find new careers.

Lynn's stories of the horses who found their way into her ranch, and into her heart, are honest, gutsy, and bubbling with the kinds of details that true horsemen will relish.  While her equine cameos are dramatic, they are never laced with sentimentality.  She paints a realistic--and compelling--picture of the challenges she's faced in transforming sometimes quirky racehorses who are often emotionally or physically battered and bruised.  At a time when 100,000 discarded horses are being shipped out of this country each year to be slaughtered in Canada and Mexico, Lynn shows us what can happen when someone cares enough to save even a few.

You can talk to Lynn (or just hear the interview) by dialing 712-432-0180 and entering PIN #1063739 at 8:00pm (EST) on December 29th.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: Buckley's Story, by Ingrid King

Just by being there, our cats exert a profound influence on our lives.  Yet so many of us fail to appreciate how much they care for and calm us, how necessary they are to our emotional equilibrium, and how integrally they contribute to our inner happiness. 

But Ingrid King knows.  And as she movingly details in Buckley's Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher, her poignant memoir of her relationship with a little torti cat with a deformed hind leg and very few teeth, cats can lift us up and make us better for having known them.

Buckley's Story chronicles Ingrid's three-year journey of the heart with her two tortoiseshell girls:  Amber, a steadfast--almost spiritual--cat, and Buckley, an ageless waif whom she initially rescued to be her office companion at the veterinary practice she managed.  Soon, Buckley was running the place herself.

Ingrid started to find it increasingly difficult to leave Buckley at the office on weekends, but she was torn, because though she intuitively understood that Buckley longed to live in a real home, she wasn't sure that Amber would welcome another cat into their close-knit family.  She made two failed attempts to commingle the two cats, but admitted that her own conflicted emotions were interfering with  Amber and Buckley's ability to form a feline friendship.  Finally, though, when Ingrid decided to relinquish her position as the manager of the veterinary hospital to devote herself to writing and to developing her Reiki practice, she realized she couldn't leave Buckley behind.  And sure enough, within a few days, Amber and Buckley worked out their own ground rules, and peacefully shared the same space:

"Cats are sensitive to human emotions.  They often feel our stresses and worries before we acknowledge them.  When I worried about whether Amber and Buckley would ever get along, there was hissing and posturing.  When I finally let go of the fear and worry and simply focused on the desired outcome--all three of us living happily together--the cats' behavior changed."

And, in the process, Ingrid found herself changing, too.  The petite cat who she thought she had rescued was actually saving her:

"The process of bringing Buckley home, with all the emotional ups and downs it brought for me, is ultimately a testament to how much this little cat opened my heart. . .I was set in my ways. . .Buckley's exuberant energy and big heart required me to open myself to change."

As Ingrid plunged into her new careers, Buckley happily settled into her own new roles as "official greeter" and assistant Reiki practitioner:

"She would get up on the Reiki table and often curl up next to or on top of the client.  I realized after a few sessions like this that she intuitively knew where extra energy was needed."

But Buckley's bright light would be extinguished all too soon.  She developed a series of physical problems, which not only challenged her health but also tested Ingrid's ability as a healer.  Her experience at the veterinary practice armed her with the knowledge she needed to get Buckley the best available treatment, but it didn't prepare her to be able to cultivate a sunny outlook.  Only Buckley could do that:

"Buckley taught me how to stay in the moment and not get ahead of myself with worry.  Despite being in considerable pain prior to having her teeth removed, she never spent any time worrying about the upcoming surgery, anesthesia, or recovery. . .I had learned that I could help her more by focusing on her well-being rather than worrying about whether she was going to get better.  It was a constant process of redirecting my thoughts to something positive, whenever the old pattern of worry reared its ugly head."

As Buckley's condition deteriorated, I found myself tiptoeing through the chapters with a sense of foreboding and dread, though Ingrid infuses them with introspection, wisdom, and an unexpected twinge of optimism about her beloved cat's fate:

"We can choose which story we tell from moment to moment.  We can focus on what we want and tell the story the way we want it to be, or we can focus on what we don't want or don't like and tell the story the way it is. . .So rather than telling the story the way it  was--she had been diagnosed with a serious heart condition and had been given a poor prognosis--I choose to tell the story the way I wanted it to be:  she was a happy little cat who was enjoying her life to the fullest."

I felt some of the same emotions as I faced the death of my own dear cat, Casey, whose life on earth ended just two days before Buckley's, in November of 2008.  But I wish I had shown the same grace Ingrid did, as she readied herself to finally let Buckley go.  A year later, as I came to the end of Buckley's Story, I cried for Buckley, for Casey, and for myself.  But not for Ingrid King, who has written a heartfelt gem of a story that will resonate with me, and with anyone who reads it, for a long time.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review: Memoirs of the Bathtub Psychic, by Bethanne Elion

Call it intuition, psychic sensitivity, or just being "tuned in," Bethanne Elion had it. But, like so many of us, she renounced her innate ability to see more than meets the eye, to perceive what was going on energetically around her, and to heed forebodings when they arose, unbidden. The results were painful, and when it came to her beloved Newfoundland, Sophie, even tragic. Memoirs of the Bathtub Psychic is the saga of Bethanne's personal journey to find herself again, and in the process, become the person--the healer, the seer, the gifted empath--she was always meant to be.

As far back as she could remember, Bethanne had a magical connection with animals. "It seemed that the only time I felt at home with my gifts was when I was around animals," she admits. "I intuitively knew they had an understanding of my abilities. She could mentally hear what they were thinking, as clear as day. Fearing ridicule, however, she soon learned how to sabotage her psychic perceptions:

"By immersing myself in my classwork, with music on in the background,
having a few cocktails in the early evening, and leaving the television on

all night while I slept, I could keep the psychic side of me at bay. Noise
helped to stop the clairaudience. Drinking aided in suppressing clairvoyance.
Studying nonstop made it possible for me to avoid deep or meaningful contact
with others. That helped in keeping my soul from wandering off into other
people, animals, or lifetimes."

Bethanne's life changed forever on the day she drove from her home in California to a dog breeder in Oregon, to pick up a seven-week-old Newfoundland puppy, whom she named Sophie. When she brought her precious puppy to get her first shots, she intuitively sensed that something terrible was about to happen, but not trusting herself, she handed Sophie over for the injections. Her big black dog was never the same after that, and within two years, she was dead.

Bethanne subsequently adopted two more Newfies, Emma and Cubby, and when they, too, experienced a series of health problems, she went for help in a different direction. She implemented the nutritional recommendations offered in Wendy Volhard's The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog, learned everything she could about homeopathy, and her dogs improved. But when it was time for Emma to have a rabies booster, Bethanne faced it with dread, instinctively understanding that it would be the beginning of the end of Emma. Within weeks after the vaccination, Emma had developed cancerous tumors at the site of the injection. Bethanne knew that in order to save her dogs, and herself, something had to shift. She decided to move to Vermont.

It was in the quiet of rural Vermont that Bethanne began to allow herself to hear again, and to feel again, and it was there that she began to honor her psychic self by making energetic connections with animals in need. She discovered that she could home in on lost dogs and cats, vividly and accurately describing their whereabouts, but sometimes having to tell bereaved owners that their pets were not coming back. She soon learned to dread such cases.

Bethanne learned to ask permission from an animal before initiating a "conversation," and she came to understand how to distinguish the difference between "that which is symbolic and that which is real" in a telepathic interaction. She learned that some animals simply do not want to be found, and that sometimes, there is nothing that can be done to retrieve them.

Bethanne calls herself an "energy translator," explaining that she is simply a conduit for "information funneling in from the universe." What comes through most of all in this honest and sometimes searingly painful Memoir of the Bathtub Psychic is the author's absolute integrity as a searcher, as a selfless caretaker of her creature companions, and as a bona fide intuitive whose ego never gets in the way of the truth. Hers has been a jagged road, but one truly worth following.