Monday, May 25, 2015

What Love Can Do...

Chemakoh on the day of his rescue

Chemakoh, not even one month after his rescue, thriving

If you haven't read the story of Chemakoh's rescue, 
please read this.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Hardest Job of All: Mourning Mothers and Mother's Day

From Mother's Day, 2013

Welcome again, Mother's Day... A time of year for celebrating all the wondrous love of moms.

Yet, Mother's Day can be an excruciating experience for mothers whose children have died.

Instead of braiding her daughter's hair, the bereaved mother strokes her once-used blanket that still smells of her little girl.

Instead of going to her son's soccer game, the bereaved mother brings flowers to his grave and brushes away the dirt caked into the capital "B" for Brandon.

Instead of saying, "I'll see you later," she says, "I miss you so much."

Instead of washing her children's clothes and helping them with homework and cooking their meals and giving baths, she spends her days wishing for one more moment, one more memory, one more touch, one more chance to whisper, "I love you."

Like other mothers she thinks of her child, worries about her child, talks to her child, and walks with her child.  She recognizes, like all mothers, the boundlessness of her love, only she sees it at a much deeper level, one that extends beyond the material realm. She welcomes when others ask about her child, compassionately, and when others remember her child.

But the bereaved mother does all of this with an unrelenting pain and longing in her heart that is unimaginable, unfathomable to most. And this makes being a bereaved mother the hardest job of all.

Still, she is a mother. Then, now, and always.

And she is as worthy as any other mother, if not more, of recognition this Mother's Day. Sadly, many will overlook her or be too fearful to tell her that the love she holds so close to her broken heart is seen and revered by others.

Please, take time to send a card, some flowers, or even just a simple email to a grieving mother you know this Mother's Day.


I wish all our bereaved families a gentle Mother's Day, recognizing the agony and the pain, the beauty and the love, the unique and irreplaceable relationship between you and your child/children.  My mother's heart to yours...

Monday, May 4, 2015

Two souls that come together as one in destiny: Chemakoh

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” 
-Albert Schweitzer

Two weekends ago, I went to the one place on earth- a seriously remote place- I'd always wanted to visit. Because I'm not ready, yet, to speak of this specific location, I'm going to forego details about the area... it's not a significant factor in this most amazing story.

To make a very long story short, with my camping gear in tow, and after months of preparation for the 10 mile hike that would take me to this long-awaited location, with 120 ounces of water, food, a few garments, my sleeping bag, and bandaids, I (and friends) began our journey.

This is important: I waited decades for this trip.

With friends, moments before the hike began

Within five minutes on the trail, I came upon a scene I will not soon forget.

This particular trail uses mules and horses to help humans carry their packs. I knew this was not something any of us would do, but I also knew many others would opt for this.

But, as we turned the very first corner, I witnessed a scene that will remain ensconced in my mind and my heart, probably, for many years to come.

A horse - carrying many packs tied to a frame on its back- had fallen to the ground.

A young man was treating him very poorly, trying to get him back on his feet.

I yelled. Loudly.  He stopped.  I started to cry, and my heart was pounding.

He took his other four or five horses back up to the top of the trail.

Our group stayed with this horse as he lay helplessly on the ground. He was bleeding from his head and legs, as they buckled under him. I saw this majestic creature, limp and terrified...

I bent down slowly, reaching out to caress the horse. He flinched.

I wept. Openly. Loudly as others hiked past us.

This horse looked in my eyes, and I looked in his.

He finally allowed me to stroke him, and I felt like he knew: I was that horse many years ago. I, too, had suffered as he was suffering.

As people passed us, some asked if I was ok.  I said, "This horse, this horse is hurt! He's been abused!"

But there was no one to call - no cell service - no police - no one because of the remoteness of the location.

We removed the heavy packs from his weary, sweat-drenched back. I can only imagine the relief. Then, we removed the saddle and the wooden frame used to tied the packs.

Underneath, revealed open and bleeding wounds that covered his back, his knees and legs were bleeding, he had lacerations on his belly and around his trunk, and he was horrifically emaciated.  I stood up and my head spun in circles... it was one of the most terrible things I have ever seen.

Only one of the injured areas revealed beneath the saddle

We didn't know what to do.

So we sat with him for about an hour as he rested on the ground, and as people passed by, looking up and looking down but few looking at the horror of the scene, and I plucked scarce grass from the mountainside to offer him. I held his head and he rested in my lap. We could not leave without him, could we? This precious life, my brother horse, child of earth, just like me... how could I leave him? How does a person see this and not do something? What would Jesus do? Or Gandhi? Or Mother Teresa? Or Siddhartha? Or Chief Seattle? My heart literally hurt.  Sobbing uncontrollably, I told him how sorry I was, over and over again, that humans did this to him. I vowed: "I'm going to help you, I promise..."

We offered to buy him from his owner, twice and vociferously. He declined. Abruptly.

Our trip was over. We could not hike and camp now. We had to leave, and my heart broke as I stared at the horse, walking away, fearing I'd not be able to help.

I cannot describe this feeling.

It would be nearly two hours before I could get cell service to make calls. And I made many calls. I called the forest service, the sheriff, the FBI,  local police, animal control, legislators, congress leaders, horse rescues, animal protection groups, superintendents, police chiefs, lawyers, an animal activist colleague, friends, neighbors, strangers, this specific community's police, and their governmental leaders.  For two days, I stayed in my pajamas, made nearly 100 phone calls and sent more than 100 emails. I felt hopeless but I had to keep trying. This animal's life mattered. I had to exhaust every possible means to rescue him and get him the medical care he so desperately needed. I was told repeatedly that there was "nothing (anyone) could do." Repeatedly.

But, I was not going to stop. I couldn't.  I saw into this animal's soul, and I loved him.

Then, my holy grail... I am unable to give specifics as to who helped me right now, but one person heard my plea and a team of governmental leaders got behind this effort.

Seven phone calls with him and six emails... and finally, three days later... I got the call.

"Dr. Cacciatore," he said, "how soon can you get here?" he asked.

"What?" I asked. "What, really, really? Seriously?"

"Yes ma'am..."

Around 4pm last week on a Tuesday we got that call, and by 10pm we had a trailer and a truck with the help of a bereaved father, JJ's dad, and his amazing friend, Eddie. And, at 2am in the morning, three heroic men headed for the long five hour drive - then descended by foot many miles to rescue and rehome this horse. I prayed from 2am until 5am and waited.

And waited.

I knew it would be a very long day so I (tried) to work on my writing and research... but I knew there was something big happening and every part of me anticipated the moment: Four hours later, I would receive a text that said, "Trail Rider reports that they made it out..."

The two amazing officers who helped me to help this beautiful being

Three deeply compassionate men drove ten hours, and two of them hiked 16 miles, to bring this horse home. As they hiked out with the horse- very very slowly toward the rescue - members of the community nodded at them, as if to say, "Yes."  Tourists, shocked by his appearance, thanked them for saving him. Step by step, they came closer to his liberation.

Three heroes, thank you all!

Most of you know I cry easily, usually for grief and trauma related reasons. This time was different. My heart... overflowed with gratitude and relief.  I named him Chemakoh, Pima meaning 'two souls who came together as one in destiny.'  

All my life, I've wanted to hike in this place.  I waited and waited and waited for the right time.

As fate would have it, I never did hike in this place where I'd always wanted to visit... but I now know why my heart always longed to go there... because I was in that place at just at the right moment to meet - and rescue - Chemakoh. Two souls that came together as one in destiny. All these years for just this moment in time and so well worth the wait.

It's been five days since we brought Chemakoh home. The first day was rough. We didn't know if he'd make it.  He moved very slowly and was badly dehydrated in addition to the emaciation.  His wounds were deep and some infected.

Chemakoh coming off the trailer

His first walk in the corral

A little unsteady

To our surprise, in the first 48 hours, we witnessed a dramatic improvement in his health with the help of a wonderful neighbor who agreed to allow us to board him there until we are able to stabilize him and bring him home.

Tender eyes

Getting stronger every day!

Right side, healing nicely

Left side, growing some new skin

Filling out a little

Lots of visitors and tons of love!

And by yesterday, we knew he was going to make it. I knew I'd made good on my promise to him on the trail... I was going to help him. We have a very long road toward rehabilitation of body, mind, and spirit.

But with the love and support of many, we are well on our way.

Chemakoh with Nowch Hasik, the bereaved mama who helped me to name him

Himalayan salt lick, thank you Adele!

The sweetest, most gentle being...

Getting stronger every day, he fell asleep in my arms. Love.

A promise made good...

Covering him in the rain until his shelter is built... he's very happy!

In an effort to reduce animal abuse and neglect there, the officers told me that the local government decided to institute "a scoring system for animal control to use, to determine whether or not an animal is fit to pack."  Many people had to come together to make this happen. Many. And for every single contact, every nuance, every point of a finger, every small effort, I am grateful, grateful, grateful.

And now, my heart is at peace. I think Chemakoh's heart is too... he is home.


Please, first:

If you see a child, vulnerable adult, or animal being abused, do not avert your gaze. Please, with prudence, take action.  And not just one phone call.  Keep calling, persist in corrective action. Don't give up. Don't let anyone placate you. Be sure you are making a change.  If you are a Christian (as the majority religion in America and as someone born into the Christian faith), I implore you to act as Christ would.  He would not walk away from such a scene. Christ is love, and he used righteous, non-violent anger when necessary to right a wrong. Please, do not allow others to harm God's creatures, the two-legged or the four-legged! Do not allow fear to get in the way of love and doing the right thing. I realize it takes time. I realize it takes effort. Please, do it anyway. Take responsibility. Be the light. Without human compassion and action, we will never find our way.

Please, second:

If you are renting an animal for work or leisure, be certain that the animal is treated well.  Do not hire an animal if it looks malnourished, overheated, and is without adequate access to water. If the animal is not well-cared for, don't use it and report the abuse or neglect. And keep your eyes and ears open. Don't be so concerned with having a 'good time' that you miss obvious crimes against the vulnerable, be it a child, adult, or animal.

Please, third:

Recognize the effects of trauma and abuse on others. You can take right action whilst being compassionate.  And don't wait... help others who are less fortunate.  Recognize historical wrongs. Be willing to sacrifice for others as a way to convey compassion. If you are able to donate to aid families at risk, or volunteer your time, do so.  Demonstrating compassion may help others cultivate compassion.


Some people reading this may feel much anger about the abuse of this beautiful creature. I understand that. I felt it too.  Many ask: "How can this happen?" That is, how can humans abuse animals?

Well, the same question applies, historically, to humans abusing humans.

The 19th and 20th century American Indian genocide nearly eradicated entire tribal cultures, and it is a historical abomination that few living today, outside of tribal people and their governments, want to remember, acknowledge, or recompense.

Transgenerational, or historical, trauma is a very real and exceedingly potent phenomena.  The deep psychological wounds and near obliteration of tribes, the killing of countless Native children and adults, the subjugation, oppression, involuntary diaspora, and the kidnapping of children from their families and tribes is an unforgettable calamity that has imprinted in the minds and hearts of those who suffered at the hands of European occupiers.

Dr. Maria Yellowhorse Braveheart delineates the effects of this trauma in her work: traumatic stress, depressive symptoms, exceedingly high premature mortality, poor physical health, alcohol abuse, and domestic violence against women and children, even animal abuse. And these all link together in a dangerous web of enduring risk, perpetuating the cycle of suffering once only inflicted by outsiders. In "Phase 1" of her 6 Phases of Unresolved Historical Grief she notes "no time for grief"...

No time for grief.
No time for grief.
No time for grief.

No. There is no time to grieve when such horrors are systemic, en masse, and unrelenting.

Yet, there is a price to be paid for this circumvention. Grief commands to be seen. It demands to be heard. It insists on a channel of expression.  I've seen countless examples of chronically avoided, suppressed, deflected, silenced, and internalized traumatic grief. It's effects are stunning. This counts for individuals, and for families, and for entire cultures.

The effects of "no time for grief" are stunning.

And these effects often manifest against the vulnerable. 

We must recognize and stop all abuse, human to human, human to human child, human to animal, human child to animal... We must remunerate and apologize for the suffering caused in the past and change our ways.  We must enact both our love and our grief for the past, the present, and the future.

Otherwise, we will never have peace.

We must reach out to others less fortunate and show compassion, because to receive compassion, even if over time and slowly, is to know compassion. And to know compassion is to be able to show compassion.

We cannot give what we have never received.

Update on Chemakoh here.


From the window I saw the horses.
I was in Berlin, in winter. The light had no light, the sky had no heaven. The air was white like wet bread. And from my window a vacant arena, bitten by the teeth of winter. Suddenly driven out by a man, ten horses surged through the mist. Like waves of fire, they flared forward and to my eyes filled the whole world, empty till then. Perfect, ablaze, they were like ten gods with pure white hoofs, with manes like a dream of salt. Their rumps were worlds and oranges. Their color was honey, amber, fire. Their necks were towers cut from the stone of pride, and behind their transparent eyes energy raged, like a prisoner. There, in silence, at mid-day, in that dirty, disordered winter, those intense horses were the blood the rhythm, the inciting treasure of life. I looked. I looked and was reborn: for there, unknowing, was the fountain, the dance of gold, heaven and the fire that lives in beauty. I have forgotten that dark Berlin winter. I will not forget the light of the horses. ~ Pablo Neruda


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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