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What is sanctuary? February 16, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was gearing up to post an irate response to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Banished by Bolivia, Circus Animals Find a Home on Colorado Range,” with the subhead “Pat Craig Can’t Say No to a Carnivore; Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh, My!” Mr. Craig was described in the article as a “50-year-old former high-school math teacher.”

The article, after noting the 13 dogs, five cats and three parrots who share Mr. Craig’s three-bedroom home, went on to say: “He has other creatures in his backyard: three packs of wolves, 66 black bears, 13 grizzly bears, two prides of lions, 70 tigers, 14 mountain lions, five leopards, eight bobcats, five coati mundi, five lynx, three foxes and a coyote—all scattered across 320 acres of rolling prairie. Mr. Craig just can’t say no to needy carnivores.”

At this point, our friend Ben had to put down the paper and go tend to my own animal chores, but as I did so, my outrage continued to grow. I have never had any patience for those idiots who think that they can, say, go out uneducated and unarmed in grizzly country and be viewed by the huge, hungry animals as anything other than a soft, succulent, easy meal. Or the morons who adopt exotic animals as pets, again without any training, then wonder how their beloved adult chimp could rip the face and arms off one of their friends. 

It’s one thing to be a horse whisperer or dog whisperer, highly trained and attuned to the ways of domesticated animals. And those daredevils who stick their heads into lions’ and tigers’ mouths to titillate a paying audience know what they’re doing and the risks they’re taking, the risk that one day the Devil will claim his due and the jaws will close. Ditto zoologists and animal behaviorists like Farley Mowat who, in his wonderful book Never Cry Wolf, documents his study of and life among a wolf pack—a wolf pack he knew susbsisted on mice for their winter food, so it was unlikely in the extreme that they’d confuse man and mouse. It’s the clueless grizzly-huggers that drive me insane. Their “I’m special, they won’t hurt me” attitude brings themselves and others into untold danger. 

Assuming that Mr. Craig, the math teacher, was unleashing hundreds of carnivores on a 320-acre property when so often only a handful of predators, maybe only one or two, would control a range that size horrified me. What would they eat? Where would they go when they’d exhausted whatever game lived there? How many neighboring farms would be decimated, how many lives (both livestock and human) lost?

Returning to the article and to the computer to check up on Mr. Craig showed me that, in this case, I was completely wrong. Mr. Craig has been working to rehabilitate and rehome unwanted and abused carnivores since he was 19 years old. He is far more than “a 50-year-old former high-school math teacher,” he’s an acknowledged expert in carnivores and their care.

Far from releasing the big animals on his property to roam at will and fend for themselves, he has established his Wild Animal Sanctuary, the largest in the U.S., with a $2 million-a-year budget, $500,000 of which goes to providing food for the animals, all of which are comfortably and safely housed and have access to large fenced outdoor areas, as well as top-notch veterinary care. And he’s paid a high price both in life-threatening injuries and in the dissolution of his marriage in pursuit of his vision. His work has been showcased on Animal Planet and in Reader’s Digest, among myriad other shows and publications. I owe Mr. Craig a huge apology for prejudging and jumping to conclusions before checking out the facts. (Check out the article, photos, and a video of Mr. Craig’s preserve at www.WSJ.com/US.)

All this started our friend Ben thinking about the nature of sanctuary, and how we can create sanctuary in our own lives, for ourselves, our beloved animals, and for everyone whose lives touch ours. Here at Hawk’s Haven, Silence Dogood and I try to provide a sanctuary for the wildlife that calls our one-acre Eden home, planting trees, shrubs, vines, and meadows to give shelter and food for birds and butterflies, adding bat houses and toad houses, bird houses and a variety of bird feeders, making sure there are plenty of water sources, and gardening organically so as not to poison the very wildlife we’re pledged to sustain.

We welcome stray cats that make their way here and then settle in to make a home with us, making sure they get vet care and spaying or neutering so as not to overrun the neighborhood with unwanted offspring. We’re also thrilled to see the occasional turkey, pheasant, or other unusual visitor, and we figure the random skunk, ‘possum, or raccoon is the price we pay for encouraging wildlife to make themselves at home here. And, of course, we rejoice in the presence of our resident Cooper’s hawk and her occasional consorts.

But what about sanctuary for us? Silence and I have worked hard to make our home, as well as our property, a sanctuary, a place of peace and refuge and safety and joy. A place that inspires us to be creative, to think, but also to enjoy every moment we spend here. From creating a medicine wheel in our backyard and planting tons of heirloom fruits and veggies to sustain us to designing beautiful, restful gardens, a container garden for our deck so we can sit surrounded by beauty and fragrance, a greenhouse alive with gorgeous flowers and tropical herbs, fruits, and spices, we strive to create sanctuary here at home.

Our cottage home itself is a sanctuary, full of beautiful, wonderful, and meaningful things we love. From our parrot Plutarch, cat Linus, and black German shepherd Shiloh to our shelves of beloved books, cases of favorite CDs, and collections of art, artifacts, and DVDs, from Silence’s extensive spice, yarn, and quilt collections to our friend Ben’s stamps, coins, Pueblo pottery, and marbles, we have gathered around us everything we need to make our home the ultimate sanctuary. As a result, though there are many places we’d love to visit, any day at home is a good day, maybe the best day. And there are no bad days here at Hawk’s Haven. Being here feeds our hearts, minds, and souls, our creativity and—when Silence whips up one of her amazing meals—our health and bodies as well.

Sanctuary. What does it mean to you?

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