I wanted to write about something else, something that had been cooking on my mind’s back burner for the better part of this week. I couldn’t quite bring it to a boil though and then a late-night scroll through my phone’s more recent pictures shifted me to this place, here, where I want to talk about committed relationships between animals. There’s a phrase for it: “bonded pairs”. It’s used to describe when two creatures (usually, but not always of the same species) have formed a high degree of attachment to each other; not a casual attachment, but a deep bond such that separation of the pair causes the individual participants incalculable stress, depression, and even loss of will to live leading to death.
I have great anxiety about this.
You would, too, if sixteen animals called your place home.
“What will happen when….” is the unfinished sentence that encapsulates my worries. Here’s one howling example: What will happen when Boo (interchangeable with Belle) leaves us? In the dozen or so years that Boo has been with us, we have been diligent in our efforts to provide him with suitable companionship. The problem was what we thought of as suitable and what Boo thought of as suitable did not always align. Then Belle came to us and the clouds parted and the sun shown down upon us and all was right with our world. I mean, Really. Right. Boo and Belle are a bonded pair.
They are always together, by design and by choice. They have their own language. I don’t know their words, but I do get the drift of their meaning. If, when walking Boo back to their stall at night, we turn the corner so as to make Belle temporarily out of sight, Boo will come to a full-stop and turn his head to wait for the glimpse of her following him in. Upon sight of her, he utters a particular nicker, low and deep, shakes his head as if to say “alright then” and off we go. Happens every time. Out of sight is not allowed.
Belle was a friskier rendition of a miniature horse than Boo …. by far … when she came to us. Boo has years of impact from his metabolic disease to deal with. No one would accuse him of nimbleness. The more they bonded though, the less that the frisky Belle showed up. It was replaced with standing Belle: Boo laying down to rest his feet, Belle standing watch over him. And sometimes vice versa.
Today, we got the test results that confirmed what we had recently suspected: Belle has become insulin resistant and has Cushings — the same metabolic disease state Boo lives in. Did he “give” it to her? No, it is a likely scenario for aging mini horses. Still, I have to wonder at the energetic element to this, how alike they have become. Did they know this would be the deal?
I do not know what we will do when one or the other of them leaves us. I bask in the tenderness and commitment that exists between them and I worry about how it will be when the fabric of who they are as an entangled unit is torn crudely back into its separate pieces. I worry I will lose them both, because they are really one now. Bonded.
And if that is not enough to anticipatorily break your heart, let me tell you about Legs and Loosa.
You have never seen two more disparate horses. Legs is a towering, pure blooded, fancy-ass show horse. He was imported from Germany when he was young and spent years being treated as the high priced, high-stakes commodity he was. Then he was injured and handed his early retirement papers and we are the very lucky ones to become his new guardians.
Loosa is a spotted mongrel of a pony, rescued from a horrific neglect/abuse case where he was treated with every unkindness you can imagine. And then some. He came to us as part of that rescue, for fostering, but in that healing process, we fell in love with his sweet, sweet soul and his foster papers became adoption papers.
Legs and Loosa are a bonded pair. I can guess a bit about how that came to be, given what I see of herd dynamics, but nothing goes far enough to explain how attached they are. They go everywhere together. No space is too small.
If circumstances require me to put them in separate stalls, then it had better be adjoining stalls and the hay must be served so that they are able to stand side by side, lightly pressing against the stall wall that separates them or there will be no peace. Legs is me and Loosa is Gordy and by that I mean, Legs seems to be a bit more the needy partner in the relationship. But Gordy — er, I mean Loosa — does not seem to mind the burden of that one bit and even seems proud of having such an impressive friend (Gordy, I hope you’re reading between the lines on this one).
Statistically, Loosa has a greater chance of outliving Legs. He is younger and, being a pony, designed to live longer. I hope that Loosa is there for Legs for every single day of what I want to be a very long life. And then I hope that Loosa can find it in himself to continue to be the solid, kindred spirit he is to another needy soul. It’s his gift. I want him to shine on.
The donkeys outdo all of that though. They are a bonded trio. I have said this before. You must respect and honor them as a combined unit. There is no such thing as divide and conquer here.
If Annie is afraid to go through the gate because of standing water, everything grinds to a halt for the combined unit to consider it’s collective action. It’s as if they exchange and combine their energies — the others contemplate the need to be cautious, perhaps overlooked, but Annie picks up some of their cocky courage. A few moments may pass, but when they move, they move as a unit. It is the most awesome thing to see, truly.
Annie is older than the two boys, Elliott and BJ, and of more fragile health. I do not know how it will be for them and us, when the unit is no longer a threesome. I don’t think the solution is replacement. Gaaah! I shudder to think! But, oh how hard it will be to reshape and cope with the world. Hand me tissues now, please. I cannot handle this.
I have refrained from speaking of the dogs, but I am actually even worse about this subject because I have suffered the holy hell of, not just losing a dog, but losing a dog where I was the other half of the bonded pair. I think that dogs are a bit more attached to us humans than horses or donkeys are and that, because of this, the other dogs are keen to fill in for the loss. Maybe. I know that’s what pulled me through. Right now, we are a pack of seven dogs and, while there are obvious partnerships within that, there are also startling acts of kinship across those paired-up lines.
I would hope that this is what would show up, that this is how we would all make it easier to bear the loss of one. Because really, we are all bonded. We care for the whole, as well as the one. That is what exists around and amongst all of us and it gives us our safety net. I want this to be true for the horses and donkeys as well. When Filou died, Andante and I grieved great griefs, but she picked herself up and rearranged the order of her life much sooner than I did. That was her way. I do not know how it will be for any of the others. I worry because that is my nature, but my worry does not dictate the outcome. Only time will tell the story of their resiliency.
In the meantime, it is almost feeding time and I have to pick up Belle’s new medicine. Maizey and Molly are anxious to go on that truck ride, as I had promised them. Life goes on. We live it as it comes to us. All is good. Very, very good. I think I shall save my worries for another day.