Atlas Took the Weight of the World in Stride

When Atlas and his 18 goat friends were rescued from an animal hoarder in June 2010, I had been on staff for nine months. By then, I had heard many stories about animals having arrived at CAS in terrible shape, and these goats were no exception — emaciated, infested with parasites, their hair falling out in clumps. Yet nothing could have prepared me for meeting the goat who stood out from the rest — the one hobbled by 6 inches of overgrown rotting hooves, who wobbled on legs permanently bent at ninety degree angles and knees the size of oranges, yet who possessed the kindest, most soulful eyes I have ever seen. We named him Atlas, the iconic figure of strength and stoic endurance from Greek mythology, often shown kneeling while supporting an enormous globe on his shoulders.

From the moment I met him, I knew that I would never be the same. Many animals rescued from severe neglect and abuse arrive skittish, withdrawn, distrustful. Some are terrified. Some are angry.  Not Atlas: he was hungry for affection. If you sat down in front of him, he would inch over on his shaky legs, and nuzzle your face before laying his head in your lap. I often wondered how this animal who had endured such suffering could be so open and loving. Soon I realized that he must have known that he was safe and loved by compassionate people, and that he had been given another chance at happiness. In his heart, I believe, he had left his sad past behind him and embraced his new life at CAS.

“Live each day as if it were your last!” is something that we hear a lot, and while it’s much easier said than done, Atlas did just that.  As part of the free-ranging “Underfoot Family” in the main special-needs barn, Atlas was a quiet yet powerful presence.  He charmed all who were fortunate enough to meet him, enjoyed his ginger cookies and strawberries with gusto, zipped around in his custom-made wheelcart, and up until the last few weeks of his life, refused to let his disability get in the way of greeting friends in the main barn, and occasionally strolling to the nearby willows. The chickens and turkeys flocked to him each day — he and Henrietta shared a special bond — and the birds spent many peaceful days nesting in the hay beside him. Atlas reminded us that every day is a precious gift, and that forgiveness is essential if we are to make the most of second chances.  For all these reasons and more, Atlas had many friends.

Earlier this month, his crippled body had become so painful and immobilized that we knew we had to set him free. So, on November 11th, a year and a half after he joined the CAS family, we offered him our final act of love by letting him go in peace. Nestled in his favorite hay bed, munching alfalfa until the last moment, and surrounded by many of the people who cherished him most, Atlas passed on in peace. We will forever miss the sparkle in his eyes, that crooked smile, and his gentle spirit. At the same time, we know that he would want us to fill the space he left behind with more souls needing a second chance at happiness — so we move on and honor his life by doing just that.

Check out snapshots and videos of Atlas’ life at CAS, and please share your memories with us!



Love Spoken Here, Rescues, Sanctuary Life


24 replies on “Atlas Took the Weight of the World in Stride”

  1. A great blog Michelle and the team from CAS, it brought tears to my eyes in reading it and felt Atlas presence in the room!  Keep up the amazing work you are doing and know you had a small “amazing, positive” imprint on the world that Atlast lived in.  May his last year be one of the best surrounded by love and caring!

  2. omg, Michelle:  I thought, from the FB post yesterday?, that he’d been adopted out.      So glad to have known that dear boy – I have videos of him.    This eulogy for Atlas is just beautiful.     Thanks for writing down your heart.     

    1. Yes, he was a very special soul! Send us your videos sometime — would love to see them!

    2. Donna, Ani and I would love to see your videos sometime. He was a remarkable creature.

  3. Michelle – this is a wonderful and moving tribute to that beautiful and loving creature Atlas.  Thank you!

    1. Thank you, David! It came straight from the heart! I’m so glad you got to meet him at the volunteer farm chores day. I only wish that you could’ve spent more time with him.

  4. A beautiful blog Michelle….and I thought I had run out of tears.  Thank you for everything! 

    1. It was my pleasure to share reflections on his life and what he meant to me, and so many of us. I know you loved him, too, and thank YOU for being so kind and sweet to him.

  5. I am very sad that Atlas has passed, although I am happy that he lived a great life at CAS the last eighteen months. I volunteered for a week at CAS this past April and was fortunate to meet all the wonderful residents there, but Atlas stood out for me. I had a wonderful experience with him that I will always remember.

    I was cleaning stalls in the barn and decided to take a break. No one was around so I sat down beside Atlas to say hello and give him a little massage. As I was sitting, Atlas started stretching his neck toward my face, like he wanted to smell me – so I moved my face closer to his. He proceeded to rub the side of his face against mine, up and down, up and down – for about 15 seconds. I could hear him breathing in my left ear, along with little grunts that almost sounded like purring. After he was done, he proceeded to look deeply into my face and eyes, almost as if to say “you’re my friend”. The cute little guy caused me to tear up right there!

    Now, perhaps Atlas just had a scratch on his face that needed itching and my face was the most convenient solution! But I don’t feel like I’m anthropomorphizing,  and in reading many of the other comments about Atlas (here and on Facebook) I’m certain I’m not. Atlas touched many lives, reached many people, made many friends.

    I had hoped that I would meet Atlas again, that I would get that little face-rub one more time. I was looking forward to it. I understand though that it was time for Atlas to leave us, and that he was never more loved than he was at CAS. I’m fortunate to have met him.

    1. Hi Tom — thanks for sharing those memories! You’re not anthropomorphising — farm animals have rich emotional lives just like humans do, and you experienced it that day with Atlas! He loved to nuzzle people and lay his head in their laps. He was so open, pure and innocent. I’m so glad you got to spend time with him, if only for a short while.

    1. Thank you, Erin! I’m so glad you were able to meet Atlas, if only twice. His eyes are truly the most soulful and deep I’ve ever known 🙂

  6. Atlas was such an amazing friend and a blessing to any person who had the opportunity to meet him.  I remember the first time I came to the farm Atlas was one of the first to greet me and welcome me to the farm.  It breaks my heart that I will not be able to see him again whenever I visit.  However, I am so happy that he is no longer burdened by his body and has been set free. 

    Thank you to everyone at the farm for loving so many animals like atlas and providing honest and caring homes for them. Thank you for sharing Atlas’s journey and writing such a beautiful tribute to him.  He will be missed by many, even those who may have only had the opportunity to meet him once. His heart was so big it was impossible not to fall instantly in love with him.

    1. Hi Pam! Thank you so much for your kind words about this wonderful boy who touched so many people! We can all find comfort in believing that Atlas knew he was loved and adored, and in our having given him many peaceful and joyful moments. We miss him every day.

  7. I was visiting CAS several weeks ago and had the good fortune to meet Atlas.  I will never forget this beautiful boy.  Saying goodby is so hard.

    1. Hi Zia — we’re so glad you were able to meet him! Atlas was truly special and made a deep  impression on so many people. It is difficult every time we have to let go — a testament to the fact that each animal is unique and important in his/her own way. Thank you for writing.

  8. I haven’t had the good fortune to visit the Sanctuary yet, but having read Kathy’s book, I look forward to the day when I can meet everyone associated with your beautiful haven.  So, I contribute my financial support in the meantime.  This vegetarian thanks you.

    1. Hi Ann — thanks for reading our reflections on Atlas’ life and Kathy’s books! We do hope that you can visit in the very near future and meet the many special souls who call this place home. We’re also grateful for your support — kind and compassionate folks like you make our life saving work possible.

  9. Thank you for sharing and for your incredible service to the animal kingdom.
    You truely touch my heart and validate the unconditional love & joy that these animals give us. 
     I look forward to being a  contribution   to your wonderful service .
    Jamie Verrillo

    1. Hi Jamie — thank YOU for your kind words and warm wishes. This work is heartbreaking, inspiring, joyful, and challenging all at the same time, and we are deeply grateful for a community of supporters like you who make it possible.

  10. I would like to be involved in service of helping animals!I am vegetarian and animal lover.So please ,give me an advice: what to doat first? I can relocate to live close to you…

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