Last week, we said goodbye to our beloved Christopher. After a year of devastating losses of so many of our very old friends, this one, in some ways was the toughest of all, for you see, Christopher is the only animal to have lived his entire life with us. We met him hours after his birth, and we said a tearful goodbye after nearly 15 glorious years. (Watch his tribute video here)
Late on Christmas Eve in 2006, the ASPCA delivered a small, terrified sheep to us. She was being chased through the streets of New York by dogs, very likely a lucky escapee from one of the many slaughter markets dotted throughout Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. We checked on her in the middle of the night, but in the wee hours of Christmas morning, Noelle gave birth to a snow white little boy. We named mama “Noelle,” and named her son Christopher.
Noelle was utterly terrified of humans, and she passed on that fear to her son. Christopher spent much of his life protecting Noelle, sometimes even guarding her from us. But when volunteers Dawn Freeman and Donna Albright began having their lunch in Christopher and Noelle’s pasture — quietly, at a distance, and without any expectation — Christopher soon approached Dawn’s outstretched hand for a treat, and his comfort around them grew. Weeks later, Noelle followed. Eventually, the mother and son happily integrated with our “Underfoot” herd — the crew of animals, mostly goats and sheep, privileged to free-range throughout the day. Noelle’s last few years were exactly how every sheep’s should be — free and on her own terms.
When Noelle passed away in 2017, we were so worried about Christopher, who had lived over ten years side-by-side with his mother, even caring for her when old age slowed her down. While we never expected that losing Noelle would cause him to turn to us for love and attention, that’s exactly what happened: Christopher began approaching familiar humans, and even on occasion visitors, hoping for love and scratches and showing us clearly where to scratch…and where not to.
Christopher was one of those “Underfoots” who was so well behaved, he wouldn’t even cross the threshold of the kitchen, treating it as off-limits instead of bursting in to raid the grain bins at every opportunity, like many of our other animals might, given the opportunity (Michael! Bartleby! Violet!).
Beyond his evolution from “terrified” to “trusting,” Christopher was one of the best caretakers we’ve had the privilege to know. He not only looked after his mother, but after she passed, he looked after every old sheep who needed him, including Scully, Hannah, Junior, and Laverne. We’ll never forget watching him lead Junior, blind with old age, back into the barn whenever Junior was disoriented. In that way, Christopher was the embodiment of our motto, Love Spoken Here.
One of Christopher’s favorite people was Education Manager Lauren Barbieri, who wrote this in his memory:
When a group of animals gets older, being one of the youngest of the old is tough. Christopher had seen so many older sheep pass away in his full life here! I met him shortly before Noelle passed away, so I didn’t know the two of them together very well, but I knew that he loved her dearly and would do anything for her. We grew closer together after that, and he and I greeted dozens of tours over the years. Before the tour, I’d look for him, and then we’d walk out to the parking lot to wait for the guests to arrive. For many of them, he was the first animal that they met here at CAS.
Because his story is significantly happier than most of the sanctuary’s residents—since he was born here, he never suffered like the others have—he provided an example of what farmed animals could be like, given the opportunity to thrive. Christopher never knew any other place, and nerve knew anyone other than people who loved him and wanted the best for him. He lived his life exactly how he wanted, on his own terms.
After Noelle passed, he moved in with “the oldies,” a collection of old, limpy sheep: he looked like a baby by comparison! And of course, he mourned for each one as they passed. When the last one, Junior, passed away, we thought that Laverne and Christopher would make good friends (and they did). Since she was younger than he, I told him that at least he wouldn’t have to see any other of his friends or family die, which, turns out, was incorrect. Laverne passed away not too long ago and Christopher, as his health declined, increasingly isolated himself.
This past Monday, though, he had a very good day. I intended to spend my day working from his stall (and brought him some bananas, grapes, and willow leaves). But Christopher had other ideas. He seemed more himself than I’d seen him for a while. We wandered around outside and I grabbed leaves from his favorite trees. When he moved on to grazing, I sat down nearby and worked on my phone. We stayed like that for a while, until he decided to head back to his stall.
I was going to follow him momentarily, but halfway to the barn, however, Christopher turned and looked back at me: “Baaaah,” he said. And then another one: “Baaaah.” It was much weaker than his normal voice (Christopher had no such thing as an inside voice, particularly when we were in the barn and he’d occasionally BAAH right in someone’s ear.) He wanted to rest, and he wanted me to come with him. So, I grabbed some more leaves, and we went inside for a bit. Later, I saw him out two other times, never getting anywhere fast on his ancient legs, but getting around nonetheless.
It was good that he had such a good day on Monday. It made saying goodbye easier, after witnessing weeks of decline.
People often ask me on tours which animal is my favorite. My response is always “They’re all my favorite, but Christopher is my favorite.”
See you around, little man — you’ve got a lot of stories to share with your mom. I know she’s proud of the little lamb she raised.