Rambo, the iconic sheep beloved by thousands, died peacefully this past Saturday evening, surrounded by a few of his human and animal friends. He was sixteen years old.
As I wrote in Where the Blind Horse Sings, Rambo arrived at Catskill Animal Sanctuary full of testosterone and rage. Indeed, he was the most dangerous animal we’ve had in our 11-year history. Over time, though, he transformed from warrior to wise man, from angry man to angel, and spent the final nine years of his life doing what rams do in the wild: protecting the flock. And we were all his flock – the cows, the horses, the chickens, the humans. CAS was his home, and we were his family. Rambo comforted the needy, welcomed the new and frightened, and rounded up the escaped. When the job was beyond him, he summoned humans (as he did one early morning a few months ago when he hobbled on arthritic legs to my back door to tell me that the cows were out).
It has been perhaps the greatest privilege of my life to witness and to honor the transformation of a rare and magnificent animal, and to learn life-altering lessons that inform so much of what we do here. Rambo taught us how to truly see each animal as a unique being with unique needs. Had he not insisted on absolute freedom (he rammed through the door of every stall we offered him; eventually, we gave up trying to shelter him in a stall and made him two thick beds of hay at opposite ends of the barn), he’d have been unable to evolve into the being who saved lives, patrolled the farm terrified, but insisting on doing his job during thunderstorms, comforted new rescues, greeted guests in the parking lots, hid behind the rabbit house from Hannah the sheep (his stalker), and so much more. His life and his lessons are etched into the ethos of Catskill Animal Sanctuary in ways too numerous to count.
The evening of the first day without Rambo, I am sitting in my Adirondack chair overlooking the horse pasture. Plus One (an orphaned Canada gosling adopted by a family of six) and her family are on the far bank of the pond, nibbling at grass. When I look again, a new family, five goslings in tow, is crossing the pond to settle on the near bank. A male mallard makes a diagonal flight above the pond, heading west into the sunset. A Great Blue Heron floats over, landing in a large willow. Julius and Brutus, two geldings, gallop towards their barn.
I look out across the pond to the cows in the far field. The Sherman Family, a mama and her children Buttercup and Caleb, are grazing in the distance. My friend Tucker the steer plods toward the barn.
TUCKER! I bellow, and my voice bounces back to me off the cliff in the distance.
MmmmOOOO! my pal responds.
Come on, Hannah, I say to my black doggie. Gotta go see our friends.
One day after Rambo’s death, life is unalterably different and exactly the same. Rambo was our leader, our guardian, our hero, our teacher, our friend. To honor him by living joyfully and fully, and by humbly attempting to bring our best selves to each new experience is the greatest tribute we can offer. May his noble life spent watching over his flock of CAS creatures great and small, human and non, be a reminder to each of us to make our lives matter.