Tuesday, August 21, 2012


         Spencer, my 14-year-old son, and I arrived home one late afternoon to an urgent message from a neighbor who said Paso, her beloved horse, was missing. Spencer and I pulled on our cowboy boots, barn coats and gloves. Then, we walked to our neighbor’s pasture, with a couple lead ropes, positive we’d find Paso grazing on this lower portion of our neighbor’s ranch.
When we didn’t locate Paso, we jumped into the truck and headed to our neighbor’s home with the lead ropes. I pulled into her driveway and abruptly stopped when I saw my neighbor and barn helper standing frozen as statues. Spencer and I jumped out of the truck only to have our neighbor say, “Thank you so much for driving up here, however, I found Paso dead in the creek. I don’t know how he died. He somehow must have broken his neck.”
After talking with her a few minutes, Spencer and I made a slow drive back to our ranch. There, all the lights were brightly shining in our beautiful home and the wood for a fire waited. We knew our neighbor was in for one heck of a long, dark, cold night.
Sad, I posted this story for my animal-loving Facebook friends around the world. As always, they responded with their kind and thoughtful remarks:

Tati Santiago I am so sorry what happened to the horse, a hug from a distance my dear friend.
Tati Santiago Have a beautiful Thanksgiving Day in spite of what happened.
Ignacio Mogni Do you know the cause of death?
Lisa Woodcock I'm so sorry about your friend's horse :-(
James Sanchez ‎:-(
Kathryn Anderson What an incredible Mama you are to Spencer, opening his heart, testing his courage, faith, and willingness to risk and ASSIST someone ELSE. Those memories, experiences, and courage are life lessons that are the gifts from God, Deb. You are helping him "BE", the boy/man he is to be! Thank you for sending an incredible child into the world!!
Deborah Patterson-Gilson Hi Guys - Spencer and I will take our 4-wheeler up to the neighbor's ranch tomorrow to haul Paso out of the creek. I'll know more then what happened to him. I didn't want to ask my neighbor any questions about Paso's death. She was shell-shocked when we saw her late this afternoon. Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comments.
James Sanchez Kathryn said it all. "You're an incredible Mama."
Janelle Timmons Wow. I feel so sad about her horse....I am so attached to all my pets what a shock. Good thing she has you for a neighbor to assist her in such a trying time. And indeed, look at these wonderful life lessons of love and compassion u are passing on to your son. I mean I feel such pride when my 10 year old opens the door for someone. Spencer has got to be such a sensitive, compassionate young man. You share life with him...so awesome...Thanks for sharing this experience; some life experiences can be painful but shape us as we all grow older. Good luck tomorrow!


          Mad magazine was a constant source of amusement and howling entertainment for Ross, my eight-year-old brother, and me back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. As a nine year old, I believed Alfred E. Neuman, the fictional cover boy of Mad magazine, should have been President of the United States. Ross and I saved our allowance for Mad magazine and purchased the bimonthly release. After reading the wild antics of Alfred E. Neuman, I’d scan the back of the magazine gazing longingly at the items for sale.
There, before my big, blue eyes was the latest and greatest craze Alfred begged me to buy. For only $2.72, I could order my very own baby alligator and have it shipped from Florida! We had plenty of room on our 165-acre ranch for my new pet to grow up and roam. My summer was beginning to look promising.
I grabbed a pair of scissors from the kitchen, took the magazine into my bedroom, locked the door and began the instructed steps to ordering my baby. I cut the order form from the back of the magazine. Then, I painstakingly taped two one-dollar bills and the coins to the order form I’d filled out in pencil. I stuffed the required items into an envelope and addressed the front. I located a stamp and then walked 10 minutes up the driveway to our rural route mailbox. Walking home, I named my baby, “Snappy.”
Minutes turned to hours, hours turned to days and days became three weeks. Each day, I raced to the mailbox waiting for Snappy to arrive. Each day, however, my hope turned to disappointment.
One sweltering afternoon, my mother, Ross and I headed to town for groceries. On the way home, my mother pulled into the Post Office and told Ross and me to stay in the car. A few minutes later, she returned with a box in her hands asking, “Debbie, did you order something?” Inside, I thought I’d burst with excitement, while lying through my teeth, “No, Mama.” I wondered how she knew.
My mother took the wheel of our wood-paneled station wagon and began the drive home. Ross leaned over my shoulder and eagerly asked, “What is it, Debbie?” I put my first finger to my lips and whispered, “Wait and see!”
Carefully, I began taking the packaging tape off the shoe box. Then, I tore the brown paper away and gently lifted the lid. Ross’ and my eyes grew wide as we gazed into the box at Snappy, gasping for his life. He’d journeyed from the other side of the country without food or water!
Ross began bouncing up and down. I grabbed his arm and told him to sit still. He was bursting at the seams over Snappy. Putting my thumb and first finger at the back of Snappy’s head, I lifted him out of the box while his mouth snapped open and shut ferociously. The remainder of his six-inch body frantically waved back and forth attempting to be free.
I was sitting in the back seat behind my mother while she drove. Carefully and slowly, I set Snappy down on her right shoulder for their introduction. Ross screamed in hysterics and doubled over while Snappy latched his snapping lips onto my mother’s right ear lobe.
My mother grabbed Snappy, flung him onto the passenger floor and slammed on the brakes. Ross and I went sailing into the back of the front seats. When my mother turned around, she demanded, “Debbie, what is that and how did you get it?!” Sheepishly I replied, “Alfred E. Neuman sent my baby alligator from Florida.” My mother’s escalated voice demanded, “Who is Alfred E. Neuman?” I quietly said, “He’s my friend from Mad magazine.”
My mother turned the car around and said she was taking Snappy to the nearest pet store. I pleaded with her and said I had everything figured out for his home. I cried and told her Snappy could live in the bathtub until he was large enough to live at our pond. Sadly, it seemed my mother went deaf and became robotic. The 30-minute drive to the pet store felt like a death sentence.
My mother told Ross and me to stay in the car while she carried Snappy into the store in his shoe box. When she returned, I was still crying my big, blue eye balls out. Ross put his tiny, freckled hand on my shoulder to comfort me. He knew I was devastated at my loss.
I’ll never know what happened to Snappy, however, thankfully the purchase of baby alligators was banned. Although I maintain a close watch on animals and opt for them being in their natural habitat, Snappy and Mad magazine remain larger than life in my mind’s eye. 


I was seven years old, when my mother remarried and her new husband legally adopted Ross, my six-year-old brother, and me. A year later, we moved out in the country to a 165-acre ranch. The following summer, I was walking through our alfalfa hay pasture alone to swim in the creek. I’d just reached the water’s edge when I noticed a downed black sheep on its side, breathing rapidly.
Not wanting to scare her, I slowly walked closer. I was horrified to see bloodied wool from deep puncture wounds around her neck. I told her I would get my “Dad” and we would help. Racing back home, I told my Dad about the hurt sheep, knowing he’d help as I believed fathers do.
My Dad told me to show him where the injured sheep was located. We raced through our alfalfa pasture to the creek side to the dying sheep. I cried, “Look, Dad!” She’s hurt and we can help her get better.” My father was a large, well-built man who stood 6 feet 2 inches tall.
Without hesitation, he leaned his massive frame over the sheep, grabbed it by a front leg and dragged it to the creek. While I stood in horror, my Dad held the sheep under water. After several minutes, he dragged the drowned sheep out of the water and onto the bank of the creek. I collapsed onto the dead sheep’s body and cried hysterically. Without a word, my Dad turned and walked away. My trust for that man was forever broken.
By the time I was 10 years old, I’d collected 16 cats, however, it was with Tootsie, my orange and white barn cat, I’d formed an especially tight bond. Many of the calves Ross and I raised were taken away and slaughtered while we were at school. Tootsie gave birth to six gray and white kittens and I was overjoyed with my newly expanded family. I didn’t want my Dad to know they’d been born, however. I couldn’t bear to have anymore of my animals killed. Therefore, I secretly moved Tootsie and her babies from under the house to the second story of our barn.
To maintain Tootsie’s strength, I  woke up earlier than my family and quietly took fresh milk upstairs to the barn every morning. Not seeing any of my family members as I made my way, I believed I was alone on my secret missions. Tootsie and her newborn babies rested in the hay bed I’d made for them.
            Tootsie’s kittens were now 10 days old and still their eyes were naturally closed. I made it a point to hold each close to my heart, all the while making sure not to pay too much attention to one in particular. My babies were equally special to me.
One Saturday morning after spending time with Tootsie and her babies, Dad surprised me by saying to bring the kittens to him. I wondered how he knew about them. I went inside the house and pulled the Easter basket off my book shelf. Nervously, I slowly walked passed him to the barn and gathered the kittens. I gently put them into my Easter basket lined with a tiny blanket so they would stay warm and continue sleeping. My stomach felt sick as I carried my babies down the stairs of the barn.
As I was close to the front porch, I noticed my father using the garden hose to fill a green five-gallon bucket to the brim with water. Once the bucket was filled, he told me to hand him a kitten. Gingerly, so I wouldn’t wake the baby, I gently lifted one out. Trembling with terror, I handed him one of my six kittens. Still, I didn’t know why he asked for them.
With his massive fingers, he held the kitten under water with a first finger and thumb firmly around its tiny neck. One by one, as I was forced to hand them over, he drowned each of my babies. Within minutes a pile of lifeless, wet kittens was on the sidewalk. Without a word, my father turned and walked away.
            I kneeled on the sidewalk and wrapped my scrawny arms around the dead, wet babies. Silently crying, I put the kittens back into my Easter basket and covered them with the tiny blanket. Carrying the basket in the crook of my left elbow, I walked to a burial site and lay down in the dirt doubled over in heart-breaking agony.
The loss of Tootsie’s kittens was the first of many disasters in her life. She loved to sleep in the wheel well of Big Red, our large tractor. One morning the tractor was fired up for work, however, this time Tootsie didn’t jump off at the sound of the engine. Instead, she remained unseen in her comfortable sleeping position. When the tractor rolled out of the barn, Tootsie’s hindquarters were crushed.
Locating her to say good-bye before heading to school, I lifted Tootsie’s mangled body to my chest and raced into the house. With his stern expression, my Dad flatly announced Tootsie needed to be destroyed at once. Noting the terror in my eyes, my mother told him she’d take care of it. As my Dad did every Monday morning, he left for his weeklong business trip to the Bay Area. Unfortunately, he returned late every Friday night.
            Heading down our long driveway, my Dad’s car faded from view. When I was certain he was gone, I asked my mother what she was going to do. I always trusted my mother as she, too, was an avid animal lover. She picked up the telephone and called the veterinarian in town. He told her he’d stop by later that afternoon.
Ross and I left to catch the school bus. I wondered what news I’d have when I returned later that day. Sadly, it turned out the vet said there wasn’t much he could do. I told my mother I’d take care of Tootsie. I knew I could help her recover from this injury.
A week later, Tootsie’s backend was infested with maggots. Once again, my mother called the vet. He said to flush the infected area with a rinse and keep Tootsie inside away from the flies. While my father was away on his weekly business trips, Tootsie was kept in the laundry room next to the kitchen. Before Dad returned home every Friday night, I moved Tootsie to the second floor of the barn.
She was unable to walk therefore, I brought her plenty of food and water. While my Dad was home, I didn’t visit Tootsie. One month later, Tootsie was healed, however, she lost her tail. This made no difference to me. Truly, a miracle had taken place. We never mentioned Tootsie’s outcome to my Dad.
The following year, Tootsie was pregnant again. Unfortunately, because her backend was so badly damaged in the tractor incident, she was no longer able to pass kittens through her birthing canal. Tootsie and her kittens died under the house and the smell is how I located them.
My Dad had to pull up the carpet in the office, cut a hole through the wood floor and gather their bodies to put into a plastic bag. I stood silently next to him as he removed the last of Tootsie and her babies and then carried them away. He didn’t realize it was Tootsie’s remains he was scooping out of the crawl space and I didn’t breathe a word about what I knew.
Many animals, and for that matter many people, don’t have a choice regarding where they live, with whom, and how they’re treated. Ones circumstances are often not their choosing, resulting in tragedy. As an adult, I’m the vital force for my family, our animals and myself. I vow to surround us with tender loving care. My life experiences taught me to accept nothing less.