Virginia is one of the few rescued animals who arrived pregnant. After her wool production declined, Virginia was sent to a horrific place - a live-auction slaughterhouse. Buyers would pick out an animal to be butchered on site. Investigators found that animals were being killed without proper stunning, their throats cut while fully conscious.
In 2008 a Santa Cruz County animal control officer discovered a cow with a broken horn, blood spurting out of her head. He investigated further and discovered a barren lot housing hundreds of animals with only bread for food.
Around two dozen animals were confiscated, including six goats and two sheep who arrived to Animal Place.
Virginia was so emaciated, veterinarians never thought she would be pregnant. They estimated her age between 8-10. Imagine our surprise when one morning, caregivers found an extra sheep in the pasture nursing off of Virginia! We do not permit breeding here* so she must have arrived pregnant.
Lenny learned much from his mother. He learned to respect the other sheep and be afraid of humans. His mother never recovered from the lack of socialization and compassion from humans. Lenny learned exactly what was appropriate to eat and what wasn’t. He learned the best grazing spots and that, when he was afraid, he could always run to his protector and friend, Virginia.
Sheep farms may allow ewes and lambs to remain together, but it is a terrible time when lambs are stripped away at 6-mos-old to be shipped off for slaughter. There is nothing natural or compassionate about those final, heart-wrenching moments.
For the past four years, Virginia and Lenny grew old with each other. Last month, we discovered Virginia had died in her sleep. One of her dear friends, Samantha, stood by her body, keeping her company. Lenny was petrified, hiding in a corner.
The whole day, this big, gorgeous sheep mourned. He slept in the pasture, his soft white nose pointed toward the barn where his mother last lay. Ignoring the other sheep, he gazed intently at the big red building that had been his and his mother’s home for years.
The following day, the only human who has ever gained his trust came to visit. Even she sometimes has difficulty getting close to Lenny. That day, though, Lenny laid down beside her for a brushing. He shared his grief with her, letting her comfort him as Virginia would have - with gentle strokes and a deep, unwavering love.
Lenny has a long life ahead of him, and we have Virginia to extend our gratitude to for that simple gift. She kept a watchful gaze over him as went from gangly lamb to one of the most beautiful sheep I have ever met. In him, I see her touch, her lessons and her legacy. What a rare gift, indeed.
-Marji Beach, Education Manager
*Not because we believe the natural act of reproduction is offensive or wrong, only that we would be unable to fulfill our mission of saving as many lives as possible through rescue and sanctuary. With 10 billion land animals suffering in this world, it would not be in their best interest if sanctuaries permitted rescued animals to breed.