Nervous and sad, I watched Sebastian. He lay, unable to get up and walk, on shavings at UC Davis. His kidneys had failed him and were irreparably damaged. Unbeknownst to us, cancer weaved malignantly inside him.
True to his personality, despite the discomfort, Sebastian chewed his cud. Nothing could stop him from enjoying food.
A decision was made. The kind of heartbreaking choice we make for others in the hopes, unfair and desperate as they are, that we will be alleviating ceaseless suffering.
Three of us had made the 1.5 hour drive from Grass Valley to be with Sebastian in his final moments. We surrounded him with our bodies and love.
Sebastian exhaled softly, never to inhale again. He passed swiftly and peacefully. Just as quickly, everything that made him him was gone, including the heat of his body, the blood stilling and cooling in minutes.
I clung desperately to the memories of him, the eight years I’ve shared in and out of his company. Every second that passed, every moment in which his body just stopped, I could feel him slipping away. Would I remember his soft, tiny ears? His strange and stilted gait? The way he would watch the world in a careless fashion?
Sebastian started his new life at Animal Place the same time I started volunteering.
His previous life had been deprivation. The farm stopped providing feed. Animals wasted away to protruding bones. Only when they started to drop dead did animal control intervene. Too little, too late. All of the animals, save two baby goats, starved to death. I imagine Sebastian during this time, this tiny, sensitive baby searching and seeking for his mother, watching as his whole family succumbed to starvation.
The other goat died, leaving Sebastian the sole survivor. With sheer will and tenacity, Sebastian grew and grew and grew. Later, visitors would ask if he was pregnant. No, I would say, he is eating for his whole starving herd, a hundred bellies to feed crammed into one goat’s body.
I first met Sebastian in the bunny barn, getting beat up by rabbits. Every time he tried to eat their food, one would nip him and chase him around the 1,000 square foot enclosure. Poor little goat! I made it my mission to befriend and comfort this strange, alien creature. It was not much effort on my part - Sebastian loved humans from the outset.
Sebastian would become the star goat on tours. Friendly to a fault, Sebastian would waddle (truly, he waddled) to children and adults, position himself perfectly and wait - ever so patiently - for someone to scratch his back. When someone took him up on the offer, he would stretch his neck out long and perfect, like a dog enjoying a massage.
When we moved to Grass Valley from Vacaville two years ago, the goats had to be locked up at night to ensure their safety from predators unheard of in Vacaville. The goats did not really care for this initially but most gradually accepted the new routine. Sebastian never liked it. He made it his life’s mission to avoid going into the barn at night. Caregivers would try various foods to convince Sebastian - fresh leaves from his favorite tree, grain, hay, apples…nothing worked.
I can remember nights hearing normally gentle-toned caregivers bellowing choice-phrases, trying to yell Sebastian into the barn. Every technique, they tried. Herding him from behind. Pushing his unmoving butt forward. Running at him with arms flailing. Sweaters as makeshift halters. Actual rope halters. He was never that impressed. I tried to smother my laughter, lest a caregiver throw their sweater at me.
And I loved that so much about him. Stubborn to a fault, but also so tolerant (all things considered) during harder times. He suffered from painful bladder stones throughout his life. He had multiple surgeries and after each one, he endured painful recoveries. There were times when he had to be force-fed supplements that would theoretically prevent stones. He hated it, but he never stopped sidling up to people for a back-rub. He had bad days and there were times when he would avoid his patient caregivers…but most days, he still enjoyed the company of his people.
He started out in this world, for all intents and purposes, alone…surrounded by his dead loved ones. I am so grateful that at the end of his too-short eight years, he was surrounded by compassionate, gentle people. That he felt their warm hands on his face, his neck and back as he died.
This is Sebastian’s last, perfect moment. It captures his essence - stillness taking in the wind, the brush of grass against skin, his own even breath. We all miss him.
-Marji Beach, Education Manager