From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Side by Side, Together Again

Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend—or a meaningful day.

Dalai Lama

Dee and Rosie were inseparable. They were aged mares kept in the same stall for twenty-eight years, enduring one of the worst cases of neglect I can recall. Fourteen months after she and Dee arrived at my rescue and rehabilitation center in Chillicothe, Ohio, Rosie passed on. While they lived with us, Dee and Rosie were well cared for and loved. They learned to be horses again and experienced simple things, like the touch of grass under their hooves—something they hadn’t felt since they were six months old.

For two years following Rosie’s death, Dee was a loner. Whether it was her grief or her dedication to Rosie, I don’t know. Perhaps she still saw Rosie by her side, but she didn’t seem to need, or want, the company of other horses. Until Brandy.

Brandy came to us with a severe heart condition and did well for the first few years she was here. Inevitably, age took its toll and with it came deafness for Brandy. Curiously, Brandy’s affliction seemed to revive Dee’s desire for a companion to care for. She and another horse, Dena, became Brandy’s guardian angels—as well as her ears. Dee and Dena never left Brandy’s side and when someone, or something, happened by they made sure Brandy was well aware of it and the first to move to safety.

The girls, as we knew them, continued their guardian duties for the next couple of years. I marveled at how they cared for each other; always devoted, always there for one another. As I watched them in the field one day, I noticed that Brandy was suddenly somehow “different,” appearing weak and somewhat disoriented. Dee and Dena gathered closer as Brandy lay down at their feet. With her angels by her side, Brandy quietly and quickly passed away at the age of forty-three from a heart attack. I covered Brandy until we could bury her later that day, but the girls remained with her the entire time. In death, as in life, they would protect her.

Horses, like humans, must grieve in their own ways, in their own time. Dee and Dena remained together, until at the age of forty-one, Dena was humanely euthanized when a stroke left her paralyzed from the neck down. Dee was a faithful, compassionate caretaker and guardian angel for every one of her companions, but I know none could ever take Rosie’s place in her heart.

The winter of 2004 would come and go with snow, ice and bone-chilling cold. One night while feeding, I noticed an additional horse in the field. It was standing at a distance and, with the darkness, it was difficult to be certain exactly which horse it was. Two things were certain. It was a black horse, either Raven or Dena, and both of these horses had passed away a year or more ago.

I went into the house to tell my husband what I had witnessed in the field. I had been surprised, but not afraid, and the more I thought about it, I had the feeling it was Dena. My husband had recently returned home from the hospital after open heart surgery and I felt Dena was back at her angel duties, here to reassure me that everything would be okay. Dena appeared in the field for two more nights.

The spring rains had begun so each evening I led Dee and the other horses into the barn to spend the night warm and dry. On the third evening, the girls willingly went into their stalls, except Dee. After what seemed like hours of bribing and coaxing, Dee reluctantly followed me into her stall after I assured her I would turn her out first thing in the morning. I told the three girls goodnight, turned out the lights and left the barn.

The first thing the following morning I went to the barn as promised. I opened Gina’s stall but she didn’t go out. I noticed that Shasha was standing with her head over the stall wall, looking into Dee’s stall. I didn’t see Dee’s head and hoped against hope that she just had her head down eating. I opened Shasha’s stall and she, too, only stood there.

I walked to Dee’s stall. My blood ran cold, my breath caught and the tears fell as I looked in at her lifeless forty-yearold body. My beloved Dee, my guardian angel of all, who had spent twenty-eight years of her life imprisoned in a barn, had now spent her last night on earth in one— against her wants and wishes.

It was so much clearer now; why Dee had fussed about going into her stall, why Dena had been in the field the two nights before and again last night when Dee resisted coming in out of the rain. I now understood that Dee had no plans of standing in the rain, but meant to join Dena so together they could cross the Rainbow Bridge to be reunited with her beloved Rosie once again.

We buried Dee that evening in the glow of the sunset, beneath a dogwood tree in full bloom. As I knelt down next to her to say my final good-byes, the dogwood petals began to fall. Softly, one by one, they fell on Dee’s face and her beautiful chestnut body. With each petal, it seemed as if my darling Dee was telling me to dry my tears, that she and Rosie were—at last—safe, happy and together once again.

I go to Dee’s grave every evening, to be sure it stays safe and secure, and to tell her how much I still love her. As I make my way out to my favorite spot under the dogwood tree, I always find myself searching the quiet fields, searching in hopes of seeing my two old girls, Dee and Rosie, side by side, together again.

Sissy Burggraf

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