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Ox or Dog; Our Pets Are Mourned

March 8, 2021

Finn is in training to become Topper’s new oxen partner.

Several weeks ago, I shared the grief caused by the sudden passing of Stash the ox, one of my farm favorites. Since then, many of you have sent cards and shared compassionate words acknowledging my grief and sharing your pets' stories, including grief over losing a loved pet.

 There is an empty space here on Miles Smith Farm, too. The loss of Stash seems to have left his ox partner Topper emotionally needy. Last week I wrote about him and Shannon. They lived in separate pastures – Topper with five other steers and Shannon with 24 cows and calves. After his partner died, Topper discovered his love for Shannon and ignored the electric fences to be near her. I'd separate them, and minutes later, Topper would be out looking for her.

 After Topper's infatuation with Shannon passed and the fences were fixed, we put Topper back with "the boys." Six hours later, he escaped again and was standing at the gate to the cows' pasture. I don't know why he won't stay in his field. Was he bored with the boys? Did he miss Stash? Do the girls have better hay? I don't know, but I decided to respect his wishes and leave him in with the cows and calves.

 Topper has found his way of dealing with his loss, and so have I. I'm training Topper's new partner, Finn. He is a black Highlander steer who has some experience as a working steer. Two years ago, his partner, Sorin, died, and since then, Finn hasn't had a job. 

Finn and Topper are not perfectly matched yoke mates; he's shorter and thinner than Topper, but he's showing promise. He's young and, in time, will gain weight, and if I can slim Topper down, they should be close in size by next year.

 But Finn will never replace Stash in my heart. Some nights I wake up to see Stash's stoic face, framed by horns curving down then up, looking at me through his shaggy hair. I don't wonder how a 1,500-pound ox got into my bedroom; I'm glad his spirit has come to visit. I pray that he has found his place in heaven. I'll always miss him. 

 Thank you all for the compassion and love you've shared. For those of you who are grieving a lost pet (do we ever stop?), please know that no matter how you cope, you will survive, and you are not alone.

Carole Soule

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