As Farm Sanctuary rescue workers entered the western New York property where Lila and dozens of others languished, they were nearly overwhelmed by the smell of death. A barn crammed with junk housed starving sheep, newborn lambs, and chickens in stalls cobbled together with pallets, scrap metal, ropes, halters, and chains. Outside, emaciated cows stood in grassless pastures without hay or water. A makeshift slaughterhouse loomed nearby. In that cinderblock building, the property owner butchered young animals, and in the surrounding barns and fields, he bred their parents until their bodies gave out. We rescued more than 60 animals from this grisly scene, all of them emaciated and many so unwell that we feared for their lives. The one who worried us the most was Lila.
When we found Lila, she was so weakened by parasites and anemia that she couldn’t even rise to her feet. We rushed her to our vets at Cornell University Hospital for Animals, where she received a blood transfusion from Marjorie, one of our New York Shelter goats. Still, she remained too feeble to stand on her own. It took several more days of intravenous fluids and round-the-clock care until she managed to stand for more than a few seconds and get up without assistance.
Restoring Lila’s strength was a complicated proposition. After surviving so long without food, she needed to gain weight gradually; eating too much too fast could kill her. Moreover, after being immobilized for so long by her ailments, her muscles had atrophied. Her vets treated Lila for parasites and began physical therapy. We checked on Lila frequently while she remained at the hospital and prepared to see her through months of intensive rehabilitation.
Lila, however, had another plan in mind. This tenacious goat rallied and was back on her feet long before we expected. She was soon able to come home to our New York Shelter, where she set about thoroughly enjoying herself at once.
In our new hospital, Lila lived next door to another recent rescue, Elliot, who “talked” to her through the door that separated their pens. For weeks they both slept by the door and communicated throughout the day, until one day Elliot decided to take control of the situation. He broke down the slider door, moved himself in with Lila, and started up what appears to be a life-long relationship. We introduced Lila and Elliott to one of our small, special-needs goat herds, and the pair hit it off with their new pals immediately.
Lila has also been quite taken with her new caregivers, her guests — and in fact anyone who pays attention to her. She’s filled with a lively curiosity and calls out eagerly to anyone who passes by her barn. And who could resist such a friendly greeting?
From a frail and suffering victim of neglect to a strong, vivacious, and happy survivor unencumbered by any sign of her past ordeal, Lila has undergone an almost miraculous transformation. The man who bought, exploited, and neglected Lila nearly ended her life, but he could not define it, and now she has reclaimed it. Lila exemplifies the astounding capacity to thrive that resides in our fellow animals. Some, like her, get the chance to bring that vitality out into the light, to embody it fully. Others must sustain it silently through lives of darkness. But it lives in every one, awaiting the kindness that can set it free.