This month we said goodbye to one of the New York Shelter’s most venerable residents, a goose who, along with her mate, had been with us longer than any other animal: our dear friend Bessie.
In 1987, two young geese arrived at the sanctuary. Abandoned to fend for themselves on a rural property, they had bonded. Their loyalty to each other was obvious from the beginning, and it only deepened with time.
These two, Bing and Bessie, lived for many years amidst our geese flock, interacting with other birds but remaining inseparable from each other. They were healthy, happy geese, delighting in each other’s company and all the simple pleasures of sanctuary life.
In her latter years, however, Bessie began to suffer from arthritis. Social life in a goose flock is often rough and rowdy; a hale and hearty goose can take it in stride, but a goose coping with a disability can find it challenging. When Bessie became too weak to stand up for herself, Bing tirelessly guarded her against antagonism. Though the duo was eventually moved to live with mellower companions in the special-needs duck flock, Bing remained ardently protective. The two never strayed far from each other, and any time Bessie called out, Bing rushed to her. After a day grazing and relaxing together by the pond, the goose and her gander could always be found sleeping side by side in their barn.
It was in that position that we found them the morning we discovered Bessie had passed. In addition to her arthritis, she had been living with heart disease for some time. We had done everything we could to keep her healthy and comfortable without creating stress or turmoil in the golden years of this elderly goose’s life, but at her advanced age, she had finally succumbed to the condition. She passed gently in her sleep, and Bing stayed next to her body until we removed it, faithful to the end. Afterward, he isolated himself and went into mourning for some days. He called out for Bessie – but for the first time in his life, she did not call back. Bing’s sorrow broke our hearts. We are relieved to see that he has now begun to heal, finding comfort in the companionship of his friends Felix and Vanessa.
Often, our connections with animals on the shelter are forged through the affection and curiosity they extend to us. Always shy, Bing and Bessie touched us in a different way. As we labor at the often difficult, sometimes heart-breaking work of rescuing and protecting farm animals, we take inspiration from the example of these two birds. As domestic animals, they lived in a world largely beyond their control, a circumstance that imperiled and deprived them in their early days. But their hearts were their own, and these they gave to each other unreservedly. Every day for 24 years, they showed us what devotion is.