This is Etta. And me (I'm wearing purple). Our best guess of Etta's age is around eight or nine. In sheep years, that is reaching the esteemed period of Ancient. Five months ago, Etta arrived with seven other animals from a slaughterhouse. She was skinny and nervous, avoiding people at all costs. Who could blame her?
Etta earned her name through what we call "Better Living Through Singing". Etta has a deep, resonating R&B style voice that booms across the sanctuary. We like to think that her namesake, Etta James, would appreciate Etta the sheep's lyrical style and would be honored. Or offended, since Etta the sheep cannot hold a tune and really only has one song to sing called "MEEEHHHHHHH". It's a catchy tune, really.
After Etta opened up her voice pipes, she also discovered a burning desire for back massages. Etta may not be queen of R&B but she is empress of R&R. There is no sheep who loves a back rub like Etta. When you enter her enclosure, she'll stand at attention, gaze intently at you, sing her song "MEEEEHHHHH" and amble over. If you do not immediately offer up your hands for a massage, she will lean into you, ram her head ever so gently into your stomach and sing for you "MEEEEEHHHHHH". Sometimes she gets right in your face and stares really hard, trying to convey the obvious - where's my back rub? Who can resist such charm? As the picture shows, not me.
Why did this lyrical genius end up at a slaughterhouse? It is hard for me to understand. I cannot imagine cooking her up and eating her - she is a being unto herself, full of her own sheep thoughts and sheep feelings, wanting to do her own sheep things. How could I deny her that for something I don't need, like her flesh? And even if I liked the warmth of her wool, there is nothing natural about it nor do I need it to survive. Etta's ancestors and her wild brethren have hair - it keeps them warm in the winter and naturally sheds in the summer, allowing the animal to remain cool. Humans bred domestic sheep to have constantly growing wool. It must be sheared to keep from growing and growing and growing. When that wool (or its lanolin) stops being useful for scarves (or lanolin-related pursuits), the sheep stops being useful to the farmer. Not a very healthy relationship for the sheep.
Etta doesn't opine on these matters, unless they relate to whether the neck massage takes precedence over the lower back shiatsu (they generally don't). She lives in the here and now and perhaps the "where is my back rub?" future. There is nothing to remember and nothing to forgive because all that is good is now, here in this moment of physical bliss. I can't help but enjoy the moment too, even if Etta doesn't return the favor of a back rub.
-Marji Beach, Education Coordinator