Michael was one of Red Creek’s very first volunteers and has always been one of our strongest supporters. Being Native American, Michael (Crow Warrior) taught me much of my own native heritage and assisted Red Creek in many of the native celebrations we attended. In years past he helped train Poe, our first educational crow, and had a special gift with the other animals. He was a constant presence in Red Creek’s early years, often sleeping on the office floor, staying to volunteer for several days straight.
A few years ago, Michael’s life changed. A sudden illness had left Michael in a coma for many months and on his awakening, his body and mind couldn’t communicate with each other.
Retaining his full memory and ability to think and reason, Michael was trapped in a body that no longer listened to him. The following years have been a continuous fight to re-teach his body and re-link his mind and, with the dedication of his mother and family, his strides have been small but continuous.
To keep him motivated, Michael’s mother, Rainbear, gives him incentives. Even though Michael can not talk, he can communicate, and often chooses his own reward for achievements. Often, Michaels asks for his rewards to be part of Red Creek and the animals. When given the goal of riding in a car for one hour, Michael asked that the car ride be to visit the animals at Red Creek. Michael succeeded at the task and has visited us several times.
Motor skills are the most difficult part of Michael’s rehabilitation and hand movement in particular has been slow in returning. When given the task of learning to steady his hand enough to do refined movement, he asked that once he succeeds, could he pet Windigo? After months of hard work and determination, Michael had enough control that he could do his part, but would Windy? Even with her new found trust and health, would she cooperate?
The day came and Michael visited Red Creek with high hopes. Morrie and I had prepared a ramp to Windigo’s enclosure. Everything was set. Although we do not allow public contact with any of the animals, Michael was still technically a Red Creek volunteer, as his status had never been removed and we felt this moment was just too important to not try. We feared, though, that the wheel chair and unusual activity would scare Windy and we had several people ready to intervene should she become upset.
Michael’s mother and father helped him access the ramp and Michael and Windy looked at each other. Windy immediately went and circled the chair, sniffing. She didn’t seem upset at all, choosing next to jump up and stretch out on her bench and begin grooming herself.
What happened next was a beautiful understanding between two injured souls. Michael reached out his hand and Windy lowered her head to allow him to scratch, Michael’s face beamed with delight and Windy held still under his hand, now steady from months of practice. Morrie handed Michael some treats and Windy gently ate them from his hands and kissed him. Time stood still as each of us held back tears and rubbed away goose-bumps. Breaking the moment, Michael looked up and laughed. Windy resumed her grooming.
Now that Windy had progressed to the point where her trust in us allows her to experience new things, we are applying for the additional permits so we can take her to programs. One day we hope Michael can walk with her on stage, address the crowd and tell of that special moment they shared when their lives touch, a moment of healing for both man and lynx.