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Special Re-Post: Lady’s First Foot Soak

To honor Lady’s life and all she overcame, we want to re-share a memory that Kat recounted a few years ago about Lady’s first foot soak at sanctuary. We hope you enjoy revisiting this special moment with us:

As part of the Sanctuary Memory series, Kat shares the story of Lady’s first foot soak. When Lady arrived, there was a great unknown about how she would respond to humans in general, let alone to medical care. She had a history of showing aggression and, though we knew her emotional pain would begin to heal in time, there was no option to delay treating her feet. It was critical to move forward as soon as possible. 

When an elephant arrives at sanctuary, they have sometimes faced decades of abuse and neglect at the hands of humans. As a result, they may have negative associations with any interactions with the people around them. In some cases like Bambi’s, her mental health was more pressing than her physical issues – so we allowed her to begin the process of emotional healing through developing relationships before we moved on to the medical element of treatment; it just wasn’t as immediate a concern as her mental health. 

With Lady, there was no doubt that her medical issues were pressing and we could not delay in beginning to treat her feet, which were in horrific condition. After 40 years in captivity, she felt that the only way she could communicate was through physically venting her fear as anger. Kat remembers, “For us, it wasn’t a concern that she was aggressive. The concern was that she really didn’t trust and she really didn’t know how to communicate her discomfort. I would say she lashed out at the drop of a hat, but most of the time it was faster than that.” That type of reaction happens when elephants aren’t used to being listened to. They start out trying to communicate in normal ways, but when they aren’t heard, they try other ways to attempt to get their point across. This isn’t abnormal, but Lady seemed particularly attached to this defense mechanism. 

“We knew we had to take care of her feet as soon as we could because they were in such a tragic state,” Kat remembers. “Her feet were so swollen; her ankles were so swollen. She had almost no delineation between her knee and the bottom of her foot and it was clearly painful.” In this instance, there is a need to push a little bit more than you normally would. We wanted to start with foot soaks, but there is always a concern that elephants who are new to sanctuary might not want to be closed into small spaces. While the medical chute isn’t particularly small, you are still asking an elephant to go into an enclosed space and remain calm for about 15 to 20 minutes. 

Lady displayed a bit of a preference for working with females; she seemed more nervous when working with males. So, Kat decided she would try to work with Lady when it came to her foot treatments, since she didn’t show as much resistance toward Kat. We set up her foot soaks in her jacuzzi in the treatment area. Lady seemed food motivated, so we thought we would just ask her to come into the chute and see what happened. According to Kat, “We led her in with food and she followed right in with no reservations or hesitations. We got her to step into her foot soak, literally by just asking. Lady put one foot in at first, then I asked for the other one and took a step back, so Lady realized we were asking her to close the distance a little bit. She put her other foot in and that was that.” 

Not only did Lady do what we asked right away, she also was immediately comfortable with allowing Kat to hold her nose to get a reward. Lady was very gentle in how she presented her nose, with her trunk relaxed, and held it there for a second or two before being given her food reward. For an elephant who had not been touched much, this was an incredible act of trust. When Kat opened up the gate to the chute, Lady walked out without showing aggression; there was no hitting of bars or lashing out. Kat said, “Along with that came the feeling of relief, knowing that we would be able to help her sooner, rather than later. That was one of the gifts of that first foot soak. We realized that we could start making a difference in her feet right away.” 

Even though we knew there was the possibility of aggression, Lady was still willing to give these first treatments a try. There seemed to be a collective feeling that things will be okay which, with an elephant like Lady and the state her feet were in, was a gift. Trust remains especially critical when it comes to caring for Lady. She needs to know that you are focused on her and watching and listening to her during treatments. Because she feels respected, she is wonderful during her foot treatments and is one of the best examples of how well an elephant can respond to caregivers when their emotional health is taken into consideration. 

This throwback video shows that first foot soak, exactly as Kat describes it.

Comments(17)

  1. REPLY
    Pamela Hall says

    Dear girl! I treasure my Lady was my first shirt even more now. She is skipping somewhere now, pain free and grateful for your love and care. I’m still tearing up a few times a day.

  2. REPLY
    Lori Hoover says

    I don’t even have to watch the video (I WILL THOUGH), I remember it well. I will miss knowing that sweet Little Lady is somewhere wandering through green and grassy places in her Brazilian Paradise.

    Again, I am so sorry for everyone’s loss, everyone at the Sanctuary, and all of us.

  3. REPLY
    rand says

    She was so intelligent I believe she KNEW what you were trying to do and you were smart enough to be considerate of her needs. Animals know this, my horse knew it even though folks said he was a hard handle. Lady was an amazing soul and I am convince she got many more years thanks to you

  4. REPLY
    janet stone says

    RiP Lady…..Run free nobody will ever hurt you again….My heart breaks for you an all you elephant friends who went thru such abuse……Thank you all here for giving her love at her ending days……

  5. REPLY
    Julie says

    It’s just so beautiful how she was not only cared for but most of all seen and loved at sanctuary. Thank you so much Kat, Scott, and GSE for the four years Lady had to heal and just be who she was, which was a very unique elephant indeed.

  6. REPLY
    Maureen says

    Lady knew she was safe, and that Kat could be trusted. For that, she would probably follow Kat anywhere. My deepest condolences to everyone at GSE but mostly to Kat, we all knew Lady was her favorite. Rest in peace beautiful Lady, in great green pastures and with no pain. You are loved.

  7. REPLY
    Patricia Mitchell says

    No surprise that she was more comfortable with a woman!
    I am so glad that LADY had a few good years of freedom and friends after such suffering at the hands of humans!! THANK YOU.

  8. REPLY
    Bill Simpson says

    Thanks for revisiting this momentous event in Lady’s life. It shows how a small act of kindness can open up doors and hearts.

  9. REPLY
    Vicki Bowen says

    I love this video. Lady taking that leap of faith, of trust, with Kat. The beginning of a lessening of endless pain. My heart full watching this. So happy Lady was able to finally get much-needed medicated foot soaks! My deepest condolences to all the SANCTUARY team , but especially for Kat; she must be hurting. Godspeed, beautuful Lady. 🙏🏻💚🙏🏻

  10. REPLY
    Vicki Bowen says

    *beautiful

  11. REPLY
    Terry says

    It was so beautiful to see the connection Lady and Kat shared right from the get-go!!! A mutual understanding displayed by Lady’s gentleness and cooperation. She knew what Kat wanted and needed to do to help her. How breathtaking!!!
    I know her passing has created a void for many…Kat most especially, I would imagine, due to the instantaneous bond they shared. Lady will be at ESB zipping past Guille in spirit, trumpeting loud ” I am in NO pain and I couldn’t have done it without the Love of ESB care team.”

    My deepest, heartfelt condolences.❤️❤️❤️

  12. REPLY
    Deanna Young says

    ThIS I Remember, the first soak , the first days ….to my dearest GSE family my heart goes to you. I will always remember beautiful Lady and alas she no longer suffers pain. She lived and died with Dignity and love . May her memory be eternal. The girls must feel everything…love them up .un fuerte abrazo.Deanna .

  13. REPLY
    Zoi says

    Those are the moments we have to treasure. Thank you!

  14. REPLY
    katharine Odell says

    thank you for showing us, her supporters, a beautiful moment. I will miss hearing about her beautiful, dignified self…

  15. REPLY
    Charlotte Hansen says

    This was great to read again–thank you!

  16. REPLY
    Benita Auge says

    While you did all you could, it’s still so very sad that she had so few years being and doing what elephants do. All wildlife needs to be treated with respect.

  17. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    Ah, Lady. We just weren’t ready to let you go…
    But – as with everything -?you did it on your own terms, and we love you for that. ❤️🐘❤️

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