Little Brook Farm - Making One Man's Dying Wish Come True

Sunday, September 15, 2019
It's no secret that I love to tell people's 'stories'.  I've written about a number of folks in my five years here on the blog.  I title the category: Intriguing People.  The people in that category aren't intriguing because they're famous or hugely successful, I find them intriguing for other, more humble reasons.  Some have lived a particularly generous life, some have forgiven the unthinkable, some have overcome unbelievable obstacles and others are just folks we've met along the way who were so remarkable in a quiet and unboasting way, I couldn't resist sharing their story.  From the Beekman Boys to Bailey Wind, from Ulysses S. Grant to Fred Rogers, from local artists to family members...I love having a medium for putting their story on paper, hopefully to live on in their legacy.  That is the case in the story I'm telling today, a story I've been wanting to tell for almost 2 years now.  It's a story of a man, a veteran.  It's a story of his life, his loves, his legacy and how it was all almost nearly lost had it not been for a handful of people who cared enough to make a difference.  This is the story of Richard Spencer....and the people who stepped in to write his final chapter and maybe his legacy.
Richard Spencer came from a well-to-do family.  He served in the Army, graduated from college and designed fabric for Ralph Lauren.  Mr. Spencer was an only child and he never married.  Mr. Spencer eventually returned home to New Lebanon, NY to care for his mother.  When she passed, Richard's family now consisted only of his cats....10 of them.  He lived his life as a recluse with just one friend, David.  As his health deteriorated, Mr. Spencer looked into some assisted-living facilities, but when he was told he could only bring 2 of his 10 cats,  he sacrificed is own health and well-being for the sake of keeping his 'family' united.   In November of 2017, Mr. Spencer reached out to some women in the community  (Jen, Judy and Cynthia) asking for help with the care of his cats.  He worried what would become of his cats when he was gone.  Since he rarely had visitors, all but one of the cats were shy.  They had lived only with him, had never been outdoors.  Even Mr. Spencer hadn't been out of the house in more than 3 years.  They were all senior cats.  Fearing the worst would happen, that a shelter would separate the cats or even worse, would euthanize them, Mr. Spencer made arrangements in his will that his cats be kept together and money from his estate would be there to pay for their care.
So far the story seems a sad one, but at least in order.  Unfortunately, not so much.  In December 2017, Mr. Spencer took a fall and was taken to the hospital.  He passed away on New Year's Eve just shy of his 91st birthday.  Lynn Cross, owner of Little Brook Farm, a horse rescue sanctuary in Old Chatham, NY. is no stranger to the idea of rescuing or caring for cats.  In February Lynn began trapping the cats. She has trapped and rehabbed hundreds of feral cats over the years but Mr. Spencer's cats came with their own set of challenges.  There were no doors on the rooms in his home and because the cats were not accustomed to people, no one had ever 'seen' more than four of the 10.  The cats would hide in the walls of the house whenever anyone came in.  Jen, Cynthia, Judy and Lynn had been feeding the cats for four months,  It took Lynn an hour and a half round trip in the winter. To make matters even worse, the basement flooded causing the furnace to be shut down.  Space heaters were brought in, but Lynn and the rest knew once the power company realized the bill wouldn't be paid, they would soon turn off the electricity.  Because it was January, getting the cats out became an urgent necessity.  Making matters worse, the lawyer Mr. Spencer had hired to be his executor wrote Mr. Spencer  a letter one month before he died informing him that he was too busy to carry out his duties and effectively left Mr. Spencer with no one to oversee his estate.  That left his home...flooded and unheated, his cats, his money and his will without representation.  One more thing was affected by this sudden, unthinkable (and insensitive) action.....there was no one to oversee Mr. Spencer's funeral and burial.
Eventually all ten cats were collected and moved to Little Brook Farm.  Lynn asked her dedicated followers for contributions, and enough money was eventually raised to build a cat cottage for Mr. Spencer's cats.  Lynn already had one cat cottage that houses a revolving number of cats (currently 17), so she knew what was needed for a proper home for Mr. Spencer's family.  The cottage was purchased and Ted (Lynn's loving and supportive life-partner of 20 years) insulated it, added electricity and finished the cottage with extra windows, two staircases leading to two lofts, heat and air conditioning.  A photo of Mr. Spencer, one of his paintings, classical music and the flag from Mr Spencer's military burial add a sense of 'home' to Spencer Cottage.


Speaking of Mr. Spencer's burial.....that's the saddest part of this story.  Lynn, the women who were caring for the cats and Mr. Spencer's friend, David, spent months trying to get Mr. Spencer buried.  They reached out to every resource outlet while poor Mr. Spencer laid in limbo in the Berkshire Medical Center morgue, but ultimately they had no authority to speak on his behalf.  The fact that he was out of state made the matter even more complicated. Finally a specific document was found in his house regarding the Army's paperwork and a lawyer at Berkshire Medical Center got his funeral in motion. David made the arrangements and Mr. Spencer was finally laid to rest with a full military send off on May 31st, 2018 - five months after he died.  David, Lynn, Ted, Jen, Judy and Cynthia attended and Lynn accepted the flag on behalf of Mr. Spencer's family - his cats.  He came close to
being buried in a pauper's grave in Massachusetts rather than his family's plot, which no one knew existed. But....he is finally at rest but his home remains unattended, broken into and his belongings and estate sit idle even though he had written a will with explicit instructions for donations to be made to libraries and charitable organization, including the care of his cats.

Here's a glimpse of Mr. Spencer's family - the loves of his life - his cats. Some stayed high on their loft, moving further back and out of sight during our visit, others came down to say hello and Kata, the most outgoing of the bunch, rubbed against us and soaked up as much loving as we were willing to give.  It's obvious the time spent at Little Brook Farm agrees with all the cats who are plump and bright eyed and most importantly, together.














This story isn't just about Mr. Spencer. It's about the handful of people who so generously stepped in to fulfill a dying man's wish. It's about strangers who donated money, women who worked tirelessly going through papers, and a friend who stepped up....all to do what should have been a relatively simple thing. Many would have walked away. The man Mr. Spencer assigned and contracted the job to walked away. But these people didn't. A well educated, successful man who lived a life keeping to himself could have died the same way, but instead kind-hearted, caring, determined people stepped up and did what family might have done to lay him to rest and carry out his biggest concern.....providing for his cats. Lynn and everyone involved with her farm have committed to the care and well being of these 10 beautiful, healthy cats for the rest of their lives. They will be together as Mr. Spencer wanted for the rest of their lives.
 Little Brook Farm, one of the oldest and largest rescue facilities in the country, is privately owned and receives no government funding.  At Little Brook Farm, horses are rescued from neglect, abuse, or threat of slaughter.  These  horses may have been retired thoroughbreds, wild mustangs captured during round ups by the Bureau of Land Management, or they may be malnourished and locked in someone's barn stall and forgotten.  Whatever their story, it is at their 11th hour that Lynn Cross steps in, rescues, rehabs and commits to provide life-long loving care.  The farm is 55 acres. Currently there are 80 horses being cared for; 48 are on the farm and 32 are housed at neighboring farms but are cared for by Little Brook Farm.  Their most recent addition is a retired Rockland County police horse, a Percheron, who stands 19 hands tall.  What a beauty!

You can imagine it's no easy or inexpensive feat housing and caring for this number of animals.  The farm is also home to mules, a pig, a bunny, and 60 cats, 17 of which are rescued feral cats in their own cat cottage.  Thankfully Lynn has several dedicated, hard working volunteers who help with the daily, sometimes overwhelming task of keeping the barns clean, the animals fed, fences mended, hay stacked, and a million other tasks required to keep a farm and it's residents healthy and happy.  At Little Brook Farm the first priority is always the health and well being of the animals.  That is evident when you look at every living creature on the farm.  Lynn points out the round bellies and shiny coats on the horses who eagerly come to the fence for a nuzzle. and her pride is that of a new mama showing off her rosy-cheeked, chubby newborn.  Her before and after stories are what I believe keep her sleepless, and tireless in her mission to do everything she can to save as many animals as she can for as long as she can.  Donations make it all possible, as well as folks who sponsor the horses, like Michele Riggi who has committed to the lifetime sponsorship of three of the horses at Little Brook Farm.  Lynn is not shy about asking for help.  She can't be.  When a horse is sick and others might euthanize, Lynn and her dedicated veterinarian do all they can to help, even if that treatment means that a particular upkeep job needs to be put off.  The animals always come first.  Just like at our last visit, as we visited the animals, Lynn was quick to apologize for the less than pristine conditions of the barns or fences.  She's well aware that Little Brook Farm is not new or shiny or pristine like some of the neighboring rescue farms.  I'm pretty confident the animals who call Little Brook Farm home haven't noticed the lack of sparkle, or the propped up fences.  I'm pretty sure the animals could not be happier or healthier.

Mr. Spencer's story, although a little sad, is a testament to the goodness in people today.  We don't hear these stories often enough, but they do exist.  There are most definitely good and caring people in the world today, people like Lynn Cross and her family of volunteers who are dedicated to helping others - two legs and four.  Thanks to them, Mr. Spencer's story has a happy ending.  If you are moved by this story and want to help, Lynn would love to add an outdoor, fenced-in cat enclosure for Spencer Cottage.  Mr. Spencer had sunrooms which the cats enjoyed and Lynn feels they would enjoy some extra space to bask in the sun.  For more information about Little Brook Farm, you can follow their Facebook Page at: Little Brook Farm or their website: https://www.littlebrookfarmsanctuary.org  To read more about Little Brook Farm in my previous blog from 2016 and see many photos of this beautiful sanctuary and its horses: https://www.lifeasiseeitphotography.net/2016/10/little-brook-farm-where-its-all-about.html  For the direct link to donate: https://www.paypal.com/donate\
In this world where the news is full of tragedy, hate, heartbreak and violence, it's important to remember that what we don't often hear about are the unsung heroes, the angels on earth, the simply good and huge-hearted folks like Lynn Cross who are devoting their lives to making the world and the people and animals in it a better, happier place.  Those are the people who in their own quiet way, without fanfare, without accolade or parades, do what they have a passion for day after day, without expecting anything in return.  I'm honored to shout to the world that there's a Lynn Cross out there and her dedication and passion inspire an army of volunteers to believe in and work towards a common goal.  These people are not ordinary people and they're not doing ordinary things.  Shoveling muck from a barn stall is not glamorous, nor easy, but somebody's gotta do it and these folks are there with a smile week after week, day after day.  I think that deserves a little fanfare, don't you?
To read about more Intriguing People, go to my blog Directory (https://www.lifeasiseeitphotography.net/p/directory.html 
and scroll down to the category, Intriguing People.
Thanks for visiting! I hope you'll come back soon for more Life As I See It.

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