Jena Patterson's Essay Submission
Beauty from Pain: Elaine Fuerniss
I remember my mom gathering my four sisters and me into our family room, a phone still held in her shaking hand and her face ashen. She quietly informed us that our seventeen-year-old babysitter, Michelle, had been kicked in the chest by a horse and passed away at the scene from impact trauma. Just days before Christmas, we attended her funeral. Only eleven years old at the time, I was heartbroken—my dear babysitter, who I looked up to because of her skills with horses and small animals, was gone forever. It was a time of mourning for our entire community, but was especially hard for Michelle’s adoptive parents, Charlie and Elaine Fuerniss.
Elaine, however, found a silver lining on the dark cloud that shadowed the community. She started a fund with Michelle’s college savings that paid to have pets in impoverished households spayed and neutered to prevent animal overpopulation in the poorer areas of the county. Her life became focused on helping the animals of the small city of Paris in Bourbon Country, Kentucky, and the surrounding area—something that Michelle had done during her lifetime. The Paris Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) became Elaine’s second home. After dedicating most of her spare time to the shelter, Elaine soon became the Director of PAWS and started the official Bourbon County Low Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic.
Elaine’s busy schedule, Michelle’s painful absence, and an influx of foster animals on her forty-acre horse farm created a need for extra help, especially with the barn chores. My mom suggested I call her to offer my assistance; I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was older and my mother thought Elaine’s farm would be a great place for me to gain experience with animals. Before long, I was helping her almost daily at the farm and volunteering on the weekends at PAWS and the Spay/Neuter Clinic; people began to ask if I was her daughter. Elaine became well-known in animal rescue groups around Eastern Kentucky and I saw myself as her trusty sidekick and emotional support for the times I could tell she missed her youngest daughter.
As I grew older, Elaine’s influence on me showed in different ways. Her fight against a law banning Pit Bulls in our city became my fight; at fourteen, I published an article in our local paper against such laws and suggested different methods of controlling such a problem. The ban was never implemented. At sixteen, she trusted me to manage the clinic while she was on rescue runs to high-kill Eastern Kentucky shelters. Just this summer, Elaine and I drove to and from a Maryland pet adoption event with a car full of animals within a twenty-four-hour time period because of the state’s high adoption rates. Now as an English and Environmental Studies double-major, I plan on pursuing a career in Environmental Law with a specialty in Animal Law in order to serve the creatures that Michelle and Elaine taught me to care so much about.