Luigi the miniature donkey was born with a congenital defect; his left front leg was shorter than the right, making it difficult for him to run. When Ronnie Graves heard about Luigi’s situation, he offered to adopt him. He also promised to make the young donkey a prosthetic leg so he could play and live a full life.
The photographer Sage Sohier met Graves and Luigi in 2015, nearly a decade after his adoption, while working on what would later become Peaceable Kingdom, a book about animals and the people who care for them. Luigi isn’t the only animal Graves, who lost his leg decades ago in an accident, has helped. As the owner of Veterinary Inclusive Prosthetics And Orthotics in Florida, he’s made life-saving prostheses and orthotics for hundreds of horses, pigs, sheep, and other animals with injuries, illnesses, and birth defects. He’s even made braces for an orphaned baby elephant in South Africa.
Sohier’s journey took her around the country to photograph the human-animal bond, often in rescues, sanctuaries, and rehabilitation centers for animals in need. She visited the Pig Preserve in Tennessee, a 103-acre sanctuary for pigs who have been abandoned, abused, and neglected, including those who have escaped from factory farms. It was there that she learned that pigs form complex social bonds, choosing to graze, forage, swim, or play with friends; they choose sleeping partners, and they grieve when their friends die.
Also in Tennessee, Sohier met Wobbles, a disabled rabbit rescued by Kaycee after his previous owner failed to provide him with veterinary care. At the time of his rescue, Wobbles was underfed and had an infection; Kaycee warmed him up on the way home, and he slept with her in the bed that first night. He almost didn’t make it, but he did. Today, he’s not in any pain.
In Maine, the photographer spent time with the volunteers and rescued horses of Empowered Equines, where the founder, Jessica Gonzalez, has created a program for survivors of domestic violence. Gonzalez was inspired to rescue horses after working for a carriage company in Boston and ultimately quitting due to the exploitation and mistreatment she witnessed. After three years of trying, she was able to buy the horse she once drove, Revel, and bring him home.
At the time of his rescue, Revel was sick, 300 pounds underweight, and “angry at the world.” By the time Sohier met him, he had recovered and learned to trust again. “Now he acts like a baby,” Gonzalez told the photographer. “He’s forgotten that he’s old. He loves life so much he ignores the arthritis and just runs through it.” Animals’ capacity to forgive, even after abuse and neglect, runs throughout Peaceable Kingdom, connecting caregivers across the country, each with unforgettable stories.
Of course, Sohier has stories of her own. The artist’s mother, Wendy Morgan, helped nurture her love for animals in childhood; once, she rescued and raised a blue jay on their screen porch. Sohier grew up with dogs, and she dedicates the book to her “pack” at home: Willie, Bodie, Gracie, and Farley. Now, the stories of the people and animals in Peaceable Kingdom have become hers too. As for Luigi, the donkey rescued by Ronnie Graves, he spends all day grazing with his pasture mates. When the time comes for his prosthetic to be taken on or off, he likes having his ears gently rubbed.
All photos © Sage Sohier from the book Peaceable Kingdom