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WESTPORT | March is Developmental Disabilities Month. Though there certainly are differing levels of what constitutes a developmental disability, there is one bond that transcends most challenges; that of a human and animal. For Jeffrey Lang, an individual who resides at Mountain Lake Services diagnosed with Mild Intellectual Disability, his relationship with an abused horse has altered his existence and arguably spoken to his soul.
“When I first met Jeff, he was very disheveled; he had a lost look,” recalled Rebecca Pray, manager at Mountain Lake Services for the past 31 years. She rattles off Lang’s history and details; it is evident that she knows his story well and is deeply invested in Lang’s well-being. “He was quite unkempt with no motivation, and no drive.”
Pray recalled a lost individual, apathy the only emotion he seemed to demonstrate, the world through his eyes a gray monotone desert.
Meanwhile, another was also seeing her own world through hopeless eyes. At Westport’s Crane Mountain Valley Horse Rescue, a female horse came in with 40 other horses from a neglect case. Her name was Mommy, and along with her foal George, was described as one of the most fragile cases from the seizure.
Seven years ago, Lang began volunteering his time at Crane Mountain, and he crossed paths with Mommy. It didn’t take long before the two developed a bond and his time with the gentle horse became the highlight of his week- it was a relationship of innocence and purity.
“Jeffrey lights right up when he is around Mommy,” Pray said. “During COVID when he couldn’t volunteer, he would always call to ask about her.”
Sadly for Lang, Mommy was eventually adopted out, leaving Lang heartbroken in her absence. But as is all too often the case, adoption doesn’t necessarily equate to a happy ending.
It wasn’t about a month before Mommy was returned to the ranch. Her adoptive family claiming her to be difficult to train, she came back a broken horse, literally; in her time in the false sense of security in her new home, Mommy had broken multiple bones in her back, caused by rearing up, perhaps out of fear or self-defense, as well as an injured eye. Despite an applicant screening process, and now for the second time in a row, life had dealt Mommy a very cruel hand.
“It broke Jeff’s heart that somebody could do this to an animal,” recalled Pray. “She required a lot of medical care. Jeff was beside himself; he spoke to people, and he brought money to the rescue for her medication.”
Now back with her beloved Jeffrey and fully recovered, this time Mommy is at Crane Valley to stay. No longer available for adoption, she will live out her years in the true safety net of a loving sanctuary. Helping with chores, feeding, handling, and demonstrating kindness to Mommy and her fellow equines is what Lang does every Wednesday. He knows the proper amounts of food the animals should receive, and is always ready to share his knowledge with anyone interested.
In his time with Mountain Lake Services, Lang is no longer the person Pray first met. He has grown into himself, tender-hearted and a gentle soul.
“Jeff is a huge success story,” she said. “He didn’t relate to anyone and was so disconnected. Now he is like this shining star, totally living up to his full potential.” Lang approaches Pray often, expressing his next goal after next goal. And Pray says Mountain Lakes always finds a way to make it happen.
"Currently one of his dreams is to milk a cow,” Pray said. “I’m going to go to a farm in Upper Jay and approach them to see if that can be done.”
Mommy's presence in Lang’s life is part of the kaleidoscope of color that he now sees the world in. Focused, driven, with ambitions and dreams he actively pursues, Lang will turn 43 in March. He works happily and faithfully at Price Chopper in Lake Placid, and fulfilled his fantasy of going to Virginia Beach and went on vacation there last year. He went before a pet committee and was able to adopt a cat named Spook, who wants for nothing. He also attended a Raiders vs. Steelers football game this past Christmas Eve and is painting every Monday night. Having developed a particular like for the medium, his wheels are turning towards holding his own art show.
Jeffrey Lang has plans and many destinations to get to; and who better to accompany him on this mental and emotional journey than his Mommy?
“I think everyone should understand what a fantastic place this is and how rewarding,” Pray said of Mountain Lake Services. “You make friendships here for life, and you definitely help people and develop them to the best that they could be. It's extremely rewarding.”
For employment opportunities at Mountain Lake Services and to be part of stories like this, visit mountainlakeservices.org.