Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Difficult decisions

This post comes in light of having to euthanise one of my best partners, a 7yo Paint gelding named Cody. I was given him August 2009 by a potential client who ultimately decided he presented too much of a challenge for her due to his abusive past. I took him on with the intentions of resale, however it only took one ride where I was forced to depend on him as my main ranch horse before it was decided he was never going anywhere. This horse was a keeper. My dad took a particular shine to him and since I technically owed him a horse (haha), I only felt it right to pass Cody along to him. He was an absolutely amazing horse with so much heart and willingness. 'Quit' or 'no' were never a part of his vocabulary, and he was beautiful to boot.

Cody, summer 2010

Friday (Sept 10) morning 8:36am I received a call from D, owner of the facility we keep Cody at. G, the manager, had fed the horses the night prior and noticed nothing unusual. Let me note too that this is a very nice facility with extremely safe pastures. The pasture Cody was in is devoid of anything sharp or otherwise potentially hazardous: board fencing, water trough, wood shelter, rubber feed tires, safe metal and wood gates. Friday morning G enters the paddock to find all the horses hyped up over something and looks to see Cody not using his left hind whatsoever. In fact, he can't even set weight on the leg and the foot appears to be 'flopping'. Immediately, he catches Cody up and takes him in to the barn - I give D permission to call the vet, imagining things are fine other than a minor injury we will have to treat. This is mostly a pleasure/trail horse so even if I am restricted from behing able to do cattle work or cutting on him, as long as he is sound and comfortable (and better yet, sound and comfortable being ridden lightly), we are happy campers. The vet calls me at 10:38 and I am asked to make a difficult decision. Somehow, both arteries and both tendons in Cody's hind leg have been severed from a deep cut sliced inside to outside. Surgery would allow for a risky future and be a good $10,000+. Cody was losing so much blood he was going into shock and he was in obvious pain, so I made the decision to put him down.

Which leads me to the following. I am sure we have all thought about it, speculated, discussed it. But what are your limits? When do you decide to put a horse down?

The above reason is why I have become even more firm in my decision to insure my 3yo CWB mare as well as my 6yo Thoroughbred gelding. Losing Cody has been difficult enough, but I cannot imagine having to euthanise my two youngsters with whom I spend/will be spending the majority of my time, my competition horses and partners. I likely would have had to make the same decision as I did with Cody with any of our horses, insurance or not - the outcome for the surgery was bleak anyways. However I would like to know that money is not a factor in my decision. I would like that assurance.

Recently (this year) our old mare was also euthanised. At the time, she was living with some friends of ours, teaching their kids the ropes, as she had been the past several years. Her death was to be expected however - she was around the 30yo mark. She was happy and well loved and doing what she enjoyed - taking care of kids (she loved kids). I believe she was euthanised but either way, it would not have been as difficult a decision. When the burdens of old age start outweighing the quality of life, the horse has led a long and happy life, and you have had sufficient time to deal with such a future decision, it is not as difficult a decision as having to euthanise a 7yo horse with a bad past who has his whole life ahead of him yet. Cody had had one great year with us but I wanted to give him so much more.

Since I do not have unlimited funds, money does of course play into when I might decide to euthanise a horse. Finances depend upon the individual horse and its use (unfortunately). While I have spent upwards of $6,000 saving one of my (2yo and otherwise healthy, good outcome to the procedure) dogs, my current situation dictates that I am in no position to do so at the time (my new dog is insured through Trupanion, for that reason) - neither with a horse nor a dog. Today's monetary limit would be much lower. The horse's use, the extent of the injury or illness, the relationship I have with said horse, the life history and age of the horse - all factor into my decision. Ultimately, my 'limit' is when the horse is no longer happy or comfortable - when the only reason to keep him alive is for my benefit, which is never okay. If large dollars will be involved to keep the horse alive, happy and comfortable, I am going to really have to think hard and factor in age, future useability, horse's history, and my relationship with said horse. If it is a horse who is say in its 20's, is not going to ever be useable, has led a happy and healthy life otherwise, and with whom I might not have as strong an attachement - I might be more inclined to euthanise. Those are my upper limits. I love my horses however I am also practical and realistic and tend to look at the big picture.

It is an issue we all think about, but when the time comes, you still always end up having to add all the factors together - like some form of mathematics - and weigh out the appropriate decision. Regardless, though it might certainly be easier in certain situations (such as when you know it is coming and the death is peaceful and non-traumatic), it is always a difficult thing to say goodbye. Thinking about it now though and preparing for the worst might mean the difference between having to make that difficult decision or not because you have saved up the funds, insured your horse, set up the situation in such a way that you might have other options, etc.

Just as a short sidenote, it cost approx. $200 for body removal in my part of Alberta and approx. $2,000 for cremation (no profit to anyone at that cost either), something I did not previously know. Of course one also has to factor in the farm call and actual euthanasia cost...just something to keep in mind in the future and especially something to keep in mind when judging someone for instead choosing to send their horse to auction or slaughter should they no long have the ability to care for said horse.


OldMorgans said...

My condolences. It is always hard to put down a young one. You made the right decision given the circumstances.

Do you have to cremate? Here in So. Calif., it is $150 - $200 for the vet depending on where & who and another $200 or so for pick up & disposal. Not cheap, but doable (yeah, I've done it). Since the pick up service is cash only, I make sure I always have that much cash on hand set aside for the purpose (and that was sure handy when I needed it on Christmas day a few years back).

Again, I am sorry for your loss.

Parelli Central said...

I am so sorry for your loss and yet you made the best decision possible. I faced a similar decision with a horse that was basically left at my door step when I owned a boarding stable. He had come to me in very poor condition, being over 20, foundered and skinny. It took a year to get him back to good health, then he developed an abscess on his jaw and rapidly lost weight again. Another 6 months later, we had him back to good weight (much to the vet's amazement). At this point the horse was mostly on a "soft" diet due to teeth and TMJ issues from never receiving proper care. During the winter he developed further complications and it become hard for him to chew. It took me 3 weeks to make a decision and during the time I felt like a murderer. Where, when, how... it all had to be planned. We decided to donate the body to the local Wolf Rescue, so euthanization was out of question. My vet agreed to put him down by a signal gun shot. He was surrounded by all who loved him, chewing his last meal. It was quick and uneventful and I still cried my eyes out. Loosing a loved one no matter how is never easy. Thank you for bringing up this important issue.

Petra Christensen
Parelli 2Star Junior Trainee Instructor
Parelli Central

Equus said...

Thank-you for the support.

I did not have to cremate him - I asked the body to be hauled away (to where, I do not want to know, I can only surmise). I cannot recall the prices and have not seen the bill however I recall figuring the total cost (vet call, euth, and body removal) would be in the $500-$600 range. So, reasonable.

Sorry for your loss Central, that would be difficult!

Anonymous said...

Very sad, I'm sorry for your loss. Even if you did have an extra $10,000 just laying around (don't we all!) he could have gone through all that surgery just to founder in the other hoof as the other recovers.
I think you made the best, most humane decision for him.

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