The Hardest Decision

Several recent occurrences have brought to mind the role of humans as stewards of our animals. These stories don't all have to do with horses, but how many horse owners do you know who don't have dogs, cats, or other critters running around the farm? The first incident involved a baby goat (Missy), one of a pair of twins rejected by a young doe (mama goat). So, into the house came Missy and C.J., being bottle fed as required. (My dairy goat had her babies a few hours before and thus became the donor of the colostrum and the first day's milk until the kid formula could get in from the store.) Three weeks and countless feedings later, Missy managed to break her leg so severely that she had to be euthanatized. I'm fortunate to have an equine veterinarian who also is a lover of life and animals who came to my aid so Missy didn't have to suffer any longer than necessary. She's buried on the farm. Then came the half-grown kitten who was dropped off at a friend's house. He lives on the boundary of the city, and for some reason the sight of a barn makes people think cats can be released at will. He finds homes for most of them, but in this case, his dog got out of the fenced-in back yard and killed the kitten before a home could be found.

There were a couple of e-mails from folks who have had to make the tough decision to end their equine friends' lives because the battle had been long and hard, and they didn't want their horses to suffer any longer. One of my friends who serves on an American Veterinary Medical Association Veterinary Medical Assistance Team and helps in disasters e-mailed one of these ladies about the difficulty of stewardship:

"Making the decision to put your horse down is horrific for many of us. I have seen owners keep a horse alive for years of misery and pain, telling me, 'He is still fighting,' when I was thinking of course he is! He is a prey animal! And because a veterinarian will not make that decision for you, it is up to you!

"There are resources out there today for making those decisions. The American Association of Equine Practitioners offers euthanasia guidelines to horse owners to assist with making decisions about their animals; these criteria may be helpful whether the animal should be euthanatized or not.

"Is the horse's condition chronic, incurable, and resulting in unnecessary pain and suffering? (There is often no doubt as to pain and suffering and the need for humane euthanasia to relieve current and future suffering.)

"Does the horse's condition present a hopeless prognosis for life?

"Is the horse constantly and in the foreseeable future unable to move unassisted, interact with other horses, or exhibiting behaviors that may be considered essential for a decent quality of life?

"Is the horse a hazard to itself, other animals, or humans?

"Will the horse require continuous medication for relief of pain and suffering for the rest of its life?

"To me, the beauty of a horse is being able to be a horse, running free and playing and being the beautiful embodiment of joy that is a horse! When mine become compromised in any of those respects, I have them humanely put them down immediately so they can be free in horse heaven. I will meet them at the Rainbow Bridge, all of them.

"I wish more people would make the right decisions earlier for their horses. We tend to anthropomorphize our animals because we love them so much. Are we considering what they want? They just want to be free to be a horse. I am sure they would say: Please, let me go!

"Good luck to you with your horse, and I hope that you will receive the inspiration and strength to make the right decisions for him."

There is a heaven for horses; there have been too many good ones who endured and triumphed and made a difference in this world for me to believe otherwise.

The hard part is letting them go.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners