Country Living Series

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sometimes a veterinarian isn't necessary

We've had some grim moments this week.

A few days ago, Don shot our barn cat. This little lady adopted us shortly after we arrived in Idaho 13 years ago. At the time, she was presumably a young cat but of an unknown age, and for all these years she was Don's faithful companion in the shop. He's doctored her for a few things over the years, but advancing age and a lack of teeth meant it was almost impossible for her to get any nutrition, no matter how much Don tried to alter the consistency, presentation, and variety of food. Essentially she was starving.

When I suggested we take her into the vet to have her put down, he disagreed. She's lived virtually her whole life on the farm. To suddenly get bundled into a box and driven somewhere strange would be more traumatic than to take care of the matter himself. As he put it, sometimes it's the kindest thing you can do for an old friend. Choosing the right moment when the cat didn't see it coming, he put her out of her misery. Then he came back inside and wrapped me in a hug for a long, long time.

Then yesterday, our new neighbors (who inherited two horses with the property) called in alarm, asking which vet we could recommend. They were concerned one of the horses had a broken leg. Don first called another neighbor D., who is a horse expert. While waiting for D. to arrive, we walked over and looked at the horse, who was right at our fence line.

It was unmistakable. This beautiful animal clearly had a horribly broken right foreleg. She stood trembling and breathing heavily in her pain. No one saw how she had attained such an injury, but a horse with a broken leg is pretty hopeless.

When D. came over, he had a .45 strapped to his hip. He and Don went over to the neighbor's pasture and consulted with them, then gave the horse a fast checkup and confirmed she had broken her leg in three places. Calling a vet wasn't necessary.

D. haltered the other (healthy) horse and put her in the barn (out of sight). Then he asked the grieving neighbors to go into their house. Don stayed with D. because, as he told me later, he wanted to see how putting down a large animal humanely was done.

I came into the house and told Younger Daughter not to be surprised when she heard a gunshot, which came within minutes.


Meanwhile I called around until I found someone with a backhoe to dig a hole sufficiently large to bury the horse.

No need to call a vet in hopeless circumstances, especially when there are good men like Don and D. who unshirkingly do what must be done.

37 comments:

  1. Your story brought a tear to my eye as I love animals. You are right - the cat who was his companion never knew what hit him - no fear, no strange trip to the vets, which animals HATE. And the huge hug afterward told the story. It hurts to do what is right and humane, especially when it is an animal companion.

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  2. Yep. Good men.

    Sympathy for your loss, and your neighbor's.

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  3. Yes, I have a tear too. Growing up in towns and cities in the modern age, we lose contact with natural living - this is part of it. I appreciate you sharing this - reminding us that sometimes difficult answers are the right answers.

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  4. Thanks for sharing the hard truth with us. Most of us are so far removed from the realities of life in the country. Blessings to those brave and compassionate men who do what needs to be done for the creatures they love.

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  5. I had to do the same thing with our cat, which was in pretty much the same shape as yours. We had to use other means, as the county won't let us use firearms (even a BB gun!) in residential areas. The end result was the same though. For us, the means to the end was one of pure economics. We could dispatch the cat at home, or take it to the vet, and pay $250.00 to have the folks there do it. The choice was easy. The task was not...

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  6. In some places it's illegal to put down a horse with a firearm and depending on the conditions it could be risky but in a case of a broken leg and as far out as you live it is the best option.

    In my neck of the woods there is usually a vet within a few miles of us at any given time so I have never had to dispatch an injured and very sick animal myself. Getting rid of the carcass is another matter though. It typically runs me about $300.00 to put a horse down if I pay in cash. I have had to put three down over the years from the ancient herd I inherited from my mother. I still have three left that are in their 30's so any day now I expect another one to go.

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  7. Don did the right thing. I hope I have the guts to do such if the need arose.
    Montana Guy

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  8. I had to put down one of our cats last year. I fed her, all she could do was eat the juce, and held her and pet her. I then walked out into the pasture with her and was going to shoot her in the back of the head with a .22. Just as I puled the trigger she turned her head and I missed! At the sound she started to run and I shot her hitting her in the back legs and then was able to get the head shot. What was to be a humane dispatch with her being in a happy place was ruined BY ME! I have another one that is starting to get in the same shape and I will try to put her down by myself but I hope in a better manner this time. I am still heart broken that I screwed up the one last year!

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    1. I feel your pain....I was my Daddy's constant companion , so I had seen him handle a few things like this , when he died I was 11 years old , and unfortunately only a few months later we had a cat that needed to be put down , my little brother had brought the garage door down on her. I tried to be kind and gentle about it ....well just say I suffered nightmares for a long time , I learned kind and gentle is sometimes cruel. My husband called the neighbor last summer when our elderly dog had been run over, and it went about as well as you describe...I am seriously thinking of having our 15 year old Lab put down at the vet soon , before her eventual death turns into a nightmare for us all. Karen

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    2. steve,
      your cat forgives you and she still loves you.

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    3. Things happen. Kitty, I'm sure, understands. This also is a learning process-- and something almost no one is taught in these days when the end of life is segregated and sanitized.

      Thankfully both our old cats went of their own accord just as I was making the judgment call myself. One, a few years ago, had had several strokes and could no longer navigate. I went to the grocery store and forced myself to accept that I was going to have to either call the vet or take it upon myself when I got home-- and when I walked in, there he was, stretched out in the sunshine from the south window, gone. The other had been declining for some time when she caught a respiratory infection, and she went in a matter of hours-- again, just as I realized that, if God didn't hurry up and collect her, I was going to have to deliver her myself.

      I know how to dispatch a small animal without a gun-- my Daddy feared his own temper and wouldn't own a firearm until very late in his life-- but I sure wasn't looking forward to it and was very glad God collected them without too much suffering.

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    4. MC "my Daddy feared his own temper " that sure shows a self awareness that many do not possess . Karen

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  9. I have done this dozens of times. Both for animals of ours that I loved and for friends and neighbors. It never gets any easier. I am always given comfort however knowing that I have done the best thing. Love is doing your best. Be kind by giving them the easiest way out. It does not always work out easily as the previous post said. But do your best.---ken

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  10. This is probably the first time I've ever regretted reading one of your posts, Patrice. Just an hour ago, I was having a conversation with my vet about how long my dog has.... I left there a little shook up.

    I've had to put down a cat before in an emergency situation, but I could never do this to my beloved pet unless she was suddenly in agony.

    Thankfully, this vet makes house calls for this sort of thing.

    I'm sorry that Don had to put his cat down.

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    1. Matt - i am sorry to hear about your dog. i know that it won't be easy but i am glad that your vet does house calls. sending hugs.

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  11. made me cry. lost 5 cats in the last couple of years. mostly age and cancers.

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    1. deb - i think you are one of the smartest and kindest woman. i am sorry for your losses.

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  12. It's always hard to decided an animal's time is up. I have a cat named Big Mac that I've had since he was just a couple of months old, he's now 18 and still in good health. But I know his time is short and someday I will have to make the decision that I don't look forward to. I just pray it's still a few years in the future. He's the best cat I've ever had and makes this single guy's house a home.

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  13. Anyone who has ever loved another living being, knows these feelimgs. My hubby had to take his beloved dog to the vet. He feared the rumors of how traumatic this necessity is for the pet. He chose to stay with until the vet said she was gone. He was so relieved he had remained with her; she was so peaceful.

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  14. You can use starting fluid(ether) to humanly put down or calm a small animal.

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  15. You did the correct thing. I've taken animals to the vet to be euthenized and they have screwed it up. Not enough drugs and the poor dog didn't go to sleep. We were doing this in the car so as to not hurt the dog anymore. She had a broken back. We were also taking her home to bury her on her beloved farm. They had to go inside and get more drugs for the syringe. All the while the poor dog hadn't gone to sleep totally. Excruicerating. Now my son generally gets the dreaded task with the .22 but it is instant. I have pulled the trigger myself also. If at all possible we let an ancient cat go of its own accord but sometimes that isn't the right thing to do. As for the horse in your story imagine the pain trying to take it to the vet. Awful. I do love your column. My sister and I read it daily (am always disappointed if there isn't a new post.

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  16. Thank the Lord for strong men like your husband and neighbor. They are truly a blessing ot you and your community. Prayers of peace and comfort to Don and your neighbors.

    Steve
    Morrow, OH

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  17. I have been doing the same for years on our farm. Our beloved sheltie had several strokes last year and was totally blind. I put him down with my .22. Quick humane and painless. I worked as a veterinarian assistant for years and find my way less traumatic in most cases.Either way it is always hard to lose a beloved pet.

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  18. It takes a strong fortitude to do this type of thing. I remember as a child my dad's favorite mare died and he ordered a backhoe to come to dig a hole. But it rained and rained until the black clay dirt wasn't fit for any equipment to work in. So the mare started to bloat and dad had to shoot her to help the situation. It was a gruesome task and it didn't help that some city slicker neighbors called the sheriff on us. Luckily he was a horseman himself and understood the situation. Finally we got the backhoe in and burial completed. Dad has rarely spoken of it but I know it bothered him. But like Don he did the manly thing. Thank God for men.

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  19. Warning - if you are particularly soft hearted you shouldn't read this.

    We have had to dispatch with horses and cats on several occasions. One of my biggest regrets is calling a vet trying to save a horse (our new stallion) that was suffering from an autoimmune reaction. I called the closest vet 3 times that day - he kept saying he was coming. Six and a half hours later the horse died after suffering horribly and the vet never came. Had he told me he couldn't do it, I would have called another, but had feared I might have two vets out at the same time. I learned a few years later that vet had lost his best roping horse to the same affliction.

    We, in our modern and "soft" society have to do our best to think clearly and evaluate situations. It is not easy, but neither is the suffering of a creature we care about. In our case - and those above - we are mostly talking about our pets and "extended" family pet members. My mother in law used to well up in tears (and she was a very tough women) talking about her daddy beating calves to death with a hammer and crying while he was doing it. He had 10 kids to feed, the depression was on, he had no feed for the calves - he was just trying to keep his cow heard alive. He couldn't sell the calves - there was no market and he couldn't give them away because no one else had feed for them either. He also didn't have the money to waste on the ammunition to shoot them. He needed it for other things.

    I married into that family nearly 30 years ago. It is a large and very loving family of good people. Natokadn

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  20. I am sorry to hear about Don’s cat and your neighbor’s horse.
    We have a mouse cemetery under my rosemary in the backyard. The population is two but will be three soon. Our children help us prepare little cardboard coffins for our ladies when the time comes. My husband digs the hole, one of our children puts the coffin in, I say a few words and my husband covers the grave. We want our children to understand life and death are intertwined. However, we also want our children to have a deep sense of respect and dignity in regards to both life and death.

    We have a dog cemetery on our rural property under a lovely oak tree. The population is three. Each experience while painful has been handled with grace and professionalism by our vet. We have a foot in the city and a foot in the country. We do the best we can for our family and pets. The toughest part of loving an animal is knowing when to make the decision to end his life and then taking the necessary steps to follow through with your decision.

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  21. I am sorry to hear about Don’s cat and your neighbor’s horse.
    We have a mouse cemetery under my rosemary in the backyard. The population is two but will be three soon. Our children help us prepare little cardboard coffins for our ladies when the time comes. My husband digs the hole, one of our children puts the coffin in, I say a few words and my husband covers the grave. We want our children to understand life and death are intertwined. However, we also want our children to have a deep sense of respect and dignity in regards to both life and death.

    We have a dog cemetery on our rural property under a lovely oak tree. The population is three. Each experience while painful has been handled with grace and professionalism by our vet. We have a foot in the city and a foot in the country. We do the best we can for our family and pets. The toughest part of loving an animal is knowing when to make the decision to end his life and then taking the necessary steps to follow through with your decision.

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  22. what everyone else has already said. thank the Lord for men like Don and D.

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  23. I am so sorry for your loss. It is the hardest thing to finally make the decision that ends a life, even if you know it is for the best. Good men, Don and D.

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  24. Never easy. But that euthanasia solution is showing up in our water supply in places the water table is close to the surface... A bullet is humane and safer all around IMHO.

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  25. Losing a good animal friend will make the toughest man shed a tear or two.

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  26. sorry for your loss..I have put down many animals--my own and a large number of other peoples...NEVER easy. Using lethal drug injection never was as quick and humane as "shooting." Knowing an animals anatomy was a must (for me) in the placement of the shot. Having had to put down my own pets and stock I know how devastating it is when someone has to put down their pet. Many friends and townspeople had me "euthanize" their pets. I ALWAYS told them how I put down animals so they knew what the end result would be--ALWAYS. I was also a licensed wildlife rehabber (mainly Raptors) so putting down severely injured deer, rabbits, squirrels, etc. provided natural food for birds and animals being rehabbed. Although it was never easy a quick, humane end was what I expected every time and helped immensely (mentally) for the owner AND myself. Shadowfaxhound

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  27. I am so sorry for Don's loss, but thankful he is strong and knowledgeable and did it himself.
    Having horses since 1993, I know I must be very fortunate to have never needed to put one down myself. I do, however, know where to put the round if I need to, because I asked someone to show me. We have lived in a few places that were too far for a vet to always come timely, and a suffering animal trumps my fears. The last horse we lost was put down by the vet and it didn't go well. A bullet would have been a mercy and I had just turned to my husband to go get his firearm, when she finally gave up her struggles. We couldn't save her and it seemed we weren't much good at ending her pain, too.
    God bless you both.

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  28. Don is definitely a true man. Help him get over this. It will hit him hard in a week or two. Trust me. Those damned cats and dogs that just follow a guy around become such a part of our lives.

    Thanks for posting this.

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  29. I will probably get a lot of hate for this but why waste the meat by burying the horse?

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    1. A few reasons. One, however irrational, Americans don’t usually eat horse meat. We aren’t starving, so eating the horse – especially since she was a beloved pet – was out of the question.

      Two, since she had to be put down immediately, no one had the facilities to butcher properly. Let’s pretend for a moment it was a cow instead of a horse that needed to be put down due to an injury. To properly process the meat, you have to hang the animal to gut and skin (it’s possible to field-dress an animal, but it’s much messier). No one around here has the facilities to hang a 1400-lb animal as large as a horse. We also don’t have a locker for cooling and hanging the meat for week or more. In 70F temps, the meat would begin to rot within hours unless properly cooled or dried.

      Three, we’ve known people who have lost large animals before who then transported (via tractor) the carcass deep into the woods, well away from anyone’s farms, to let carnivores and carrion-eaters utilize the carcass. That’s certainly an option, but the animals MUST be transported far away or you’re inviting bears and cougars too close to your farm, where they might decide to prey on living animals.

      - Patrice

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  30. I have a friend who's said, "If you have livestock eventually you're going to have deadstock." It's a tough part of keeping animals but a part nonetheless.

    Monday this week I made the hard choice to put down our oldest doe, Daisy.

    We'd had this goat more than six years. We'd milked her and taken her to be part of the petting zoo at our church. She'd come like a dog when you called her name and if you threw an apple into the pasture, she'd watch it arc then run to where it landed. We joked she'd be an awesome outfielder if only we played baseball with apples!

    Well, after a rough pregnancy and delivering triplets this year, she never really recovered. She kept losing weight despite our feeding her more and more and one day she came up to the barn with the whole side of her face swollen up. We thought maybe she'd been stung by a bee so I made up a cold tea compress and mixed activated charcoal with molasses so she'd eat it. But the next two weeks she continued to go downhill. When the swelling on her face went down it was very apparent she'd lost the sight in her eye then the eye started weeping. Her babies were not getting enough food and so we were having to bottle feed them anyway. When the vet came out he said she was one of the oldest goats he'd ever seen and that she'd lost most of her teeth and was, in essence, slowly starving to death. The kindest thing was to put her down. Even when it's the right thing to do it's still hard! I miss her more than I thought I would.

    It stinks that death is a part of this life. It makes me long even more for the day when death will be swallowed up by life because of the victory our Lord won for us by His terrible death on the cross!

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