Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Humane Euthanasia and How We Like to Kid Ourselves



"Not to mention, there are ways to euth a horse that don't cost much. When I was a teenager my POA went blind. We didn't have facilities for a blind horse so he was hauled (in a familiar trailer) to an exotic animal facility, they shot him and fed him to the lions. For free, except for gas for the truck."

The above comes from the comment section of my last post.

We have the same type of option here- you can haul your horse to the big cat refuge, or the wolf rescue and leave your horse for somebody else to put down. Then, you can drive home, singing "The Circle of Life" at top volume and feel good about your humane and earth sustaining choice.

I had a client make the same choice. She called and asked me to come with her, she was extremely distraught over the whole thing, and couldn't afford to euth her horse through the vet. Since she owed me for two months training, I kept my doubts to myself and agreed to go.

Here's how it went down. The unwanted horse, who had a bad stifle, was taken from the paddock she had shared with two other horses for the last 5 years. She was loaded into a straightload trailer and hauled across a mountain pass. After a six-hour trip, alone, she was unloaded into a corral. Hay was thrown, hands were shook, paperwork changed hands and the horse was hugged while copious tears were shed into her mane. Then we drove home.

My client commented on how beautiful the area was, how nice the rescue folk were, what a solid stout barn her baby had to shelter her, anything and everything except the horrifying thing we had just done.

1. The treasured mare was extremely herd bound. She lived with her daughter and another mare who had shared a pen with her for several years. She began calling as we led her out of the pen and was soaked in sweat, kicking and squalling by the time we pulled out.

"Why is she so upset?" The client asked.

"Horses are herd animals," I said. "Her leg makes her vulnerable and you just took her from her friends and only sense of safety."

"She's with me, she knows I'll take care of her," Client said.

The mare whinnied off and on, with varying degrees of panic, for the entire trip.

2. Horses in straightloads tend to shift their weight over their hind legs: The horse had a bad stifle, she fell twice on the trip during the steep, winding, uphill climbs, and was walking three-legged by the time we unloaded her.

3. She was unloaded into a corral, alone, where she would wait for the required 72 hours before she was slaughtered. This was to make sure she wasn't drugged.

4. We were told she would be fed and watered until she passed quarantine, then she would be led behind the barn and shot.
5. I could smell the blood from the last horse they had butchered behind the barn. I'm guessing the mare could too.

6. The wolves were farther up the mountain side. I'm guessing one more time they could smell the mare. They sure started howling once we put her in the pen. They were really excited.

So. We yanked this mare from her friends. Took her on a long, painful trip, by herself. Left her alone, surrounded by the smell of death, listening to the wolves above her. They knew they were going to eat her. She knew they were going to eat her. For three days, she got to drag that sore leg around the corral, with no meds to ease her pain, smelling the blood of the horses who died before her and listening to the wolves put dibbs on her tenderest parts. Now that ownership of the mare changed hands, she was no longer a pet, she was meat, making sure the wolves didn't eat tainted meat became the priority.

It would be kinder to send her to a kill pen. There would be other horses to huddle with. To feel the strength of their bodies against her sides while they traveled on the truck. To have the company of her own kind in the stockyards, even as she was being run down the chute to her death, even then she could follow and be followed by another horse.

There are stories told about horses being trampled to death during transport --a graphic and chilling result from a man-made decision. As painful and frightening as a death like this would be, I can't help but think it makes a primitive sense to a horse. Herd animals understand what can happen within the herd.
I can't find a way, no matter how I think on it, for that mare to comprehend being taken, by the person she trusted, from her herd, and left alone, with all chances to escape blocked, to watch, smell and hear her approaching death. What went through her mind as the trailer disappeared around the bend?

I thought of the mare often over the next three days.

Yes. Slaughter is bad. I hate it. I am so bothered by our human habit of warehousing and processing animals, without regard to their mental and physical well being, I only eat meat that comes from farmers and ranchers I know personally, and practice animal care I am comfortable with. I also support the farming and ranching industry 100%, just to keep things confusing.

At a sale, on a truck, in the yard, in the chute, a horse is in the company of other horses. Even the coldest, most uncaring, money-grubbing, kill buyer understands a horse handles the horror about to rain down on it better in the company of its own kind. From the evil KB's point of view, he keeps the horses together because they are easier to control, or they hold their weight better with less stress, but still, his practicality becomes a kindness. He isn't lying to himself or the horses. 

My mane crying client, so sure her horse would be comforted by her presence, well, she was nothing but a lying fool.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

That really sucks.

Francis said...

Oh the doors that have opened within this post .. should make for some great reading!

Agree with everything you have written, just so excited to see what others peel out of it and gnaw on.

IndyApp said...

WEll, that was an eye opener. I've heard of donating your horse to a facility to be used to feed exotic animals but I didn't know the procedure. I had a friend who was always very emphatic about keeping her oldsters around until they "told" her they were ready to leave this world. She donated one of her horses to one of these facilities. She always did quite a bit of research before she made any decisions about anything she did so I assumed she did about this too. Now I wonder? I'll never know as she herself has passed on. I have an old timer that will need to be put down later this year and I had considered looking into the exotic game thing. Not after reading this. Thunder will be led out to the pasture where she will be buried, given some carrots and scritches and then a final, quick acting shot.

mugwump said...

Are they all the same? I don't know. The waiting period makes absolute sense,since the wolf folks have probably learned the hard way, they can't trust the people donating the animals to be honest.

Scamp said...

I'm lucky in that I board at a place where our neighbor on one side is a graveyard. My old boy Dusty is laid under a tree out there just across the fence from the graveyard, right next to another old boy who told his owner it was time the week before.

I can't imagine not preparing for this situation though. To me, responsible horse ownership includes having the means to have him euthanized whenever it needed to be done (and it isn't always when the horse is old, after all).

I can't say I've ever thought about donating my horse to a wild animal refuge when it's his time to go, but after reading this it definitely wouldn't be on my list of options.

Even if I wasn't somewhere where he could be buried, I'd rather have him euthanized by a vet he knows, in a place he knows, in a way that lets him sigh and relax and pass. It seems so cowardly to pass on that responsibility...

neversummer said...

I was waiting in line outside a sale barn to load some newly purchased cattle. There had been a horse sale the same day and the guy in front of us was loading some donkeys. He was standing next to me on the fence and we talked a little as the sale barn crew ran them into his trailer.
I said something about liking donkeys and asked what he was going to do with them.
He hesitated for a moment then told me he had picked them up for ten dollars each and was taking them home to feed his pet bobcats.
My gut reaction was to be horrified, I probably stared at him with my mouth hanging open for a while. After thinking about it I decided it probably wasn't that bad of a fate, they didn't get hauled to Mexico or Canada, just a few miles down the road. A gunshot is supposed to be quick and easy.
Never thought about all those little details. Hopefully they got put out to pasture to live happily as they disappeared one by one.
Sounds a bit macabre when put that way, doesn't it?

Robin said...

What a powerful piece of writing. Good job, Mugwump. I'll be passing this along to some friends, horsaii and otherwise. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

We are lucky enough to have a rendering plant near us that makes house calls. They come and shoot your horse on your property and then load your animal into their truck with a winch. All at no cost to the horse owner. I've used them twice and was impressed at their kindness and professionalism. I would not hesitate to use them again. Both times I was able to spend the morning with my ill horse petting them and giving them a send off. That's about as humane as euthanasia can be, in my book at least. The horse is then used for dog food. If your horse is already dead on arrival they will haul it off for a $100 fee since the meat is unusable. That is about a quarter of the cost of euthanasia and backhoe rental. The odd thing is that the equestrian community in my area is largely unaware of this service. If faced with an ill horse I highly recommend contacting local ranchers or dairy men to see how they handle their sick animals and deadstock.

B said...

I thought about donating my old mare to a big cat rescue when it was time. In the end, I didn't have a choice, I had to euthanize her after she went down and couldn't get up.
As for the comment "...responsible horse ownership includes having the means to have him euthanized whenever it needed to be done (and it isn't always when the horse is old, after all)," I can't say that I disagree, but sometimes shit happens and it can come out of left field. I'm lucky that my vet didn't require payment on the spot because I certainly didn't have it. I had to pay almost $400 to the guy with a backhoe to come out and dig me an emergency hole. He was the only one out of five that I called available on short notice.
I can't say for sure what I would have done if I had the choice. I didn't get to call the big cat rescue. I don't know what the standard protocol is. Would it have been better if the rescue would let the detox period happen at the mare's home? Then she was loaded up for one final trailer ride and dispatched immediately? Are these even viable potential options?
I think making the informed decisions becomes so much harder when we are coming from a place of intense emotion. Did this woman make the wrong decision for the wrong reasons? Maybe. She definitely made an uninformed choice.

NotAFollower said...

Definitely speaking from ignorance here. I've only ever had small pets, and the bill for euthanization and cremation is about $300. Not so bad, and an expense I can generally soak up one way or another.

I know stuff happens - sometimes you don't get any warning and have to put a horse down at a moment's notice, and might not be able to use the most compassionate options. What's with not being prepared when you know the horse is on its last days, though?

I'm really torn on this one. I've been broke enough that feeding my critters took precedence over frills like a bit of money set aside for vet care. I can easily see this happening with a horse, too. Money's tight - do you set some aside for humane euthanization, or do you buy food and drugs to keep your old horse comfy?

mugwump said...

Notafollower- I have had times in my life when I was so broke -- well lets just say my equine emergency $$ were nothing but a fond memory. Did I deserve to keep my horses? I never looked at it that way. I just kept them and hoped next month was better.I don't think I'm a minority here.

NotAFollower said...

No disagreement on that, Mugwump. I've been too broke to provide vet care for my critters, but I did the best I could for them with what I had and prayed nothing major would go wrong.

I've known plenty of animals that belonged to people who could afford pretty much anything, but would dump the critter at the first +$500 vet bill.

Pishkeen said...

You're definitely not in the minority Mugs.

Thanks for an interesting and eye-opening topic.

Heidi the Hick said...

Trucking a horse for six hours was cheaper than the alternatives?? I wonder if the cost had more to do with her conscience. Obviously I don't know that because I'm not her. But I do know how we humans talk ourselves into believing what makes us feel better about our decisions.

Am I the only one here fortunate enough to work with a vet clinic willing to carry a debt? They know I'll pay it off and they'll take what I'm able to pay.

I'm glad we're tackling this awful subject. It's part of the deal.

Becky said...

Heidi: I've never met a single vet who would work with payments, even when they knew me for years and I had a good history of paying promptly. I'm kind of jealous.

Anonymous said...

All the horse vets in my area will take payments, though they'd prefer not to.

Faith Kingston said...

I've never had any experience with exotic animal feeding, but in the end, I wouldn't send my horse to slaughter, exotic or otherwise. I would rather end it's life myself and KNOW what happens to it and how it is treated up until the very end.
The area I live in (rural Wyoming) makes it easy to kill and dispose of horses or livestock. I do not have a backhoe, or acreage to dig a grave, but I do have the ability to load my horse in a trailer they are comfortable with, drive to the dump, unload, have my husband or a friend shoot the animal, then hook it up to a winch that is provided at the landfill and leave the carcass in the dead animal pile.
I understand this makes me sound pretty heartless, but honestly, I think it is the easiest, safest, and most cost-effective way to end my horses' life and I am so thankful to have this option.
There are several options, it's not always black and white. I am lucky that it can be black and white for me.

Anonymous said...

When one of my horses (also with a stifle problem, and what I still think was DSLD, even though vet had never seen it in a quarter horse, he had all the signs)....we hauled him a quarter mile to the big farm (where we can bury animals), let him graze in the sight of the other horses, and put a 29 cent bullet in him. Sad, sorry, but quick and merciful. This was the horse who, when he had his teeth floated, had to be given enough dope to knock down a Clydesdale to barely take the edge off. I didn't want to see what euthanasia drugs might do as his body fought them, and I didn't want to sell him to the local KB, even though I had that option, because I didn't want him to have a long trailer ride on his bad rear legs or to risk him being sold on/'rescued' rather than having an end to his pain.

Heather said...

Becky - there's a horse vet in your area that will do payments if necessary. They prefer not to, but will if it means your horse won't get care. I can PM you the info in facebook. :-)

Heather said...

I believe that, when we take responsibility for an animal, we're in it for the long haul. Right to the bitter end. That means being there when they get the shot.

The last thing my animals hear is me telling them that they are loved and amazing and that they can be free. I can cry all I want afterwards, but their last minutes need to be somewhere that is safe and calming for them. Whenever possible, I try to have the vet come to the house for a small animal. The one time I didn't do that, I regretted it.

Same goes for my horses. When it's time for my big guy to go, I'll be with him, telling him what an amazing boy he is and that its time for him to run free.

I know I'm fortunate, I have the means to pay for that shot. But if I didn't, I would rather shoot a horse myself than send it on a last ride somewhere its never been.

An animal that's given you the best years of its life deserves to leave that life in comfort and safety - not scared and surrounded by the smells of death and terror.

oldredhorse said...

There is a game farm in the state that I live in. They have big cats, wolves and bear but they also have elk, bison, deer, llama, yak, zebra etc. they also have their own horses that live with some of the grazing wildlife. They accept horses for animal feed but they also will try to find an alternative if the horse is not at an end of life point. They are very compassionate and take great care with the donated horses until they are needed for food.
What a stressful and painful ending for that poor horse. People can be just ignorantly callous can't they.

Clancy said...

A couple of years ago I had to have one of my horses euthanised because of colic. He'd been fine the morning before but very sick when I got there for the evening feed; had the vet straight out and again overnight and again in the morning, and stayed with him all the time apart from a couple of quick forty minute trips home to feed my cats, dogs and goats. Although my other horse and a boarder were there General seemed to want my company, so we walked and stood and laid down (not rolling, just sitting down like they do) through the night, and around dawn I thought he was getting better, but then needed the vet out again a few hours later.

That third time after giving the pain meds he told me he didn't think he was going to make it, and I better get ready to make a hard decision and told me how to look for the signs he was going into shock, and that I should organise someone with a float so we could take him to the meat hole at the local dump to put him down there. I said 'I am not taking him away from his friends to die!' He said 'You have to be practical.' I said 'I know and thank you, but what would you recommend I do if I had come up here last night and found him already dead?' And he said 'Get a dump truck and front end loader from xxx and take him to the meat hole, or they will bury him on their property for xx.' "OK, so if it comes to it, I'll get you to put him down here and we'll get the dump truck.'

We walked and stood and hung out together, and a couple of hours later something changed, I felt he was telling me it was time to go, so I called the vet. It was another hour or so before he could get there, but in that time General went down quickly, and fell over sideways just as the vet got there and couldn't get back on his feet, so he gave him the drugs where he was lying and he was gone in seconds, and afterwards the truck and front end loader came. Looking back I think I should probably have called the vet to put him down earlier than I did, but this is the first time I have dealt with this. I'm lucky, I have a credit card I keep for emergencies like this.

I have had to have many other smaller pets put down and I always stay with them, and I will be doing the same with my horses unless an emergency situation arises and I am out of town and can't get back. I try not to judge people who can't or don't do that, but I know when my time comes I'd rather be with familiar friends than strangers, and I try to give that to my four-legged family.

Becky said...

Heather: You're the bomb. We have the means right now, but I'd love to have the info for backup in case of some unforseen emergency down the road.

Ozhorse said...

Your average kill buyer probably understands a lot more about horses than your average back yard horse owner.

I nursed my mother until she died of cancer, she also had alzheimers, which I think made it a little easier as I think she forgot what was wrong often, but she was still with it. I think it changed me. I think it made me a little tougher with the animals because I found myself doing to my mother things I would not do to a sheep. I found the following:

Death is hard because life is strong.

I found s#@& happens, life is just like that. People try to make things perfect or politically correct, and we should try, but it just happens.

The other week we put all the calves on a big blue truck and sent them to market. A week later the same truck came back and picked up some old cows. One of the young cows whose first calf had gone on that truck came in out of a 300 acre paddock and ran around that truck, trying to look in to it and getting very agitated. When the truck left she looked in the yard, saw there was nothing there, then chased the truck a few hundred yards down the road. Make of it what you will but we are all just different styles of animal and they are not much different than us.

If you want to increase the be nice to animals quotient of the planet then do what Mugs does and directly reward some farmer to handle the animals the way you want him to. It will cost more. If you don’t want to pay more, well then perhaps you don’t really care that much and perhaps should be a little softer to other humans who do things like send their old pet horse to a sale yard.

The less animals are worth the less money will be spent keeping them comfortable. The problem I see with horse slaughter is that there is not enough money in the industry in total so particularly the transport trucks are made for cattle, not horses, and are not suitable. The same goes for slaughter facilities.

Kathy said...

As a farmkid/farm owner I've seen and performed the various methods of euthanasia. I've had two of my horses euth-ed by the vet after emergency calls where no treatment was determined to be available. One was a serious colic after intestinal tumors had burst and the other was anaphylactic shock from a severe allergic reaction. The vet euth-ed them after it was decided the treatment wasn't working and the horse was suffering. On the other hand, I've shot cattle with broken legs, and a moose that had brain worm and had come on property and tore through the fences. My sister in-law works in the commissary at the local zoo and she does the pick-ups.The zoo is in the city and has no live-holding facilities,which sometimes means that they have to refuse a carcass because they have no room to store it if their freezers are full.They do the captive-bolt euthanasia at the owner's property and it's done with respect for the situation and for the owner's emotional state.

The local dealer trades all species of farm animal, and probably unlike many dealers, he refuses to ship sick, old and injured animals within reason. He isn't allowed by law to ship injured and sick beef, dairy or pork, so he refuses to ship horses in the same state and he refuses to ship old horses on personal principle and euth's them quietly himself.

What really bugs me however, is when people say " just do a bullet, it's cheaper and easier." Well not really. Either way you still have to bury the horse, which unless you have your own equipment is an expensive rental. Not everyone owns a gun, much less can actually use one. I'm Canadian, and sure we have guns, but for the most part, only game hunters and livestock farmers really have one, not your average horse owner. I've had people ask me to shoot their horses, which I did, but there is something awkward after that you don't get with a vet. They did it for the good of the animal and because that's their job and passion. Sometimes you end up as "the guy who I paid to shot my horse." They don't respect you, or view you in the same way they do a vet.

The responsibility of it is different too. With a vet, they can measure pain levels, put the horse to sleep and then do it, and it feels easier on the owner because someone else is taking the responsibility of actually doing the deed.They recognize and respect the situation, offer some comfort, and their presence can keep you from backing out of doing it. With the gun, you have to do the aiming, pulling the trigger, and the staring into the horses face. Almost all of my friends who've euth-ed a horse admit to turning away when the vet did the injection because they couldn't bear to watch. I was furious with a woman who said she was going to do it herself, but couldn't do it and her sick 30 year old gelding suffered through the winter and eventually die.

Your peace of mind is important too. If you've never seen an animal shot before, then I suggest your horse not be the first one, it can be traumatizing, and if there's kids involved who don't understand what's going on, sometimes vet euthanasia is kinder.

So just like the decision that it's your horse's time is a a hard responsibility, so is the method it is done. Euth by vet may cost more than a bullet,and donating to a zoo or reserve can either be helpful or risky, but the animal's welfare is the most important thing in the end.

Cindy D. said...

I've yet to meet a vet that doesn't accept payment for services rendered. Maybe I am just lucky.

When I made the choice to put Danny down, I wanted to be there with him through it. But the vet had to leave on an emergency call. So I ended up having to leave him at the vets. I hated that.

I hate wondering if I jumped the gun. I hate wondering if he felt abandoned, I hate wondering if he was in fact put down in the manner I chose, or secretly sold for meat. I don't think my vet would do that, but I don't know it for a fact. I hated that my other horse who was best buds with Danny, looked for his friend for days, before he finally accepted that he wasn't coming home.

The next time I will do things differently. I have the option of having the vet come to my house with their truck to haul the body to the rendering plant. I will give my horses their own closure and I not leave my horses side until he or she is gone.

Not because I give a rats ass about what anyone else thinks, but because it was what I have to do to live with myself.

Ozhorse said...


A tip I learned from a local vet recently. If you need to take the horse to the rubbish tip to dispose of it but dont want the vet to have to go to the rubbish tip, then you can put it in a horse float, the vet can put it down by injection in the float, then the dead horse can be pulled off by machinery at the other end.

I went with a friend while she had her horse put down this way and it worked well. We took as many partitions as we could out of the horse float first.

This saves trying to transport an injured or horse in pain. Her horse had severe colic it would have been very unwise and mean to transport it alive. It was illegal to bury in their area, she had no land anyway. It was a weekend and I dont know who could even have been called to load and transport a dead horse in a hurry. It would be dangerous to shoot in a tin box but euth by vet injection it fits in well.

Anonymous said...

I have had the same internal struggle for the last year... whether or not I did the right thing. It's funny that this topic comes up today, right around the 1 year anniversary of Elliott's death.

Elliott came into my life the spring of 2006 as a coming three year old – he was gorgeous, a beautiful mover, and bred to the hilt for his discipline, western pleasure. Had a bit of an attitude, but I learned to make that work in my favor.

Fast forward to winter of 2006, he came up lame. Not head bobbing lame, but occasionally short behind. We had the vet out, and he was diagnosed with a stifle issue. I went the route of conditioning first, and we seemed to be having some improvement… looks like I dodged the bullet of having his stifles blistered, or so I thought. One rainy day he got left in a big field all by himself and panicked… running the fence lines, screaming like a loon… running and falling, running and falling… before someone finally noticed and brought him inside (he was at a boarding barn and I was not there nor notified that it happened until a week later).

Gave him time off, 2 months I think? Slowly started to bring him back into work, and the catching in the stifle was worse than it ever had been. Had the vet back out, decided to blister. No improvements in his movement, decided to have a second opinion. Then a third. Then a week long stay at a well known vet school to the tune of $8k… nobody could figure out what was wrong. By this time he was not sound at all, and I was trying to figure out what to do. I was so sad, for him, for myself, angry at everyone, and broke to boot. Total investment in his diagnostics to try and find what was wrong was about $13K. And no answers other than yep, he’s lame.

Anonymous said...

In the end, Elliott became a very high maintenance pasture ornament. Shoes on all 4, pads on the front to keep him comfortable. Blankets in the winter, fly sheets in the summer (he was the poor horse that all bugs within 5 miles would find and eat alive), teeth once a year, expensive to feed, you get the picture. As much as I hate to say this, I will admit to all of you, hiding behind the anonymity of the forum, he was a burden. On my time, my finances, my family, my emotions, my everything. I feel so BAD saying that… guilty and selfish. But it’s true. I loved him, I really did. But he was a burden.

I always knew that someday I’d be faced with having to plan his death. This came in April of 2013. He’d been getting progressively worse, and while still bright eyed and eating well a trip around the pasture yahooing would leave him gimping for a day or two. Or three. My work situation was in flux during this time as well, and I was unsure what the future was going to hold for my finances. It was time to start the process of planning.

I contacted the vet school where Elliott spent time as a 4 year old, and told them about my situation, and asked about any terminal studies that Elliott might be able to participate in. I was in luck I guess, as they were starting their Spring Advanced Lameness course for 4th year vet students, and were currently accepting donations with the option of euthanasia at the end of the course.

I signed him up, and spent the next two weeks bawling my eyes out. Fortunately I’d taken the week off before the trip down to drop him off… all I could think about was that I made a choice to kill him and he still whinnied at me and looked at me with his ears up. I took pictures, bathed him and clipped him up like the show horse he was supposed to be, hand fed him cookies (a big no-no in my world), and let him graze all he wanted on lush, green grass (his favorite thing ever).

During this time, I also made arrangements with a large animal removal and burial service that I had used previously when I had to put my old mare down. They worked closely with the school, and if I left a check with the program director they’d come pick him up on “the day” and bury Elliott on their farm (400 pastoral acres in private, marked gravesites). I feel fortunate that I had this option, as this type of service is not something that many people have access to.

The day we left, I was such a wreck that I drove a separate car down. I spent the 5 hours in the car sobbing. It made it hard to drive, and in retrospect I should have not driven at all.

The folks at the school were really great, gave us as much time as we needed to say our good-byes. I took one last picture, kissed him on the nose, and asked him to forgive me. He was busy nickering and the mare next door, and I don’t think even noticed that I’d gone.

Two weeks went by, and I didn’t hear anything from the school. I had asked if they had come up with anything to please call. So I called down there and spoke to the vet who was in charge of the course. “Your timing is uncanny” she says, “We were just bringing him up to euthanize”. I tried to keep it together and explain the reason for my call. She told me that while he was significantly lame, she didn’t feel that it was unreasonable to keep him around as a pasture pet for a while longer and see what happened. They were unable to pinpoint really anything but everyone agreed that he was in fact lame. She asked me if I wanted to change my mind and come get him, and I said no.

I said no.

Anonymous said...

Elliott died on a beautiful day in May, surrounded by 16 4th year vet students that had come to love him too. He was laid to rest on 400 acres of lush pasture land. I will always struggle with the decision I made. I feel so horrible, so selfish. Elliott didn’t have a choice, but I did. I try to find comfort that in his life, and his death, he helped 16 kids be better vets.

There are so many reasons why I made this choice:
He was lame – winters were the worst for his lameness, summer brought on the onslaught of Elliott-eating bugs
I was afraid of trying to figure out how to feed him and the other horses, my kids, and still make my house payment if I lost my job
He was a burden - emotionally and financially
I did not want him to suffer.

I still am not at peace with the decisions I’ve made, and doubt I will ever be. I try hard not to think about it most days, but it’s still always there lurking in the shadows. I hold tight to the COTHism – it’s better a month too early than a day too late…

What’s done is done, and I can’t take it back. I just hope that Elliott forgave me… but I will never know.



Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous. If you are on COTH, then I know you had support.

Know that we all make the best decision we can, with the information to hand and that his death would have been quiet and his passing peaceful.

I am sorry. He was lucky to have a person who loved him make that decision.

Anonymous said...

Well said Mugs, well said.

mugwump said...

The comments have turned into a wonderful thing. People sharing their struggles, their decisions, their hows and whys, without judging the others who took a different path.
This is beautiful you guys. I'm grateful to be a part of it.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...
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Shadow Rider said...

Thing is, if this was an easy decision, we wouldn't be the people we are. I have a 28 year old mare (Shadow)with a bad hip. I bred her, trained her, showed her. I fell through a bridge with her on a trail ride which could have been the end, but we both recovered. Fast forward many years, and a patch of ice did the final damage to her hip. She still gets around, still bosses everyone in the pasture, still goes on the occasional slow walk on the trails. However, every winter I have the same thoughts, 'Can she make it through the cold and ice?' 'Am I being selfish keeping her around?' Every winter she walks carefully and doesn't slip or fall, and every spring she greets with enthusiasm. I keep here on supplements for her hip, but I constantly look for signs of pain. I have planned for what I know will eventually happen.
I can't bury on my property (zoning) so I have contact info and savings ready. If I know it's time, my vet will come out, I will brush and braid and load her on the trailer (like so many times we have gone to a show) the vet will sedate her and let her go. I will take her to a facility that will cremate her and I will scatter her ashes in her pasture under her favorite tree. If she passes unexpectedly, and I cannot get her loaded onto a truck, then I will call the local rendering facility, who will for a fee pick her up. Then she ends up being turned into fertilizer, so still returned to the earth. If she is critically injured, and the vet cannot come in time to save her needless suffering, I know exactly where to shoot for instant death and relief. (make an X on the forehead, ear to eye, where the lines cross press the muzzle of the gun, fire straight in). I have all the information and planning, I know I will be able to take care of her, but I also know no matter how or when it will be crushingly hard.

Anonymous said...

In May 2011 I had to make the crushing decision to end my beloved Dusty's life. Dusty was the first horse I owned. I started riding when I was 33. I had leased several of my trainer's horse, but at the age of 39, I found Dusty. I had him for 12 wonderful years. He had been sick for several months with undiagnosed swelling around an eye, nasal drainage, etc. We did rounds of SMZ's, vet pulled teeth, several ultra sounds. He would get better, then backslide and we would go another round. That Friday in May 2011 when I went out to check on him and saw that his entire left face was swollen, with lumps in his throat, and an awkward,uneven gait, I knew it was time for me to make a decision. I called the vet, someone I knew with a backhoe, and set everything up for Saturday morning. I went out that next morning, brought Dusty up from his pasture (yes he greeted me at the gate with his enthusiastic nicker), brushed and groomed him, cut hair from his beautiful black & white tail (he was a buckskin Paint). When the vet got there I rode him bareback out to the far pasture where the backhoe guy had prepared Dusty's final home. The vet & stable hand walked him down in and I stayed long enough to see him gently lay over. Then I walked back up to the barn and bawled for my one and only horse. And then I made payments to my vet to payoff the med services that had racked up and for the euthanasia. I was lucky in that the backhoe guy, referred by my boss, was an old cowboy who had done the same for many of his own horses and wouldn't let me pay him for his services.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to say that Dusty was 28.

Skittle said...

My friends horse went down on a Saturday morning this winter. Unexpected, and he couldn't get back up. She couldn't reach a vet, and didn't have a gun, so she called another friend of hers, and another friend, and finally myself. By the time I got there he'd been down for a while, and was in obvious pain.

Even knowing it was the right choice, a bullet is not easy. Even though I had no emotional attachment to the horse at all, it still wasn't easy. So even though everyone says a bullet is cheap, trust me when I say it is not easy. Not by a long shot.

Anonymous said...

I've been faced with the tough decision of euthing two horses. I'm lucky enough to have a vet who was involved in their end-of-life issues and who would work with me on payments. One situation was cut and dried - my 22-year-old pony was not going to recover from colic surgery and we had run out of options. He wasn't in pain but would be soon. We took out beside the barn where he could die peacefully with a mouthful of grass in the sun. The vet's office made the arrangements with the renderer. After he was gone, I covered him with a cooler and left in tears, but at peace.

The other situation was more difficult. M fairly young mare had a broken femur and we hoped she would recover enough to be pasture sound. Unfortunately the fracture became infected and while she had only a minimal amount of pain, it became obvious that without ten of thousands of dollars in treatment (which I could not afford), she wasn't going to get better. We had to euth her the day the x-rays showing the infection were taken as it was a Friday and I couldn't be sure things wouldn't get worse over the weekend when the rendered wouldn't be available to pick up the carcass. The timing couldn't have been worse because I had to take my 2-year-old son with me to the barn, where the renderer was patiently waiting. Again, she died peacefully in the grass with her herdmates nearby while I held her halter.

Legally the only options I had at the time where these horses were boarded were to have the vet euthanize them or shoot them and have them hauled. Shooting would have been cheaper but I've heard horror stories of larger horses (such as my mare) needing 2 or more shots. Couldn't face that.

Peanut said...

"She's with me, she knows I'll take care of her," Client said. What an unusual definition of 'take care of'.

Cindy D - I agree with you. Years ago I dropped an old dog off at the vets for euthanasia because I could not handle it. I still feel guilty and have since made sure I'm with my cats/dogs/horses if they have to be put down.

A woman on the Oregon Horse Forum recently stated she wanted her old horse to be slaughtered for some local big cats because she did not want the horse to 'go to waste'. That really bothered me. I've also heard that some of those places starve the horses first because they want lean meat.

Becky - many vets in Oregon encourage you to use CareCredit for large bills that you need to make payments on.

Anonymous said...

There are many options out there for nearly every situation you can imagine...All I can say is, "Wow..." for this post and the one that inspired it. I am WAY fortunate enough to live in an area where I can pay my vet in installments (if ever needed...so far that's not the case) and also in an area where euthing a horse is not so expensive as many of the rest of you. The vet callout to my ranch and the exam/euth is roughly $100 and then I load the remains onto my own small flatdeck trailer either with my tractor or my winch and then I take them to my local landfill where an average 1200lb horse costs no more than $75 to have buried. If needed I am capable of using a bullet and then my cost is further reduced...I feel for the most of you who seem to have to pay what seems to be outrageous euth costs...

foffmom said...

I guess after years of reading blogs I am more educated than I was when we had to euthanize a horse for the first time. But I believe the cost of humane euthanasia needs to be saved for, for each animal if need be. In our area backhoe burials are not technically allowed (although done), and equine cremation is $1000, on top of the $350 or so for vet euthanasia. We are currently planning our "end of life" paperwork, and the projected cost to care for and euthanize/cremate our 5 for their projected life span is $143,300. I really did not want to do that math, but when you do it, it catches your attention. A humane safe ending is something we all can hope for, and should provide whenever possible.

Ozhorse said...


Travel alone for our vet before he does a single thing and before he even charges the consultation fee is $250. Consult is $80 on farm. So if I get him to come out about one horse and then ask him something about old dobbin while he is there it $250 + $80 + $80 plus drugs plus whatever else he does. On farm vet visits are rarely less than $700. Cows are worth less than a vet visit so dont get them.

Things are so cheap in the USA - and you get twice the c/kg we get for EXACTLY THE SAME american angus genetics by the same bulls (we use imported semen a lot in Australia).

Ozhorse said...


Sorry, thats a bit of an off topic comment that last one. I suppose I am trying to say is that folk often presume other peoples circumstances and costs are similar to theirs and judge them accordingly, and often they are not.

I cant believe how cheap your vets are. A hundred or two to geld a horse or put one down! cheap! We paid $500 to have the tom cat desexed taking it to the clinic.

It also really does not help when there are stupid govt regulations in place banning burial there is no legal alternative.

Half Dozen Farm said...

I live near a large game park/zoo. If you wanted to donate a horse, they used to come to your house and shoot the horse for you, then haul it away in their truck. They would give you a tax-deductible receipt for meat price. I've heard that they don't do that anymore, and that if you want to donate a horse to them you have to leave the horse at their facility. I'm not sure I could do that, for all the reasons you state.

I picked a date in the Fall for my old, unsound, arthritic mare who I didn't want to put through another winter. It was a beautiful day and she was "feeling her oats". And she went very peacefully by vet. It's the way to go if you have a choice, I think.

FWIW, we can hear the lions when they roar at our house and my horses don't even twitch an ear at the sound. I believe its because domestic horses don't know what that sound is if they've never been actually hunted by a lion/predator... Maybe this mare wasn't bothered by the wolves either? Maybe...

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