May 21, 2009

I Must Be Depressed Today

While I am on the depressing subject of death, I would like to write about a personal experience with the death of a horse I knew well. Not my own, but one that I worked with a great deal.

Now she was a little bitch of a mare. I think she kicked everyone who ever worked with her, at least once, and it was rare that her ears ever flicked forward unless you had treats in your hand. But.She was old. She had carried many a beginner rider safely through the day and she had earned the right to be a cranky old woman. Anyway, she had been declining in health for many months and in the last few days her eyes had just gone dim.

I was one of only two people to arrive to the barn early one morning to find that the old mare had collapsed, likely hitting her head in the process. We opened her stall and she struggled to her feet, confused and unsteady, while we just spoke softly to her and caressed her face. But she could only manage a few steps before falling again. You just know when it's the end. For some reason I don't like that thought, but the tired cliche is true - You just know. And the thing is I'm not writing this because I am so sad at the thought of her dying. I mean, of course it was awful, but that's not what bothers me so much, that to this day I have nightmares. The vet was unavailable for a couple of hours and it was clear the little mare was in pain. So, someone handed me a vial of sedative and told me to dose her up and hope she would just pass away peacefully.

And this memory haunts me, but I just couldn't do it.

I had given plenty of shots in my life. I was standing there, remarkably detached from her death, knowing it was time. Yet I still just froze when that person handed me the syringe. Instead, we had to wait another half hour until another colleague showed up who could give the dose. No one said a cross word to me. No one made me feel guilty about it. But when I cried later, it wasn't for her death. It was because I couldn't relieve her suffering. Which really is what I am charged to do each day in my role as an animal caretaker. Giving an animal what it needs is the only duty that I have to fulfill in my owner's contract. I must provide food, water, shelter, exercise and the means to relieve pain and suffering when I can. But I just couldn't fulfill that last clause and I still worry about what that means.

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