Ever start your day off with a scene like this? There\’s nothing more gut-wrenching then walking out the pasture in the morning to witness something like the broken fence above. As you look around and try to make sense of it all, you take a good count of all the ears and tails bopping around. Is everyone accounted for? Were the geldings simply trying to mingle with the mares? Are there animals out near the road? Is anyone hurt? And if so, is it serious?
If you own animals, the time will eventually come that you will lose one. If you love horses, you will undoubtedly feel the emotional sting that accompanies the grief.
As a trainer\’s wife, the owner of a boarding operation and a breeder of horses, I have seen a fair amount in my trips around the sun. I have witnessed beautiful births of foals and I have witnessed tragic outcomes of horses getting caught in fences.
I don\’t say this to garner any kind of pat on the back. It\’s just part of life on a horse farm.
Those experiences have toughened me somewhat over the years – much like I imagine veterinarians and other industry professionals must. However, this past weekend was the first time I experienced the loss of an animal with my own children present. And that experience was one that left me reeling.
As I blogged about in August, we became the proud owners of a miniature donkey named Taylor. In fact, we drove out to my sister\’s wedding in British Columbia with a trailer in tow, to bring the little guy back. Taylor had lived the entire 19 years of his life up to that point in BC, and we offered him a forever home at our place in Alberta. Our kids were ecstatic. Our farm consists mostly of horses, cats and buffalo – so a donkey added a little more exotic flair to the atmosphere.
Taylor\’s predictable \”braying\” and friendly nature was something the kids truly delighted in every day, during our outdoor adventures. Without fail they would run over to his pen, sometimes squeezing through the rails before I got there, to scratch his bum and pet the soft hairs at the base of his long ears. Every day, I had to remind Taylor that he was not allowed to \”rub into\” my kids, but once I had a halter on him, we were good. And both our son and daughter loved showing Taylor off to any of their little friends who came to visit.
As it turned out, our time with Taylor was limited. With the help of an emergency veterinarian we discovered Taylor had fractured one of his hind limbs this past Saturday. There were no signs in his paddock. No ice. No mud. No broken fences. (As a sidenote, the picture I began this blog with is an unrelated incident we had with a horse earlier this year. Needless to say, it\’s been a tough year.)
Taylor also had a giant paddock all to himself – there weren\’t even any other horses to chase him around. The closest animal was another horse located in a paddock that shared only an auto-waterer and offered Taylor companionship through the fence at times. Therefore, I am still at a loss, as to what could have caused him such a fracture.
Standing in Taylor\’s paddock on that cold day with the kids buzzing about in overalls, winter coats and toques, I was shocked to hear the diagnosis. My attention turned to the cat that walked across my path in the paddock. My daughter needed a Kleenex. My son, contemplating jumping off the top of the cattle chute, came to his senses when I called over to him. My sister came out to see how things were going, her hair still wet from a shower. I was worried she might catch a cold.
A fracture?? I squinted at our emerg vets.
How could that possibly be..?
I felt a little like I was short-circuiting.
Still, I did my best to appear stoic. Times like these, you have to be strong and work your way through hard decisions. If not for yourself, for your family at least.
Through much discussion with my husband (who was away at the time), and our vet, we decided the humane thing to do would be to have Taylor euthanized. At 19 years of age, there was no telling if he could withstand surgery, nor did we know if he could properly be rehabilitated once it was all done.
That\’s when I realized the kids would need to say their Goodbyes. Or the next time we would walk by Taylor\’s empty paddock, the situation would likely be emotionally confusing and possibly traumatic for them. We each took a turn scratching his neck and rubbing the base of his ears and as they would on a normal day, the kids were keen to return to playing. But it was at that moment that I let them know that Taylor was going away and would not be coming back, due to his injury.
Or when you\’re explaining something like to this to 3-year-olds – his \”big boo-boo.\”
As a parent, this was a defining moment when I could have pretended like everything was okay and used the power of distraction to keep diverting my children to a less-sensitive subject than the loss of their beloved donkey. But in that moment I felt like it would be wrong to lie to them. I\’m definitely no child psychologist but I think I would rather dry their tears and take them for ice cream and balloons when they\’re grieving the loss of something they love, than to tell them, \”It\’s all going to be okay.\”
Because life just doesn\’t work like that. And especially, life on a farm.
In fact, sometimes life on a farm just downright sucks.
The lucky thing is, we truly had only known Taylor for a short while. And perhaps that wasn\’t enough time for the kids to become completely attached. But I have to admit – I was angry all the same. Angry with the limited choices and the responsibility that befell me on Saturday. I was sad too… I came to pieces later on that night when the kids started asking me about Taylor again. (You think you\’re really strong until it\’s all over and your children want to know, \”Why the doctors just can\’t make him better at the hospital…?\”)
But I realized afterwards that both of these emotions were phases a person can go through when dealing with the loss of an animal. It\’s normal. And in the end, I can find peace with myself that we did the right thing. A good friend and Taylor\’s original owner wrote me that night and I found solace in his words: \”Anyone who has animals knows that at any time you may be faced with the possibility of losing them and we have a final responsibility to not see them suffer. He was loved by us and your family and that is the best gift that any animal can have.\”
Here\’s to all those beautiful creatures.