Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When to Let Go

I have blogged here about my wonderful donkey, Josie, that I had the privilege of owning for almost ten years, and her battle with laminitis. For the last year, I have fought this battle with her daily, preparing a concoction of various medicines in her feed, building her a separate paddock, fitting her with a grazing muzzle so she could be out in the pasture without eating too much.


Ten days ago we both lost that battle, and I made the decision to have her put to sleep. I agonized over the decision, because she seemed to pull out of her lameness earlier in the year for a few months, and felt good enough to playfully run and buck around the pasture a bit. Her lameness became worse and worse as the year progressed though, even with all of my care, but I kept hoping for another miracle. I spoke with my vet, asking him when it would be time to let her go. "When she has more bad days then good days," he had told me.

The last few months, Josie mostly just minced around the corral, walking on eggshells. Lying down more than normal, she began to develop sores on the outside of her knees. I knew, but I didn't want to know. I kept hoping and praying she might pull out of it again, that I might have a few more weeks or months with this wonderful, gentle old soul. And some days, she would mince out into the pasture wearing her grazing muzzle and seem to really enjoy herself, standing in the sun and having wonderful rolls in her dust pile.

Don't you wish that our animals could actually speak to us, so we could ask them where it hurts, and how much it hurts? But we do the best that we can.

In the end, Josie did tell me, in her own way. She stopped braying in the mornings when she first saw me. And she began to shrink from my touch when I'd brush her, not wanting to be caught or touched at all. Josie appeared to be in pain at all times, even with the large amounts of painkiller I gave her.

When my wonderful vet came out to put her down, he gave her a tranquilizer first, and she sleepily munched grain and apples and carrots from her feed pan, barely able to keep her eyes open. That's what she was doing when he gave her the final shot that put her to sleep, and I felt like my heart twisted and broke in two. It is so difficult, when you love an animal, to make that decision to end their life.

But I have to believe I was giving Josie the final gift. I know she is now, finally, out of pain. My vet sat with us for a long time afterwards. I stroked Josie's long ears, and we talked about what a wonderful animal she was.

An old stockman told me one time - when you raise animals, you will lose animals. And when you love those special animals, it's heart breaking.

If any of you have to make this decision for an animal that you love, whether it be equine, canine, feline, or something else, I wish you well. It goes with the territory, and it's part of the job of being a responsible, loving animal owner.

17 comments:

Kate said...

Just about 10 days ago, I had to let my wonderful 30-year old gelding Noble go, so I know exactly how you feel. It's always hard to do, and knowing when is the right time is always hard. But it's a gift we can give them at the very end, so they don't have to suffer.

My very deepest sympathies.

Breathe said...

I've always said the most difficult part of loving animals is the part we play in letting them go.

You gave her the best journey anyone could. But the loss is still so very hard.

My thoughts are with you.

Jami Davenport said...

Oh, Linda, I am so sorry. I know how much it hurts to lose an animal that was a member of your family. Take Care.

wilsonc said...

This makes me so sad...I haven't had to make this decision yet, but I have two dogs and two horses, so I know the day will come. My heart goes out to you.

Linda Benson said...

Kate - sympathies to you, also, with Noble. It is a difficult thing to do, isn't it?

Breathe, Jami, and wilsonc, thanks so much for you thoughts. I was too tore up to write about this for awhile, but time does begin to ease the pain. I miss Josie like crazy, and decided to share my story to help others who might be agonizing over the same decision.

Laura Crum said...

Linda--my heart goes out to you. I have been there four times with much loved horses and more times than I want to count with equally loved dogs and cats and other critters. One of the horses was a similar situation, in that his lameness (not laminitus) just got slowly worse, despite operations, medication...etc and in the end we had to decide where to draw the line. When I could only keep him comfortable with truly massive amounts of painkiller, we decided that was the time. It was still terribly hard to make that choice and I understand that the agonizing over "when" is just horrible. But we do the best we can and make our choices out of love, and that's really all we can do.

Its so true what you say, life and love and loss are all intertwined and part of a whole. That was a beautiful post, though very sad. But there is joy, too, in how much you loved her and how much she gave you. And that's the emotion I found in my heart after I had to put down our beloved pony, Toby. Life and love and grief and joy--all as one. Thanks for writing about Josie.

And Kate, I am so sorry to hear about Noble. It is such a hard thing to lose a loved animal. My thoughts will be with both of you.

Shanster said...

I'm so sorry. My heart goes out to you. She was well loved and well cared for and you did give her a great gift.

Yes, it is hugely and horribly difficult to make that decision for them. I think it's the hardest part about loving and caring for our animals.

Take care of yourself during this very sad time. I hope the days come soon when the thoughts of Josie bring more smiles than tears. Shan

Linda Benson said...

Thank you, Laura and Shanster for your kind thoughts. It does get easier day by day. I posted a photographic tribute to Josie on my personal blog http://lindabenson.blogspot.com/2010/07/josie.html
on the night we put her down (I guess it was 12 days ago) but I wasn't able to actually write about it until now.

I just spent about five minutes watching our two remaining donkeys, Loretta and Brownie, race around the pasture with their noses in the air, clearly enjoying life. It made me smile. Donkeys, in general, make me smile, and I will write a blog post about that soon.

There will never be another Josie, but I hope they can help heal this hole in my heart. Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

kippen64 said...

You absolutely did the right thing. That doesn't make it any easier or any less painful. Big cyber hugs.

Linda Benson said...

Thanks, kippen64 for your kind comment.

All of you are very supportive.

Susan said...

Death is definitely the hard part about being close to animals. After my first dog, that I was way too emotionally attached to, died years ago, I've made myself keep just a little distance in my animal relationships that seems to be healthier. Maybe I had to go through that one devastating loss so I will never forget that they are going to leave me. It's still hard, but I can handle it better.

Also, I now believe that death isn't the end. It's just a moving on. Josie is still a beautiful life.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Oh my! I just had this same battle with my mini-Cooper. I've had him 3 years, and he came to me foundered. He's been fine except for a few days each spring, but this spring, until three weeks ago, he's been the same way as your baby. No neighs in the am, mincing steps. I told my farrier two weeks ago that if we can't do anything, I'll have him euthed...I could not stand to see him like that.

My farrier felt it was a mild laminitis attack, no sign of founder or coffin bone separation, but because it had been going on all spring, mini-Cooper was walking badly, and effecting all his joints. (He already has issues since he had been hit by a car before I got him). He did a severe trim to correct the way mini-Cooper was walking, and I kept him stalled except for a few hours with a muzzle in the evening.

Well, after a week, I saw a difference! Today he still has a little gimp on his worse leg, but it's been only three weeks. I feel a repreve from the same decision you made, that I know I'll have to make some day, but hopefully not soon!

You did the right thing...sometimes we forget how they were, and how much they put up with for us.

Linda Benson said...

Susan - thanks for your kind comment. Yes, loving animals can be so hard sometimes, but I can't imagine life without them, can you?

HorsesandTurbos - I wish you luck with your mini-Cooper. Some horses can live a long time with mild cases of laminitis, and I hope so with yours. Thanks for sharing your story.

Joy said...

I am so sorry. It's never an easy decision. And it hurts for long after.

I just want to thank you for being a kind, loving and responsible animal steward. I have to believe our rewards are great. Just the peace of mind is incomparable.

Jan said...

I'm so sorry about Josie, and your loss. What a special friend she was to you. I don't really know what to say. (But I do thank you, very humbly, for sharing this experience with us, for it will help those of us who haven't yet gone through it. So thank you.) But I'm deeply sorry for your loss.

Linda Benson said...

Thank you so much, Joy and Jan for your support. Every day it gets a little easier. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

mommyrides said...

My heart goes out to you. It takes an uncommon courage to do what you did and I know in my heart that Josie loves you more, never less, for your strength, your love and your willingness to give her the very best life you could. You are brave and you are strong and you will find comfort in the memories of Josie that over time will bring you much joy, for you loved her and loved her well. My thoughts and prayers are with you.