Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Hardest Choice


                                                by Laura Crum


            We all face it if we love our animals. When to let them go? I am facing this now with my beloved 33 year old horse, Gunner. I wrote in my last post that he was getting steadily lamer and the Previcox wasn’t controlling the pain any more. But he was still eating well, playful, alert…etc.
            The day after I put up that post (Monday) I went down to the barn in the morning to feed and Gunner was in a state. Agitated, sweaty, pacing, not interested in his equine senior food (which he has been scarfing every day). I spent a lot of time with him and came to the conclusion that he wasn’t colicked (turned out this was right) and that I thought that he had somehow aggravated his painful knee. Maybe he fell, maybe had trouble getting up, who knows?
            Gunner couldn’t get comfortable. And Gunner’s response to pain is agitation. So he paced, or rather hobbled around. I grazed him and he ate a little, I called the vet, who said to watch him. I watched him all day (and petted him and grazed him). He paced. He never ate his equine senior food. He nibbled hay. He shifted from foot to foot, unable to be comfortable in any position. This was all completely different from the day before, when he had been lame but cheerful, with an unimpaired appetite. Something had changed in a big way. At the end of the day I decided he was just too uncomfortable. He could not live like this. Rather than call the vet that night, I gave Gunner two grams of bute, on the off chance that he might seem much better in the morning.
            I checked him before I went to bed and at midnight. He was much less lame, but still agitated and pacing. The next morning (yesterday) I had the vet out first thing. I meant to put Gunner down. I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want him to be in pain. At 33 years old I didn’t think I ought to put him through any pointless suffering. It wasn’t as if I could cure his bad knee.
            But Gunner looked a lot better than he had the day before. Still lame, still uncomfortable, but not agitated. Nickered at me to come get him, ears up. Still not interested in his senior food, but going after his hay with some enthusiasm. The vet and I watched him and checked him out and basically agonized, but neither of us felt right about putting down such a bright-eyed old horse. So we didn’t.
            We both agreed it would be soon. Maybe even days, not weeks. But the vet thought I should try him on a regular dose of bute and see how he did. Both the vet and I share the belief that euthanasia goes more smoothly if the animal is really ready to let go of life—and Gunner wasn’t sending that message.
            So now its one day at a time…and I worry endlessly. I graze Gunner and pet Gunner and watch him and bute him and I know it won’t be long now. I don’t want him to suffer. But I don’t want to end his life before he’s ready to let go of it. As long as his eye is bright and he shows enthusiasm for hay and grazing it seems to me he’s still enjoying life at least a little. The weather is currently lovely. The bute has made Gunner more comfortable. I know he probably will have to be put down before winter. Any day may be the day that I decide he’s in too much pain now. I’m just trying to find the line between too soon and too late. And trying to find that line is the hardest choice of all.

25 comments:

Angelia Almos/Angie Derek said...

I'm sorry to hear that Laura. He'll tell you when he's ready.

Laura Crum said...

I hope so Angelia. I believe he will. I try to be open to the message and have had it clearly from past animals that I had to put down. But its never easy--its always hard to trust that I will know.

Promise said...

I'm so sorry, Laura. I definitely experienced this up and down with Promise and it is incredibly difficult to be in that limbo. There is no right or wrong answer, as long as Gunner is not suffering - but you know that already!

As Angelina said, he will tell you when he is ready. And if he's anything like Promise, he'll be 99% fine the day before the vet comes out.

Bird said...

:( Best wishes

tailsfromprovence.com said...

I'm so sorry to read this but I think that with your pragmatic yet sensitive approach to your horses you will know when it's time.
We've been through it twice, last year and the year before, with dogs. Oh the agonizing, oh the guilt, yet oh the relief when the deed is done and your believed friend's body finally relaxes.
I felt honoured to have been able to help my old friends on their way. I know for sure you'll miss him when he finally goes, but you can take pride in the great life he had with you.

TBDancer said...

Gunner will let you know, and you will do the right thing when he says it's time. My OTTB is 19 and he's a happy, healthy boy. Vet says horse looks 10 and acts a lot younger. So, we're good to go on with our dressage lesson and, with luck, we'll be ready to tackle a show or two next year.

That said, I know how difficult it is to live from day to day with animals that are heading down that final road. Gunner knows you will be there for him and that's important, too. Prayers to you and Gunner.

horsegenes said...

My thoughts are with you. It is a hard thing to do but you are doing the right thing the right way.

jenj said...

Aw, definitely not what I was hoping to hear. My heart goes out to you, but hopefully you can take solace in the wonderful life that you have provided for Gunner for 30 (!!!!!) years. Many hugs to both of you.

RiderWriter said...

We are all thinking of you, because we have all been through this process as well. I am certain your dear boy will let you know, and I'm glad you are preparing yourself for the day to come. Sounds like you have a vet that's on the same page which is a HUGE help. Good luck with this most difficult of decisions.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks all. I just got back from spending time hand grazing Gunner in the sunshine. He's a little better than yesterday. Still lame, but less so, eating better and more comfortable. I know the time is coming and is not too far away, but for the moment, he is having some pleasant moments. His eye is very bright, he nickers and comes to the gate as soon as he sees me, and he moves out at a long swinging walk, despite the fact that he is not sound. One day at a time...

Gayle Carline said...

It's a heartbreaking decision, but thank God we are able to make it and don't have to watch our animals suffer. And Promise is right - every animal I've had to put down has been absolutely spunky on the way to their appointment. Still, I knew what I was doing was the right thing for them.

GunDiva said...

That's awful. I'm glad you're able to keep him comfortable and I'm glad you're waiting until he tells you it's time. Maybe he was just trying to tell you to get ready :(

I'm so thankful Estes was absolutely clear when it was time - I don't know that I would trust myself to know otherwise.

Gunner's lucky to have such wonderful humans who love him.

((hugs))

Laura Crum said...

Gun Diva--That's exactly what I feel. He was telling me it won't be too long now before he's ready. Its time for me to get ready and to be aware that any day now can be the "last day." Its always true, of course, but right now it is, uhmm, emphatically true. I am paying attention. Gunner looks much more normal today than yesterday, so he is still moving towards the relatively comfortable, even if not sound, space he was in before Monday. We'll see what each day brings.

Alison said...

Oh, Laura, such a sad post, but you wrote it so well--keeping Gunner's 'feelings' foremost.

Good luck and keep us posted.

Mary said...

Oh, I am so sorry that you have to deal with this. Hugs to you both.

Pattie said...

Enjoy these days, he needs your attention so give it with no worry for him. He will tell you when it is time, for now love him and share in his time left.

Jan said...

Getting older sucks because as we age so does everyone and everything around us. Our family members, our friends, our pets, so many we hold close to our heart. It seems like I am constantly having to say goodbye or help someone else through their loss.

A long life lived well is some comfort, and I know you have that with Gunner.

HHmstead said...

So hard reading this post. I know what it's like when they do Not want to let go of life!

redhorse said...

I wish there was something I could say that would make it easier for you, but I know there isn't. It sounds like he is at a turning point, and you recognize it. Now it's all in your lap. I (unfortunately) have a dog at that stage too. I try to make him feel as good as I can, and as loved as I can. I think that's a little bit easier with a dog.

Val said...

I think that Gunner is cherishing this time with you as well.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks all. Gunner is actually significantly "better" today--as in much more comfortable and quite perky. The bute seems to be working as a short term solution. I am just going to keep taking it one day at a time. As long as Gunner is eating, seems comfortable enough and eager to be caught and grazed (and the weather is pleasant)--which is all true right now, I think he has decent quality of life. I am pretty sure that he won't be able enjoy life much once it gets cold and wet...so I am trying to cherish every day.

Kate said...

I am so sorry. You are listening to him and that's what's important - he'll tell you when it's time, and you're right, at his age and in his condition, it's not far off. Enjoy the moments you have left with him - it's good that he's at home with you.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you Kate--I know you have been there--I thought of you and Noble often as I walked through this. Gunner is better for the moment, but I know what I am facing. Thank you all so much.

Allenspark Lodge said...

Not yet, But far too soon.

Hugs.

Bill

Linda Benson said...

Good luck with this decision, Laura. I too, know how hard it is. When I made the decision to put my dear donkey Josie down (suffering from crippling laminitis) I made several tearful phone calls to my vet. It's time, it's not time. I knew it was finally time when one day she did not even want me to touch her. She told me plainly. I hope your decision will become clear at one point also, and I so feel for you. You've given Gunner a wonderful life. Thinking of you, Laura.