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.