by Pamela Zielinski
Since this is a hot topic and extremely emotional, especially when dealing with large, relatively intelligent animals aka horses, I thought I would bring my 58 years of experience with horses to the table and hopefully give people some peace with having to make the hard choice. And it IS a hard choice, no matter how many times you have had to make it, no matter what the reason.
It IS hard.
Many people feel that they are playing God and that things are better left to nature as to whether the animal in question survives or not. For some, that may be true, but in my experience, if an animal has no chance, or even very little chance, of regaining some semblance of comfort and mobility, you, as a steward of this animal, have a responsibility to relieve their discomfort. Sometimes the only way to do that is to euthanize them. I also believe that sometimes the biggest obstacle in the way of that happening is, unfortunately, “what will people think?”
My answer to that question is “who cares what people think??” They are not the stewards of this animal. They are not the ones who have to see the animal in their backyard, struggling to make it to the water trough once or twice a day. They are not the ones who have loved this animal for years or maybe even only for days or weeks as is the case with many rescue animals. They are not the ones (and this may sound a bit callous to some) who have to pay the vet bills for multiple calls and expensive medication, trying to keep the animal in question from hurting. YOU. YOU are the one charged with making the hard decision so IMO, tell everyone who questions your decision to F*** off and let you do what's right without guilt.
I tell everyone that horses are not people. A lot of horse owners and especially NON horse owners have a hard time grasping that concept. Let's say you have a horse who has a broken left hind cannon bone from a pasture accident. It will take many months to heal if it's even possible. A person who has a similar injury, say a broken tibia from an automobile accident will be in the same boat. It will take months to heal. Healing will be painful, as will rehab once the healing process is complete. The difference is that you can TALK to a human. You can tell them that it will take many months for the bone to heal and many more to rehab from it. They can understand you and have something to look forward to. With a horse, that's not possible. All a horse knows is that they hurt TODAY. They don't see tomorrow as people do.
Yes, you can heal lots of injuries even though they hurt for a while, but I'm talking about major injuries that will take many months of healing and rehab. I'm not saying that the typical bowed tendon needs euthanasia, on the contrary, most bowed tendons heal just fine and actually become what we in the horse world know as a blemish. A scar. Something that is a non issue except for the look of it, which horses also do not give a rat's a** about.
Beyond injuries, we get to the issue of elder care and when to make that decision. In 58 years, this has come up more times than I care to remember and it's always, always difficult. IME, most senior horses are well loved members of the family. No one wants to kill Grandma just because she's old, but we need to remember the inability of horses to understand pain. And as they get old, pain is a constant, daily recurrence that can make life miserable. Over the years, I have developed a threshold and my threshold is always the same. When a horse is having more bad days than good, it's time. Do not fall into the trap where you are making excuses for doing what needs to be done. Face the fact that you might be keeping the horse with you for your own benefit, rather than theirs. In my opinion, the horse must always come first.
The last issue I want to touch upon, and this is the most sensitive, is economics. It's expensive to treat serious injuries or illnesses in horses. At some point, you, as the owner, have to decide how much you can afford to spend. I've heard it all, “if you can't afford to treat them, you can't afford to have them”, “put it on your credit card”, the list goes on. I cannot tell you the number of people that I have known over the years who lost a horse because they couldn't afford to treat it as the vet suggested. It's heartbreaking and I will NEVER judge someone who can't come up with 14-15 THOUSAND dollars for colic surgery on their best friend. Oh oh, oh there's insurance! Yes there is, but it never covers everything. There's always a LOT left over. I have seen many people, some who are my favorite owners of all time, who couldn't pay and had to decide on euthanasia.
So we've covered everything I could think of, what's left? My synopsis is that you are charged as an owner of one of these wonderful creatures with doing what is the best that you can do for them at the time. Whether, injury, age, economics, whatever is causing you to consider their fate, please don't let your own feelings get in the way. Do what is right for the horse in the circumstances you are presented with. Don't ever forget that horses are not people. They are not “afraid to die”. If it seems so, it is just instinct kicking in and what you are doing can be the biggest and best gift you can ever give them.
For resources, see our Rainbow Bridge section.