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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: December 12, 2019

Jane Thibodeau Martin

Replica

In early October, I returned home late on a Sunday after nearly two weeks away. Once I shared enthused greetings with the house pets, I went outside to say hello to our two horses. It was dark; all the same, "Oscar," my daughter's gelding, seemed a little off. It's not uncommon for a horse to bruise a hoof or pull a muscle, and he was getting around okay and grazing, so I just made a mental note to take a hard look at him come morning.

In the morning I was unsettled enough to immediately call the horse vet. There was something about his movement; I couldn't really articulate what I was seeing, but I was reminded of "Clark." The last few minutes of that horse's life; a much-loved old guy at my daughter's riding stable is burned into my brain, as I had the misfortune to witness his collapse from a suspected neurological condition.

The horse vet didn't seem unduly alarmed. She did an exam and found nothing remarkable. She pulled blood to screen, told me to expect a call later in the week, and gave me a mild pain reliever for him.

Every day Oscar was a little worse. His legs moved stiffly. He "braced" himself to stay straight upright, although he kept eating and did move around some. Thursday I called the vet's office again, but she was on a day off and her staff was reluctant to bother her. Later that afternoon, Oscar fell in his stall as I watched. It was like he didn't know where his feet were. He struggled back up as I held my breath; but I called the vet's office again and told them to schedule the vet out as soon as possible, and to come prepared to euthanize him.

Horses cannot live lying down. And a sudden fall could easily result in a broken leg; an unrecoverable injury in nearly all horses. When the vet came, all the blood work was still not back but it was clear to me what needed to be done. In fact, it was an easy decision. He was leaning against his stall wall to help him stay upright; his fight was over.

Putting a horse down is nothing like euthanizing a cat or dog. There are numerous small animal vets available; even on weekends and nights if you are willing to travel. You keep a terminally ill cat or dog in your home to keep an eye on them continuously; you can usually pick up and carry them as necessary; you can drive them to the vet; and you can comfort them in a way you simply can't do with a thousand pound animal. My husband and I worked with the vet to carefully muscle Oscar out of his stall. It pained me to force him to walk, but if we had euthanized him in the stall, the logistics of getting his body out would have been a nightmare.

A combination of drugs is used; since I was unwilling to let him go to a "rendering plant," he would be buried on our property; and that impacts which drugs the vet selects. Once a preliminary sedative was given, he collapsed quickly and felt nothing of the following drugs. Once he went down, I waited in the barn with the stall doors closed with "Ugly Betty," his pasture companion of nine years. She never left his side during the time he was ill; and now she was in a state of complete agitation. This pair have never been apart since she arrived at our house in Oklahoma, and she was frantic because she knew something was terribly wrong.

Once he was dead, we let her out to see him. We have always done this with our cats and dogs as well. Animals understand and feel way more than we give them credit for. No one watching Betty would deny animals experience emotions. Her grief was palpable. Horses are herd animals; they form strong bonds, and it is easier on them to switch out their human caretakers than it is to lose their horse friends.

Burying a large animal is also complex. Luckily when Mike called the hard-working guy who did our home site preparation, he agreed to come by with his backhoe after work. Betty kept vigil with Oscar until Ben arrived, well after dark after one of his typical extended work days. After Ben finished Mike tried to pay him but he declined " "I don't charge (to bury) family members." A sweet gesture, we were very grateful.

The next two days Betty stood near-continuous watch at the dirt pile. She occasionally whinnied in sadness; but she didn't look around for her friend; she knew where he was.

It's been nearly a month now. Our little mare is still subdued. My sister, who has been through this before, told me to expect many weeks of mourning. All I can do is spend extra time with her and share her sorrow. I don't know if she's able to value the small comfort that I have, that her friend is no longer suffering. Some people were surprised to hear that he was 22, but well-cared for horses can live much longer than that; I consider his death to be premature. And the best guess is that he had a spinal or brain tumor " but we will never know for sure.

Losing a horse you have had for a long time is different than losing "livestock." Oscar (whose registered name was "Replica") had a relationship with us, but we know we were not as important to him as his horse friends were. We share an intimacy with our house pets that is closer " because we share the same living space and interact with them constantly. But losing Oscar was painful. And seeing any animal suffer is hard; especially one who has been with you for 15 years. On the continuum of relationships from "pet" to "livestock," Oscar was very close to "pet."

He is now cantering in a lovely pasture at the Rainbow Bridge playing the horse game of "bite face" with his old friend Magic. And he will be there waiting for Betty, also 22, when her turn comes to leave us.

With the advent of this very cold weather, please ensure any outdoor pets have adequate dry shelter from the cold; access to unfrozen water and good quality food to keep their body heat up. This is the minimum we should do for any outdoor dogs or cats.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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