For me… and in my opinion, for everyone… the word should doesn’t apply.
I think each case is different and every person is different. This is a very personal choice.
But, putting a horse down is very different than putting a dog or cat down – logistically – and I wanted to share this with you so you can make your best decision for you, if the time comes.
Let me explain…
THE HARD REALITY – IT ISN’T PRETTY.
Just to be very clear, when a small animal passes, we, as larger animals, can embrace their bodies. Most dogs and cats will lie down during the sedation phase making it very easy for us to comfort them during this time.
But it is very different with a horse. Unless the horse is already down or the vet can safely lay them down for you… a horse is usually standing. When the horse has its final injection – and falls – it can be gruesome for an owner …and dangerous.
So, the rules that you may apply to yourself for being present until the absolute end with a small animal – may not be safe for you with your horse.
Of course, if the horse is already down during this time, it would be beautiful to be able to hold their head until the end. I wish this had been the case for me.
MY PERSONAL HORSES WHO HAVE PASSED.
I’ve only had the opportunity to be present during this last goodbye for one of my horses – Mama Tess.
I had known the day would come, so in preparation, I asked my vet about the process… and I talked to the rendering company beforehand so I knew what to expect. It was important for me to ingest this information when I wasn’t already hysterical. In hindsight, having all the details understood was a very good idea, and I suggest it for anyone who is facing the death of a horse. Figure out the logistics before the time comes – as hard as it may be to pick up the phone and face the reality – the death of a horse is not a simple matter for most people. And knowing what needs to be done during the critical time, eases the fear.
OK, back to the facts… per my vet and several other vets I have spoken with… putting down a horse can be dangerous. They fall. There is no controlling how or where they fall. And when they hit the ground, it can be unpleasant in many ways – which would be difficult for any owner who loved their horse as a family member.
My vet told me that he felt that the horse was aware up to the point of the heavy sedation that precedes the lethal injection. But after the heavy sedation, they aren’t really aware of much.
Knowing this, his suggestion to me was to be there for all of it – up to and including the very heavy sedation – but leave after the sedation.
So, that is what I did.
I couldn’t face watching Mama Tess fall to the ground in a heap. I let her keep her dignity and I said my goodbyes while she was very present. And, as the sedation took her away, my lips on her cheek were probably the last feeling she comprehended.
And that was fine. The last time I saw her, she was so heavily sedated, my girl was already gone.
Of all the time we spent together, I don’t think she holds it against me that I didn’t watch her body drop to the ground.
However, that’s me.
BUT, I KNOW OF PEOPLE WHO CAN DO IT – AND DO
There are several horse rescue operations that deal with equine passings – more often then most of us regular folks.
I have seen photos of them holding the heads of passing horses – on the ground – and I am guessing they knew the ropes, stood back and then come in after the horse had fallen.
Part of me would like to think that the spirit of the horse recognizes the human there with him as he moves his way to horse heaven.
So, if this is how you’d like it to be, then go in strong, know the horse may fall in an unpleasant way, and stand by your friend.
BUT WHAT ABOUT WHEN THE DEATH IS MISSED?
Aladdin passed in the equine hospital. I had visited him that day and I knew somethings was in the works. He was suddenly different. He clearly nuzzled me, then he went off into the corner – very unlike him.
I knew he was done.
And, that night he passed.
I missed it. But, I didn’t feel like he didn’t know that I loved him. I didn’t feel like I let him down. We were good. He knew it and I knew it.
And… when Slick passed last year, I missed it, too. He was in the hospital and he looked fine. But the vets told me that they were keeping him alive with fluids and meds. At any minute, his kidneys could fail. It was just a matter of time.
So, I visited him every day, brought him treats and groomed him incessantly.
When he passed, I didn’t live close enough to run down and be with him. It was over very quickly.
I didn’t feel I let him down. He had a great last week. Slick had a luxury Emergency room. The area was vast for a little pony. Slick had an IV drip that made him feel like SuperPony. He was warm, dry and fussed over. And he gave me no indication that his last day was his last day. I don’t think he knew – or if he did, he didn’t tell me.
And I don’t think he yearned for me at the end. Probably, he just wanted the pain to be gone quickly – which it was.
For me, if you have the chance to make this decision for your horse, then you probably have at least a few hours to make your peace with each other.
For me, it was important to have the time with Aladdin and Slick.
With MT, I only had a few hours, but we had spent 3 years working up to that day.
With all of them, just like with all of my human family, it is wise to treat each person with the same respect you would on their last day – so that when that day comes, there is no guilt…
…Only sadness, which will pass.
AND OF COURSE…
And of course, for me, I talk to MT every day…
To me, the Spirit lives on after the vessel is gone.