We lost Dodger today… and I’m heartbroken. He was 40. He was my pony for 25 years. I adored him.

I don’t speak much about Dodger or Norma Jean, because they have their own FB page.

I’ve had Norma Jean, Dodger and Gwen for 25 years.  I know this because Gwen was a tiny baby when I rescued both Dodger and Norma Jean.  Gwen will be 25 on April 23rd.

Dodger in his prime. He was fuzzy, had gorgeous long blond locks that covered his eyes, and he was fit and strong. Slick was the troublemaker and Dodger was the peacekeeper. He was the Boss. He was tough. He’d take on the big horses, no problem.


When I lived in Oregon, I went to my very first ‘horses for meat’ auction.  The sadness and desperation in that building was overwhelming, and this is why I raise  money for horses in dire need – instead of hanging out at auctions – because I just couldn’t take the fear and panic in the room.  All the animals were in distress.  It was horrible.

Dodger was sitting in a tiny chute type stall – more like a sqeeze in rows of sqeezes.  At this time, I didn’t have horses at home.  All of my horses were boarded elsewhere.  But, I had room and I wanted to start small by saving a small equine.

The card on Dodger’s stall said nothing.  No age, no name, no breed.  Nothing.  Only a lot number.  Whomever dropped him off, didn’t care.

I saw this bright, tiny pony – scared out of his mind.  I decided that he would be the one.

When the time came, I bid on him and won him for his meat price.  $26.50.

I had gone to the auction telling myself that I was ‘only looking’ – so I didn’t bring my trailer.  I really had no idea how awful it would be and how many I wished I could have saved…  But what I did was pay for him to be boarded one more night there, then I bedded him down, gave him food and water, and left.

The next day, he loaded like a champ.  And, let me tell you, he was the very first horse I had ever loaded into my trailer.  He was the first horse I ever trailered by myself.  His freedom ride was my first time as driver.

This was 1995.

He was so handsome.
This was his summer coat… sleek but still full of mane and forelock.


I had rescued Slick, too… but he was boarded still.

So, it was time to put the two boys together, plus the newly rescued donkey, Norma Jean.  Luckily, they loved each other and were frenemies for a very, very long time.  They did everything together.

Dodger in his 20’s. Norma is standing and Slick is napping.  This was the threesome.


In 2003, I moved from Oregon to Grass Valley.  Dodger was always a good boy, but he was somewhat distant.

One night, I had put Norma Jean in the barn without his consent.   I didn’t realize that Dodger was so emotional – he went into colic.   I have since learned to never move anyone out of his pasture…

Anyway, I saw that he was ill and I brought him into the barn.  I loved all over him and gave him a remedy while waiting for the vet.  The vet did his work and Dodger came out of it.

In that moment, I realized that Dodger looked at me differently.  He got it.  He realized that I specifically helped him through this time.

After that, he looked at me for help whenever he needed it.  I swear.  He made it very clear.  Dodger tended to upset himself over little changes… so he tried to colic often.  I always came to his rescue.  He looked for me to give him the cure and make it all better.

He had the most amazing hair.


Four years ago, we moved to Paso Robles from Grass Valley.

Slick had passed just a few months before we moved, so only Dodger and Norma came with us.

The fist winter we were here in Paso, Dodger contracted pneumonia.  The vet and I were able to bring him out of it.  I remember clearly how Dodger looked at me the morning I realized that he was very ill.  And, we fixed it.

After that, we created an old timers’ pen where Dodger and Norma Jean could have abundant shelter, a fan, mister and soft shavings whenever they needed it.  They had the most shade and the best views.  I could see them clearly from the house.

In the last year, Dodger had gotten considerably more grey and clearly more elderly.  He was losing his hearing and his sight.  Luckily, Norma Jean was always there.

This month, I had been letting both Norma and Dodger out on the lawns to have limited green grass.  Dodger was thrilled.  I actually thought that he was looking more spry…

Just last week, as I was opening their gate to let Norma and Dodger into the larger field – Dodger ran down to the gate.  Once I opened it, he hesitated (his sight?) and he waited for Norma to walk him over the gate line.  But, he seemed totally fine, for a very old pony.

I took this photo last night. Yes, he looks old, but he was fine, I thought. Nothing different.


Above is a photo from last night at feeding time.  Dodger seemed fine.  The only telltale sign might have been that his breath wasn’t sweet, which was unusual.  I made a mental note to call the vet to look at his teeth.  Other than that smell, he looked totally normal and was acting totally normal.

This morning, when I went out to feed, he was clearly dying.  I felt totally helpless and awful that I didn’t know what to do for him and I couldn’t help him.  I couldn’t determine what was wrong – but he was failing, dying, in pain.  I’ve never seen that before.  He tried to walk towards me… and everything in his movement and demeanor told me that he was dying.  He seemed so hopeful that I was there… but I knew this was bad, really bad.  If I had had a gun, I would have shot him, that is how bad it was.  I hate guns, I hate killing spiders… but I would have helped him in that way.  I knew it was very bad and I wanted to fix it for him.  He was begging me to fix it for him.  It was horrible.

The vet got there within 30 minutes.  He gave Dodger a shot to see if he could take down the pain and reduce his sky-high heart rate.  But the shot didn’t help.  The vet said he had never heard a heart race so fast… and he has been doing this for 40 years.  Dodger was sweating profusely, he was struggling to stand and he was scared.

It was bad.

We hardly said much, the vet and I, but I could see that Dodger just wanted to lay down and be out of this misery  So, we helped him.  It was a very quick – but so obvious – decision.  I couldn’t have him suffering in such a horrible way – I couldn’t see the demon that was gripping him, but it was inside of him – killing him too slowly.  The vet shook his head and said that this was Dodger’s time.

He ran to his truck and got the dose.  Every second was horrible pain… I looked into Dodger’s frightened eyes and told him that I was going to help.  And I swear, Dodger held his head up high and watched the vet return with the shot.  He knew and he was clearly ready.  He wasn’t scared of the vet.  He was scared of what was happening to him.  Dodger was a very proud pony and he knew he was losing his grip.

We let our lovely, handsome, proud Dodger… go.

We all, Norma included, stood there in shock.  What just happened?!  I was in total disbelief.  But, my pony was at peace.  No more panic and pain.

Luckily, the vet was able to find a wonderful construction worker with a kind heart who was out of work due to the coronavirus lockdown… who came over immediately to bury sweet Dodger.  The vet said that we were lucky there was a lockdown because ‘backhoe guys are tough to find right away’.

I was very thankful that Dodger’s little body wasn’t sitting in the field for more than 20 minutes.

Norma and I watched the entire thing.

I took this on Thursday last week. He was enjoying a graze with his best friend. This was his favorite thing.


I don’t know about Norma… she seemed to be relieved.  I’m thinking she sensed all of this before we humans.  I think she knew… and I think she had a horrible night with him.

Me, I’m heartbroken.  I feel like I failed him, although I know that 40 years is a long time and he probably was breaking down inside…  The vet had no idea what specifically was happening to Dodger, but offered several options of what was going on – all due to old age.

So, I’m having a glass of wine.   In the middle of the day.  Because I just can’t deal with the loss of such a kind and sweet, proud pony.  Mostly, I had just promised him that we would all move back to Grass Valley and he could be in his sweet pasture again.  The one he loved… but I didn’t have the time to make that happen.

He beat me to it.

I’m hoping he and Slick are running together, bitey facing and bucky running all over the heavens.  As it should be.

Dodger behind his best friend, Slick, several years ago. They are together again.


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52 comments have been posted...

  1. Linda Murphy

    So hard to lose our precious four legged loves. I’m so sorry. Reflect on the wonderful life you provided him and all the pleasures he gave to you.

  2. Angie

    Dawn, my heart goes out to you. I’ve lost quite a few wonderful horses over the years and it is always heartbreaking. I too have felt extreme guilt and questioned in some instances why I didn’t do more, or see more. Each one just takes a piece of you with them. You wrote a wonderfully moving tribute to sweet Dodger and I love how his legacy is that you started helping to rescue horses. You did right by him…we do the best we can with the information we have at the time. Sending you a big hug.

  3. Laurie

    Oh..DAWN sooooo sorry for this great loss.
    He was the most beautiful pony EVER.
    My deepest condolences.

  4. Janwindsong

    We are all here to give you a piece of our hearts to help you mend, s gently and in your time. But be reminded You are blessed to have been where you needed to be.

  5. Calvin48

    This was hard for me to read. I bought my dream horse in early 2014 as an unbroken three-year-old. He was a beautiful sandy dun with hazel eyes and primitive stripes, but it was his sweet temperament and gentle nature that made me love him. As a professional in the equine industry I had never allowed myself to become besotted with a horse, but this youngster was different. In July of 2016 he coliced and the vet and I tried for two days and nights to save him. I slept in the barn. At the end, he had deep hollows over his eyes, his gums were dark purple and when he urinated for the first time after two days and nights, it was a dreadful black/brown color. He suffered greatly, and it might have been worth it if he could have recovered, but he didn’t. The vet came out the third morning and put my darling down. I think about him often, but today is the first time I’ve cried in years, because I know that someone else feels the pain that I feel. I won’t write his name here, because it was the perfect name for the most wonderful horse to ever walk on this earth and I don’t want someone to appropriate it for another horse.
    Let me say this about Dodger: I have kept horses for 61 years and well-cared for horses do not suddenly just lay down and expire. Your pony was never going to be found dead with a smile on his face. He was as strong as a 40-year-old pony could be, he had much to live for and he wasn’t leaving you without a fight. You seem to feel that you in some way let him down, but you didn’t; you knew when his body gave out and you put an end to his suffering. The pain he felt was due to his strength (from your good care) and from his desire to live. Wouldn’t we all wish for ourselves and our pets to be happy and healthy right up to the end and then have just a little time (even in pain and discomfort) to sort out our memories before we die?

  6. Marsha loneagle

    Such a lovely tribute and thank you for sharing so much. All the times of love, fun, grumps and all. And for allowing us to have a way to say goodbye ourselves. Someone asked me once what heaven was to me and I said, a lovely place with all my animals and friends. Virtual hugs to all you and yours.

  7. Sandy

    Dawn, my heart hurts for you. There are no words to ease the pain but know that we have all enjoyed you sharing Dodger (and the rest of the gang) with us and we feel your loss. Hugs

  8. Doris McQuiddy

    Oh Dawn, I am so sorry for you and yet so glad you could be there since he trusted you and so did Norma Jean to help him when his time had come. It is the hardest gift to give and the most loving and afterwards the most lonely of feelings. I hope you will have some visits from him from time to time. Sendiing love, praying for comfort.

  9. L

    We both know there are no words. You were there, you acted, you helped him on his way, you were loyal and true, no other tribute could be greater. You DID save him, and he appreciated it. Norma Jean will shoulder your grief and be there for you now

  10. Valrey Van Gundy

    Dawn: So sorry for the loss of you long-time friend. But isn’t it amazing that they are with us for so long these days? It’s never long enough, but the memories are forever. Take care. Hugs and kisses to the rest of your herd.

  11. Valerie

    Dawn, I am so sorry. Losing a family member is never easy, let alone when you have to be the one who has to help them on their way. My hope is that you rest easy knowing sweet Dodger is at peace and with Slick, pain-free forever.

  12. Robin West

    Dawn, your sweet Dodger lived his long life due to your love and diligent care. I’m sorry for the deep loss of your friend, may it comfort you to remember your lives together and may you find peace with your other friends on the ranch who love you and know and understand your grief. I am truly sorry.

  13. Judith

    I am so sorry to hear this. It’s very hard to lose someone who’s been in your life for 25 years. What a gorgeous fellow he was.

  14. Tammi

    So sorry that you lost sweet Dodger. It is so hard and something you never quite get over. It’s good to remember he isn’t in pain any more and had a lot of wonderful life with you and his friends. I so enjoy the posts of Norma Jean and Dodger. ?Such a beautiful tribute to your baby. Stay well.

  15. Ellen Sensel

    My prayers are with you, Dawn. I feel so badly for you. You gave Dodger the best life he could have ever
    known and he loved you for it.

  16. Kim

    Sending my love and prayers in this horrible time. This tribute to Dodger is beautiful. RIP sweet boy.

  17. Carol

    Many hearts are with you sweet Dodger, Godspeed.
    I am so sorry. It is unbearable to even for a moment imagine your pain. I hope and pray that you are able to heal from this fully and find peace. You were both brave. Through heartfelt tears I send love.

  18. Debbie Mollner

    Oh Dawn. I am so very sorry!!! What a wonderful, joyous, happy life You gave Dodger for 25 years!!! It’s so hard to lose a four legged baby. He will always be in your heart ??

  19. Nora

    Oh, Dawn …. This is such sad news. Dodger was so lucky that you came into his life. (I hadn’t known the history.) It must have been really comforting for him when you came out and found him ailing. You were there for him AGAIN in his time of need. Your blog makes it evident that you are amazingly in tune with all of your animals. Thank you for sharing at this difficult time.

  20. dawndi Post author

    Agreed. I think I finally understand the ‘rest in peace’ tribute. He needed peace in the end, for sure. Thank you.

  21. dawndi Post author

    Thank you for sharing this. It helps to know that I’m not alone in that awful experience – although I’m sad you had to go through it.

  22. K B

    My tears are with you. So much I would say. But all I can say is that my tears are with you.


    No words can describe how sorry I am for you. RIP Dodger…you were loved.

  24. The Backyard Horse Blog

    I too have felt the devastation of losing a cherished horse along with feelings of horror, guilt, failure. I cried when I read your post. Even so, your attachment to and love for Dodger shone through. What a wonderful tribute to Dodger that you began the bucket fund in relation to buying him at auction. I have read your blog for years, but didn’t know that before I read your post. Think of how many horses like Dodger that you have helped due to your efforts and thoughtfulness! The spirit of Dodger lives on through your work. And that is beautiful.

  25. Peg

    I am so sorry. Crying now for sweet Dodger. And you. It must have been horrible. Think of all the happy years he got and wouldn’t have had without you. Peace.

  26. Dawn Cook

    I am so sorry to hear about Dodger. I just can’t imagine. I always get so excited when you post your Saturday photos and I will miss not hearing about or seeing him. May he find peace in the green grassy hills.

  27. Ann

    I’m so sorry. Thankfully, you were there with him to the end and you did the last kind thing you can do. May his memory be for a blessing.

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