Euthanasia is the word defined as ending the life of a suffering animal. Mercy killing is a synonym.
In animals, including horses, it is a difficult decision between an owner of a horse and their veterinarian. The horse should be suffering, but sometimes with surgery or treatment, the suffering can be relieved; however, the owner cannot afford it. Euthanasia, due to economic reasons, is a painful decision made by people. Sometimes it is a family decision but not the child’s decision who cares the most for the horse.
Euthanasia was never easy for me to perform as a veterinarian, which is true for every veterinarian I have known. However, we have chosen to accept it as a responsibility as a veterinarian. However, it may cause many new and inexperienced veterinarians to quit practicing or commit suicide. Appointment euthanasia is when a day is selected in the future when I would arrive at a specific time and day to perform it when a backhoe was available, or the owner could be home from work and was trouble for me.
Many insisted on witnessing their horse dropping to the ground, but I usually tried to discourage this. Nevertheless, it is an action that is unique and unforgettable.
There is one I remember. I met a client at a crossroads with fields all around. No one was there, but a speck appeared on the horizon, growing larger until the rider and horse she was arriving galloped to a stop in front of me. I introduced myself and asked where the horse was to euthanize. She replied, “This is the horse.” I blinked and paused, then asked, “Why?” Her answers stunned me. “I’m moving to Florida (we were in New York at the time), and I can’t take him, and I don’t want to leave him with just anyone here who might not take good care of him.” I responded, “That’s murder.”
This is a true story! I paused and quickly thought of a client with a boy’s camp with horses and ponies. I asked if she knew her, and her eyes lit up. “I never thought of her,” she said. So I called her, and the horse found a new home.
Another horse was what I called a “felon.” He was mean and dangerous. While I could float his teeth without medication, I couldn’t clean his sheath even with lots of medication. I warned the young, inexperienced woman that this horse was not a good match for him. She was terrified of him. I learned she had sold him to a local farrier a month later. Not much later, this same horse savaged the farrier and kicked him, creating a compound fracture of his leg (bones exposed) and biting him. He was grooming him when it happened. He euthanized the horse.
Another horse was suffering a painful, surgical colic. My exam had confirmed a twisted intestine, and it was early enough that a successful outcome was certain. The surgery suite was less than an hour away. I explained to the owner that there were two choices: surgery or euthanasia. He asked, “How much for the surgery?” I gave him an estimate of $5000 to $10,000 (more expensive now). He lifted his shirt, exposing the scar along his abdominal midline and shouted, “I know all about a twisted gut!” But then he said it cost $30,000, but he couldn’t spend my estimate on his horse. So I was asked to euthanize the horse. There sometimes are good reasons why someone doesn’t have the money for surgery.
If you own horses, you will, at some point, make the difficult decision to euthanize your horse. Unfortunately, it is part of owning them. Thankfully, it is legal and an option for our suffering friends. Unfortunately, this decision affects the horse, you and the veterinarians who have accepted it as part of their commitment to serving you and the horses. In my experience, the best way to approach euthanasia is to be grateful for every day you have with them. Then, when their life is over, you can celebrate all the joy you had with them. After all, it may be you that goes before them.