A few weeks ago we lost a horse at Maple Row Farm. Losing a horse makes the entire barn sad, even when it’s expected. We don’t call our horses ‘pets’; to call a horse a pet just seems weird. But they are deeply loved animal companions. Horse owners are fortunate if they’ve had their horse for twenty years or more. Horses these days can live to a ripe old age of 30-35. But unlike dogs and cats, who usually come into our family as puppies and kittens, we most often find our horse “person” when they’re mature adults, trained and ready to ride. That means, as with dogs and cats, we know the probability is we will outlive them. We are lucky to enjoy them and love them for as long as they are with us.
Losing our furry or hoofed companions it’s one of the hardest things we experience. Even though as a culture I like to think we’re a bit more enlightened, we still feel weird that the death of an animal hits us as hard as it does. Well, to hell with that.
- Be proud and filled with self-compassion that you made the decision to let him go when you did. Harder then getting my sweet Quico to the vet to be euthanized were the two days prior, when he was obviously miserable but I wasn’t ready to let him go. Even though I had promised myself that the moment he couldn’t enjoy his happy things anymore it was time to say goodbye, it didn’t matter. When we brought Quico home from the SPCA 13 years before, no one told me I’d have to make this horrible choice for him someday. I did not sign up for that! It takes courage to accept when they know it’s time and they need our help to take that last step, even when it’s tearing our heart apart.
- Talk with your vet about what to expect. Try to do this well before you have to decide if it’s time or not. Hopefully, you have a kind veterinarian practice or animal technician who will guide you step by step. Sometimes it’s possible for the vet to come to your house. If you take your pet to the vet’s office, they will do what they can to make both you and your pet comfortable. Soft cushions, low lighting, privacy are comforting. But more than that is a sensitive staff, from the receptionist to the doctor herself who all know why you are there. Often they have their own relationship with your animal family member so they get it. Putting down a horse is complicated because of its size, it’s the vet who comes to the barn, but otherwise, the process is the very much the same as with smaller companions. If your vet can’t provide this last service for you and your family with compassion and kindness, find another vet.
- Try to be present at their last moments. As hard as it is, do this for yourself as much as for her. You will be surprised at how peaceful and even blessed their passing can be. If emotionally you cannot be present when your pet is euthanized, please, please do not beat yourself up. Talk with your vet beforehand. When the sedative is administered, that may be a time for your to say goodbye, then leave the room. Our sweet animals know how much we love them.
- Let yourself grieve. There is no timeline. Anyone who has ever loved an animal knows that the grief is real. Comparing the loss of a beloved animal to that of a human being (It’s just an animal! Get over it!) is just mean and ignorant. Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t let others do that to you. The loss is very real and very deep. You aren’t going to run out and get a “replacement” until you’re good and ready, if ever. Grief needs it’s own time and is a healthy process, even though it’s painful. Let it happen, be kind and compassionate to yourself. Be among family and friends who understand. Grief cannot be rushed but It will ebb over time.