Boot City and I made the decision a couple weeks ago to end Pablo’s, our donkey, suffering. He’s been increasingly lame over the past few years and had gotten to the point of spending nearly half his time laying down. We had Pablo for 16 years, but we don’t really know how old he was when he came to live with us. He was given to me by a coworker who had to basically trap him to get him into a trailer and bring him over. It was another year before we could touch him and while he became quite affectionate, the moment he saw a halter or any type of “equipment” he became nearly impossible to get near. Someone had clearly been mean to him and donkeys do NOT forget.
So, Pablo was euthanized on a hot Thursday evening and a local animal cemetery (I call them the pet undertakers) picked him up.
Side note. People often comment about how idyllic our lives must be living on a farm. Let me tell you, it is not idyllic in the way that people who have never lived it think it is idyllic. We take our animal husbandry very seriously and believe wholly in making difficult decisions when it isn’t always the easy thing to do. We have seen a lot of death in the 16+ years we have lived on our tiny farm.
On Friday morning when I was doing my morning chores, I noticed that Jaguar was less interested in his breakfast than usual. I actually had been noticing for the past month or more that he’s had a smaller and smaller appetite. He had lost a bit of condition, but nothing alarming. He was showing some small signs of discomfort (not eating, standing in a corner, not as lively as usual) but these signs were not terribly obvious. I knew in the back of my mind that he was just getting closer to his time.
The moment my car crested the top of the driveway on Friday evening, my heart sunk and I exploded into tears. I knew before I got out of my car that he had been colicking and it looked like for quite some time. His face was scraped up from thrashing. He was covered in sand and sweat. His sides were heaving and his nostrils flared. He was exhausted and in a tremendous amount of pain and it was 105F. The next few hours were surreal. Calls to the vet. Calls to Boot City (who was on his way home). Calls to my Mom. It was an easy decision to end his suffering. The rest of the logistics that surround the death of a thousand pound animal are not as easy.
Our property is nearly solid limestone and doesn’t allow the burial of any of our animals. I’m grateful that I live in a place where services exist to easily remove a dead horse (or goat, or dog, etc.). The man who picked up Jaguar was incredibly kind and understanding and I’m forever grateful to him for doing that terrible job.
I didn’t feel like I could really grieve until his body was gone and even now, days later, I feel like I’m walking around with this clearly obvious gaping hole in my being. But I’m not, at least not physically. And people who see me don’t know that I’m grieving for a partnership that lasted three decades. I want to wear a t-shirt that says “I’m sad, my horse just died”, but I also want to be alone with my grief and not share it. I need the people I’m close to to understand just how hard it is to process this grief, but anyone who has been through it already knows.
And yes, I get it, he was just a horse. I understand that the love of an animal isn’t the same as the love of a human. I know that the privilege of having horses is a luxury. However, that doesn’t make my grief any less real. In many ways the loss of an animal is harder because it is a decision that I made. It is an accumulation of decisions I’ve made about the care and well being of my horse for the past three decades. I know I did right by Jaguar. I know that he knew to the very moment his life left his body that I loved him with all I had. His eyes pleaded for us to end his suffering and so we did.
The loss of Jaguar is the final stage of my grief for the loss of my Dad. Jaguar was the last tangible thing that was just between Dad and me. Of course I still have my Mom and my Brother, but it was different with Jaguar. Jaguar connected us in a way that was different from anything else and that connection lived on in Jaguar’s every nicker, his adherence to a schedule and to every new and different thing he was willing to try.
I am a better person to have loved and been loved by Jaguar Juniper, 1993-2022.
Ufta, 2021 was a YEAR! A lot of good, but it didn’t end well.
Jaguar colicked again the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Thankfully it turned out ok, but still required a night at the vet’s facility. And frustratingly, I think it very easily could have been prevented.
Boot City got me a truckload of sand for my arena for Christmas (YAY!) and the day the sand and a car part were delivered the horses were exceptionally frisky. To get them out of the way of the truck at the last minute I threw out a small flake of hay as a distraction. It wasn’t until the truck was driving away that I realized I had put hay out and Jaguar was turned out. He’s been off hay since he colicked in January 2021 when we determined he can no longer eat hay. I watched him for a minute and he seemed to have no interest in the hay so I didn’t think about it again until that afternoon when he wanted into the barn. I fed him some soaked cubes because it was only 3p and he usually goes in at 5p. I came back to feed and put the other horses in the barn around 5p and he was noticeably uncomfortable. By the time I finished feeding he wasn’t eating, was restless and pawing. Of course this was the same evening a few friends were coming over.
He likes to come to the front door. I don’t want him to get hurt falling on the tile, so I won’t let him come in.
I called my vet’s office and spoke to the on-call veterinarian who advised giving him banamine then watching to see how he acted after an hour. My friends arrived just after I administered the banamine and we had a lovely chat for about an hour when I looked out the window to see him in his stall run rolling, not a good sign. I had already asked Boot City to hook up the trailer, just in case, so I called the clinic to let them know he hadn’t improved and that we were on our way. My friends left graciously, understanding the situation and we got the old man loaded into the trailer uneventfully.
We arrived at the clinic around 6p (thankfully it was an early arrival, usually this happens at zero dark thirty and no one gets any sleep) we unloaded and headed into the treatment area. The on-call veterinarian got him sedated and talked us through her plan of the usual tubing, fluids, etc. Due to his age he is not a surgery candidate so I made sure we had similar expectations for his treatment options should things go poorly. She let me know that she’d follow up with me later in the night, but no news is good news. I got a text around 9:30 or 10p that he was comfortable and seemed to be OK.
Jaguar and Simon already had dentals scheduled for the next morning, so I headed back to the clinic bright and early with Simon. By the time we got there Jaguar was done with his appointment! He had even been a good patient for his teeth, usually he’s AWFUL. My regular veterinarian had been out of town and our appointment was her first upon returning. She told me when I got there that the on-call vet had told her about Jaguar coming in so she had also kept an eye on him on the stall camera overnight. I LOVE my veterinary team!
It’s been a few days now and Jaguar seems to be back to his normal self. We have had a few wild temperature swings, which is when people swear horses start colicking more and he was fine through that. I’ll add, though, that I don’t believe in those temperature swings causing colic. I’ve read a lot of veterinary research and they have never found a correlation between temperature or pressure changes and colic. The more likely culprit is that owners change how they manage their horses when the weather gets bad; more stall time, less exercise, same water offering, etc. I make it a point to keep the management of my horses the same regardless of weather. I may add hot water to their water buckets when a freeze is impending or put them in the barn earlier when it’s pouring rain, but they still get turned out regardless and I feed all my adult horses soaked alfalfa cubes and beet pulp every day. Only once has one of my horses colicked during crazy weather (tornado warning) and it turned out that horse had been eating acorns by the bucketful.
Jaguar’s one of three rides in 2021! He is the camp counsellor for Gene’s baby horse boot camp.
Hopefully this is Jaguar’s last trip to the vet’s office for a few months (years?!) for anything other than dental maintenance. I learned my lesson and won’t leave ANY hay around him EVER again. I’m grateful he didn’t get an impaction, just gas likely caused by eating something he hasn’t eaten in 12 months.