The past week has been brutal.
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.