Facing the decision every pet lover dreads

I’m not at the brink of having to make that final, awful decision. Not yet, not with the current inhabitants of my heart. But I’ve had to do it before, with beloved cats, and my 22-year-old horse is starting to show his age. The unthinkable, now, must be thought about, though I pray it will be no more than that for years to come.

Today, in the Boston Globe newpaper, I came across a column by Brian McGrory, and was in tears by the end. I want to share with you his moving tribute to the old friend who will soon leave that aching hole in his heart we all know and dread.

ETF, I share your pain. I had to make the decision for my beloved cat of 14 years last February (I had him since I was 10 years old :(). He seemed perfectly healthy, then after I noticed him being more listless and losing weight, took him to the vet. Even though the vet couldn’t read the X-ray because his abdominal cavity was filled with fluid, she knew that he was in the advanced stages of cancer. He went from perfectly healthy to deathly ill in two weeks. It was so hard to make that decision, but I loved him so much that I couldn’t let him live another day in agony. I’m glad now that I decided what I did, and I know he would thank me if he could. Good luck and let us know how it goes. You have our sympathy.


ETF - Like you, I’ve had to make that decision many times. The only thing that made it easier is to know I did my best for the animal all his life. At the end there was sadness but no regrets about what I should’ve done.

If you’ve never had a horse put down, I’d recommend that you not watch while they move/bury him. A body that large isn’t easy to move and not handled with dignity.

Best wishes,


I’ve so far been spared having to put a horse down, but I’ve seen it done a few times at the barn where I board. If Nick (or my younger horse, Ben, for that matter) is standing when it’s done, I know I don’t want to see it, and the thrashing fall that often accompanies it. Definitely don’t want to see the body removed, especially if it’s in a stall.

On the other hand, I did see one mare euthanized who was already down, in the middle of the indoor arena. I crouched next to her owner, hugging her, as she stroked her horse’s face and the vet administered the lethal injections. The mare never thrashed, just drew one loud, groaning agonal breath, and then was gone. It was far more peaceful a departure than I’d expected, and somewhat comforting.

What was also oddly comforting was watching her removal afterwards. The van of the man who does this sort of work in our area was backed as close as possible. Then the hauling cable was fastened around her hind legs, and the mare was slowly winched up the ramp and in. The guy monitoring the winching was matter-of-fact but considerate; he adjusted the head as it moved so it wouldn’t bang into anything. All in all, it was a respectful handling of the remains, and the owner (who’d stayed to watch despite our urgings) was not distressed (more than she already was, of course).

Now, if it were – when it is – MY horse, no, I don’t intend to watch the removal. Although, if Nick were to die at my friend’s farm in New Hampshire, I might well attend the burial. Anne’s had two horses put down and buried in her fields, and she’s told me how sympathetic and respectful the backhoe operator was. There’s no getting around it, a horse corpse is a huge and awkward thing, but it is possible to lessen the anguish of the removal.

I really, REALLY hope I won’t be dealing with this for a long time to come, though. It’s been painful enough saying goodbye to the cats in my life, but a horse is a whole 'nother level of partnership, mutual affection and interdependence, and devotion. When the day comes that I must say farewell to one of my horses, I’m going to be a basket case.

Sounds like a situation my mother faced when her Morgan Mare passed on, the horse was barely able to walk, yet she voluntarily crawled out of her stall into the barn hallway to spend her last minutes with Mom

i think she did it for a couple reasons

she was a fighter and didn’t want to give up, probably gave Death a good solid kick in the dangling unmentionables before she passed on :wink:

somehow she knew if she passed on in her stall it would be difficult to remove her, so she decided to make it easier to remove her body from the barn

she didn’t want to admit defeat, and struggled to hold on to life until the last second

What a beautifully written article. Thank you for posting it ETF . I didn’t make it to the end; tears from the beginning, remembering all of the cats and dogs of my life. They really do love us unconditionally, don’t they?

That article really hit home with me since I had to put my much-loved dog Bandit to sleep on August 5th. I am finally feeling little better about it. I still cry but not as often as I did those first few weeks. I have been keeping myself busy and that really helps.

I have a 22 year old horse, too! I’ve had her since she was a four-year old, and losing her will be very hard on me. I try not to think about it. I have never had to have a horse put down and I don’t know what I’ll do when that time comes. I board, and I don’t know if the place I keep her at will allow me to bury her there. I guess it is a topic I’d rather not discuss, but I should start thinking about what I will do when that day comes. My horse has had excellent health all her life, I’ve been very lucky in that regard. I hope I don’t even have to worry about this for another ten-fifteen years.

One thing you might consider, ETF, is having him euthanized in the hole. That’s what one of my friends did earlier in the summer, and it seemed to work out fairly well. They had the hole dug on an angle, and led her down into it, and gave her the injections there. It seemed to go pretty easily, and the mare went out munching on some tree roots. Yvonne always said the old girl would die with her mouth full, and she was right.

ETF, I know how you are feeling. We have a 27 y.o. stallion and a 26 y.o. gelding on our property. Both are in good shape for their age, but we know they won’t hang in there forever. It’s going to be so hard when the time comes.

I had to have my sweet, beautiful mare, Azure (scroll down half-way) put down this spring after a long mystery illness. She was only 10 y.o. She was already down when we made the decision and I held her head on my lap and knew the very minute she stopped breathing. That was comforting for me. To be right there the whole time. I wasn’t there, however the next day when the rendering company came for her. It was our only option since I board her and don’t have a place to have her burried anywhere. The only thing that helped was knowing she wasn’t there any more she had crossed the Rainbow Bridge and was waiting for me.

Last fall, my older mare (24 y.o.) Tomar, died under saddle. That was the worst thing ever. I’d much rather put a horse down than have her die while I was riding her. She collapsed in the road and we had called the vet out, but she didn’t make it before we got there. He kindly pulled her off the road for me and covered her with a tarp. He didn’t even charge me a ranch call. The man is a saint.

Horses, they’re just so different than dogs and cats. I’ve had dogs and cats die, and have had to have the put down, but dealing with the death of my two mares was beyond anything else.

If you are interested, here is a link to a woman’s website who makes horsehair jewelry. You send her some of your horses tail or mane and she braids it for you. I have tail hair from both Azure and Tomar and I’m going to have them woven into a bracelet.

That should read…she died before he got there…I was a bit emotional typing that.

You people make me sick :frowning: ,if it is so sad to loose horse, dog, or cat why having them?. From what I read all this heartbreak and whining is ONLY due to your vanity and snobism .
I thought many ,many times of buying dog or cat but then I realised that one day animal have to be put down and I would have live with huge guilt.
Very simple right?Only people who need dogs are blind or epileptics.And please tell me why you need horses?Do you work in field,I don’t think so. Now farmers have tractors,your horses are for you entertainment only, they are your toys nothing more.Why can’t you guys find other hobby, which does not require animals.

nonpolar, c’mere buddy, we need to have a little talk

EddyFreddyTeddy, I understand your pain. When my mother’s late cat Muffin suddenly became ill at the age of seventeen, I cried because I had grown fond of her and didn’t want her to die. Oddly, once Mom had made the decision to have her put down, I was OK with it. I knew she wasn’t suffering anymore. The anticipation of losing the cat was worse for me than the actual loss. Mom, OTOH, was a basket case for two weeks, and even had to call off work a couple of days because she was so depressed. Fortunately, her boss was very understanding.

Now we have Conan and Schrodinger, and I’m sitting here crying because I know that in fifteen years or so I may be faced with the same decision, and I can’t stand the thought of losing my kitties.

Lady, I am sorry. There’s nothing I can do but offer to share your grief, but that much I will offer you. I’ll also offer my prayers for a graceful end. E-mail me if you need to.


I’m in about the same situation as ETF, and I think even much closer to the enivitable decision about a horse I have since I was a child.

We had to put down a cute, very friendly donkey only recently. He was a pet of my children and they had really a lot to do with him (he followed them like a dog whenever he saw one of them wich was funny to observe).
I am glad I allowed them to be there so that they know very well that the was in pain and could hardly breath ( the cause seems to have been an undetected pneumonia. Don’t ask me how he got that and why it was not detected in time, I’m still enraged about it) while after he had the injection he was at peace and didn’t suffer anymore.
Of course they were heartbroken but at the same time they received a lesson about things of life and taking responsibility for the animals under your care unto the very end.

So if I may give you and advise ETF: Try to bring yourself to be there when the time to say goodbye has come. Otherwise, when he is handled by people who are not as close involved as you are, you shall keep questioning yourself how your horse was before, during, after the injections. (You shall have to trust on reports of others and never be sure of anything.)

Salaam. A

Best wishes to you and your animals, ETF.

Maybe in certain cases people keep animals out of snobism, but I think that in such cases they don’t feel exactly heartbroken for the animal itself when they loose it.

That is a good reason, yet there are also people who reason otherwise and feel that if they give their animal a good life, they make one happy animal, living a good life. They go so far with that idea that they also take the responsibility to provide the animals under their care with a quick and mercyfull death instead of seeing it suffer and die slowly (like in nature in many cases).
I don’t think such reasoning and such actions imply “huge guilt”.

I could give you a lot of reasons why I have horses and dogs and a cat and some other animals (including a beautiful spider and a cute little bat).
One of the reasons certainly is survival of the pure-bred races (the dogs and two horses especially). Other reasons are more complex, but who are you to tell me that I don’t have them?
So can you explain why you think that people you have no idea about should not have horses and/or other animals when you can’t even have a remote idea about their personal otives and their personal lives?

mmmm… No. I don’t think I would be of much use in that profession. (One day would be sufficient to knock me out completely.)

Ah… You should go talking to a few of the elderly men I know of and who despite the fact that they do have tractors used on their lands, insist of having their own food and that of their immediate family grown and harvested in the very old traditional ways.

I would rather say that at least two of them take me for their toy and entertainment… Probably because as Arabs their bloodline can match with (and is probably older then) my own. I give them a roof above their head because I want that bloodline to survive the age of tractors and cars and airplanes, wars… etc…

Why don’t you ask every Zoo on this globe to put all their animals back in the wild and scrap their programs to save endangered species?
Why don’t you start lobbying for all pet animals to be euthanized so that never ever new ones are born?
In my opinion those are the best solutions for the problems you seem to have with people who love and care for animals, take them in their home and feel the loss of such care and involvement when something happens to them.

Now you shall probably come back with the common lecture about humans dying and the grief that causes in comparison to the loss of an animal.
I think that a friendly warning that with that type of rethoric you are most certainly on the wrong address with me can do no harm.

Salaam. A

Thanks. Thanks to you all (with the obvious exception. Thanks, Asbestos Mango, for sweeping that detritus off where it belongs.) for sharing your own pain and offering comfort. Nick’s the first horse I ever owned, and a very special guy. He’s been a well-loved member of every barn I’ve ever boarded him at. He’s a funny, attention-demanding, good-natured, quirky character, who’ll carefully pack a beginner, and (in his younger days) give a good rider a great ride. I never spend time with him without laughing.

I’ve been very lucky that Nick’s been so healthy for the last few years, but the signs of decline are there. Each year, more gray hairs infiltrate his rich red coat. This year, dustings of silver have invaded the brows over his warm, wise eyes. My former easy-keeper fat boy now begins to lose weight as the cold weather arrives, and needs extra feedings to keep him at a healthy weight. The once-robust muscling of his hindquarters is thinning out, and not just from lower levels of exercise than he knew in his prime.

Nick’s had arthritis in his hocks for many years. Supplements, lots of turnout, and once-yearly injections have kept him serviceably sound, but flareups seem to be coming more often lately. I think our cantering days are over. He’s not in frank heaves, but he’s showing signs of developing it. This spring, he had to go on an antihistamine for the first time. It worked, but…

Nick’s also had a tendency for many years to flip up his soft palate, trapping it in his epiglottis – usually in speed work, but also when eating. Which may be why, a couple of weeks ago, he had an episode of choke – two hours’ drive away, at my friend’s farm in New Hampshire, where he’s spending the summer out on pasture. You may imagine my feelings as I did what little I could over the phone to cope with this (wasn’t able to leave work and go to him). He’s all right now, but that small brush with mortality scared the bejeesus out of me. And having choked once…

Well. With careful tending of his needs, and a generous helping of luck, I’m hopeful that I’ll have him around to demand his carrots and belly scratches for a good long while to come. But what seemed like an abstract event, a long way off, is now much too close, too real, for comfort.

Ah, there’s more, much more, I want to say, in answer to your compassionate comments and sharing of yuor own griefs. But it’s time for me to go to the barn where my middle-aged Thoroughbred Ben awaits me, to do my chores for him, and prepare Nick’s stall for his return from his summer vacation – this Saturday! He’s been gone since the beginning of May, and except for a few visits, I haven’t seen him since then. Will he forgive me for taking him away from those lush green pastures? With enough carrots and belly scratches, you bet he will!

Oh EFT I’m just so sorry that you’re facing this decison. It truly sucks.
I know that some day I’ll be going down that path with each member of my little herd and while I will eventually take comfort in the fact that I’ve given each one of them a good life, it won’t be much consolation at the time.
We pay a price by loving short-lifers but the cost of not having them is so much greater.

You know, nonpolar, your attitude problems and lack of self-editing are probably a major factor in that whole can’t-get-laid issue you’ve been whining about till we could all puke.

ETF, it warms my heart to know that there are people like you in this world! People whose compassion knows no cynical boundary and are able to provide love and comfort to an animal companion.

On the flip side - Asbestos Mango, thanks for stomping on that cockroach that scurried through here!