This is Bubba. He’s 27 and yes, that’s old for a horse. I retired him in 1999 due to some soundness issues never dreaming he’d still be on the payroll all these many years later. In fact, I’ve often complained about just that, wondering when the old coot was going to stop draining my dwindling funds to pay for a retirement that is far better than anything I’ll ever be able to afford for myself. Not long ago, in a moment of fiscal frustration, I even uttered the words, “When is that damn horse going to die?” I was ashamed the moment they spewed from my lips and I took them back immediately, but it was too late. The Universe had heard.
When it comes to my animals, end-of-life decisions have rarely been clear-cut. More often than not, I’ve allowed more time to pass than I should have and regretted it in hindsight. Hindsight sucks. As Bubba grew older, I swore that when his time came I would not put him, myself or my bank account through needless suffering by prolonging the inevitable. I’d given him the best quality of life a horse could want and there would be no regrets. My prayer, of course, was that one warm, sunny day he would simply lie down in his green pasture to nap and peacefully drift away, saving me from the difficult duty of having to play God. Besides, I’m pretty sure it’s in His job description. It sure as hell isn’t in mine.
Bubba first took ill on Thanksgiving. (Note: Horses have the uncanny ability to know when it’s a holiday and veterinarian calls double in rate.) The signs were subtle. He was off his feed a bit. Probably a mild colic and was treated for such. But by the weekend, his temperature was 103.6, over four degrees above normal, and it was clear something else was going on. A full blood panel was ordered. Expensive, yes, but at least I’d know something definitive and a decision – the decision – could be made if need be.
And here’s where the Universe steps in… The blood work came back clean. Yep. All systems go. And yet he’s clearly sick. But how sick? Is it his time or isn’t it? What do I do?
As I write this, it’s been a week of taking his temperature three times a day in the “exit only” region, inspecting his stall for the blessed sight of fresh manure, and walking him out to graze. (Oh, yeah – he quickly figured out that I will, in fact, stand out in the pouring rain with him so he can have his much-preferred fresh grass.) There have been antibiotics that must be dissolved in water and squirted into his mouth every 12 hours via a large syringe. As you might guess, Bubba is none too fond of this and so the amount I actually get down his throat as opposed to the amount of the pricey brew that he spits in my face just adds to the merriment. His water intake must be monitored and the large, heavy bucket cleaned out twice daily to keep the water fresh and inviting to his picky palate. My lower back is crying “Uncle” and it’s not alone.
Bubba has four more days to go on the antibiotics. I can tell that he feels like crap, but no more than you or I with a bad case of the flu. Can he rally? I don’t know. The definitive answer I need in order to make that end-of-life decision continues to elude me. Meanwhile, he still shows an interest in eating and if he’s not ready to give up, then neither am I. I want him to live. I want him to still have that chance to check out on his own in his beloved sunny pasture, and I swear I’ll never again complain about a single buck I spend on his care. You hear that, Universe?
The moral of the story is this: Guard your words, my friends, because the Universe is always standing by and eager to test your resolve.