It’s incredible how our lives with pets can change us. A wag of the tail, a contented purr and a comforting nudge can make even the worst of days a little bit brighter. However, we can sadly acknowledge that most owners outlive their pets, and that one day it will be time to say goodbye.
In January, I had the awful experience of losing one of my animal family members, a young Thoroughbred horse named Ridgeway. He was a big, beautiful equine who was full of promise and personality. Sometimes I would just sit on the fence, and watch him eat, or laugh with delight at his hilarious antics playing with his favourite horse ball. He was very confident and proud, and for a young horse was not frightened of anything! I was sure I had found not only a partner in sport, but a dear friend for life.
Sadly, this was not the case. I received a call from the farm’s stable owner where he lived, saying Ridgeway had suddenly stopped eating, looked like he was in pain and appeared to have all the signs of colic. Colic is the horse owners worst fear, a painful impaction in the intestines that can be fatal. Immediately a veterinarian came to the farm to help. We worked on him for several hours, administering medication and doing all we could to relieve his pain.
I remember the veterinarian looking at me, with deep sympathy in her eyes, and saying his case was bad. Really bad. She had done all she could, but he would need to be transported into emergency care at the local equine hospital if there was any chance they could save his life. By this time it was almost 11:00pm. After a few short calls, a trailer arrived and he was admitted to the hospital’s emergency care department.
There was a lull, as the team of experienced veterinarians attended him, reviewing his case and giving him more medication to keep him comfortable, where it seemed like all would be okay. He was a young, strapping big horse. Surely they could help him, I thought, and he would pull through.
As the hours rolled on, into 2:30am, he had made only the smallest of improvements, but appeared to be comfortable. They urged me to go home, get some rest. They would continue to monitor him overnight, and we would talk first thing in the morning to make some decisions. It was hard to leave him, looking tired but resting, hooked up to an IV drip. I cried as I drove away that night, not knowing if I would ever see him again.
Finally getting home around 3:30am, I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. I remember clutching my pillow, hoping desperately he would be okay. The phone rang at 6:30am, and I snapped awake right away. The time had come to make a decision. He had not improved, and no amount of medication was going to be able to help him. The decision was made to have him humanely euthanized.
As much as we love them, saying goodbye is the hardest part of all. Losing a beloved pet is like losing a family member, and I cried for weeks. I looked over all his pictures, and remembered the great times we had together. I agonized if things could have been done differently, and whether he would still be here today, which of course there was futile.
In the end, all we can do is love and care for our pets and animal companions as best we can, each and every day. Spend as much time as you can enjoying playtime, cuddles and those little moments that you can cherish forever.
For those who have not read it, a touching tribute to pets who are no longer with us can be summarized in the poem “The Rainbow Bridge“. You can also create a pet memorial page by visiting the Ontario SPCA’s Life’s Milestones Tribute Centre.