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Have The Courage

Difficult Decisions Come From a Place of Kindness

Lynsay was still in her teens when Gooseberry came into her life. The gelding was just under three years old and needed quite a bit of training when Lynsay welcomed him into her world.  Lynsay spent a great deal of time with her new horse, and while she was teaching Goose (as she calls him), he was doing the same for her.

“They are amazing. Man they teach you things,” Lynsay says of animals. “Responsibility, you need money to pay for things. Hard work, animals need a lot of care.”

The hard work paid off and one day, Lynsay says, the pair just clicked, “We were a good little team,” she adds. “We would do everything together.”

Gooseberry ended up spending 24 years in Lynsay’s family. In that time Lynsay graduated from university, got married and had children. Over the last few years, however, she could see Goose was showing his age. Lynsay knew he wouldn’t do well enduring another Alberta winter.

“It’s hard on those horses,” explains Lynsay. “The risk of coming out and finding your horse down and not able to get up, that’s a panic. That’s a horrible situation to be in and I really wish no one would be in that situation.”

Lynsay understood it was time. To delay this heartbreaking decision was to risk Goose’s welfare and potentially allow him to suffer, but Lynsay had the courage. Lynsay chose to end his life peacefully and to ensure he did not suffer. Gooseberry was euthanized this past summer.

Common Occurrence

While no one wants to contemplate devastating decisions about their animals any sooner than they have to, the reality is the conversations do have to happen and it’s best to plan in advance.

Alberta SPCA Peace Officers come across situations throughout the fall and winter where a senior horse is struggling to survive. Elder horses need extra care and attention to meet their dietary and health needs and to keep them warm. Even still, many suffer through the cold months despite their owner’s best efforts.

“Owners have to consider long and hard whether the horse can make it through the winter,” says Alberta SPCA Peace Officer Stuart Dodds.

The Alberta SPCA encourages animal owners to have the courage to make the difficult but responsible decision to euthanize their animal before they come to be in distress. While it may be difficult to say goodbye to an equine whose been a part of your family for decades, that attachment should not prevent owners from making a decision that has the animal’s best interests in mind.

“With the aged horse, they often have teeth problems and they’re not utilizing the food properly,” adds Peace Officer Dodds. “And so you have to put so much more in to them just to maintain that condition.”

When is the Right Time?

Understanding when the right time is to euthanize your horse can be difficult for the owner because the decline in health may be gradual and not obvious to those who are with the horse daily. Owners may need to rely on family, friends or a veterinarian to help guide them.

“Sadly, most animals don’t go gracefully in their sleep,” says Penny Radostits, a registered veterinary technologist and certified canine rehabilitation therapist. “I think it’s kind of us to just end their suffering. They’re incredibly good at hiding it so we have to kind of go through a list of things to look for.”

Some of the key indicators to consider when assessing an animal’s quality of life include;

  • Are they losing weight?
  • Are they still eating?
  • Are they in pain?
  • Are they tired and lethargic?
  • Are they enjoying life?

For Penny Radostits and many others who work with animals, there’s a saying that it’s better to put them down a day too early than a day too late. She says those who wait too long often face a heartbreaking situation.

“They’re either rushing to emergency or the horse is down they can’t get it up and it’s this big traumatic event,” says Radostits. And if this happens during the bitter part of the year, it becomes a bigger issue.

“If they go down in the middle of a field full of deep snow, it’s a challenge to get them out of there.”

Another Difficult Decision

Lynsay admits she struggled to know when the right time was to put Gooseberry down, but she tried to take a practical view. She says “If I can’t maintain you, I have to let you go.”

Unfortunately, Lynsay has another difficult decision on the horizon. Her 17-year-old mare, Aspen, has a lame leg following an injury, and she knows her girl will struggle this winter. So, before the bitter cold arrives, Lynsay says, “We’re going to let her go to greener pastures because I don’t want to come out when she’s struggling in the winter, or the ice. I need to know that she’s safe.”

And even though Aspen is not quite a senior horse, her health challenges are significant. Lynsay is at peace with her decision, acknowledging it comes from a place of kindness.

“That truly is the best thing we can give as humans back to them is let them leave Earth with grace and dignity.”

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