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A Vet’s Wisdom

My husband, Marc was in Arizona for a week at a disc golf tournament.  I was looking forward to a peaceful week at the farm and getting a lot of work accomplished.  After all, it is February in Michigan.  It’s just not that enjoyable to be outside for long periods of time unless you are really bundled up!

The weekend was wonderful.  I loved being in the barn doing chores, caring for our six Friesian horses, hanging out with our four large dogs, snuggling with all the cats and filling the wood burning furnace all weekend.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

When Monday came, my week blew apart.

Melissa and Ilene

Melissa and Ilene

My beloved old Friesian mare had to be put down that morning.  She would have been 30 year old in May.  Those of us that have had horses know there is always a “special one.”  Ilene was mine.

On Tuesday, Lisa VanSweden, my artist and good friend, came to the farm to help me keep my mind off Ilene.  She was going to spend the night, just hanging out, relaxing.  Little did we know, we would be racing one of our beloved Maremma Sheepdogs into the pet emergency clinic with bloat late Tuesday night.  We were there all night as Reagan went through emergency surgery to save his life.  Marc was catching the first flight out in the morning to get home and Lisa helped keep me somewhat calm as the night wore on.  I was an emotional wreck.

Running a farm is a lot of work and ours is no exception.  Fortunately, we have someone who works at our farm and cares for all our critters.  Tina is indispensable to Marc and me.  Without someone like Tina, we could never do what we do.  She helps us with all the chores associated with a farm.  When we travel, she moves into the house and tends to everything in our absence.  She loves and cares for our animals like they are her own.

Tina was the one who found Ilene down in her stall early on Monday.  She called me immediately to come to the barn.  For the last two years, we had known that Ilene had been running on borrowed time.  We also knew that if she went down, she would never get up.

Marc and Reagan

Marc and Reagan

When Tina learned that Reagan was in emergency surgery Tuesday night, she stayed up the rest of the night.  We texted updates and surgery reports back and forth until we knew the surgery was successful.

On Wednesday, with eyes blurry from a serious lack of sleep, Tina told this tale to Lisa VanSweden and me.  We loved it.  I know if you are reading this blog, you are an animal lover and will love it, as well.

Two weeks previously, Tina had to put down her beloved Beagle mix.  She found it very helpful to recall these wise words from an old-time vet long ago.

Over 20 years ago, I sat sobbing quietly in the vet’s office.  I told the vet, “Please don’t let this puppy die, I just can’t lose him.”  Then, this older, gruff vet, who was not known for a good bedside manner, did something very unexpected and unforgettable.  He pulled up a chair, sat directly in front of me, took my chin in his hand and said, “Young lady, look at me.”

When I looked up, his expression was soft and kind.  His eyes glistened with unshed tears.  He said, as best as I can remember, “Raising, having, and loving animals is hard work and heartbreaking.  Their life span is nowhere near ours.  If you have them, most likely you’re going to have them die.  There’s accidents, injuries, diseases, or if you’re lucky, just plain old age.  Now that’s life.  No amount of care, precaution, love, or medicine can change that.  There’s nothing a loving owner, a skilled vet, or anyone can do to stop it.  Now death isn’t pretty or easy, and at times it is brutal and just plain awful.  Sometimes, as an owner you are forced to make a decision that relieves their suffering and that’s always a tough call.  Now I know you love this puppy just like you loved Bear.  I will do all I can, but I can’t promise he will make it.  Now if you really just can’t handle that – and there’s no shame if you can’t – I suggest you get out of having animals.  Everything that lives – dies.  It isn’t easy and you never really get used to it.  I’ve lost and had to put down many, and sometimes even I still get emotional.  You just have to decide if all the love and joy they bring to your life is worth the heartbreak.”

And with that, he stood up, put the chair back, and said, “I’ll call you in the morning and let you know if he made it through the night.”

Well, that beautiful, sweet puppy lived and went on to bring joy to the whole family for over 13 years.  He grew up with my kids and was loved by all that knew him.  The vet never showed his soft side again, but at one visit a few years later, this time with a horse, he did look at me with a wink and said, “You made the right choice.  There are lots of animals that could use the amount of love and care you give them.”

After Annie passed away, and with the events of this week, I have reflected back on that advice and all of the great furry friends I have been privileged to know.  I’ve learned to smile through the tears and embrace the memories, and never question my decision to keep them a part of my life.

Such wonderful wisdom.  No amount of sorrow will ever keep me from having animals in my life.  The joy they bring far outweighs their passing.  I will always do my best to keep pets safe, healthy, comfortable, and happy.

I, like Tina, have never questioned my decision to make them such a large part of my life.


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