Saturday, November 5, 2011

Euthanize Me, Please!

Of all the things I hate in the horse world, failing to euthanize an old horse has got to be in the top 5.

After years of service, whether it was as a show horse, trail horse, broodmare or just a pet, an old horse whose time has come deserves a peaceful death. That horse deserves to die in a familiar place, among the people and animals it has bonded with. It deserves to die with dignity.

An old horse should NOT be given away free on Craigslist to the first kill-buyer to call, or total-idiot-who-wants-a-free-horse or a backyard breeder hoping for one more foal out of the poor thing.
An old horse should NOT be left laying in the pasture, unable to rise, for hours or days.
An old horse should NOT be forced to live months or years in poor condition, underweight and sick.

Here's another Craigslist ad that pissed me off today: Mr. (or Ms.) Jerk is dumping a "20 something" year old horse on Craigslist for free:

The owner doesn't bother to describe her health, what training she's had, how tall she is, if she's gentle, if she trailers well or accepts vet care and farrier work nicely, and they don't bother to post a picture. The owner doesn't include any details that make this horse attractive to a new owner. The best they can do is guess at an age and say she might possibly be rideable, but since they haven't bothered to do anything with her for the past four years, it's a crap shoot.

This owner might as well be screaming, "I don't care about this horse!! I just want to throw her away!! Somebody take her!!"

And someone probably will take her away. It will probably be a very nice, smiling man with a very big trailer. He'll say something like, "Oh yeah, the grandkids will love sitting on her back. Don't worry, she'll have a great home." Soon after that, the mare will end up in a Mexican slaughter house -- guaranteed.

YOU bought the horse, fed it, rode it, maybe bred or showed it-- YOU have a responsibility to care for it, and that includes ALL of it, including sickness and old age.

I don't understand how someone can keep a horse for years, paying for its board, feed and farrier care, vaccinations and even show fees, love it and pet it, but suddenly when it comes time to deal with a senior horse, they can't. Just can't handle it. How? Old age and death are literally the only unavoidable things on this planet-- and you failed to plan for them?

I think part of it is America's absolute refusal to deal with death. America is all about looking young-- we're obsessed with it, in fact. Anti-wrinkle cream, teeth whiteners, weight loss programs, hair transplants, face lifts, Botox-- it goes on and on. We don't even want to plan for our own old age and funeral, much less our animals' deaths. And relatives? Forget it! When a human relative gets too old, we ship them off to a nursing home, where we guiltily visit only as much as we can force ourselves to do so. In the hospital, we keep them alive with machines as long as we can, and agonize over the decision to unplug them from life support. When they die, we have them embalmed so that they look alive-but-sleeping, bury them in elaborately decorated coffins designed to delay decay as long as possible, and then rarely visit the graveyard.

~ Quote by Woody Allen

We don't like to be reminded of death-- and euthanasia can be downright painful. We'll do practically anything to put it off or deny its necessity. I have known some wonderful, kind, intelligent people who have waited days, months or years to put down horses, when those horses clearly had very poor quality of life.
It's very, very hard to euthanize an animal you've known and loved. Not only is that animal dying and leaving your life forever, you're the one that arranges it. You may know you're doing the right thing, but it still feels awful to be the one holding the leadrope when the horse goes down. It feels terrible to have to think I made this happen. I know because I euthanized my first horse, good old Joe, in 2007. He was in his late 20s. I cried and cried.

Joe -- RIP 9/19/2007


I know he died happy. He died in his own pasture, surrounded by friends. He had treats and lots of love before he went, and he never felt a thing-- never even anticipated anything weird. He was grazing right up until about a minute before his death. Then he took one big, deep breath-- and went down.

That's the kind of death I want for all of my animals, and for myself too. Quick, painless, happy, no anticipation or fear. No lingering, painful health issues, no dementia, no adult diapers. In fact, it would be nice if someone shot me in the back of my head, without my knowing it, sometime very shortly after I've reached senility. 

I think it helps to be around death a little more, so that you know what to expect. When we know more, we fear a little less. If you think it might help, here's a very short video of an old, blind mare being euthanized. She takes less than a minute to die, goes very peacefully, and is literally dead before she gently falls over. She's not a bit afraid, going to her rest in a big green field while being petted by a volunteer at NorCal Equine Rescue, a horse rescue that specializes in low-cost euthanasia clinics for low-income horse owners. Here you go:

 Nice, wasn't it? Makes me sniffle a bit, but that's the right way to treat an old friend whose time has come.

I get so angry at people dumping old horses on Craigslist, that sometimes I actually respond to the ad and beg them to euthanize their poor old horse. I got this lovely response from one gentleman trying to get rid of an ancient, unsound, unrideable mare:

"We have already considered your concerns. We DO NOT intend on letting her go to a 'kill' buyer. We have had horses for more than 30 years and we do know who the kill buyers are. We had hoped that some one would be willing to give her a nice place to live out her life instead of just putting her down. That is our last option. To choose to be God over any animal isn't doing it right it only justifies your decision to destroy it instead of letting it live on with some one else. That is what is fair to the animal."

 What absolute blindness. First of all, there's just no way that you're going to know every kill buyer who comes calling. This is particularly true when you post on Craigslist. People from all over the place respond. Secondly, somehow, this guy convinced himself that dumping his ancient mare on Craigslist like a piece of trash was more "fair" than giving her a peaceful death. He also managed to convince himself that somehow, owning, riding, feeding, vetting and in general keeping an animal in captivity was not "playing God," but euthanasia is, and is immoral or "unfair." Crappy, crappy jerk.

However, I can almost sympathize with that guy, and others like him who manage to convince themselves that their fear of euthanasia/death is actually a moral stance. They're irresponsible, and blind to their own true motives, but their intentions are basically good. They really do desperately hope that somebody will want their crippled, unrideable old mare, will give her a wonderful, loving new home, and she'll someday lay down and die instantly (in that someone else's pasture).

No, what really makes me angry are people who don't really have a problem with euthanasia-- but they just don't want to pay for it. Those people are beneath contempt.

I understand that some people are in desperate circumstances. Money might be tight, health issues play a role, some people are losing their homes-- but just because you're suffering doesn't give you a right to inflict suffering on your horse. If nothing else, a bullet to the head is more kind to an old horse than an uncertain future in the hands of total strangers. At least the bullet is quick and sure-- you KNOW that horse died well, and died happy. A bullet doesn't cost much, and if you can't borrow a gun or a willing gunman, you must not be living in America. You can also see if there's a low-cost euthanasia clinic in your area; while not common, they do exist.

Disposal-- yes, it's hard. It can cost several hundred dollars to dispose of a horse's corpse. However, if you're in a boarding situation, you can apply the money you would have used to pay for the horse's board towards disposal. If you shot the horse in the head or used a captive bolt gun to euthanize it (rather than with chemicals), you might be able to get a local big cat sanctuary to take the carcass for meat-- and even the Amish will sometimes take a dead horse for dog meat. (Yes, it's gruesome, but much less so than a trip to a Mexican slaughter house. At this point, the horse is dead and does not care.) If you own your own land, it's often legal to bury the horse in its own pasture-- which is what I was able to do with my first horse, good old Joe. Don't have a backhoe? Grab a shovel. Start digging. Beg friends to help. Do what you need to do.

Still not convinced? Still thinking about dumping your horse on Craigslist for free, or sending it to an auction with no minimum price request? Here's what awaits: a truly horrifying trip to a Mexican slaughterhouse, where horses are gutted while alive. Check out the video below for details. WARNING: GRAPHIC


  1. Thank you for sharing that video. It was hard to watch, but I've read so much about horse euthanasia and never seen one done, so it was helpful. I completely agree with everything you said. How dare that man reply to you that way - it's really amazing what kind of behavior people can justify, isn't it? Especially with a good coating of "religious fervor?" Grrrrr...

    I am a new reader of your blog, BTW. Came on over from Fugly (bet your traffic is WAY up today, eh?). I remember seeing/reading about your Annie in the past so you must be a regular Fugs visitor. Hard to forget DIY super-glue wound fixes. I'm so glad she's doing well and you're able to ride her!

  2. P.S. I did not watch the slaughter video. I've seen links to it or similar many times (inc. on Fugs) and it's, seriously, the one thing I simply can't stomach. I was going to be a vet and have a strong one but I just. can't. deal. with the slaughter videos. OTTH, they should be required viewing for 98% of CL horse ad posters. :-(