Because obviously, I'm not sleeping, and obviously, it's Rosa that's on my mind, and what I could have done differently for her, maybe. This is the third time in my life that I have lost a very old pet, and the third time that I am second-guessing my decisions in regard to them.
The first one, almost 10 years ago, was my precious miniature poodle, Zorro. He was 16 years old. He was falling apart, and in his case, looking back, I KNOW for sure I should have had him humanely put to sleep weeks before I did. I was so selfish with that situation--I just didn't want to let him go, and it was really all about me, right up until the end, when he refused to eat even cooked chicken. He was practically begging me to let him die. I dug a grave (at night, in the rain, sobbing), and called my wonderful old cowboy horse vet, who agreed to stop by. I held Zorro in my arms, on our spot on the sofa, stroking and petting and talking to him, as the drug took effect and he slipped away. Even the salty "hoss doc" was choked up, and it was the only time in our years-long vet/client relationship he ever hugged me. I buried my best friend, and was suddenly all alone for the first time in my life. I called my sister at 2:00 am, and we bawled over it together. I cried for days, and dog-GONE it if I'm not crying now! I swore, after that, that I would do better the next time.
And then, this summer, my dear friend and Best Dog Ever, Cappy, was 14...a good, long life for a standard poodle. I knew he was a little achey, some days more than others, and I knew he had some degree of dementia, because there were times when he didn't seem to know quite where he was. The last time I took him to the vet, which was months before he died, she cried at his condition (he'd always been a favorite of hers), and told me that the time would be coming soon. To watch for loss of appetite, increasing pain, etc. I thought I was ready for this one, and when "the time" came, I'd be on the ball. Well, "the time" doesn't come with a flashing neon sign. One day, I'd see him barely able to stand up, and decide, "I must do it soon," and then the next day he'd be up, spry, barking (at things he couldn't see, but barking because Delta was barking), and wagging his tail, and he always had an excellent appetite, and still liked the top of his butt scratched, just above his tail. And then one morning, he was just gone. Took the decision out of my hands; ever the gentleman. And I have spent months debating inside my head, "Should I have done it myself? Could I have spared him some pain? Did his last weeks have any appreciable quality of life?" On this one, I just don't know.
And now, Rosa. For nearly a year, she'd been going downhill. She had all kinds of veterinary and farrier attention for her "sore feet" (that was the "official" diagnosis, believe it or not), to the tune of around $1,200 in the last several months. Bloodwork, x-rays, ultrasound, dental work, special worming programs, special senior feed and supplements...you name it. I thought she was foundering, but diagnostics showed no sign of it. She was failing, but she just wouldn't die, and the doc didn't see any immediate need to put her down because the special shoes we had put on her (egg bars) did help her pain somewhat. She bore the miracle foal, and since he was about 4-5 months old, she had declined steadily, no matter what we did. She looked and felt worse every day, but again, when I would say to Alex, "I think it's time to end it for poor Rosa," the very next time I'd go out, she'd be bright-eyed, eating well, and neighing to me, and looking after that foal. We've been going over to the other house where the horses stayed until today and feeding after dark--because, well, it's winter--and while Alex saw Rosa Friday around noon, she did not come up to eat Friday night, nor did she come up on Saturday night. We were at the house Saturday during the day, but stayed inside working until time to leave, which is when we fed. No Rosa. That's when I knew we probably had a problem.
A caring friend who is also a neighbor called Alex and I just as we were leaving to head over and start moving horses yesterday. She said, "Do you know that your old mare is dead?" My heart sank, and I just said, "No, but I'm not surprised." We think she died sometime Friday night.
The guilt over this is immense. It feels like Rosa willed herself to live long enough to birth and nourish that colt to weaning age, come what may. I feel like I should have taken that decision away from her some weeks ago, because she was doing so poorly.
I wonder if I've learned anything, and if the next time one of my animal family needs me to make the hardest decision for them...will I step up to the task, or will I fail them, too? Have I failed these others? Will I act TOO soon next time, out of fear of repeating my mistakes?
The Townsend quote in the post below has always summed it up perfectly for me. In choosing this life, and sharing it with these creatures, I've chosen to bear witness to a lot of deaths if I myself live out a natural life.
I'm beginning to understand why my mother said, when Zorro died (he had been the family's dog, and just moved with me when I left home), "NO MORE." We thought she was kidding--how can you live without a poodle? But so far, she's held firm. A few years ago, when I brought over a new little puppy that reminded her of our first poodle, Jolie, she held him, smiled ruefully, and handed him back to me, saying, "He'll break your heart, you know."
Mom? I know. I really, really know.