I had just hit publish for my Monday blog post when the phone rang. It was Heather, who owns the barn where I board my two mares, Duetz and Night. “Duetz is down in her stall and I can’t get her up.” I grabbed my coffee cup and ran out the door. The barn is only a mile away and as soon as I got a cell signal I called my neighbor Wilson and my buddy Lauren, to meet me there.
Duetz is pretty much retired at 24 years of age. She has battled back from Lyme disease several times but it has left neurological damage. She stumbles; not all the time, in fact it is very random, sort of like when you step off a curb and fall into space. On her own, she isn’t bad but we have had a serious fall and I don’t like to put either of us in danger. That said, she is happy and healthy. Her mind is sharp and her personality is legendary. She tolerates only a small circle of people, all others are rewarded with her signature grunt and pissed off look.
I have been trying to think of ways to keep her active. We have walked the trails together in search of berries and we play with ground-work in the arena. Saturday, I saddled up Night and with Lauren following on Blessing, I tied a lead to Duetz and “ponied” her up the trail. She was doing well on the lead but it was difficult to manage Night and keep the lead slack, so I unclipped it and let Duetz just follow along. Lauren was kind enough to snap these photos. Having both my girls out together, riding through the crisp, autumn air was wonderful. At one point, Duetz got so excited she blasted past Night and I. We stopped,she lurched to a standstill, looking back through the trees at me as if to say “Aren’t you coming?” I called, she trotted back and fell in behind Night again. We were out for about 45 minutes but she was clearly enjoying the freedom and exercise.
When I arrived at the barn yesterday after Heather’s call, Duetz was flat on her side in the stall. Moving a 1000 pound animal who can’t give you any help is monumental. Heather had already managed to slide her around and clean up the dung. She had obviously been down for quite some time. The vet had said to roll her over, take the pressure off the side she was on. In order to do that we had to first position her in the 12’x12′ stall so we had room to roll. Wilson showed up and the three of us positioned ourselves with ropes around her legs and one at her head. When we rolled her, she made no attempt to get up and was beginning to shake and sweat.
The vet was on his way but she was failing fast. Others showed up to do chores and were pressed into action. We decided to use a come-along, attached to a beam in the barn, and try to hoist her. The trick was to find strong enough cross-beams, then place a log across two at such an angle that we could lift her without bringing down the barn or banging her against a wall on the way up. The whole time I sat with her head in my lap saying, “It’s not time yet. We’ve had 17 years together and a great romp in the woods just yesterday. Please don’t leave me now.”
I know there were conversations about holes to be dug in the event she didn’t make it. I never heard them but when practical, compassionate people are faced with a certain reality, plans come together like clockwork. I just sat, focusing every inch of my being on her breathing and her eyes. The shivering and sweating became worse and she defecated. Dealing with an animal of that size in a small space brings your own size into perspective. Had she thrashed or been agitated, the rules would have been very different. It appeared she was going into shock. Her eyes looked back at me in dull pain. Hay bales lined the walls of the stall; those same compassionate, kind, humans took turns sitting behind me rubbing my shoulders, massaging her neck and sides. I used a giant syringe full of water to keep her tongue and mouth hydrated. Everything was in slow motion. I will admit, I had begun to lose hope and was steeling my heart and mind to the inevitable.
Between breaths, I heard a truck pull up to the barn. There were snippets of conversation as the vet, Mark, strode down the aisle of the barn. He stood, barrel-chested and calm, a sudden presence in our world. “OK, get this stuff out of here, the hay bales, everything.” Her breathing quickened and her eye lit up with fear. “Martha, take this blanket and get out.” I hesitated, then turned to look once more into her eyes. The fear was gone and her pissed-off attitude lit up. As I bent to leave the stall, I heard Mark utter something to Wilson and Heather. Then there were loud shouts and hand claps. Duetz gave a huge grunt of dissatisfaction at being vocally assaulted. I jumped back to look and she was standing. Mark had a hand on her head and was insisting she put that anger into walking out the door. Though she was wobbly, she had enough adrenaline flowing to follow, probably just to see if she could bite him! Poor Mark, no one loves the vet but us humans.
Needless to say, there is more detail to the story.
Suffice to say, she is resting comfortably and letting everyone know how horrified she is about what happened. That’s just fine with me. At least she is here being cranky.