Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Terrible, Heartbreaking Day

Reader be warned: This is not a happy story. This is about a terrible, heartbreaking day.  You may think it perverse of me to write about it, but this is how I process the indigestible facts of life. I don't recommend reading it unless you want a good cry.

Death finally struck our farm decisively, after wavering for lo these many months. It settled on the heart of our menagerie, Belle, my twelve-year old American Quarter Horse.

Death snuck in through the back door, as though it knew it could not withstand a flash flood of good will from every person I know on Facebook. It disguised itself as an easily remedied tick-born illness, so I wouldn't put out the call. 

Twenty-four hours later, the true nature of a very different disease revealed itself while I was still in bed, asleep.  By the time I got out to the barn, she was gone--not dead, but half a mile down the street. 

A concerned lady pulled into our driveway. She had seen Belle cross the road in rush-hour traffic.  She saw her struggle over a barbed wire fence and fall on the other side. 

Take me there, I said. I didn't have my phone. I had a halter, lead line, and some biscuits in my pocket.

We spotted her standing in a field of soybeans, vapor rising off her back. I was glad to see her up and on the move.

Thank you, I said. Please go tell my husband where to find me.

I picked my way through the crops, stepping around or over the plants, sockless in rubber gardening shoes.  Belle was soaked in sweat and breathing hard. Her legs were slashed from barbed wire, but she didn't appear to be lame. She looked like she would be okay.

I tossed the end of my rope over her neck, which she normally allowed, but she pulled away and I couldn't hold her.  She ran off in the direction of the woods. 

Phil, my husband, arrived in the truck. I kept my eye on Belle as I walked toward the road. Phil tossed me my cell phone. 

"Are you going to call someone?" he said. 

"The veterinarian."

"Are you going to call someone to help get her?"

"There is no one. Just us." 

I asked him to watch for Belle approaching the road, in which case he would have to manage traffic. 

I turned back to try to halter her again.  I was now about an acre from her.  She walked into the woods next to the field.  I worried about another barbed-wire fence laying low on the perimeter.  She scrambled over something, probably barbed wire, and then the woods set upon her like a pit of snakes. She ran through it frantically and got out as quickly as she could, finally coming to a steaming stop once again in the soybeans.

I approached, speaking calmly. I offered her a biscuit. She smelled it, licked my hand. Slowly, I slipped the halter over her muzzle and fit it around her head. Her right eyelid was cut and swelling.  Her right ear was raw and red. Everywhere, lacerations and injuries, but not a lot of blood; she hadn't opened an artery.  

I sighed, and we stood together, neither wanting to move. Personally, I was ready to be rescued. Who could I call to come out to the middle of a field of soybeans and gingerly take us both home?

Nobody. We had to make our way to the road, where my husband could organize the trailer.  

Connected by a 16-foot rope, Belle and I made our way out of the field. She preferred to walk with a distance between us, 10 - 14 feet. 

At the edge of the road, I gathered her close, and we crossed to our neighbor's driveway, where Belle suddenly panicked and trampled their hostas.  She dashed in circles around me but I was a able to draw her over to a clearing in the lawn, where she stopped and settled in.  

Phil arrived, with the trailer. Belle was calm enough that he could hold her while I doused myself with bug repellant.  (The bugs, by the way, were terrible.)  I took back the rope. Belle leaned her head into my back and arm.  It was good to feel her face against my bare skin, to be a comfort to her, and block the mosquitos with the stench of deet.  

The technician arrived and began to lead Belle toward the trailer. Belle panicked and pulled away fiercely, taking the rope with her, which I grabbed and held onto until my face hit the grass.  

In her frenzy, Belle nearly impaled herself on a wooden post.  She plowed through the hostas, and tore through a tall wire fence, which, I was sure, would be the end of her, her elegant legs and dainty feet ensnared in slashing wire.  I freaked out. I covered my ears and started screaming.  I curled up in the fetal position and didn't stop screaming until I was sobbing, and didn't stop sobbing until Belle had cleared the fence and Phil and the technician had pursued her down the road to the park. I stood up and saw that Belle was still standing, moving well on the injured leg. (All our hard work getting that fetlock heeled had been successful.)

I ran over to the park and was able to take hold of the rope still attached to Belle's halter. The veterinarian arrived, a focused-looking woman in her thirties whose instincts were all kicking in.  She took the rope from me, and Belle acquiesced. Instantly establishing a soothing rapport with the frightened horse, the vet was able to inject needles full of sedatives into Belle's neck.  

At this point, it was clear to all that Belle was almost completely blind, that she was under the spell of a neurological disorder, and was intensely erratic. We took over the driveway to the park. The vet wouldn't let anyone near Belle--not me, not her her assistant; not even a car could pass except at a distance and very slowly.  

The question of euthanasia came up quickly. It could be done right there. There are worse places to die than at a park down the road from home. She would fall down in the grass. 

The vet very carefully and patiently guided Belle onto the trailer, and carefully tied her lead-line to the side. 

Despite my recent display of nerves, I elected myself to haul Belle the two miles to the clinic, where they couldn't coax Belle off the trailer without her becoming agitated.  So they would treat her on the open stock trailer. The day was not hot. I parked it in the shade. 

The technician drove me home, where I set to mending the fence. I found the electric ropes, and the plastic hardware supporting it torn apart in different places all over the pasture.  

The two geldings left behind had taken what remained of the fence as a suggestion, and stayed put out of good common sense. (Under normal circumstances, Belle would never have left them behind. Under normal circumstances, they followed Belle, if they could. Nothing was normal about this morning.)

The technician returned after twenty minutes to take me back to the clinic. By the time I got there, Belle was down in the trailer, anesthetized by a blowdart. She would never get out of the trailer alive.  

Death came slowly, a relief at last. 

Death be done, and go.

At some point, when Phil and I were with Belle on the lawn of our neighbor's farm, before the technician arrived, we both heard music. It was coming from my phone, still in my pocket. (Pandora had somehow turned itself on.) It was a Joan Armatrading song, from the album, To The Limit

For every terrible day, there were hundreds more that were wonderful. 

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