D. E. Larsen, DVM
A slight fog hung low across the moist grass as the early morning sun evaporated the dew. I always liked these sunny spring days that were intermixed with wet showery days.
There were cars already in front of the clinic when I arrived.
“We have a full morning, and Ed is waiting for you to return his call,” Judy said when I walked in the door. “We already have a couple of people in the exams room, but Ed sounded frantic.”
“Did he give you any idea of his problem?” I asked.
“You know these guys,” Judy said. “They only want to talk to the doctor.”
I stepped into my office and called Ed.
“Ed, this is Doc. What do you have going on?” I asked.
“Doc, thanks for calling me back,” Ed said. “I’ve been sitting here shaking. It’s Smoke, my young gray gelding. He has a broken leg. And he is in a hell of a fix. He can’t lie down, and he can’t walk. I don’t know how long it has been since it happened. I just found him this morning.”
“Are you sure it’s broken?” I asked.
“Oh, yes!” Ed said. “It’s just dangling, and it must hurt like hell. He cries out every time he tries to take a step.”
“What do you want to do with him, Ed?” I asked. “Depending on the leg and the break, the new vet school in Corvallis might be able to repair it.”
“No, Doc,” Ed said. “It would be hell just getting him over there. I just can’t see him suffering, Doc. I tried to shoot him. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Can you come out and up him down for me?”
“Sure, I can do that, Ed,” I said. “I have people hanging from the rafters here at the clinic. How long do you think he can wait, Ed?”
“Doc, can you come now?” Ed asked. “Please. The wife is locked in the bedroom with her head buried in the pillows, and I’m a mess. I can hear Smoke squealing every time he touches that foot down.”
“People here can just wait, Ed,” I said. “I will be there as soon as possible.”
I grabbed a couple of bottles of euthanasia solution, three large syringes, and a couple of fourteen-gauge needles.
“Judy, I have to run out to Ed’s place,” I said. “When Dixie comes, you guys deal with people as they want. They can wait if they want or leave their pets. I will probably be close to an hour, but you know how that can go. It could be longer. You better get on the phone and reschedule everything you can that isn’t an urgent appointment.”
It was a short drive to Ed’s place in Holley, and I probably drove faster than I should have. Ed was standing at the gate to his pasture when I pulled into his driveway.
“He’s in the far pasture, Doc,” Ed said. “I think the ground is pretty good all the way out to him, and you can drive right up to him.”
“Okay, Ed,” I said. “Are you going to be okay to give me a hand? I didn’t have anyone at the office to bring with me this morning.”
“What am I going to have to do?” Ed asked.
“I just need you to hold a lead rope if you’re up to it?” I said.
“Okay, I can probably do that and just look the other way,” Ed said. “Let me open the gate, and I will get in and ride out with you.”
Ed’s hands were shaking as we drove out through the pasture. When we got close, I saw Smoke struggling to stay on his feet.
“Is Smoke insured?” I asked.
“Insured? Doc, he’s just a horse,” Ed said. “No, he’s not insured.”
Ed had fractured the cannon bone on his right rear leg. The lower part was just dangled. Every time Smoke tried to move and the hoof touched the ground, he would squeal. Smoke had genuine fear in his eye as I snapped a lead rope to his halter, and I handed the rope to Ed.
“Ed, there is no way to do this easy,” I said. “Lying him down is not an option. I will give him a massive dose of euthanasia solution, and he will be dead when he hits the ground, but it won’t be pretty.”
“I think I’m okay. Let’s just get it done,” Ed said.
I filled two sixty cc syringes with euthanasia solution and retrieved a large twelve gauge needle from the truck.
“My bet is Smoke will rear up with this injection, and he will go over backward or more likely just collapse in a pile because that one hind leg won’t support him,” I explained to Ed. “Either way, as soon as the injection is done, you let go of that lead rope, and just him go.”
“Okay,” Ed said. “I guess I’m ready.”
“He might squeal, Ed,” I said. “Are you sure you can handle this?”
“Let’s just get it over with,” Ed said.
I leaned hard against Smoke to help give him a stable stance. Holding off his jugular vein, I slipped the 12 gauge needle into the vein. Then, with quick movements, I attached one syringe and then the other to the needle. With the large bore needle, I could push the plunger with ease. I emptied the two syringes in a matter of a few seconds.
I stepped back, and seeing Ed still holding the lead rope tight, I pulled it from his hands and let it fall to the ground.
When the drug hit, Smoke reared up and squealed loudly. When his right hind leg provided no support, he collapsed to his right hip and hit the ground in a heap. As I had promised Ed, Smoke was dead when he hit the ground.
Ed turned and walked several steps away. I thought he was going to vomit, but he was in control and came back in a moment.
“I don’t know you do it, Doc,” Ed said.
“I’m a farm boy, Ed,” I said. “I learned many years ago that when there is something unpleasant to do, it is best just to get it done. No big fanfare. Just do it, and it is over. It is like a person dying. Everyone expects some profound last words. But that seldom happens. They just fade away.”
“What do I need to do now?” Ed asked.
“You can call the rendering company,” I said.
“I was thinking I would just bring the backhoe out here and bury my right here,” Ed said. “This is on top of a little rise, and it should be a good resting place for him. Do I have to talk to the county about that?”
“Not at this point,” I said. “It probably won’t be long before they require a permit and make you pay a fee. I know one family who has buried three Great Danes in their small backyard in the middle of town. One of these days, the bureaucrats will take control of that stuff.”
“Let’s go,” Ed said as he pulled the halter off Smoke.
“Have you looked around to find out how he broke that leg?” I asked. “A few years ago, I saw a couple of calves break legs on an exposed root in a creek bank. This could have been something like that, and it might be wise to try to find it.”
“I’ll look after I get Smoke in the ground,” Ed said.
I dropped Ed off at the gate, said goodbye, and headed back to the clinic to salvage as much of the day as possible.
The following week, Ed dropped by the clinic.
“Doc, I found the spot where Smoke broke his leg,” Ed said. “It wasn’t ten yards from where I found him. He must have been spooked or something. He ran right through an old downed oak tree and hung his leg in a tangle of branches. The damn thing is, I was going to clear out that old tree last summer and got sidetracked. I never got back to it. Damned if I didn’t kill Smoke, just as if I had shot him.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Ed,” I said. “Things just happen on the farm.”
“You can bet I won’t put things off in the future,” Ed said.
Photo by Susanne Jutzeler from Pexels.