Thursday, November 6, 2014
Horse Doctor -- The Easiest and Hardest Job
It's something we hate to think of, even as we know it's absolutely true, that when all is said and done, the horse is the weakest, sickest, and most accident-prone animal there is. How many times have I heard it, even when I was growing up and they were shielding me from bad news, that another horse has to be put down. He tripped over a rock, he ran his leg into a tree, he stepped on a nail, he's trapped in a bear trap, he's choking, whatever. It's a sad story, but a very old story.
I trust it's well known that horses back in ancient times had to do a lot more than they do today. Pulling wagons cross continents, going off to battle, dragging sledges, and on and on. So whether they were massively stronger back then, one has to think so. All that's done now. You might have a horse pull a little buggy, taking the grandchildren for a fun ride, about 15 minutes, around the timber once a year. We look up and it's swishing bugs off its back side, and we're charmed. But if I'm there I've got my fingers crossed it won't get stung by a mosquito and traumatize the party. Especially kids.
I was talking with someone yesterday who was telling me she'd just read on Facebook about a horse having to be put down because it had colic. In case you don't know, colic is a twisting or kinking or a bend in the intestine, so it can't have a bowel movement. There's not much they can do about it except, you guessed it, put it down. The worst thing about it, from an economic point of view, would be the major investment a horse is, big money. Those who raise them are taking a risk first, so they need to get a high price to cover their prior losses. Then you buy one and it dies, you're out. I'd personally never buy a horse. I'd rather take my chances on lottery tickets, instant loss.
In this discussion on the Facebook horse, it occurred to us that veterinary services for horses have to be kind of useless. Whatever the problem, "I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do for your animal; it has to be put down." And there's the doctor, a big old practiced sad look on his face, looking down, pushing a stone on the ground with a toe. Fidgeting with his hands, waiting for an opportunity to shake hands with the owner and put a comforting touch on their forearm. Why? he asks himself, did I ever go into veterinary sciences, especially with horses? There's nothing you can do. So I'm left patting arms and feigning sadness. I could've been a therapist and, in addition to making big money, known survivors.
But that's the way it is. Horse doctoring is literally both the easiest and hardest job there is. Whether it's a broken leg, colic, foundering, sugar cube overdose, tapeworms, an aversion to snakes, raring up and banging its head on a beam in the barn, the solution is always no solution, but instead a quick dispatching of the animal, albeit as painlessly as possible, humanely done. With the pat on the arm being quite sincere, an expression of grief that is true. I've been there, I've known people who've been there. You get one of these beautiful animals, you get attached to it, and BAM, three weeks later, you're putting it down.
My imagination of how it is for the vets, to reiterate, they have to think, I went to vet school for this? There being nothing you can ever do for the horse. The good thing about the job is it's so easy, except, of course, for your own grief and having to help the owner through their grief and watching them deal with their sense of your uselessness; that part's very hard. You can see the wheels grinding in the bereaved's head: "You are the absolute worst excuse for a veterinarian." It's true, but you're trying so desperately to compensate with the arm pat, the looking down, the handshake, which aren't physically tough, but still never get any easier.
And there it is, another dead horse at your feet. Another damned dead horse!
What a thing! Maybe after reading this you'll spare yourself this certain grief and avoid getting a horse. Because I've seen it happen, don't think I haven't. It might be a five dollar horse or a million dollar horse. They die just the same, just like that. An owner gets a horse, she's beaming with pride, then the next thing -- three weeks later -- the animal's got a hangnail and has to be put down. Any little thing you can imagine, and there's thousands of possibilities, the end is always the same, brutal.