When it’s time to say goodbye
A hard day gets harder for best friends Badger and Angie.
Winter can be hard on both man and beast. It is the time when any older cows are most likely to pack up. They may have scarred lungs or their worn teeth don’t cope with nibbling short winter rations.
Sometimes it’s that weather-induced stress just tires them too much. It happens. I mean who or what wouldn’t be stressed if the sky opened up every few hours and threw inches of icy water over everything, if the last remaining morsels of autumn saved pasture have been trampled into the mire because the herd has marched up and down the paddock, looking for shelter, for grass.
I also think living under constant low barometric pressure takes a toll on well-being. There is nothing much to recommend the season, except that it replenishes the groundwater and is followed by spring.
We often come across clients with heavy hearts. Perhaps an old horse is struggling with the season and it’s time for it to be put down. A favourite cow that a cocky thought might have one more season left is found feet uppermost in a hole.
Usually winter doesn’t affect small animals so bad. The old cats make a nest by the wood stove or in the hot water cupboard and go into hibernation until dinner time. Dogs curl into their kennels in round balls of fur with their noses well buried.
On this cold day, Angie Miller came to see us with Badger, her old border collie. Badger was one of the ‘too smart for his own good city type’ border collies. You know the ones, that have been bred up so highly that they are geniuses bordering on nutcases. Who hunt midges in the evening sky for something to do.
Fortunately Badger was only half city dog. Angie had got him off a friend, after her precocious and brilliant little collie bitch had magicked its way out of a closed room with locked door and latched window when she was visiting rellies in the country. The little bitch had found the nearest healthy male and together they had partied the night away. Fortunately he had been a border collie too. But a real dog, a working sheep dog-type of border collie.
The puppies that resulted were all collie, city-meets-country types.
Badger was struggling and Angie had come to a decision.
Angie had picked Badger out of the litter as a soul mate and so he had been for 16 years. He had travelled the country with her hitch-hiking in her younger days. He had adapted to life in a commune for a few years. He had seen a succession of men come and go, barely tolerating most of them with good reason.
But finally she washed up in our village. There was a dearth of eligible young women and she soon had the local bachelors hovering like bees around the honey pot. Fortunately, Angie had the sense at last to wait and it took Sid several years to win and woo her.
Sid was a good guy. No movie star but a likeable and capable guy with an income from several hundred acres north of town.
Eventually Angie moved out to the farm, Badger and all. He had no trouble adapting to country life and the rural DNA in his ancestry soon came to the fore.
“He’s right handy on the ewes,” Angie said. “Sid’s dogs don’t like working for me, but that’s fine, I can take Badger and he seems to know what to do, even if I don’t.”
But this winter Badger was struggling and Angie had decided it was time to put him down. The cold weather had left him weak and staggery in the back end. His weight had started to fall off him from kidney failure and his eyes were clouding over.
Eventually the happy spark left them and Angie knew it was time for the final call. Sid’s farm was nearer to town than our village and Angie called the town vet clinic first.
“I asked them time and again,” she reported to us. “What would be the best way to put him down? He is so smart. I don’t want to take him into the vet clinic because he will know. I asked them at least five times: could we put him down in the truck? Badger likes going for rides. And they said ‘yeah, sure’.
“So we trundled up there this morning. I was all weepy and ready for everything. “Well, blow me, this young vet comes out and tells me I will have to take him into the clinic, that it can’t be done outside because it’s a public area.” “Bullshit,” Angie had told him. “It’s a private parking area. I asked you guys on the phone and was told it would be no problem.” “Well, some child passing by might see and be upset…” By then Angie was really wild. “I mean, I was all psyched up to lose my best mate and now I was having to fight over how we ended his life. In the end I just said to hell with you guys, you just lost a customer. And I closed Badger in again and took him for a ride out to the beach. I had a walk to cool down. But Badger didn’t want to get out so then we just came here. Can you put him down in the truck for me. Please?” “Yes, sure,” the Vet said. “We like to make it as peaceful and stress-less as possible. It is ideal.” Badger slid quietly into whatever comes next. There were no histrionics, no drama, just a tired old man going into a deep sleep. No-one was offended and Angie could weep quietly. We left her alone with the bundle of fur and bones that once housed whatever was Badger. After 10 minutes she came inside, red-eyed, but resolute. “Thanks for that guys,” she said. “But you know I don’t think we fooled him at all. He was one real smart dog. I am sure he knew. I reckon he was ready.” The Vet was in agreement. “Some old dogs just know when it is their time.”
TRISHA FISK is a farmer, author of Practical Smallfarming
in New Zealand, and long-time assistant to her husband in his vet work. They now live on 4ha near Whangarei and Trisha concentrates on her art: www.braveart.biz