When it’s time to say good­bye

A hard day gets harder for best friends Badger and Angie.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - WORDS TR­ISHA FISK

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

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