Till Death Do Us Part

By Yolanda Steyn, Co-founder of EETO (Extreme Equestrian Trail Organization of South Africa) and Director of Opposital, Horses & Humans in Harmony

One of the most challenging decisions for an animal lover is the decision to set their beloved animals free if they are suffering physically. Letting go – why is it so difficult for humankind?  Some clients have reported that it is harder saying goodbye to their furry family than to their own human family. The reason for this? Unconditional love.  Animals don’t have time and space restrictions like humans. They don’t need Google Maps or Rolex watches.  Their love is unconditional. They are not bound by written contracts. Their existence is to be in balance, to make the very best of every day. They are givers, not receivers. They don’t fear death.

A session I did on Freedom Day 2017 taught me some valuable lessons.

A client asked me to assist with their grey beautiful mare and 5 month old foal.  The foal had septicemia in her knee joint.  The vet advised the guardian to put the foal down.  They wanted to have confirmation that this would be the right thing to do.

I started the session with the question – how does Topaz (the dam) say good bye to Misty (her foal) if this is the desired outcome?  Even my usual background music sounded like funeral music that day.  It is much harder for humans to accept death. We feel more emotional dealing with foals as we hold life expectancies, dreams, and hopes for them. Topaz told me that death is not like we perceive it.  Death is the beginning not the end – a paradox. Lesson one.

During the session, I was reminded by Willow, a bay gelding that visited our yard, that communicated we need to change our “think”.  He didn’t call it the thinking process, he called it THINK. THINK in bold capital letters.  This is a tall order. We mustn’t think that the foal will perceive her death like we do. Lesson two.

Topaz is an extremely proud mother. She carries the energy of serenity around her. For her it is more important to feel that she has given everything.  No regrets.  Topaz is saddened by the event but she knows how important freedom is to a horse.  Without freedom they can’t be a horse.  She was very humble when she gave me these words. (My heart goes out to all the horses that are trapped in their stables or small paddocks. They need space to move, space to be free.)

You can’t have the pasture and not enjoy it.  This will be far worse than letting her foal go.  It is her choice to let her foal go. Setting Misty free.  Topaz asked that the owner be present with the procedure.  The presence of the owner would comfort her.  She asked to be with Misty and that the proceedings are done in the pasture. It would be less stressful.

Horses don’t judge us. They don’t experience death like we do.  For them it is walking through another gate. No expectations. Without freedom you cannot exist. Without freedom you are trapped. Lesson 3.

Misty shared that we all live in different time zones. Sometimes we live past each other. We don’t understand each other.  All of us are on our own journey. Our own belief system. She has tried hard to recover, but it wasn’t meant for her. She wanted to be free.  Free to play and to run once again.  Free to be a playful foal.  With her injury it is impossible for her.  She saw her death as traveling to a different time zone. She was ready to be parted from her mom in her physical body.

I am always amazed by the words of wisdom horses share with me during a session.  Topaz shared that we all have expectancies in life. We judge ourselves to live up to those expectations. It is human nature to set these expectancies too high. Humans often feel like failures because it is impossible to live up to those expectations. This creates fear and guilt. Horses live in the present moment. No fear and no guilt.  Only truth. The truth was that the foal got injured. It wasn’t our human expectation.  Please don’t let guilt or fear take the place of love. Lesson 4.

I received a message from the guardian later that afternoon to say that the procedure went smoothly and she highlighted the significance that it was Freedom Day.

Till death do us part – freedom is awaiting us.

*Names of the horses have been changed

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About the author:

Yolanda is an animal communicator and equine specialist. Looking after the well-being of horses is her first priority. Her passion is to create harmony between people and horses. She studied Human Resources and Learning Development and is a qualified Sanef Level 2 Western Instructor. She is also a registered healer with the Healing Animal Organization. She was one of the first groups of students in South Africa to train in the Mastersons Method and she is also a qualified TTouch practitioner. Yolanda is the Co-founder of EETO – Extreme EquestrianTrail Organization of South Africa and the director of Opposital. Additionally, she has played a vital role in developing Sanesa Western School Shows.

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Options to Euthanasia

by Lisa G. Murray, Marketing & Public Relations Director of Walkin’ Pets by HandicappedPets.com

Making the decision about whether to put an aging pet down is always difficult, perhaps especially so if the pet is struggling with mobility issues, but is otherwise full of life. It can also be heart wrenching to have a puppy that becomes disabled, whether due to disease or injury, and be faced with whether its quality of life is such that an end-of-life decision ought to be considered.

The good news is that there have been tremendous advances in the kind of mobility assistance devices that are readily available, giving pet lovers real alternatives to euthanasia.

Dog Wheelchairs Have Become Easy Options

Although dog wheelchairs have been around for decades, they were not in the mainstream. The carts were expensive and required dog owners to take many precise measurements. After that, dog caretakers had to wait weeks while custom carts were built. It is easy to understand why pet owners might have decided that their pets’ time had come, instead of giving their dogs a chance to try a set of wheels.

Then in 2008, HandicappedPets.com developed the Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair, an adjustable cart that required only one measurement, could ship the same day, and was affordable. With the advent of that wheelchair, pet owners had a clear option to euthanasia when a pet got injured, stricken with a disease, or was simply slowing down due to old age.

Rescue Organizations Often Help Those in the Greatest Need

Sometimes dogs with the greatest physical needs wind up in the care of pet rescue organizations. Nine years ago, New Hampshire resident Courtney Dunning adopted a one-year-old disabled dog, Lucy, from a Puerto Rican rescue. The rescue had picked up Lucy after she was hit by a car, resulting in rear limb paralysis.

Lucy adapted extremely well to her dog wheelchair, and Courtney takes popping her in and out of it in stride. “It wound up being no harder than caring for any other dog,” says Courtney. “Lucy doesn’t know she’s different from other dogs. She’s just being a dog and loving life.”

Canine Mobility Challenges

German Shepherds, notorious for developing Degenerative Myelopathy, and Dachshunds, that have an estimated 25% incidence of intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), are among the breeds that are well loved but that suffer from a high rate of mobility challenges. But they are not alone; disease and injuries spare no breed, with resulting mobility impairments afflicting dogs of all ages.

Carole Rowlette cares for 13 Dachshunds in her home in Wyoming. Three or four at a time are usually in dog wheelchairs. She advocates for the use of dog wheelchairs for rehab and strengthening, so leg muscles do not atrophy.

“If the dog is injured and gets laser therapy and acupuncture in time, they can often walk again, because you take the pressure off the legs,” says Carole.

More Widespread Use of Dog Wheelchairs Changing Views Worldwide

Greater accessibility to dog wheelchairs has resulted in a broadening awareness of this option, not only in the United States, but globally. Dog wheelchairs are no longer looked at as an oddity or luxury in many countries, but as a viable solution to help a pet stay mobile.

Hong Kong dog owners Nigel and Sandra Snell summarized this well in an article about their dog, Tessa, in the South China Morning Post:

“She [Tessa] still has this passion to be outdoors, so we decided it was up to us to make her mobile again.”

As dogs are increasingly viewed as family members in many cultures, as they are in the United States, pet owners are happy to discover available resources to extend their lives while preserving a high quality of life.

Types of Dog Wheelchairs

The most common dog wheelchairs are for pets with impairment in their rear legs. Typically, these carts have two wheels in the rear, with a frame that secures to the dog with a front harness.

Quad wheelchairs, also known as 4-wheel carts, help pets with weakness in their front legs, as well as in their rear legs. The assistance of a quad wheelchair enables them to stay mobile and continue to engage their muscles.

Other wheelchairs are made for pets that only have front leg challenges, but these are much less common.

A dog wheelchair has become a practical and easy alternative to watching a pet become increasingly immobile and ultimately needing to make a decision about its quality of life. With mobility assistance, a dog can continue to enjoy running, playing, hiking, walking – essentially all the things it has always enjoyed doing.

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Lisa G. Murray is a freelance writer and the Marketing & Public Relations Director of Walkin’ Pets by HandicappedPets.com, an online pet product company serving the needs of aging, disabled, and injured pets and their caretakers.

Additional links:
Walkin’ Pets on Petmasters