Death is a strange thing and, to me, falls into three categories.
The first category is when something just dies. You waddle out into the paddock and there it is, or you watch frantically as something suddenly (and for no apparent reason) slips away from you. This death brings guilt, fear, and doubt.
"Why? What happened? Was it the Epsom salts in the trough...the dollop of molasses that smelt a bit funny...the extra bedding I didn't put out? Should I have checked them when I got home from the movies...I knew I should have rung the vet...why didn't I move them out of that paddock sooner?" Your fear goes into overdrive.
"How do I know it is not going to happen again...what am I doing wrong...should I give up farming?" And so on.
The second category of death is accidental. This is the "IF ONLY" death. It's a death that can create much anger and it has the added frustration of usually having no obvious direction in which to point it. Accidental death is more often than not a set of circumstances just waiting to line up. Your anger has to be borne and has to be carried carefully through the grief process.
The third category I find death falls into is the time when someone has to make an executive decision about a loved one. Sometimes that loved one may help you out by making a quick decision themselves and moving gracefully into heaven, or by suddenly giving you cause to view it as a blessed release. But mostly this type of death creeps and lurks, insidiously nagging at your mind. One part of you watches, looking for the little signs that say the autumn leaf is going to let go. Another part of you seeks signs of life and rejuvenation. And another tiptoes around trying to measure the time between quality and quantity.
In these matters, no one will help you. You have to be the professional part of the team and make that decision. No one will want to support or encourage you. Dealing with death is a lonely affair.
Buppy Dog is ancient. She is as ancient as the pyramids. She was ancient when she wandered into my place as a lost dog eleven years ago. No one claimed her, and I was pleased. After a few years of living with a very good friend of mine, she returned (mainly because I played matchmaker, my friend marrying the visiting Scottish nurse and leaving NZ!). Buppy Dog has been with me since, leading a life of serene retirement with her own couch and TV.
Each summer she gets a "Lion King" haircut with the horse clippers and for the previous three summers I have been saying, "this will be the last time I clip you, Buppy Dog". This year her back legs started to give out and she now has 'not-so-good' days when I am a little concerned for her safety. Everything still works well for her - the special dog roll and biscuits disappear regularly twice a day; she enjoys her walks around the garden; and her best mate, Albert, keeps her company on the couch.
That executive decision loomed the other week when she had a particularly bad two days and I sat with her many times during the weekend. She appeared comforted even though she wasn't in any pain. She just seemed worried too. How can you tell a friend it's okay to let go? I stroked her head and watched the flowering cherry outside accept the circle of life and relinquish its reds and golds. I made the decision. I decided I would call the vet on Monday and ask her to come in on her way home and send Buppy Dog to sleep on the couch.
But, Monday morning, Buppy Dog was perky. In fact, she was off the couch and almost breaking into a trot to beat Albert to breakfast. I felt a mixture of guilt and remorse all day and I didn't call the vet.
Can you imagine how I felt when the vet came the other day to put the rings in Mrs. Pig's nose? There was Buppy Dog, her beautiful big brown eyes watching from the door. Every time our gaze met a little voice inside me said, "How could you have considered it?"
I know the decision will loom again and, as keepers of animals, we must consider it our responsibility to make certain any ending is stress-free and dignified. I try to consider it a privilege to have the authority to ensure no suffering occurs within my domain. I just hope each time this situation arises that I have the observational powers and the common sense to know when a friend is telling me they have had enough.
In the meantime, Albert still has his best mate and Buppy Dog has 'good days' and 'not-so-good days'. At the moment the scale is tipped to the 'good days' and I am treasuring the extra time.