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Veterinary Forum March 2007 (Vol 24, No 3)

Editor's Note: "One of the hardest decisions to make"

by Marie Rosenthal

    During a somber press conference, Dr. Dean Richardson announced that he and owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson had decided to put the famed Barbaro down.

    By now, the young Kentucky Derby winner was an international celebrity, and people were second-guessing their decision: Why now after everything he had been through?

    Richardson explained that it was the right decision, made at the right time for the right reasons. "This is a horse that for months has been an exceptionally calm, quiet and relaxed horse. . . Last night was the first night he was clearly distressed by his condition.

    "We stated, and we meant what we said: 'If we could not control his discomfort, we would not go on.' And that is why the decision was made," Richardson said.

    In the end, though, the when and the why are no one's business but the owners' and the veterinarian's.

    Helping an owner decide when to euthanize an animal is one of the hardest decisions veterinarians handle. (I can't imagine how difficult it must be for you to actually have to implement that decision.)

    It has always been difficult, but I think today, it is harder than ever because of the place that animals hold in our lives.

    I had to make that decision once, and just as Dr. Richardson told us at the press conference, it was the right decision at the right time. Genesis was a 45-lb, spayed weimaraner mix, but her personality was true to breed. She wasn't the sharpest pup in the litter, although her cunning raids to the dumpster showed moments of true ingenuity. She was funny, friendly and loyal.

    When my young son had seizures in the middle of the night, Geni would wake me up (not an easy task — I could sleep through Armageddon) to help him. Then she would watch over him for the rest of the night.

    When several houses in our neighborhood were robbed, Geni, in no uncertain terms, informed the burglars to pick another house, which they did — the one next door.

    When my husband spent time recovering from an illness, Geni transferred ownership from me to him and never left his side. (He told me years later that she would stand next to him every afternoon, and he clung to her as if he were holding onto life itself.)

    By the time she died, she was almost 18. She couldn't see too well, could barely hear, had arthritis and had suffered two "strokes": She survived the first; the second one, not so well. The veterinarian told us it was time, and it was the right decision to make. It was. But it wasn't easy.

    Geni was a grande dame who lived a full and meaningful life, but Barbaro was barely a teenager, full of promise.

    No wonder he broke our hearts.

    NEXT: FDA approves new labeling for Nuflor for bovine respiratory disease