I love the animals I support. It’s like they are mine. They are close, trusting friends who afford me courtesy, respect and love every time they allow me to eliminate their first line of defense — running — when they give me their foot.
For most owners, their animals are either extended family members or an integral part of the daily routine for which they have a job. Regardless, when they are lame or sick for extended periods of time, there comes a time when farriers are asked, “Do you think we should put Mystery down?”
I have cared for a badly lame mini named Mystery for several years now. She limped from her stall the first time I saw her. She clearly suffered from laminitis and her feet were almost 18-inch horns.
Upon my request, the owners paid for radiographs to reveal the degree of rotation of her coffin bones. With Mystery, the coffin bones had rotated front-to-back and side-to-side.
I tried to provide her with balance and ensure that the point of the coffin bone was not pointing directly down into the ground.
The base truth with laminitic feet is that you cannot reverse the rotation of the coffin bone. The closer I got to provide Mystery with “normal” looking feet, the sorer she became. So I backed off and let the horn grow from her heels to provide the necessary additional protection against her foundering.
After about 2 years of caring for Mystery, she still makes her way awkwardly, but effectively, in the paddock and is capable of executing a quick athletic move to discourage regular advances from the two stallions that are part of the herd.
Mystery has recently contracted some problems breathing. Her owner asked me again whether it would be more humane to assist Mystery with moving on.
It’s a very difficult one to answer correctly and honestly. If a horse or donkey could talk, as honest as animals are, they would tell us when it’s their time. But they obviously cannot — at least not the way we expect.
Pedro and Mallory
Long after I started taking care of Mystery, a foster child of a wonderful couple in Brampton, Ontario, called me to take on their mini Mallory and their donkey Pedro.
This is no ordinary couple. Now in their 70s, they had legally adopted and raised 19 special needs children. They were and are still supporting many of them. They owned a small farm in Brampton that was being swallowed up by the city around it. They are heroes and clearly, I was not going to say no, so I took on Mallory and Pedro.
Pedro was already in his 30s and did not like getting his feet done. Mallory was also a handful when I first started. Despite this, I looked forward to my every 6-week visit.
As it turned out, recently the owners had both experienced some health issues. They were starting to move out several of their animals, including Pedro and Mallory, who were moved to a sanctuary quite a distance out of my territory. I worried about them and wanted to make their transition as easy as possible, so I offered to do their first trims so that they would not have to get used to a new farrier.
They are both a big hit with the children who visit, especially Pedro. But Pedro was so old he could no longer defend himself and was getting butted regularly by a ram that he could have easily taken down when he was younger. The ram was separated but Pedro was also beginning to suffer more from the white line disease he had acquired a year ago last summer when the whole northeast seemed to have had rain every day throughout spring and summer.
On my last visit with Pedro, as usual, he tried to resist but then quit. He just collapsed and was not kicking me. When he collapsed, one of my hoof knives was knocked out of its holster in my apron and Pedro was lying on top of it. I had to move him to get it. He was still just lying there. I took both front legs and literally rolled him over.
I do a lot of donkeys. They are feisty, strong, proud and brave. They are much stronger than I am. I was able to get Pedro to stand and I finished his feet. Having already finished Mallory, Pedro left and went with her into the paddock — happy to be done and free again.
On the way home I could not help thinking about what Pedro had just done. While I can only guess, I think Pedro was telling me he was ready. He had led a blessed life. He is still loved, but he is ready.
Then it hit me.
Mystery is still giving me a very hard time when I did her feet. My answer came to me.
Mystery is not ready to go. And that’s what I told the owners.