A Will To Live

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Wilma, a 19-hand Belgian mare, was rescued in an emaciated state with a large, oozing swelling that distorted her face. A tooth fell out during the veterinary exam. When she was led away from the small garage where she had been kept tied to a clothesline, she passed by a plow and tried to back up to it, so she could go to work.

At her new home, she could barely eat a mash without bleeding. She was put on antibiotics immediately, and a biopsy was done on the swelling.

The diagnosis was cancer of the sinuses. The prognosis was poor. The rescuers can’t afford the $7,000 radiation therapy. Hopeless' In terms of a cure, probably. Euthanasia' It’s been discussed. The problem is Wilma still has a sparkle of life in her eyes.

Horses aren’t investments, work beasts or disposable animals. We feel sorry for people who consider them so. Even medical professionals, trained to think in terms of optimal treatment and cure, may be inclined to throw up their hands in a case like this. While it’s important to consider the facts when making these decisions, they’re not necessarily the overriding factor.

Wilma’s rescuers want to let her enjoy what time she has left, using optimal nutrition and less-expensive options for controlling the cancer, to at least give her that one last grazing season. If it doesn’t work out, and Wilma has to be euthanized, at least they know they provided her with a calm and dignified death. She’s earned it.

A similar case involves one of our Horse Journal testers, who is also a successful small breeder. One of her yearlings suffered an injury that shattered her shoulder. She was told the filly would never make it past the age of two and she should be euthanized. She couldn’t do it. The filly had too much life and will to live. She decided that when the time came, she would know it.

That mare was euthanized last fall — 20 years later — when she was having trouble rising and standing and was isolating herself, as animals often do when nearing the end of their lives. Over those two decades, she required special care and watching. That mare got everything she needed and more. She held her own in her herd, adapted to her handicap, and enjoyed the same simple things all the other horses did, like a long nap on the grass on a sunny day.

Many horses have beaten the odds to recover from “hopeless” injuries or medical conditions because their owners refused to give up. For some, it means a tremendous investment in money and daily care, while with others it means innovative treatment approaches. Some battles are lost; many more are won. No animal should suffer needlessly, but neither should we be too quick to extinguish a life.

-Eleanor Kellon, VMD