Thursday, April 8, 2010

Life and death decisions

About three weeks ago, I noticed that Sterling the llama was very underweight. It can be tricky with fiber animals, because their fiber covers up their body so well. I happened to pet him while he was eating, and that's the only reason I knew he was having a problem. I brought him into the barn so I could monitor his food intake and pooping. I treated him for parasites and coccidia since his poop was sometimes pasty. He didn't improve. And a few days ago, I realized he was hardly eating his hay. I did a little research and took him down to the University of Illinois vet hospital yesterday. We learned that he has an abscessed tooth, which will cost $600-800 to remove.

Apparently, you can't just pull a tooth in the back of a llama's mouth. There's an access problem because their head is too long. The vet would have to go through the bottom of his jaw bone and push the tooth out of its socket and into his mouth. He'd have a hole there forever and could dribble saliva and stuff.

Is it worth it to spend that much on a 16 year old llama? He'll never produce that much fiber in the rest of his life, and he's a gelding, so he's not producing babies. From a strictly financial point of view, the answer is no. But I hate making decisions like this.

While driving home yesterday and thinking about this, a Miley Cyrus song came on the radio and I recalled a recent conversation with my daughter. She said she quit liking the singer after she heard that her father got mad at her when she spent tens of thousands of dollars on clothes one month. Now she's on a budget and can only spend a few thousand dollars a month on clothes. Maybe Miley Cyrus could give up a couple shirts or pair of pants and pay for my vet bills?

Sterling isn't the only animal that needs expensive vet care. There is also Trouper, the dog that someone dumped out here, who was then hit by a car. His broken pelvis has healed to the point that he can run again, but he has some kind of serious nerve damage, because he is completely incontinent. He dribbles all the time, and when he lays down, he makes a puddle. He also has no awareness of where his right rear leg is. He stops walking with it completely stretched out behind him, and sometimes he sits down with it twisted behind him. I've spent nearly $300 on this dog already, and he has not even been neutered or vaccinated. I'm hesitant to spend another hundred dollars in an attempt to get a diagnosis of a problem that I can't afford to fix.

He can't live in the house because of the incontinence, and he can't live outside because our livestock guardian has attacked him both times he's come in contact with him, even though they should be separated by fencing. The LGD is finding a way to get out. He hasn't escaped from the pasture in at least six months, so I'm sure he's doing it now because he perceives a threat. It took three of us to pull them apart the last time. What if there's a fight when only one person is home? Living in our barn office is no life for a dog.

And then there is the horse that was deserted here by his owner. He's been here on free pasture board almost from the beginning, and a couple years ago, after my daughter's horse died at the age of 30, I emailed the owner and asked if she'd like to take Merlot somewhere else, because he was lonely without other equine companionship. She sent me a very rude email saying that she couldn't afford to do anything with him, and if I was going to desert him, I should just have him put down. That was a decision I didn't want to make. But now, he's losing weight. I'm sure he needs to have his teeth floated, but that's at least $130, if they find nothing wrong with his teeth. But what if there is something else causing him to lose weight? What if he has other health problems? I know he has arthritis in his hock, which is so severe that the muscles in that hip started to atrophy a couple years ago. He also has EPM, which is a neurological problem that makes it impossible for him to be ridden, so he's not here for any reason, other than his owner deserted him, and I haven't had the courage to put him down or send him somewhere. I've heard the horse rescues are full anyway -- probably like the pit bull rescue that I contacted when we found the injured dog. What financially-strapped, over-worked rescue wants to take on an animal that they know has expensive health issues and will probably be unadoptable?

And that ignores the two cats that were dumped out here last summer. I wanted to get them neutered so that they'd stay here, safe in our barn, rather than venturing out looking for a girlfriend and getting eaten by coyotes. I haven't been able to get them fixed because of Trouper's vet bills.

It would cost thousands of dollars to take care of the vet bills of all five of these animals, four of which I never asked for. They were someone else's problem -- someone who was cowardly and irresponsible. I could never desert an animal and pretend that all is well.

But I do not have thousands of dollars to deal with all these problems. I don't want to see the llama and horse waste away. I don't want to see Trouper get killed by the LGD or live a lonely life in our barn office. I'm sick of seeing intact male cats fighting, and I hope I never again find the remains of a cat that was eaten by a coyote.

But I'm not rich enough to deal with other people's problems -- people who are blissfully ignorant of the pain and suffering of their former pets.

It boils down to some very uncomfortable, painful decisions for me, decisions I never wanted to make.


Goodwife said...

The only thing I can say is this.........there are LOTS worse fates for an animal than a humane death. No where in the Bible does it say we should mortgage our homes to take care of our animals. The politically correct folk (most of whom have never owned livestock in their lives and think dogs were put on this earth to carry around in purses) have made people think it is their responsibility to spend thousands of dollars on vet care for their animals. They try to make you feel if you don't do that you have no business owning animals. Wrong. You provide food, shelter, water, and love to your animals. That's good ownership. Knowing what you can financially afford is good sense. I would have put the dog down humanely right from the get go, so at least you tried I suppose. Again, I'll reiterate.......there are a lot worse fates than death for an animal. Quality of life is important, as well as your financial health. Good luck with your decisions

Anonymous said...

As I was reading your post, an interesting shift happened for me. I wondered, "What would it feel like if she didn't have these worries? If she could let them go?" And as I thought about how much time, energy and money would be freed up, I began to see this as a choice between two good things. One good thing: caring for these animals who have no one else. The other good thing: everything you can accomplish without these worries.

Gizmo said...

I truly feel for you. These are decisions my vet calls heart decisions. You have been forced into this position because of your morals.
You have enough decisions to make regarding the animals you produce, and shouldn't have to make them for other people.
We have a "no keep" rule here. If it's dumped, it is only kept long enough to be relocated to the pound/shelter. The employees get paid to make these decisions.
You know what my decision would be for Sterling. He actually would be valuable for more than just fiber. But that's not my call....
As far as the cats go....don't waste your money neutering them. They will still wander and explore. If you're finding bodies, that means your LGD needs some help with the coyote problem.
If it's any comfort, as long as I've been farming/ranching, this is STILL the part I hate the most!

rachel whetzel said...

Maybe you could look at it this way. Make the choices their owners SHOULD have made. Their OWNERS should have
A. Found a REAL home for their discarded animals.
B. Taken their animals to shelters that would have found them a home.
It's the OWNER'S responsibility to provide vet care, not yours. Just because they were left to fend for themselves and the HAPPENED to be left near you, doesn't make them your responsibility.
Even if you pay to have them humanely euthanized, you will have given them more respect than their owners did. There comes a point when it's not about whether or not you WANT to care for something, it's about whether you can afford to. Emotionally AND financially. It sounds to me like you have much more than you can afford in either category.
HUGS. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes on this one. I've got a caregivers/fixer heart too.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

You have some very good points. I did try to get rid of the dog when he first arrived, but the county said they'd put him down since he was injured, and pit bull rescue said they were full.

nagoonberry, that's how I made the decision to have my standard poodle put down when she got cancer. I could spend $800 to have her leg amputated, which might cure her. Or I could take that money and get another dog from a rescue organization.

Spring Lake Farm said...

My heart goes out to you! I'm so sorry you are faced with these decisions. I do know that these animals were very lucky to have ended up with someone who takes these things to heart.

I wish I lived closer, I would take Trooper. You'll be in my thoughts and prayers!


Ken and Mary of Fancy Fibers Farm said...

I've read a great many good points the comments so far. You are a good-hearted, well meaning, humane person, who respects these living creatures, but you can only do what you can do financially. Quality of life for the animal is an important consideration. Suffering and wasting away slowly are definite no-go's for me, as they are for you. I do feel for poor Trouper, he was treated shabbily by those who dumped him and I don't know how they can look in the mirror. My philosophy has changed since moving to the farm and assuming responsibility for a large number of other creatures. Our poor LGD Belle suffered a freak accident and it was going to cost thousands of dollars to attempt to save her and not performing the operation would have led to her suffering and dying anyway. So we decided to euthanize her and it was tough, but I stayed with her to the end. Anyway, this is a long way around to saying, we empathize with your dilemma and send our support out to you and yours in this time. Ken and Mary of FancyFibers Farm

Tammy said...

No advice really on any of the large animal issues. I can't spend 1,000's on care for my animals, because I do not have the money to spend. Health care for myself goes to the back burner many times because of expense as well. If there are ways to treat and keep animals comfortable that I can afford I'm all over it to the end. About 99 percent of the pets I have are cast aways and I rail against the awfulness of people who will not assume responsibility for their pets and instead 'dump them off' in the country. There is one thing I don't agree with, and that is regarding the neutering of the cats. They may still stroll about, but they do not tend to travel great distances as they do before neutering.(and I've had many many cats over the years--both nuetered and not--those not neutered will become beaten up and can carry in disease and parasites to liberally infest the other pets) Also in this area there is an organization called SNAP (spay-nueter something something). Anyway, the vets promote it, because the number of throwaway cats is immense. This organization will pay for all or part of the procedure, so it might be worth a call or two to find out if there is such a program in your area. It might help you not feel so overwhelmed if you can even address this one issue. Good luck, and I don't envy what decisions you are going to have to make.

Laura said...

I don't have any questions right now, but would definitely like the opportunity to win the book. Sounds really neat!

Genny said...

I was involved in dog rescue for about 10 years. It was hard to walk away from the ones I couldn't help, but I had to concentrate on the ones I could help and find homes for. Unfortunately, not every animal is adoptable, and I had to use the resources I had so I do the most good. I kept some of the dogs that were not able to be adopted because they were old or lame, and I loved them and cared for them until they died or I had to release them from their bodies and have them humanely euthanized. But it's never easy. I stopped doing rescue because I could no longer deal with it on an emotional level. You have a wonderful, caring heart or you wouldn't be so torn. I don't have any advice because we each have to make the hard decisions based on what we know and can handle. But you have my support and admiration for caring for these animals and for caring what happens to them.


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