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Paws to Consider — Are there really any cowboys? PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, May 15, 2014 8:00 PM



“I don’t know which will be worse. The ride you had coming here or the one you’re gonna have going home.”

I said that to Randy moments after I euthanized his wonderful old Labrador, Cocoa, and a darn good cat named Pooh, in the backseat of his car in our parking lot. It was a beautiful, sunny May afternoon and I had been pretty brave, at least for me, up until that point. Randy seemed to be handling it well, too.

But when the light hit his sunglasses just right, and I could see what was really going on underneath, I felt my own facade quickly crumble. I did manage to squeak out, “Take care Randy”, before making a hasty retreat to the back door.

The decision to euthanize a pet has to be the hardest thing an owner will ever confront. I have always been impressed, in awe, actually, of the courage it takes to do this. About a year ago, I wrote a column about a cowboy named Bill, his dog, Skeeter, and how brave and stoic he was following Skeeter’s euthanasia.

In the column, I included a letter Bill wrote to my wife shortly after the dog’s death detailing how much Skeeter had meant to him. That is a treasure she will keep forever. A few weeks later, Bill delivered another treasure - a pencil drawing of Skeeter cooling off in a water trough on a warm Montana day. It now hangs in the hallway outside our office, a constant reminder of the power of the human-animal bond and why we do what we do.

Not long after Bill and Skeeter’s column appeared in the newspaper, a little dog named Buster sadly met the same fate. Unlike Bill, his owner, Mark, was visibly upset by the experience and even apologized to my wife: “I’m sorry I’m not a cowboy.”

While maybe not “cowboy brave,” Mark was brave nonetheless by virtue of the fact he scheduled a euthanasia appointment, drove to our hospital and was there with and for Buster. My wife and I have had to euthanize some of our own pets but we controlled the moment. To actually pick up a phone, choose a time and take a pet on their final journey, that is courage I can only imagine.

Another “cowboy” incident occurred a few weeks ago. Although this involved neither euthanasia nor act of bravery, it did involve a tall, rugged-looking man who loved his pet.

My patient, a white, fluffy dog I’ll call Max, had what his owner thought was an injured rear leg. It turned out to be a bit of a back problem, but that’s not crucial to this story.

The night before, I received an emergency message on my phone. The answering system tells me how long the message is before I push the final button to hear the actual spoken communication. “One minute, twenty-seven seconds” is a long message. A message such as this usually includes way too much information, perhaps some repeated statements, sometimes a little swearing, and often a “blurp” on a key number that can never be deciphered.

But this message contained none of that. It was straight to the point - the dog was limping slightly on one leg, his owner was concerned but not overly, and wanted to know if we thought this was an emergency or could wait until the next day. His spoken message of no more than 20 seconds was followed by a hang-up sound - except the phone wasn’t really hung-up. What went on for the next minute or so sounded a lot like “baby talk.” Although I couldn’t make out a word he said, it seemed like he had quite an engaging conversation with Max.

Standing in our exam room looking up at the tall man, though I thought about it, I never did mention the eavesdrop incident. I guess I didn’t want to embarrass him. But there was nothing to be embarrassed about. He was simply a guy who held his dog in very high regard. Veterinarians appreciate people like him.

I’ve been doing this for quite some time now and it never ceases to amaze me how much our pets mean to us. And why not? They are the human friends we wish we had and the friends we wish we could be - no pretense, no prejudice, just unconditional love. It’s a wonder how any of us can truly be a cowboy when it comes to them. Certainly not me, nor Mark, nor Randy and I’m pretty sure, beneath his cool, brave cowboy exterior, not even Bill.


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