May 27, 2013

End of Life Decisions and Equine "Living Wills"

Growing up, we had a ton of pets and livestock - horse, donkey, cattle, dogs, chickens, parrots, cats, guinea pig, hamsters, rats, rabbits - and so we were never shielded from end-of-life decisions.  My mom always said, "You just know, they tell you," when asked how she made the decision to put an ailing pet to sleep.  We also had good vets in our corner that were always honest about what they would do in the situation, which helped.

None of us expect or want to go through what L. Williams at Viva Carlos had to do this week, and my thoughts are with her.  It's so brave to do the right thing even when it's unexpected and it hurts.  He told her, and she unselfishly obeyed, and I have so much respect for her for handling it like she did.

But what if you weren't prepared or even there to be for a decision like that?  I was chatting with our new working student yesterday, who had just been on a cruise to Jamaica for ten days without cell service recently, and she told me how she had essentially given a living will to my trainer for her horse before she left.  It basically said, "If this type of injury occurs I prefer him taken to Purdue or Rood and Riddle, if he is in pain and the vet determines it would be more humane to put him down, I authorize you to put him to sleep, if he needs colic surgery, go for it" etc.  It's something I haven't thought about before, but it would be a good idea to have one for those of us who are boarders.

She said her previous barn made every boarder fill out a questionnaire with their "in case I am unreachable"  veterinary preferences on it.  For example, some people just cannot afford colic surgery, and would put their horse to sleep in that case, while others may be able to afford it out of pocket or with insurance help, and if the BM doesn't know what the owner's situation is, that can be a tough call to make, especially when a horse is in pain.  So the questionnaire had questions like "If my horse colics badly enough to need surgery and I am unreachable, I prefer that you:__________________"

It's tough to think about, but it's something that should be decided with a clear head ahead of time and not when your emotions are running high in an emergency.  What would you like to see on a questionnaire like that?


  1. A questionnaire is a great idea!! I should defiantly do one of those for Henry.

  2. When my barn owners went on vacation for 3wks, they left a note at the vet's office authorizing me and another boarder to make decisions for them and their horses. It also stated no colic surgery and a monetary limit on how much they would spend on each horse, ie more on the younger/show horses and less on the older/retired horses.

  3. I am lucky enough to board at a smaller more private barn with one of the boarders being one of my best friends and the BO working at our colleges vet hospital so I can trust them all with making quick decisions should I not be reachable. Plus they have basically the same ideas as to when to stop (such as colic sx) etc. I know that even if I didnt have the money I could come up with it some how, I would rather my pony be okay!

  4. It is really hard to fill one of those questionnaires. I had to fill one for Roscoe when he went to stud training. Mom and Peggy scolded me for not putting a higher dollar amount for what he is worth, but i think he is priceless so it was a hard question. I did feel bad because I could only put a small dollar amount limit for colic surgery.
    I do think these are a good idea, so that caretakers do not have questions.

  5. The first boarding contract I ever signed for my horse had a dollar amount the barn owner was authorized to spend in case I couldn't be reached. That was tough. Since then I've grown more comfortable with setting a dollar amount, and I've also had extensive discussions with both my boyfriend and my mother about what my wishes would be and they can serve as backup - plus they know how/where to find me at all times.

    I did board at a barn once that wouldn't inject banamine without getting in touch with me. That pissed me off, as my horse has a history of gas colic. If I can't be with him at all times, then I want the barn I choose to be able to administer needed medication quickly - these were experienced horse people who could easily tell when a horse needed banamine, too, so it wasn't like they were unsure.

  6. I am very lucky that my trainer, vet and I all see eye to eye on most of that stuff. I always knew what I would do or have someone do in those situations, and I knew it would be hard when I came to my decision but it is a really rough ride even when you do the right thing.

  7. Barn we have boarded at the past four years, had something like that in the boarding contract. We had to specify an amount we ok'd in the event we could not be reached and a vet had to be called.