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Barbaro, a horse loved too much
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I read with deep sorrow the beloved Kentucky Derby winning bay colt was euthanized on Jan. 29.
Finally, the owners and the veterinarians realized the impossibility of “curing” a horse with “three shattered bones in the right hind leg” Savannah Morning News (Jan. 30, 2007).
The bones were not simply broken; they were shattered.
When I actually visualized the injury on a television broadcast recently, I was aghast at the horrifying sight of the sheer number of surgical reconstruction and procedures that were inflicted upon this poor colt.
Of course, the first question that came to mind was, “Why was this animal NOT euthanized when the injury actually occurred?” The answer obviously came promptly to me: “Barbaro was simply loved too much.”
This theme has occurred too often of late in our society. Owners love their animals as precious companions and cannot bear to let them go. They will go to the extremes to save them at any cost. It is this “any cost” philosophy that bears merit for debate.
What is actually best for the beloved creature in their care? “What is best for the owner?” seems to overshadow the first question. Do we actually portend to know what is “best?”
As a University of Houston student, I had an unique opportunity to volunteer as a surgical technician for a local veterinarian. I witnessed a devoted and unconsolable owner who refused to euthanize her beloved canine of 15 plus years, regardless of what the doctor recommended. So into the intensive care “facility” the pathetic creature went until his kidneys finally failed. He died in a cold, steel cage.
I had to make the call to the bereaved owner the next morning after caring for the poor soul all day, informing her of the inevitable “bad news.” After that anguishing call, I left the veterinarian’s office, never to return.  
To watch an animal suffer because the owner will not under any circumstance of rationality let the animal pass is beyond my emotional capabilities.
“The quality of life” issue is always in the forefront of the minds of the veterinarians; but sometimes, they are persuaded by these enthusiastically devoted owners to do the impossible: “Play God” and save an animal suffering from a debilitating condition that is obviously beyond the threshold of recovery (barring a miracle.)
How far will you go to see a “miracle” happen? Barbaro underwent eight months of surgeries and procedures, all of which are extremely painful. I am confident that narcotics were administered; but my husband, who suffers from severe, debilitating chronic pain from his service-connected injuries and administered high doses of daily morphine as treatment can attest, these pain relievers can only go so far.
Further, Barbaro was confined in an intensive care “facility” for 79 days before he could even feel the refreshing sunshine upon his sleek coat and graze upon the fresh earthly grass. Can you even conceive of putting your horse through the anguish, not knowing for certain he would ever have a recognizable life as a horse again?
I personally enjoyed finely bred Tennessee Walker and American Saddlebred horses for some years in Kentucky and I have felt the deep bond for these majestic animals; but even I know the difference between a broken bone and a shattered one. The latter is clearly, in my opinion, a death sentence.
Not so long ago, society put a horse “out of his misery” with a bullet to the head when he had the unfortunate fate of breaking a leg. Now, with modern science we can save some; but even modern veterinary medicine cannot do the impossible. Only the Creator can grant miracles.
The tragedy here is not that Barbaro was euthanized in Janurary, but that he was NOT euthanized on May 20, 2006.
When it is time to let go, we must find the courage to do so. Not solely for our sake, but for the sake of the creature in our care.
Barbaro’s owner, Roy Jackson, said it best, “It was the right thing to do.”
Even more profound, the words of David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, rang true, “His owners went above and beyond the call of duty to save this horse.”
You be the judge. One day you may be called upon to make that very same heart-wrenching decision. I can only hope rationality will override persuasive passionate emotions.

Bezanson may be contacted via email at
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