Saying Goodbye to Helen: The Price of Love
Animal Stories from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Kathy Keefe, Catskill Animal Sanctuary
March 2015

People often ask me what the hardest part of my job is and are surprised that I do not say dealing with death. (The hardest part is having to say no to animals in need of placement when we lack the capacity to accept them.)

Animals live in the present: to “do them right” you must be in it with them, right to the end. We would be terrible cowards to turn away when they need us most. Don’t waiver. Don’t look away. Just love them.

How privileged we were to have been a part of this dear animal’s life … and how privileged Alex and I were to have eased her death. My face and the front of my vest were soaked with tears and my chest felt like it would explode. It was a long ride home. Yet as much as it hurt, I would not have missed it for the world. These gut-wrenching goodbyes are, after all, the price of love.

Helen rescued cow
Helen
 

Kathy Keefe, Catskill Animal Sanctuary
March 2015

People often ask me what the hardest part of my job is and are surprised that I do not say dealing with death. (The hardest part is having to say no to animals in need of placement when we lack the capacity to accept them.) As a place that rescues and takes in abused, neglected, or otherwise compromised farm animals, we see a lot of death.

Making decisions regarding end of life is one of the most important things we do … and we don’t take it lightly. The decision is about the quality of life, the release from pain, the end of suffering for creatures we love. Our own feelings of pain and loss can never be a factor in the decision.

Don’t get me wrong: it tears me to ribbons every time. Yet these decisions are the price, and the responsibility, of love. The privilege of being a part of their lives is worth the pain of inevitable and eventual loss. Animals live in the present: to “do them right” you must be in it with them, right to the end. We would be terrible cowards to turn away when they need us most. Don’t waiver. Don’t look away. Just love them.

It is always hard, even if it’s the right time, but some are harder than others. Losing someone who should have had much more time is the worst. Someone like Helen.

Helen was nine years old. She came to CAS as a calf, blind and frightened. She soon bonded with a young steer named Rudy, and with us humans. Never a shrinking violet, Helen was vivacious and smart. She was the one to test and break the fences when the mood would strike her. She was always ready for a snack or a snuggle.

For nearly a decade, Helen thrived with her disability, showing no signs of distress until this past summer when our wonderful vet surmised that the pressure behind her eyes was building up and causing pain, and that it would be best to remove them. We had used this procedure with three blind horses in the past with great success. So we made plans to take her to Cornell for the surgery. Cajoling her with treats and a little nudging, staff member Alex and I began the over four-hour drive.

Helen rescued cow
Alex and Helen

When we arrived Helen strolled out and we directed her (using treats, sweet words, lots of leaning) into a deeply bedded stall. I gave the vets her history as I introduced them to our beautiful friend, reminding them she was “a 1,000 pound cocker spaniel” and a beloved friend to staff and volunteers at Catskill Animal Sanctuary.

The following day’s surgery went very well and the whole sanctuary breathed a collective sigh of relief. The following day, however, I received a message to call Cornell as soon as possible. Helen had slipped and fallen as she tried to get up while coming out of anesthesia. She tore ligaments and cartilage in one of her back legs. Corrective surgery was not a possibility. Our beloved friend would have to be euthanized. Oh, the irony.

I felt as if a huge weight was pressing on my chest as I told them that Alex and I were once again on our way to be with her. It was a long, heart-wrenching ride. When we arrived, Helen was lying down in her stall, bandaged but not in distress. I softly called her name; she turned to me and lowed a soft response. I knelt down and stroked and talked to her. When Alex came in, she turned to the sound of his voice and nuzzled him as well.

I sat cross-legged with her head in my lap as the vet administered the drugs to end her life. I stroked her and talked to her, saying over and over again, “I love you, it’s going to be ok, baby girl,” until she slowly slipped away and laid her head back and I whispered, “It was my honor to know you.”

How privileged we were to have been a part of this dear animal’s life … and how privileged Alex and I were to have eased her death. My face and the front of my vest were soaked with tears and my chest felt like it would explode. It was a long ride home. Yet as much as it hurt, I would not have missed it for the world. These gut-wrenching goodbyes are, after all, the price of love.


Return to: Animal Stories