Goodbye to Charlie Tuck
Passed away November 6, 2018
Today I try to write about a giant. Not in size, as Charlie wasn't a huge American Cream draft horse. But in personality and heart, a giant of a horse.
Our Charlie Tuck died yesterday. Possibly a torsion colic, possibly complications that he was riddled with when he arrived here. Gut sounds gone, severe pain, labored agonal breathing, inability to stay on his feet for long, when disaster struck, it struck hard and painfully. At his advanced age, and with the added knowledge that cancer was already taking him down (shown by recent weight loss despite enormous amounts of feed) we didn’t hesitate to end this pain and suffering.
I know that Charlie knew he was in his last moments. He made sure he visited the herd, swiped sides with Beezelee repeatedly, and chose his last resting place in the middle of the main paddock, with the herd all around. His end was quick and quiet and despite my tears, I know it was the best thing for him.
Charlie had spent a decade as a therapy riding horse. The wretched outfit that made money off his efforts for all those years tossed him to pasture when he developed a cancer on his penis that made him unable to retract it – I imagine they found it embarrassing. Instead of having it excised while still on the surface, they chose to ignore him for three years, during which time the cancer invaded the penis such that the only possible treatment would be a penectomy, a surgery much too hard for an elderly guy. Our doc assigned me to watch – if he had trouble urinating, it would be time. But instead, the tumor just grew inexorably. On his final day, Dr. Z indicated that visible growing cancer is often a sign of metastasis, and that likely the cancer was all throughout Charlie’s body now, and could have contributed to his final ailment. When the therapy riding outfit wanted to get rid of Beezelee, they decided at the last minute to “throw in” Charlie. I’m glad they did. Just so you know – that outfit, which makes close to half a million dollars a year in donations, never gave a single penny for either Beezelee nor Charlie, without whom they wouldn’t even have had a program. Dumped, and ran. After all these years, I can’t believe I’m surprised when those who exploit animals do this … but disgusted, yes.
Once Charlie arrived, the impact of this ancient American Cream Draft horse was inescapable. The doc indicated that Charlie was into his 30s, and missing almost all of his grinding teeth. He fell on his buckets of pelleted hay pellets and senior mush like a ravenous wolf! First into his stall every single night! I realized quickly that he wasn’t able to eat the hay the others grazed all day, so I got up every morning early to bring him a morning bucket of pelleted feed as well. His singular focus and careful vacuuming of every dropped bit of feed was awesome to watch. He was thin when he came in, and I never was really able to put as much weight on him as I’d have liked to, but not for lack of trying on his part or mine!
He was Beezelee’s protector. She should have been his! But his personality was much bigger than he was, and stronger. Once, the younger thugs of our herd came up behind him while he was stealing a drink from a stall barrel, and hardly lifting his head, he hammered backward with both hind feet, one, two, three times! He only connected once, but only because those guys were fast at scattering! And they didn’t push it, as sometimes they will – Charlie engendered great respect simply because he felt he deserved it. His pride and presence, his years of experience, his self-confidence all combined to give him the space he needed. And he gave Beezelee the confidence to wander around that she seems to have lost since his passing. He followed her, like a Secret Service bodyguard clearing the area of bad guys just by being there! At different times, various geldings showed interest in Beezelee, including Durango who went nuts over her for about 2 months, and for that time only, I saw Charlie step aside. I wonder if he knew he couldn’t be involved in that kind of activity. How often I wondered if he had pain from that tumor. But if he did, he never let on. He did what he could to be a strong protector for his lady, and let the rest go.
Other than Beezelee, Charlie seemed to see the other horses at an indistinct herd. He didn’t make friends with the other geldings. He didn’t pursue or show interest in any other mares. He focused on Beezelee and food. And food meant, he focused on me. Every time he saw me, he changed direction and bee-lined right for me. And sometimes, when he was really hoofing it, I worried! He had a bum hind leg, what if he couldn’t stop? I’d be toast. But I carried cookies and carrots to be sure I’d have a snack for him. (On my birthday last month, a supporter sent me a grinder/slicer machine, and I used that to shred carrots for him – he’d eat them anyway, but I think they went down easier and I could give him more.) Sometimes, he’d run to his stall gate and lean into the chain – and I’d have to scold him and push, HARD, to get him to back up enough that I could undo it! FOOD! The stuff of his every waking thought, and I bet he dreamed of it too. He got twice the pellets any other horse on this lot gets, and it still wasn’t enough. The doc and I talked about it several times, as I was frustrated by his failure to gain, but that’s apparently one of the hallmarks of an active cancer.
So yes, I had many reminders that Charlie’s time was short. But his will was so strong, his spirit so bright, that even as I filmed him in his last hour, and I knew his situation was dire, I hoped Dr. Z could do something for him. But it was not to be.
Of course I cried as he died. But I got a hold of it – this was really NOT a surprise. But later in the day, Katja called. What is it about hearing someone cry, that makes you cry too? But still, I got a hold of it. And then I had to turn his bucket over. I stood there whimpering, so unhappy, and as I walked the line feeding, I stopped with Beezelee, because I couldn’t face his empty stall. How do we lose someone like Charlie? Whose personality filled the space for 20 feet around him? Why does the world have to feel so empty, with him gone? How did this great gentle but spirited guy work for humanity for most of his life, providing gentle therapy and lending his strength to the injured and damaged humans, only to be tossed aside like an old couch? What does a horse have to do, to earn our love and respect? Here, at the Golden Carrot, Charlie was loved and respected as he so deserved. And he will be profoundly missed.