Goodbye to Jeepers
And Thoughts of Rescue
Arrived TGC 8/11/07
Passed away 5/16/18
Yesterday, I finally gave in, and made that decision I hate to make. Despite his mental engagement and stoic perserverance, Jeepers was having so much trouble moving around, was so shaky and frail, and literally unable to eat enough to hold his weight, I got Dr. Z out and we let him go find Queenie.
I’ve been privileged over the years to know many of those “perfect ponies” we all hear about (not the devil ones) the sturdy, dependable, easy keeping, versatile ones. Jeepers was another. He came to me from Under the Angel’s Wings, who had accepted him into their program when his owner foundered him. Courtney got him stabilized, but she had to downsize in 2007, so we agreed to bring him here. While she’d been told he was 16 at the time, we believe from the vet’s subsequent exam of his teeth that he was easily 5-10 years older. But a fat sassy boy, whose engaging ways would certainly have resulted in him getting fed too many treats, with either recurrent bouts of laminitis or IR resulting.
While Jeepers’ feet continued to be a problem, that was really the whole thing. I just had to keep his pellets down and let him thrive on our grass hay, like Ronan and Boo, and he did. Until his final year, when the loss of too many molars meant he had to live on moistened pelleted feed and senior, he was a fat happy guy on little more than bermuda grass hay.
Until he met Queenie and had his handsful taking care of her, Jeeps could be depended on for a pony ride for the littles.
He was good for the farrier, and I had total faith in him for pony rides now and then. Once he hooked up with Queenie, of course, that was out of the question - she couldn’t do it, and I wouldn’t separate them.
Isn't that a doglike grin, from a guy with his beautiful girl?
He fell in love with our bossy Queenie right away. He was obsessed, and adoring, and everything a queen would want. He protected her, was jealous of her, hovered over her, and as these guys will, refused to be separated, escorting her to her stall door every night before going in to his own dinner. Despite his small size, no one disputed his claim, and all veered off when he told them No, Leave My Girl Alone!
Jeeps was tough enough to school Blue Bayou
So many of the pictures I have of him, he’s side by side with her. And interesting to me, Queenie loved him too and never tired of his attentions, or sought time with other horses. She would sweep off and you’d almost hear her say, Jeeps, come on, we’ve gotta go! And he’d follow.
I will tell you that she was even older than he, and when she passed, I saw his heart break. From that point a couple of years ago to now, his slide downhill has been consistent.
When Queenie passed, Jeeps was ‘adopted’ by Trace. Another pony. Jeepers took Trace under his wing, showing him the ropes, and hanging with him. And then Reggie came, and joined the boys. For a brief time, they were a herdlet, always led by Jeepers.
When Reggie passed, month by month Jeepers started leaving a little feed at night. I found a tooth in his feeder, and called the vet out to check his teeth. As Fred was rummaging around in there, he kept bringing out one molar after another! I exclaimed, but he said Casey, see, there’s no root here. All of these are loose enough to fall out with a little finger pressure. They’ve been causing him a lot of pain! So in a short period of time Jeepers lost 5 molars! Yeah, time for mush ... which Jeepers hated, so I compromised with moistened pellets and senior feed. He wasn’t fond of beet pulp either, and I tried adding oil for energy. He’d honestly leave more feed that way, so I went back to a simple diet, slightly moistened, diced his carrots small, gave him all the Winnies cookies he wanted, and added some chia and psyllium to keep him moving properly (he couldn’t eat hay at all).
So what I’m describing above is my heart’s need. I didn’t want him to go. For someone who believes in Mother Nature and her plan, I was doing what I condemn in people all the time - refusing to accept the inevitable, that death comes to us all, and for horses, once their teeth are gone, it’s only a matter of time. How much hungry-time do we inflict on them because we don’t want to lose them? Because I know he was hungry. While his bad knees and pain from them probably contributed to it also, he lost weight because he couldn’t get enough calories down. I ignored reality, because I didn’t want to lose him. And, to give me a break, he was engaged. He did enjoy his herd - no one forced him to shuffle out to the herd every day. He approached slowly but insistently asking for his cookies every time he saw me. I kept food he could eat in front of him, but between the pain and his age, I think he mostly slept, he took so long to eat that the minute there was something on his stomach, he’d doze off, and in the end, left him too little time to eat enough. In many ways, Nature was telling me it’s time. Am I a coward for wishing that one of the times I found him down, I’d find that he’d passed on his own? But his pony heart was strong, and his will to remain with his friends drove him. It was time for me to step up.
One last note, a last lesson for me from Jeepers. During his years with Jeepers, I kinda detested Trace. He would wander off when Jeepers snoozed, and when Jeeps woke up, he would warble out his little-old-man voice, calling for Trace, who would simply ignore him. And if Trace felt threatened by other horses, he would run to put Jeepers’ frail little self between him and the other horses! Trace IS old too, but he’s in great shape. A couple of times in his excitable freak outs, he almost knocked Jeepers down! I wanted to smack him. But Jeepers’ devotion to him never wavered, and on the last day, despite me being sure that Trace knew Jeeps was gone, he was reluctant to come back for dinner. He started calling ... calling... sounding a little more insistent as the minutes passed, looking back at Jeepers’ motionless body. Eventually, he came in, but thru the night, periodically, I heard him calling ... calling. I needed to pay attention. I think I was wrong. I think Trace did love Jeepers. And I guess Jeepers knew that. So .... two of us grieve today.
Anyway, we were able to give Jeepers 11 more years, 10 of which were very fine ones for him. A lovely girlfriend; buddies; a herd life with all that entails, as well as the comfort of a stall each night. And he, through all those years, gave back everything we asked for. Good behavior under saddle, with the farrier and vet, dedicated care of his friends, easy keeping. I want to thank Wendi Larson and her family, for being his dependable part sponsor for many of his last years.
I don’t know if, in the end, I did the right thing for him. Don’t we all feel that way, when someone we love dies no matter what we can do? And I’m not one to want to prolong “life” at all costs. I can’t dispute that his physical condition was awful, and nothing I can do here could help that. And he was very elderly, well into his 30s. A full and happy life is all any of us can ask for, right? So why am I so sad?
Lately, I’ve wondered a lot about horse rescue, and how much longer I can keep it up. I thought about what a definition of rescue should be, what it would include. You know I’m a sanctuary, where older and disabled horses go to live, then die, no further homes. A regular “rescue” has a much harder job in many ways - they obtain the horses, assess them, rehab them, train, or retrain if necessary, and adopt them out. While that gives a little return of funding (adoption fees) real rescues almost never get back the $$ invested, and have the same costs I have (feed, farrier, vet) in addition to training costs. Plus like me, they fall in love with their charges, so seeing them leave, even to a home they believe is a good one, must be akin to watching your toddler go to school the first time, or your teen leave for college. You fear for them. I don’t have those problems, but I also don’t get adoption feeds, I do fall in love, and in the end, I have to kill those I love. Rescue is not pretty. These days, it feels like a finger in the dike - or as my Marine father liked to say, “shoveling shit against the tide”.
There are many types of rescue. Some take any horse that comes by. Some specialize by breed. Some provide sanctuary, some rehome, and some do both. Everyone has a style, and hopefully a mission statement they try to use to keep our heads above water.
Rescue has to include Saying NO. You MUST be willing to do that. You can’t help any horses, if you try to help them all. (Unless you’re Bill Gates, in which case, contact me please). Rescues can only do as much as the support they receive. But rescue is all about the TRY, no question. You’ve got to be sure that death is their only real option before you do that. I disagree with some people, including other rescue, who believe that a choice of deaths (slaughter, neglect or euth) are all we can offer to horses.
Rescue has to include understanding that WE are the problem, not them. I disagree with anyone who says “we can’t save them all”. Humanity could easily help those they’ve bred into existence and used. We are obliged to. We choose not to. We think of them as equipment, discarded when a newer shinier “better” model is available. We don’t recognize their right to life. If we breed them into life, that’s on US. If we break them down by “using” them too much or too young, that’s on US. If we neglect them, or want to discard them for the most trivial and selfish of reasons, that’s on US. If they are “too expensive” - that’s on US, they don’t set the cost of their feed, housing and basic services.
Rescue has to include considering THEIR needs and desires, not just ours (at least for the old and broken in our service). I disagree with anyone who believes that horses “want a job” - sure sometimes but only if the choice is standing in a small 24/7 stall, alone. Mother Nature did not design them to be equipment for the naked ape. Their job used to be finding food and water, breeding, hanging out and playing together. We tend to think they owe us because we feed them .... but when did they have a choice? We house them to be convenient for US. We feed them twice a day when we know full well they should be eating 16 hours a day to be healthy, and moving while they do it and then bitch about health complications/expenses that arise. We put them in closets, when they evolved to roam whole continents. They don’t owe us. Once we enslaved them, our obligation began. We owe THEM. Human history is written large because of their efforts, their enslavement.
Rescue MUST include TRYING. We owe it to them to TRY to help them. Yes, it means feeding every freaking day. Having clean water available every freaking day. Having a farrier and veterinarian see them when needed, always. And in the end, if nothing else can be done, giving them a peaceful easy end. We shouldn’t be guessing. We shouldn’t be going on the internet to find a cheaper solution to a problem we probably made. Get the vet out. Spring for the shoes if needed. TRY.
Rescue has to include PAYING ATTENTION. Its because they’re quiet by nature, you know. They don’t whine and cry, scream and yell, bitch and carry on about every damn thing like we do. Prey animals are quiet, and try to endure. So we say, “o, he’s fine”. But if we pay attention, they’re not.
I’m sad to say rescue is moving more towards being a “business” - thus, non profit or not, making money seems to be the goal.
The better rescues are hoping to get donations and adoption fees to at least break even. that's fair. Why should they pay the cost of so many people discarding the innocent? They do the work, let's not have it cost them as well!
Some want more than that, to be able to hire full time help with the scut work. Many want salaries. That also seems fair, but honestly, donors don't want to help YOU have food and water and shelter, just the horses!
And then, recently, we’ve found that too many are really making money hand over fist. And using it all for their own happy lifestyles. You say, well, people are donating to them! Yeah, but not for the horses, not for the good that can be done, at least in the case of one large ‘rescue’ who should never have been allowed to use that word in their name. For them, animals of any sort are just objects, incidental to their personality cult. They “work” their donors with lies and drama, and for a time, that worked for them, to the tune of millions. (See? The money to save them all IS there!)
That’s partly the “we’ve got to save them” - everyone wants to save them. Believe me, I want to save them ALL. But they are not bicycles we can warehouse once “saved”. They need to eat. Every day. They need space to move. They need farrier work, medications, veterinarians. You can’t just donate to “save” horses, and then forget about them, expecting rescues to pick up the longer term much more expensive maintenance! It’s unreasonable! And even $10/a month from enough people would ‘maintain’ a LOT of horses, but somehow, no one wants to do that. Why? Its $120 a year! From hundreds or thousands of people, so much good can be done! But the same person who won’t do that, will spend $2-300 to “save” a horse, whom they promptly forget about, and can’t be bothered to feed. It makes no sense to me.
While that’s an extreme example, still I wonder how many true horse lovers go into rescue. I think a lot of people would agree that for a person who loves horses, who gets to know them, rescue can really hurt. A sanctuary has to end the lives of horses they’ve known and kept healthy for years sometimes. And we struggle because old horses aren’t glamorous, and we don’t kill them to make room to bring in another that people will be excited to “save”. So we don’t get the kind of donations other rescues can, and no adoption fees. Rescues who adopt out have to trust that their darling will be safe in the new home, the adopters will be as good as their word. We work hard time and again, only to fail when the damage done is too extreme. But what’s the choice? People like this faux rescue who see it as a means to personal wealth, and the horses suffer even more?
There ARE rescues who find a way to at least break even, be more businesslike, and that’s great. They’re smart. They might be able to keep going. But that faux rescue cost us all, with their dishonest dealings. Now donors who gave so generously to them, and then found out what was really happening, are leery of donating to any horse rescue, painting us all with the same brush. No doubt horses attract a certain type of person. I mean, ‘horse trading’ is a byword for sneaky dealings, right? But honestly, we’re not all like that. Some are small and struggling; some larger with more help; but I think a good heart makes up for a lot with horses. Even tho I have little time with them, and am harried and worried and impatient,TGC’s horses walk over as soon as they see me. They hang with me and the farriers. They can tell I care. I guess that means a lot to people too! I need to find more people who care. Badly. Because if I don’t, between lack of funding and loneliness and stress (physical and emotional) I don’t know how much longer I can go on. I’ve done this for 26 years now, 20 as a 501c3. That’s right, I was active BEFORE Facebook! (You younger rescues, be grateful you didn’t try it THEN!) Maybe I’m done. But I have a paddock full of sweet hopeful faces, who for one reason or another have only us to depend on. Please help me do right by them, as we did by Jeepers.