Friday, December 9, 2011

Goodbye Argus, Goodbye Ridge

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portions of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

~Emily Dickinson

It is with great sadness that I announce that Argus' journey on Earth ended on a mild winter day on Tuesday, November 22, 2011. He was accompanied by his best friend, Ridge, who also died the same day.

Five days earlier, Argus sustained a sudden and severe shoulder injury. I had spent time with him earlier that day, checking him thoroughly and making plans to have the vet out to look at him. He had been having a lot of trouble with his knees and was dropping weight rapidly. Little did I know that that day would be his last happy time in pasture.

Around 2pm, I looked out at Argus in the field, grazing with Odie, Ridge, Dallas and Indy. I remember thinking about how content he seemed. I watched him as he lowered himself down to roll in his favorite spot in the pasture, then went to take a shower. Only a few minutes later, I saw him in pasture, his left front leg extended awkwardly. He was unable to bear weight on it, and his shoulder was rapidly swelling. A large lump that had not been there previously was also apparent.

A vet was summoned immediately. He felt that Argus had sustained some sort of severe muscle or nerve damage but did not suspect a fracture. "Only time will tell," he said tentatively. We loaded Argus up on bute and banamine, and made him as comfortable as possible. With the passage of five days, Argus did not improve, but rather worsened, and with his severely arthritic right knee bearing all his weight, he was in tremendous pain. A trailer ride to a large animal hospital for more in-depth diagnosis was not possible, but I had a second vet out for a second opinion. He sadly concluded that Argus' injury was grave, with no hope for improvement. With a heavy heart, I made the decision to end Argus' pain. Sadly, Dr. Miller was unable to attend to Argus that day.

While waiting for the vet to arrive, Ridge, Argus' best friend and constant companion, began to colic.

Argus' last hours were filled with love and care. He was brushed and loved. I talked to him about all the hope and joy he had brought me and so many others. He ate buckets of treats. He crunched carrots and apples. Yet his eyes were distant. His pain palpable. I ached at the thought of letting him go, and yet ached at seeing him suffer so much.

The end was quiet and peaceful. Argus stood in the pasture, surrounded by all his friends. Odie the mule stood stoically at his side, comforting him. Ridge was cared for by the vet's assistant. The vet administered the first of two syringes that would end Argus' life, and I stroked him and told him how much I loved him. I stepped back, Argus' eyes fixed on me, and told him, over and over, "I love you. It's okay to let go now." He seemed so tired, yet he stood for a long time, and when the drugs finally overtook him, he gracefully crumpled to the ground. I held his head in my lap; he died in my arms.

Unable to really grieve or process the loss of Argus, I immediately turned to the colicking Ridge, who received veterinary care that made him more comfortable. Throughout the day, I nursed Ridge and kept in frequent contact with the vet. By early evening, it was apparent to me that this was not a minor colic. Numb and in shock, I called the vet out again. By this time, Ridge's pain was becoming unmanageable, his gut sounds had diminished, and he began refluxing stomach fluid out through his nose.

So on this terrible day, less than seven hours after Argus left us, I found myself saying those words yet again: "I love you. It's okay to let go now," to Ridge as we released him from his pain. It was dark outside. The only lights reaching Ridge were the headlights of the vet's truck. And once again, Odie stood nearby as Ridge crumpled gracefully to the ground. I held his head in my lap as he took a few last breaths, which seemed almost ghostly as the warm air from his lungs met with the cold air outside, illuminated by the lights. And then Ridge was gone.

My two boys, the best friends we called "the bookends" and "the twins" because of how similar they looked, and how closely they always stood together, had gone to the Rainbow Bridge together. Argus could never stand being alone, and even in death, he was accompanied by his buddy Ridge.

It was a shocking and exquisitely painful day, and yet, when I think about it, there was something amazing in this turn of events that comforted me, knowing that some unseen force, be it God or the universe, had kept them together.

Argus and Ridge, our bookends, passed away together on a day with incredible symmetry: 11-22-11

Of all of the days of Argus' 18 years, and Ridge's 25 years, they went together, and they went on a date that looked itself like bookends. I hope you enjoy these photos of the two of them, taking during the nearly four years that Argus was part of my family. I miss them both more than words can express.

My deepest thanks go to Dr. Grant Miller of the Sonoma CHANGE Program for working so long and hard to give Argus the second chance he deserved, and for providing veterinary care that kept him comfortable for four years neither of ever expected he'd have. This from Dr. Miller: "His life was both tragic and beautiful, and his time with you was a blessing that restores my hope for humankind. Argus was an incredible fighter and I will always think of him as a living representation of perseverance and pride."

Thanks also go to my mother, Carol, who financially supported her "Argie boy" over the last four years. Your support and kindness was always heartfelt, Mom!

Thanks also goes to my family: My daughters, Demi and Shelby, who cared for Argus daily through thick and thin, and also put up with his shenanigans; my sons Drew and Ethan, who are always patient with their mother and her "horse stuff." And to my husband, Ken, who has set many a fence post without complaint. I love you all.

Several people have requested information about making a donation in memory of Argus and to support Dr. Miller's continued work with abused horses. Donations to the Sonoma CHANGE Program's "Special Needs Fund" are earmarked for providing program horses with extraordinary comfort measures such as the twice-yearly knee injections Argus received gratis via Dr. Miller and CHANGE. Donations to CHANGE's "Humane Education Fund" go directly to pay for equine education for Animal Control officers and at-risk horse owners. Please join me in supporting this worthy endeavor.

Thank you to all of you who have shared Argus' journey with me.
This will be my last blog post.
Until we meet again, rest in peace my beloved Argus and Ridge.


Postscript: Argus' body was taken to the University of California at Davis for study and a necropsy. The preliminary necropsy report stated that Argus was riddled with melanomas. They appeared alongside every major organ, and several large melanomas that had formed along his left scapula had caused the muscle to detach. We could not have saved him --- this time.