LAST WEEK I found myself at the bottom of a grave I was finishing up.
It’s the third hole of this size I have dug in the past 20 years and I’ve learned to leave myself steps on the side so I can get out when the ground level is above my eye level.
This grave, like the two before, was for a horse. This particular senior pinto was my daughter’s mare, Roxy.
On the West End, horse owners do not have the convenience of calling Olympic Game Farm to come and assist with horses that need to be put down due to age or health issues.
I have talked to people in Sequim and Port Angeles who call the game farm and even been present when their employee comes to dispatch the equine.
It’s a relatively simple procedure: The horse is shot, loaded into a specialized trailer with a roller and winch, and then driven off to become food for lions, tigers and bears.
There is a comfort knowing one’s horse is going right back into the cycle of life.
But the game farm only goes as far as Joyce for this service.
Taking Roxy to the game farm would have meant putting her in an unfamiliar and upsetting situation moments before she would die. As such, clearly not what we wanted for our older pal.
Which leaves West End horse owners like us in a predicament.
Veterinarians, such as Dr. Erik Splawn of Happy Valley Veterinary Services in Sequim, will come out and euthanize livestock. However, one has to pay travel expenses, and if it’s an emergency, the West End folks are looking at hundreds of dollars before the vet has even set a foot out of the vehicle.
So, having someone locally who is willing to shoot the large animal is a bonus.
In Roxy’s situation, a single, humane shot was actually preferred anyway because she was terrified of needles.
Whenever I had to vaccinate her with a needle and syringe, it was a fiasco.
Even when the vet injected her with sedatives prior to having her teeth cared for, she was beside herself with panic.
The last thing anyone wants is to have their friend’s last thoughts be anxiety-laden.
Now, people don’t generally advertise as “killers of equine friends.”
So, I was in a pickle as I didn’t really know anyone willing to do the deed.
The horses I’d had to put down before were either euthanized due to a colic emergency or shot by a vet who has long since retired.
I reached out to a few friends, one of whom sent me to another friend who knew a guy.
There arises another uncomfortable situation, that of identifying myself as “the one with the horse that needs to be put down.”
However, “the guy” was the most compassionate and kind person I could have hoped to find.
I’m not revealing his name because he is not advertising as a “killer of equine friends.”
In my mind, these types of people are the real West End Neighbors in the truest sense — people who come to help do the worst jobs when we really need it.
Another problem is the grave.
The county has setbacks and depths I abide by, yet digging by hand takes me about six to seven hours for a deep, horse-sized hole.
We have no tractor or excavator.
We could rent, but when the area for the pet cemetery was picked out decades ago, no heed was given to space for equipment to move about, especially by a rookie.
Nope, as odd as it sounds, it’s easier for me to just dig with shovel and cutter mattock.
There is a kind of therapy to the gravedigging in that the exercise releases those “happy” endorphins and there is plenty of time to meditate on the animal I love.
By the time I am finished with a grave, I have come to grips with most of the situation.
So, Roxy was put down humanely by a gentleman who took no payment of any kind.
Immediately afterward, my son, Ashtin, helped me get her laid down in the bottom of the grave.
I clipped a piece of long tail hair for my daughter as a keepsake from a dear friend.
My daughter, Antigone, just couldn’t bear to be present.
We got our mare mostly buried the evening she died.
The following day, my kids and I finished up burying Roxy.
We took time to spruce up the other mares’ graves while we were there, scattering seed from local hay and straightening memorial items.
By the time the work was done, the sweat was running down our foreheads and we were laughing at the joyful memories of Roxy.
Zorina Barker has lived on the West End for most of her life. She is married to a Forks native who works in the timber industry. Both of her kids have been homeschooled in the wilds of the SolDuc Valley. She can be reached at 360-461-7928 or [email protected]
West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.
Her next column will be Aug. 7.