Chloe

On Saturday June 9th, Chloe was put down by Dr. Kevin May.

I intend to include her story in my new book, THE NIGHT GARDENER. These notes are to help me do so.

ChloeAbout two weeks ago, Chloe – who has always been a heavy breather, — began panting even when she was standing in her corral on an ordinary morning, afternoon or evening. Chloe was a dark bay mare, about twenty years old, quite handsome in the face and well made. She came to us from a corral on Herring Ranch where she had lived and rarely been ridden, her owner being in the military and difficult to locate. Art bought her for a few thousand dollars – maybe six or seven? She had once been a polo pony and upon being intro’d to the Herring Ranch field, she took life and became full of energy. She followed the ball on her own and Art had to stay alert because sometimes Chloe was ahead of him, moving immediately into the action. Once she sensed him lift off the saddle and shift away and she moved under him so he came down on the saddle and not the ground.

She showed no signs of illness but after a few days, seeing there were no poops on the ground, we feared she might be colicky. Dr. May was called and said she wasn’t, but there was something up. He listened to her lungs and heart and could hear nothing wrong, but there was something wrong. A human cries, a dog whimpers in pain and a cat howls. But horses are God’s stoic creatures. They just stand. Maybe it’s true that being prey animals they daren’t look vulnerable. They stand.

Art went easy on the girl, not riding her but taking her into the turnout corral with the others. After a few days she began lying down and letting her herd – Khoerny, Zarahas and April — run around her as she lay on her side. The breathing continued.

And she stopped eating. Art did what he could to tempt her with special senior food and carrots but after a time she wouldn’t even eat those. On her last day she hung her head over her water tub, occasionally sniffing the surface, sometimes taking a drink. Her ribs stood out, her hip bones and withers too. Day by day her skeleton became more visible beneath her taut skin. The sheen left her coat.

It was probably a tumor. No way to know for sure without an autopsy.

Later I asked Dr. May if she had pain. Probably not, he said. More likely she was nauseous, not wanting to eat, not able to eat. But I think there was discomfort. I thought of how I’ve felt when I had pain, the way I sometimes tried to breathe around it.

On Saturday, yesterday, with everyone on the ranch offering suggestions — Molasses and mash didn’t interest her nor did the green grass growing against the boards on the polo field — Art decided to call Dr. May for another look. This kind man, built like a tree stump, a strong Texas accent, a reassuring calm about him that I’d been grateful for at other times, like when he injected stem cells into Ray’s foreleg and gently stroked his foreleg to make sure the cells went to the split tendon, Dr. May came out and told Art what he’d been dreading. It was time for Chloe to go.

We walked her out to the far end of the polo field where she’d experienced such galloping joy and while we waited for Kevin to drive his truck around, she tugged up bits and bites of desiccated grass. When a horse has an upset stomach she chews this stuff for the same reason a glurckish or constipated dog chews grass.

Kevin prepared us for the process and then it began. All through the last hour I’d been weeping, not trying to stop, the tears literally rolling down my cheeks; not bothering with a handkerchief, I wiped my nose on the sleeve of my barn jacket. Art rested his head against Chloe’s withers, his shoulders heaving.

First Kevin gave her a tranquilizing shot. She stayed on her feet, canting a little to one side but upright, head as low as it would go. And it was a beautiful, brilliantly blue day with a soft breeze from the west. There were crows in the peppers and gums and sycamores, of course. Carrying the word from one end of the ranch to the other. Late in the afternoon: the other horses had begun to look toward the hay barn expectantly.

The second shot was the kill and stopped her heart. For perhaps another minute she stood and then with a thud that made the ground shake brought a cry from my throat, she fell on her side and lay there, straight legged for twenty or thirty seconds. And then she seemed to stir with life, her legs moved  and it was as if she was doing what comes most naturally to a horse, run, fly from the darkness moving swiftly upon her. Or maybe I’m all wrong and the impossible is possible. Maybe her legs moved because she had seen ahead of her where there was a green grass paddock full of other horses who looked up from their grazing, and she’d known they were her herd, and she didn’t have to move her head at all to understand that she was safe.

I sat with her on that brushy grass, talking and continuing to cry. Her body wasn’t entirely still which was little alarming at first though I knew she was gone. As the moments passed, she seemed more rigid than she had. I stroked her lips and they were cool. Sometimes her leg twitched and there were pulses that drummed for a moment or two and then were still. Her eyes changed. The pupils had immediately relaxed and widened, but her ears stayed up and I was glad of that because she wouldn’t have looked right if they’d flopped like a dog’s.

I talked to her and cried, I must have wept more or less without stopping for forty five minutes or an hour. I was sad at first but my emotions became more complicated than that. In a sad way, I was happy for Chloe and about life. I learned something important. It’s important to stay with the one who has gone, to touch the body and feel the absence and grieve without restraint.

There was nothing scary or gross about Chloe’s death or the body she left behind. Tender and loving better describe it. I was glad to be there and glad that Art had called Kevin and not left her to muddle on for a few days until she fell over and couldn’t get up. I’m sure she was not afraid at any moment. She knew she was safe with Art, Kevin was gentle, it happened without panic, she was never startled. Not so much as a plastic bag’s worth.

Now Art has three horses. One too old, one too tall and Ray too injured. Less work, smaller feed and shoeing and board fees. Chloe was a good polo horse but she hated the trail and eventually Art gave up on taking her into the riverbed. On the way out she had a good time mostly, but coming back she got frantic. Compared to Ray and Khoerny, she never had much personality and I suppose that was because she grew up and matured without a lot of close care. But she was a good horse and the last seven or eight years of her life were spent with Art who cared for her well, got her bad teeth pulled and switched her feed so she could masticate it. He didn’t push her too hard or put her back wet. He was always kind to her and she had her own herd so that no matter what her early life was like, and I think as a polo pony she’d been ridden too hard and asked to give too much too many times, her final years were good.

Chloe and Art
I have an image of horse heaven and who cares if it’s not scientific. There it’s never too hot or wet. No flies. More than enough grass and year around streams of clean water. Other agreeable horses, of course. No wolves or cougars or flying plastic bags. Rabbits to share the grass, that’s good and crows to send out reports.

Winged horses to watch over the beasts of the field.

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2 Responses to “Chloe”

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  1. Jeff Chase says:

    Art and Dru, so sorry to hear of the loss of Chloe. Your article was such a loving response to the end of a loved one’s life. Best wishes to you both.

  2. Louise Jolly says:

    Dear Ms. Campbell:

    I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your beloved “Chloe”. It is always difficult when we lose the “four-footers” in our lives. We just lost our two beloved German Shepherds who were biological sisters from the same litter. “Shadow” passed away in March (2011) and her sister, “Nellie” in October (2011). I know of the heartache you are experiencing and you have my deepest of sympathies.

    On a good note, I now have my little Chihuahua “Maggie” who shares my life and my bed!!

    With compassion and a hug,
    Louise Jolly

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