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Forgive the hideous quality of this image. It was taken with God-knows-what, maybe an Instamatic or something, circa about 1985, up on the sandstone hogback in west central New Mexico, elevation around 8000 feet. I had a ranch bordering the Navajo Indian reservation. I'm going to make this image caption long, long, long because the subject matter -- and this horse -- deserve it. Here's the true story of the image above:
We lived with the Indians for some years. --Thought we would learn stuff about cultures and societies and we did. We learned too much.
I was driving home on the Navajo reservation, late afternoon, having already passed a veritable 35 mile debris-field of dead dogs, cats and horses along the way, when I noticed this sweet little pony that had gotten itself tangled up in a cattle guard not far from my ranch, probably driven there by coyotes or wild dogs or hunger or thirst or possibly it was just a dumb or uneducated horse that had never seen a cattle guard before and didn't know it couldn't cross one.
My own horses had been attacked by both dogs and coyotes far more times than I could count or remember, and I was personally attacked by wild dogs several handfuls of times, and the sheer and staggering volume of starving wild dogs and coyotes I sent to predator-heaven as a result of these attacks was incalculable. One summer I declared war on them. I won every battle but completely lost the war. It sounds like a line out of a western but out on the range I learned to shoot quickly and straight when a pack of snarling dogs raced toward me, or a pack or damned coyotes were backing down one of my horses.
I was constantly amazed at the stunning ferociousness of a pack of lousy dogs ... dogs! --which looked so much like snuggly house-pets but which were, of course, starving and fully into survival mode. It was a cold-water-in-the-face kind of awakening to real life on the high desert, where survival was cold and hard.
I know I'm digressing but sometimes you just have to and I'll yet pull this back into form:
And isn't it curious that only once-domesticated but now-wild dogs attack humans, while always-wild coyotes do not. Familiarity breeds contempt.
I'm afraid that too many vets and animal control employees, too familiar and comfortable with death, become desensitized to it and too-quickly use it to easily solve otherwise-complex or inconvenient problems, problems that do have solutions, like the vast majority of about 600 cats at a well-meaning, well-funded, compassionate and professionally operated cat rescue in California that were only in 90% perfect condition, but the local animal control (Merced) deemed they were "too unhealthy to live", so they brought in a dozen veterinarians and killed them all. Just killed them. To save them. Ah, Sillyfornia. I would have saved as many as I could, but that's just me.
I stopped at this cattle-guard and my young son and I approached this horse. We were the first ones on the scene. Judging by the degree to which the blood had dried and the degree of clotting and the size of the coagulated puddles in the shadows under the grates, I guessed the horse had been like that for a couple of hours or more.
The horse was alive and alert but in mind-boggling pain, suffering from compound fractures of three legs. There was no hope for this animal. Absolutely, positively, less than none.
I thought about going home to get an oxyacetylene torch to cut apart the cattle guard but what then? Once I cut it out, it couldn't even stand on bones that were broken and protruding through the skin. One broken leg? A snowball's chance in Hell. Three broken legs? Nothing was going to work in this animal's favor. No matter what angle I approached this from there was only one solution. I knew it but I kept scheming in my mind, hoping against hope, while precious seconds ticked away for this animal in mortal, mind-shattering agony.
I thought about a crane (not available locally), and a special sling (not available locally) that would keep the horse hanging in a sling system for six weeks or more after multiple surgeries by a team of equine vets competent enough to pull it off (not available locally). I calculated in the high odds of refracturing one or more legs after all that treatment. There was no hope there. There was less than no hope at all.
It didn't matter how many times I replayed the scenario in my head and recalculated the routes and possibilities. I could virtually always find a way to succeed when no one else could and that tended to make me just a wee bit arrogant. But there was no way for this horse.
I squatted down beside it and while it begged with its eyes, soul to living soul, for my help, I talked to it softly and told it there was only one thing I could do to help it. Of course it didn't understand. It only knew that humans sometimes made things better and that's what it wanted from me. It wanted something, anything, that would be better.
I then retrieved a revolver from my old Jeep and walked up to the horse, choked on a few more meaningless words, and cocked the hammer. I'd been trained as to exactly where to shoot a horse by a veterinarian girlfriend-- so many people don't know and will botch it, turning the quick and simple task into a prolonged and bloody kind of axe-murder.
At that exact instant a sheriff's deputy's cruiser slid to a stop; the officer jumped from his vehicle and commanded me to not shoot that horse.
I uncocked the gun and waited patiently for an explanation. The deputy said there was a law that prevented it.
I replied, "Ok, you know you can't leave this animal like this -- you shoot it then."
He threw his hands in the air and said he wasn't allowed to either, that he had been through this before, and that he had been reprimanded for it before and his department had been sued.
I countered that I was more than willing to take my chances with a civil suit by the owner. The deputy said no, it was a law making the act a criminal offense; the civil suit from the owner would come later.
This was far enough out in the country that some tiny shred of common sense should have remained and prevailed ... but it clearly didn't. The lawyers had eradicated common sense even out there on the sandstone hogback in the checkerboard lands of the Navajo people. They're like creeping, crawling maggots, and there is no crack or crevise in logical society that they haven't corrupted.
The deputy explained that the only way the horse could be put out of its misery was (1) with the owner's express permission (or by the owner), or (2) by a court order.
Again I was shocked but I was shocked daily in the high desert out on the rez.
About this time a friend of the owner showed up, and was given the facts, and hurried off to try to find the owner who, he thought, was in a bar some 35 miles away in town.
I inquired about a court order -- but it could not be obtained until the following day and this horse deserved relief within minutes, not days.
Two Navajos arrived and tried to shoot the horse themselves but the non-Indian deputy, on Navajo land, put them at gunpoint when they insisted, and made them stop. They were seething with anger and I half expected them to shoot the deputy first, then the horse. But they reluctantly put their gun back in their truck and proceeded to do whatever they could to make the horse more comfortable, which was almost nothing, but they surely and compassionately tried, which was incredibly rare in that region.
An hour and a half later the owner's friend came back and stated that he had indeed found the owner drinking in a local honky-tonk, and he had explained the situation to him, and the owner had laughed and said he never liked that horse anyway and waved the friend off dismissively.
When asked for permission to euthanize the horse the owner had refused. When pressed, the owner tried to fight the man. This, the owner's ex-friend dutifully reported to the deputy, was typical behavior for that jackass. It wasn't really out-of-the-ordinary behavior for many, many people there.
I knew people who had moved there from various parts of the country, usually unwittingly transferred by corporations, who suffered nervous breakdowns within months due to the bizarre nature and behavior of the local population. Some of them recovered and became violent toward their neighbors. Some never recovered -- they either remained hospitalized, or left the region, well medicated, and were never quite the same. Suffice it to say that I, myself, am still trying to completely recover from things I saw and experienced there, in that part of the country – events and stupidity the likes of which are barely equaled in wars in SE Asia - things which, I would have bet earlier, could never occur on this planet, let alone in America. It was truly a case of going down the rabbit hole and still is today. It's the land that time forgot.
At this point I asked the deputy to simply drive away for a few minutes and come back. I told him I had heard a rumor about a woman being abused a few miles down the road -- purely fabricated of course. It was my intention to wait for the deputy to get out of hearing, and do the kindness for the horse, and then drive away. The deputy would come back an hour later, never having found any woman abused of course, and he'd surmise what happened, but he'd also be in a position to write a truthful report -- he had departed briefly on urgent business and had returned and the horse had been shot and there were no suspects. A better man than this man would have accepted that gift. Many deputies would have taken this as their cue to do something good and to have their asses covered in the doing of it. But not this guy. He was resolutely steadfast in his concrete determination to follow the law to the anal-retentive letter and he stayed the entire night to "guard" this horse, to make sure it remained in pain the whole night through. The two men also stayed, who were probably just waiting for the deputy to leave.
I hung around a few hours hoping the deputy would get a more urgent call from his dispatcher because he hadn't taken the bait from me, but he didn't.
I came back in the morning to find they had obtained a court order to put the animal down and they did so with a 30-30 rifle, a gross overkill (a .22 magnum round-nose is fine if the placement is correct), and as I arrived they were chain-sawing up the carcass and loading the pieces into a pickup.
The local newspaper refused to print my commentary. No surprise.
The owner was never charged, despite my very best efforts. Eventually I realized that it had been lunacy to try.
And scenes like this are repeated many times per day on the reservations and off.
in Jomtien, Chonburi, Thailand!