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Yesterday (5/26/2012) the owner of a goat farm in in the Midwest  posted a litany of animal disasters.*  In her post she laments having one crisis after another, stating that it’s time to call it quits.  But she then reverses herself.

I felt for her. I’ve been there, and all too recently; reading her post triggered mine as follows.

At one point in time we had twelve goats, four horses and a kennel of Golden Retrievers. It wasn’t all bad, it’s just that it nearly killed me. Needless to say I got no writing done, and tubed my career. And the price in heartbreak remains off the scale.

So, here’s my question– what does it take to call it a day regarding owning, breeding/raising animals? Many Americans do it and have done it, and will identify with this short version of my story.

At the peak of my immersion in loving animals as a way of life, I had a parvo outbreak in three litters of puppies– after they had been vaccinated. I was up every night for days plugging them up and keeping them hydrated. For the record, I pulled each affected puppy through, but at immense cost to me. Even then I kept going and then lost one more stud dog (a gorgeous male I had been showing succumbed to sepsis several years earlier) to an intestinal blockage even missed by the vet.

Next up: a beautiful Arab mare “colicked” on her due date; her prepubic tendon ruptured so that induction of labor was appropriate; ultimately, however, the foal could not be extricated without putting down the mare and  we lost both of them with a $3,000  emergency vet bill to pay.

Some time later, I couldn’t take being horseless and got myself an older beautiful mare. On my first ride and when I was dismounting, the saddle slipped and I blew my tibial plateau and was in a nursing home for six months. I can only ambulate with a walker to go anywhere, and the rest of the time have to either use a wheel chair or a cane. Losing your mobility is an enormous price to pay for not listening to your gut when it tells you that you’re too worn down to ride a horse and in fact should give up horses altogether.

Two years ago that same beautiful  mare went down with either cancer or colic; I decided to spare her any triage and had her euthanized, and finally– finally– I came to the conclusion that it was over for me.

Heartbreak, trauma — these things were the results of decisions I made that had terrible consequences not only for me, but the animals in question. When people try to do too much, bad things happen. When history repeats itself and people refuse to change, disaster will return and return some more.

I adored my pregnant mare.  She was a rescue, i.e. the person who sold her to me and discovered her at the livestock auction could tell she was a purebred Arabian.  Knowing nothing about her background, this young and overly ambitious Arabian lover put her in foal and she was due a few weeks after I got her.  When I lost her in the very traumatic series of events in which I did my level best to save her, including that she was shoved, punched and knocked down by the aforementioned vet, who lost his cool because she couldn’t push due to the rupture of the abdominal tendon,   I didn’t think I would survive the pain.

I now live alone in a manageable apartment with one dog, but my companion, whom I love and to whom I have entrusted the animals I couldn’t take care of post-accident, has yet to surrender to his inability to deal with four litters of cats and that the kittens fall ill and die, or  that five cat boxes are impossible to keep up with. His house, that used to be our house, that I loved and made beautiful for us, reeks of cat urine; he has young cats in the house that hide from him and that he can’t catch.

In fact, cats have lived and died under the house for years and although there are several ways to pay cheap labor around here to  clean it all out and reinforce the skirting so nothing can get back int, he is seemingly unable or unwilling to take that step. I’ve discussed and discussed this with him, pointing out that he has an insulated shed where they could be housed, with a cat door: ideal.  Nature takes its course in the country and attrition and stabilization of the “barn cat” population, just as with the foxes, raccoons, and skunks on the place, would take over.

At his request, I posted on Craig’s List for barn  homes for these cats and their kittens,  and then he blew the plan off and didn’t return calls or set up appointments for people to come to meet the cats and scoop them up and take them away so that they can have a life in a less cat-intensive environment.

As a type A and animal-loving person who puts suffering animals down rather than prolong their suffering for my own ends, I do not understand this kind of inaction; I only know that it isn’t working to tolerate it and protect him from the truth at my own expense and that of the creatures involved. I would never discuss the situation on my blog unless I were at the end of my rope and hoping that seeing the truth in black and white may result in a solution.

Back to the farm I mentioned earlier. I’ve read post after post on that blog indicating that the owner is buried in caretaking to her own detriment and exhaustion. We all love our animals. It just isn’t fair to them or to ourselves to have a ton of them.

There are a number of people in my acquaintance who, like me, seem to need to teach themselves hard lessons. There is an Arabian ranch in Colorado, Wadi al Nasmat, where there is annual over-breeding and high disease and mortality. But they make themselves look great online.

Their perpetual state of crisis supports an unethical repro vet named Richard Wheeler, who is the person who caused my mare’s tendon to rupture by knocking her around and tormenting her right in front of me. As long as he’s making so much money taking care of her horses, the place won’t be shut down.

And I know of a field of paint horses down the way from me owned by an old man who lets the stallion run with them, who sells off the foals every year for dog food.  There is a Golden Retriever breeder in Weld County,  Flyway Goldens, I believe, rife with over-crowding and over-breeding for profit.

There are River Kennels in Loveland,  Fly’n Hi in Windsor and Crystal Glen in Fort Collins, putting out many litters a year ever justified by the fact that the owners campaign their dogs. In these cases, it’s really about being a big deal; the dogs are an extension of the breeder’s ego and people look the other way. Fancy dogs do end up in humane societies, more often than one might think.

It’s scarcely bearable to think about Willy’s Kennels in Elizabeth, Colorado– a set up of around a hundred dogs all used for breeding and housed in a converted dairy barn– that place needs to be shut down, together with High Ridge Ranches and Growers (and puppy millers) in Elizabeth. The former breeder in particular routinely loses a third of every litter to parvo, strep, and coccydia, a protozoic  infection.

At the end of the day we can’t on the one hand say we love animals and are their stewards, and on the other, put them at risk, house loving dogs in fancy kennels to make ourselves feel better when dogs are meant to be part of the family and languish in their runs for years,  turn out fancy foals every year only to have them stock up and become depressed on small dry lots, or have so many goats they can’t be kept track of, so that kids are lost to predation and adults lost to preventable disease.

I was most distressed, in reading the blog in question, over the description of a doe left alone to labor for hours and then acquire mastitis. How does a goat develop mastitis after kidding. anyway?  Quite easily, and everyone who  has ever actually raised farm animals and goats in particular knows that time is of the essence.  An observant, attentive owner gives a prophylaxis of antibiotics after kidding and often, a clean-out shot of oxytocin.  And palpates and washes down the udder. Presto– no mastitis. Sure things happen.  But when “things happening” keep happening, and to multiple animals, isn’t the universe trying to tell us something?

When somebody is in the trenches night and day for hours at a time dealing with sick animals, it’s time to look in the mirror.  There is in fact a very fine line between “breeding” and “hoarding.”  It is beyond easy to cross that line.