Death. Something we all dread. Something most of us avoid even thinking about. The problem with that, is that when you raise animals, especially in large numbers, death can not be avoided or pushed to some dark recess of your mind. It is an unfortunate part of life and nothing you can say or do will stop it. We were hit with this harsh reality a few days ago when we lost 2 of our 4 beloved nanny goats and our newly acquired buck along with our faithful guard dog.
*Disclaimer: Before you read any further, please be aware that I have laid out a tragic event involving the deaths of several of our goats and our guard dog. The story may be upsetting to some. I have not included any photos of a graphic nature but the story it self may be disturbing enough for some readers. As I mentioned, death is a part of the life cycle and even though it can sometimes be graphic and disturbing, it is a reality of farm life and can not be dismissed. If you plan to have farm animals then I would encourage you to decide if tragedies like this are something that you can handle because it is not a matter of if a farm animal or beloved pet will die, but rather when. You must be prepared to face harsh realities and make tough decisions that are in the best interest of your family and all of your animals as a whole. This is the brutal and sometimes devastating side of farm life that idyllic paintings and posts of the fun times fail to prepare you for. While the good times almost always outweigh the bad, you must be willing to take both.
It was the last gymnastics meet my daughter would compete in, so we all attended. We were gone for the day and our animals were placed as they normally are. Our goats, chickens, and pig had free run of the fenced in acre that we call our front yard. They were under the watchful eye of our faithful guard dog Reese.
We acquired Reese 4 years earlier after she had gone through a couple homes where she did not work out. We were her last ditch home before she went to the pound where she would end up euthanized. She bonded well with us and became a wonderful guard dog. She was highly protective of her yard and all the animals in it. She had never given us trouble with the animals and she did great with new animals that had to be introduced as we grew our farm in size. She slept in front of the door of our house every night and her bark could be heard throughout the night as she drove away potential intruders from squirrels to possums and raccoons to coyotes. She was the leader of the pack of our three outside dogs and they would follow her lead in charging around the yard. The animals were left in her care all the time and this Sunday would be no different. As we prepared to leave that morning I locked the other two dogs away in the kennel as they like to occasionally escape. I left the gate leading from the goat pen into the front yard open so that the goats could come and go freely; the pop door of the chicken coop was left open as it is daily. We left and went about our day as we had done countless other times. This time, sadly, would be far different than anytime in the past.
We arrived home around sunset. We were slightly behind the normal daily feeding routine but it has happened on occasion so we were discussing getting out the head lamps and changing into work clothes when we got home so that we could do the chores as a family like we often do. As I got out of the truck I heard a strange cry that I knew was from one the goats but it was not a cry I had heard before. I instantly knew something was wrong. Bad wrong. I hurried up the steps of the porch and through a hole in the hedge I could see our buck Ron laying on his side. He wasn’t moving but I heard the cry again. It had to be him and something was very wrong. I moved quickly through the house dropping the items in my arms on the counter so that I could get outside as quickly as possible. As I started toward Ron I knew that it wasn’t him that had cried. I’ve seen death more times in my career as a paramedic than I care to count. He was dead. I touched him and knew without a second thought that he had been dead a long time. Probably shortly after we had left that morning. I heard the cry again and I started searching all around the yard with my flashlight. Then I saw Abby. She was lying in the back corner under a tree. She was moving her head but very strangely. I approached her and as soon as I saw her neck I feared that it was broken. She could move but it was not normal and she could barely hold her head up. There was nothing I could do for her at the moment and the training that I have applied thousands of times to human beings instinctively kicked in. It is amazing how many of those skills cross over into animal care as well. I quickly spotlighted the goat pen to try to locate the other three goats that I had yet to see. Josie was walking around normally and did not appear injured but I noticed Sadie down and not moving. As I crossed the yard I knew exactly what I would find. Sadly I was correct. Sadie was down with the hair around her neck matted with dried slobber just as Ron and Abby’s had been. Based on her body temp and the amount of rigor mortis that had set in it was evident that she had gone down sometime after Ron and it had probably been mid- to late morning. That left only Lucy unaccounted for. Another quick scan assured me that she was alive in another corner of the yard but it was evident by the way that she was not moving as I approached her that something was wrong. She had the same slobber marks as the others. She had a large area of swelling on the right side of her neck. Based on her injuries vs those of Abby I figure Abby was the third to be attacked but it was hard to determine how much longer after the other two that it had occurred. Lucy had likely been last since she was still up and able to move. It’s possible too that she had been attacked earlier and had feigned dead and so was left alone but I think it is more likely that she was last to be attacked and something had interrupted that since some of the slobber was still wet. Josie was entirely unscathed for whatever reason. So this left me with the two injured to care for immediately. We herded Lucy gently and quietly into the goat pen and I left her in the care of my wife and kids while I attended to Abby. I couldn’t get Abby to stand so I gently carried her over by Ron and laid her on the ground so that I would have more light being closer to the house. It was evident that if her neck was not broken it was severely damaged and she was in significant pain. Upon laying her on the ground she attempted to rise and she was able to wobble a short distance away but she was uncoordinated and unable to make it any further. She was in an obvious and significant amount of pain and I knew that I had to end it quickly for her. I did so with a well placed shot which was quick and ended her suffering in an instant. I placed two additional shots to make sure that there was absolutely no suffering.
Determining Cause of Death
A thorough inspection of the goats necks revealed that they had been taken down by a canine as there was an excessive amount of slobber dried in their hair around their necks. Large cats (which we have few of in our area, but which are possible), was highly unlikely as there was only one break in the skin of any of the goats and it was very tiny. Most likely a single canine tooth puncture. Based on Abby’s injuries she had likely been shaken by her neck and pulled around. I did a perimeter walk looking for any evidence of any intruder. The fence is 4-1/2′ – 5′ high around the entire yard and is made of pipe and 2″ x 4″ goat welded goat wire so it was unlikely that whatever had killed the goats had come over the fence. There was absolutely no evidence that anything had dug under the fence. With the other two dogs digging out several times a year we are pretty adept at finding holes under the fence. There were none. There was also no evidence whatsoever that Reese had tried to fend off any type of intruder. In fact she was running around the yard quite contentedly. She had no marks on her anywhere. That left one possibility. Reese had in fact turned on the goats and had killed them throughout the day in various increments. Examining the goats, Reese, and the yard left me with no doubt that she had been playing with the goats and when one of them ran her prey drive must have instinctively kicked in and she took the first one down. Once that happens it is much harder for a dog to resist the urge to chase and take down additional “prey”. Once a dog has turned on livestock they can never be trusted with them again. It is likely to happen again and the continued decimation of a flock or herd by the very dog tasked with guarding them is not a viable option for someone who depends upon their farm animals for any type of income. Money aside, it would not be acceptable to me even if they were pets and played no part in farm income.
The Heartbreaking Solution
As we were the last ditch home for Reese, it was not possible to attempt to re-home her to someone without other animals. The fact that she had evidently just slaughtered more than half of our herd of goats meant that she could not be placed anywhere as a guard dog again. This meant that sadly it was the end of the road for Reese. I knew it had to be done. It was a hard decision to reach. My heart fought my brain for a long time that night. I fought that battle in my mind while I helped to finish feeding the live animals. I fought it while I conducted my investigation. I fought it while I gathered bodies. I fought it while I gathered the tools necessary to bury the animals. I discussed it with my family. I explained why it had to be done and why I didn’t want to. We all agreed that it had to be done. Keeping Reese meant giving up all of our other animals and meant that we couldn’t have any more until she was no longer here. And so the agonizing decision was finally reached that I would have to put Reese down as well. Believe me when I say that writing this decision here does it no justice. It was an absolutely heart breaking decision to make and one that left our family devastated. We all still expect to hear her bark. We catch ourselves listening for her to charge off the porch and across the yard to chase something away. The other dogs look for her only to realize she is not there. Even as I write this there is a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. My wife stood at the front door this morning looking at the yard empty of the usual herd of goats and the watchful eye of Reese. Tears were shed. The wounds are still very fresh; the emotions raw; the pain still brutally sharp. Time will mostly heal the wounds and memories will be of better times but for now, only that fateful night stands out.
In our sadness we look to scripture to help us to deal with what to many would be a small shocking story but for our little farm was a devastating event. Many people tend to blame God in moments of tragedy. They see the sad events of the daily news, or the tragedies like this, or their own losses in their lives of whatever might be dear to them and they need to let go of their anger. They need someone to blame. A direction to point their finger. Often times, that object of unleashed fury is God. He makes an easy target. We can scream at him, “WHY!?” We can say it’s his fault. He doesn’t argue back. For those attuned to his voice, perhaps a gentle reminder that he is not the cause of evil, sin, sadness, or heartbreak is heard, but unlike a human target, he doesn’t get mad back. He doesn’t scream aloud at us. So there he sits an easy target. However, I know that tragedy doesn’t come in this world as the result of a malicious God. I know from scripture that God is a loving God; a just God. And better than any earthly father, he is ready to give us all good things. Job was tempted mightily to blame God but he did not. He stood steadfast in his praise of God and though he suffered tragedy and heartbreak on a scale most of us will thankfully never know he was restored by God. He was blessed over and over until his cup ran over. That is God’s promise to us. So even in times that, in the grand scheme of the universe is trivial, God loves his children and promises that when we experience loss he will restore us. In fact, our purpose in obtaining Ron was so that we would have the chance to eventually transition our herd to a full blood registered Boer goat herd. Monday morning following this fateful night we were given the opportunity to obtain 2 full blood boer goat kids. They were abandoned by their mother and will require bottle feeding. It just so happens that we have about 14 gallons of frozen milk from our now deceased nannies that will feed these new doelings for quite some time and experience bottle feeding kid goats. We will picking them up shortly after this post has gone live. While they will never replace Abby or Sadie, they will be a new addition to the farm and will, I am sure, come to be loved just as much. They will be a wonderful blessing to us and we are very thankful for the restoration we all ready see. Have a great day and God bless.
RIP: Ron, Abby, Sadie, and Reese. You will be sorely missed and the farm will never be the same without you.