The Force of the Horse

Caring for Aging Companion Animals

by By Kelly Harris of the Marin CA Humane Society ~ from the

“When we bring a pet into our lives, we are completely committed to them…”

It’s Sunday and our day to reflect, recharge and prepare for the week ahead; it’s gearing up to be a big one.  So for this “feel good Sunday” we share with you a story about a California couple that struggles to do their level best for the animals that they have rescued and share their home.  They are special people when it comes to their care and concern; their story hits home as Terry and I experienced the same struggle and emotions as we fought to save one of our canine children just one year ago this time.  Likewise, this story touches us deeply as it is about our animal law attorney for Wild Horse Freedom Federation, Bruce Wagman and his lovely bride Deborah.  Bruce is not only a business associate but a very close friend and advocate, indeed.” ~ R.T.


Bruce and Deborah Wagman with Zuri

Recently, DR. Marcella Harb-Hauser and the nursing team at Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin, CA met Zuri, an adorable 17-year-old mixed-breed dog. Zuri lived with a family of seven other rescued pets and was dearly loved by its guardians Bruce and Deborah Wagman, who brought Zuri in after the animal quit eating and urinating.

After evaluation, Zuri was diagnosed with sudden kidney failure. Typically an age-related illness, kidney failure can also be brought on by infection or toxins. At Zuri’s age, the situation was dire.

“Initially she had a 10 percent chance of survival,” says Harb-Hauser.

But Zuri was a fighter and the Wagmans were passionate about helping the animal through this illness as they had many times before — as long as the dog could maintain a high quality of life.

“When we bring a pet into our lives, we are completely committed to them, through thick and thin — we treat our pets as if they are members of our human family,” says Bruce Wagman. “We asked Harb-Hauser and the incredible support staff at PESCM to help guide us. We wanted to know whether she could be happy and pain-free again if she made it out of the hospital.”

“Considering quality of life during and after treatment is one of the first conversations I have with pet parents going through an illness with an aging pet,” says Harb-Hauser. “It’s different with every family. Some families are satisfied hat their older pet has had a long and fruitful life. Others, like the Wagmans, would do anything in their power to prolong life, as long as the pet is comfortable. There’s no right or wrong answer as long as your pet isn’t suffering.”

With high-quality medical care by a team working around the clock, Zuri was kept as comfortable as possible. Day by day, the dog got stronger and, after 15 days in the hospital, Zuri was able to return to home in Stinson Beach.

“Those were easily 15 of the longest days of our lives together. We knew her illness would eventually be terminal, but we asked the PESCM staff to help us get Zuri back home for continued care,” says Bruce Wagman.

So the Wagmans began a daily regimen of giving Zuri fluid injections beneath her skin and special diets through feeding tubes. They provided Zuri with around-the-clock care in her familiar home environment.

“But it wasn’t like she wasn’t having her Zuri life in her Zuri house on her Zuri beach with her Zuri family,” says Bruce. “Her quality of life was great — she was bounding around the beach again like she always had! We considered every extra day we had with her a success and a promise.”

“By looking at her, you wouldn’t even know she was sick,” said Deborah Wagman. “She was walking up and down the stairs again and running the beach as its mayor — just like she used to. She was happy and pain free and we just knew we’d made the right decisions for her.”

Sadly, Zuri did pass away from the disease, but the animal had another four months of life at home.

“I knew Zuri was a special dog because I’d seen her fight and fight,” says Harb-Hauser. “The Wagmans made the right choice for their family, and it gave them extra time with their beloved Zuri that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Her advice to guardians of aging pets: “Carefully consider their pets’ quality of life, pain levels and what they can financially and emotionally afford. The answer is uniquely different for every family,” she says. “If you are uncertain about how to care for an aging pet, your trusted family veterinarian can often help guide you in finding the right balance.”

Click (HERE) to visit the Marin Independent Journal and to Comment

19 replies »

  1. Beautiful Story for a Sunday Morning reflection…….. Brings to mind my German Shepard I had for 16 yrs. his name was OZZY………Ozzy lost the use of his back legs completely to a disease that German Shepard’s are susceptible to ……. German Shepherd Degenerative Myelopathy
    Degenerative Myelopathy (Degeneration of the Spinal Cord)

    Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a hereditary autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the dog’s central nervous system. This attack leads to a loss of insulation around the nerve fibers (myelin) and of nerve fibers (axons). Once the nerves in the spinal cord are destroyed, the dog can no longer walk because, without nerve connections, muscles cannot work. The control pathways that make muscles work are located all throughout the spinal cord.

    DM is an insidious disease, the symptoms of which rarely show up before the age of 5, and possibly as late as 14 years. The early stages of DM start with an almost imperceptible weakness in the hindquarters. In the last stage, the dog can no longer walk or even hold its balance when standing or squatting to defecate.

    However, DM itself is not painful. There is zero pain because the nerve cells have died. The dog no longer feels its legs. It was so very sad for both Ozzy and I , I made the decision because Ozzy was still Ozzy in every other way , to get a wheelchair for him Ozzy and we had 8 months more to be together , it was one of the best decisions I ever made !!!!!!! Even though Ozzy could not understand why his legs didnt work anymore …………………………… He learned how to ajust to the wheel chair and make it work for him………….. He enjoyed every other aspect of life without pain…………………….. RIP my awesome Ozzy !!!!!!


  2. I can so relate – as all of us who love our “kids” – the hardest part of having these wonderful creatures is the responsibility of knowing when its time. With my horse, Chico, there was no question – one day he didnt come up from the pasture with his “herd”. That night I couldnt reach our own vet & had a long phone conversation with a former one – the gist was Chico was 28 and had been in good health pretty much the whole 16 years he was with me – but this was it. My vet came the next day(12/5/02) & when she listened to his heart he had a large heart murmur (which he had never had before) & we knew. We walked him out back onto the trail & at one point he stopped & looked back at the vet as if to say come on we have somewhere to go!!! It was hard as it always is with any of my dogs or cats, but its on our shoulders to know when.
    I miss him every day.
    Sorry to lay this on you all – but all of you know exactly how I feel!


  3. My Angel in Dog’s clothing turned 14 in May. She’s still always up to a game of fetch. I know that her time is surely limited, and that makes each healthy day a rich blessing indeed.
    Thank you for introducing Zuri and the Wagmans to us.


  4. All of you have probably read this poem before.

    Waiting at the Gate

    Author Unknown

    I explained to St. Peter
    I’d rather stay here
    Just outside the Pearly Gate.
    I won’t be a nuisance,
    I won’t even bark,
    I’ll be very patient and wait.

    I’ll be right here chewing
    A celestial bone
    No matter how long you may be.
    ‘Cause I’d miss you too much,
    If I went in alone–
    It wouldn’t be heaven for me.


  5. As sad as it is and as hard as it is, it is far better that we outlive them than the other way around. Too often, an older person either dies or has to go to a care facility. The lifelong companion is just left. They don’t understand what has happened.
    While searching for the poem, I found this piece that was written by a veterinarian.

    Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found that he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home. As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for the six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.
    The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.
    The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”
    Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comfortin explanation.
    He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”
    – Anonymous


  6. Oh Louis – I’ve read that before and it sure is the truth. Every one of the animals who have lived with me over all my years have truly known how to do that.
    Thanks for the reminder


  7. A lot of people in this county feel EXACTLY the same way. My neighbors have aging dogs, one was deaf and going blind. Others have passed from old age. A former neighbor lost her lab and was just devastated eventhough she had moved out of the county.

    Our humane society takes animal welfare EXTREMELY seriously. Years back I saw them confiscate 4/5 horses. The stud was placed outside the humane society. The two mares he had been with we’re starved and the humane society had no idea if the foals would be okay. One was a bit small but fine and the colt was a big strapping youngster.

    It took several years to settle this case. The former owner REFUSED to surrender. They had also left the horses basically to fend for themselves on scrub n her field. They were domesticate horses so there systems didnt understand nutriens needs. The humane society was finally awarded custody and the foals had to be adopted out. It was very hard to figure a fair deal on who would get what. There were many loving homes waiting.

    This is a Marin Humane Society story and is true.

    And my good news of the day is actually two parts.

    The first is that all the Pryor mustangs were adopted out. Rachel Reeve’s dad took Breeze. I’m grateful that she has a loving home. Some of this is just beginning to show up on fb. I’m sure there will be more.

    And while this is personal I feel very lucky. I was making brownies last night. I had a glass bakeware in the oven. I pulled it out and in less than 30 secs it exploded all over the kitchen. Lesson learned about going barefoot in my home! Not gonna happen. I’m fine. No cuts and no blood. I have no idea because I was standing right there and when the pan blew I shoulda been cut.

    Maybe Breeze sent an angel my way since I have been so worried for. She decided to pay me back for my worries and let me know she’ll be okay.


  8. Thank Goodness you’re OK Margaret. That could have been really bad. Your Guardian Angel must have been working overtime when that happened. And THANK YOU for the good news about Breeze…such needed and welcomed good news.

    P.S. Were any of the brownies saved?


    • No! I threw the whole mess in the trash. Not gonna chance eating glass! Thanks think I’ll go make another batch–with a metal pan!


  9. We just lost our beloved Rottie who was 12 and a half years old. He was vigorous until about 3 months ago. He was the love of my life, and truly the best dog I’ve ever had. I got him at 6 weeks of age and nurtured him through the big bounding puppy stage. He was incredibly easy to train and never, ever was threatening to anyone, unless they threatened me (only happened once). The hardest part was letting him go, feeling like we had let him down somehow. But now, I’m so glad his suffering is over. I will miss him so much, my Rowdy Boy!


  10. I have to share about my senior cocker spaniel that passed away last year on August 31 in the early morning of Hurricane Irene. My 14-1/2 year old female black cocker spaneil was a doll pf a dog. She gave my family the best years of her life and we loved her. When she was in her senior years she used to wander off. She could not see or hear very well and we were always able to find her. She passed on last year when Hurricane Irene came upon the Northeast. She died suddenly and surprisely. She had a good life and that is is that mattered to me. I adopted her from the Humane Society when she was 7 months.


  11. I wrote this about the wild band stallion BraveHeart who lived on the Twin Peaks HMA but it is true for all of the loving animal friends I have known in my life … and I miss them all:
    “It is not how he died that matters, it is how he lived…”


  12. Thank you RT for this beautiful story.. There is nothing like the love of a good, senior animal, and it is beautiful to read these heartwarming posts from caring people.

    I have an older dog now. Seems like only yesterday he was a puppy full of himself. He was a joy since day one. It’s poignant to (try not to ) think about the changes coming, but I guess there’s a plan someplace and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

    As for today, his love and companionship are such a gift. Helping his senior years is an honor;.. these old fellas give us back ten times what we give them. The vets are simply wonderful … do they take philosophy along with everything else?


  13. Thanks for writing about this nice and motivating incident, it told us that animals are also foll of life as well as zeal and zest. After reading this i also fell that we should be more concerned and attentive about health of the animals.


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