The Death of Fleetfoot

  Christine Maccabee

The death of my goat Fleetfoot last November was not so different from my father’s death in November of l997. The suffering and the pain were just as real, and the need for the comforting presence of those who care was just as important. Also, as I observed, be it goat or human, the feeling of loss is similar once the death has occurred. 

Years ago I wrote a song called "Animals are People Too" in which I expressed my opinion that all animals, be they imprisoned in laboratory cages, or raised for food or various other human purposes, are deserving of respect and the greatest care possible for their well-being and happiness. In our "human-centric" world, this is sadly all too often not the case. 

As I sat with my goat, I thought of the good life and the good times she had, and we had together. I sensed that she understood what was happening to her. With each belabored breath she took, due to either a tumor in her wind passage or lungs full of fluid, or both (we never did find out exactly what her problem was), I could feel her agony. I remembered my father’s agony as he struggled with the double difficulty of cancer and chemotherapy. 

Besides the physical discomfort, my father struggled with regret as well...regret that he would have to leave this precious life before fulfilling all of his dreams, one of which was hiking mountain trails until he was 90. I wondered if Fleetfoot, too, was wishing for a few more years of frisking in the crisp autumn air in our mountain retreat.

During Fleetfoot’s last hours she chose to lay on the ground just outside the shelter in spite of the freezing weather. I covered her body with hay to keep her warm, and I sensed that both my presence and my action was a comfort to her. Her last hours were spent listening to the songs of birds, and living her life vicariously as she watched 9-month-old Hershey standing on his hind legs and reaching with eager lips for a tiny twig.

Not really knowing how long it would take her to die, and hating to see her in such pain, I decided to call the vet in order to euthanize her. It was still morning, and he would not come until 2 o’clock. Looking out my kitchen window, I could see her daughter Blueberry standing quietly next to her on the way to the shed. She stood stock still for an eternity of moments, her gesture of concern speaking louder than words. Later, all three goats gathered around Fleetfoot, sniffing her and no doubt quite aware of her suffering and pending death. In their own goatly way they were tending their friend, much like my mother and I tended my father. Animals are people too?.....

It was nearly noon when I noticed that Blueberry and Fawn had stationed themselves at Fleetfoot’s side, not moving a muscle for 20 minutes. I was in total awe of this display of reverence and respect. Even busy little Hershey stood quietly by her side in between various exploratory missions. During her last hours, Fleetfoot would periodically cry out with a muffled bleat, but her final bleating, while in the throes of death, was strong and full of passion. It felt as though she were saying goodbye to us and to the life she loved. It felt as though she were saying "I know I must go, but I don’t really want to." It was a sound I will never forget.

It took my good goat to teach me the meaning of the expression "dying a good death." What does that mean? I believe it means dying with dignity, understanding that it is your time to go, and accepting that fully. Oh that I can pass from this world some day with such grace. Fleetfoot was a wonderful gift. She gave me adventure (read my first Tail), she gave me milk, manure, and a few stories to tell. I only hope that what I gave her in return was worth all her sacrifice. I miss you, Fleety Sweety.

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