Olympia is the faithful companion of my daughter Courtney and her family–husband Brian and two young boys. Ollie, as she is affectionately known, is a 9-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever.

Ollie had several litters of puppies when she was young. The breeder then sold her to Brian and Courtney (who had her spayed) as a companion to Lager, another yellow Lab. The two are fast friends and romp around the house and yard together and share a huge dog bed in front of the fireplace. As watchdogs, they are pretty close to worthless, as they like everyone.

Brian recently took Ollie for a routine checkup at her veterinarian, who discovered a problem and confirmed via a biopsy the equivalent of breast cancer. The vet suggested a consultation with an oncologist veterinarian, who found that the cancer had matastasized. He gave Brian and Courtney the option of chemotherapy that might extend Ollie’s life by nine months to a year. They quickly agreed and Ollie underwent an expensive treatment.

Later, back at home, Ollie experienced severe nausea from the chemo and Brian and Courtney immediately took her back to the oncology clinic, where she spent a few nights. When they visited Ollie, she was so happy to see them and their sons. The family brought her chicken and rice because she refused to eat at the clinic. She was home in time for Thanksgiving.

Brian and Courtney have decided that Ollie will not be subjected to further chemo treatments, but rather, will live out what time she has left at home. They will make her as comfortable as possible and will not let her suffer.

Outwardly, Ollie shows no signs of cancer. But the vet says she will soon. The family will miss her sorely and Lager will search the house for her, as he did when she was spending a couple of nights at the animal oncology clinic. Brian and Courtney are grateful that their family has this Christmas with her.

This personal vignette prompted me to think about the fate of racehorses that are reaching the end of life. Some horses, as with the canine Ollie, will live out their lives in dignity. Others will not be so fortunate and will expire under horrible human-made circumstances.

To adapt what the  inimitable Ernest Hemmingway said about humans: “Every horse’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one horse from another.” A classic winner lives with fanfare while a bottom-level claimer labors in relative obscurity. Unfortunately and reprehensibly, the details of how they die are usually different as well.

All racehorses, indeed all domesticated animals, should be shown the ultimate appreciation from their human owners–a peaceful segue to the last rest. This may be a utopian vision, but working toward such an unreachable ideal–with generosity and unrelenting action–is as practical as it gets. That’s a celestial gift one can give, not just at Christmas, but all year round.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business