Sadly, the one image that I'll probably never forget from this past weekend was the horrific sight of Barbaro coming up lame in the Preakness on Saturday. His injury turned out to be close to the worst-case scenario with a near-complete shattering of his hind leg. Normally, a horse suffering Barbaro's type of injury would have been euthanized immediately on the track and even after a promising surgery yesterday, he still has only a 50-50 chance of surviving.
The author Jane Schwartz wrote an introspective piece in the New York Times today examining why people care so much about an animal to which they have no personal connection. This brings up the larger point of how much people care about animals in general. For instance, while watching the season finale of "Grey's Anatomy", I felt ten times more pangs of emotion when Meredith's dog was put down (by Chris O'Donnell, no less – Hoo-Hah!) than when Izzie's not-really-boyfriend-but-still-the-love-of-her-life Denny Duquette died at the end of the show. I certainly don't mean that I would value an animal's life over a human's life, but I also doubt that I was the only person that felt that way after that episode.
The funny thing is that I used to think the notion of caring about an animal that much was crazy. Growing up, I never had a real pet other than a goldfish that might have survived about a week after I had won it from a carnie. My disdain for cats was once so deep that I was quoted as stating that felines were the "welfare babies of the animal kingdom."
That attitude changed about a year-and-a-half ago, when my wife convinced me to go to the Naperville Humane Society to take a look at some tiny kittens that she saw. Of course, a lifetime of cat-hating was pretty much wiped away once I had a few moments to play with a 3-month-old tabby named Tater Tot (props to the shelter for coming up with name – his stripes completely match the color of the delectable fried potato treats). After taking a day to think about what my wife and I were plunging ourselves into, I came back to next day to sign the adoption papers and he was brought home after his neutering.
About a week later, my wife came back home one day from work and found Tater slumping along slowly and barely being able to open his eyes. His fur was dried out and his weight had dropped to less than one pound. Terrified, my wife immediately took him to our veterinarian to see what was wrong. After an examination, the prognosis was not good at all – Tater was severely dehydrated and the vet didn't know if he would survive the night, much less be healthy long-term. For the next few evenings, we transported him back and forth to an overnight facility, where he would lay in an incubator and receive a catheter to keep him alive. Numerous tests were performed to see if Tater had certain diseases commiserate with his symptoms, but nothing came back positive. Even though that was the case, the doctors that looked at him all thought that his sickness was so severe that it was almost certain that he wouldn't make it.
During that time, I was a complete emotional wreck. I was someone that a couple of weeks earlier couldn't fathom the thought of even owning a cat, yet other than the day back in college when I found out that my father had cancer, that was the most scared I had ever been in my life. I reached the point where I wondered if we should just take Tater home so that he wouldn't spend his last hours in a hospital. My wife, bless her heart, was resolute, though: we were not going to give up.
It probably wasn't rational to keep pressing on – we had already spent more money than I had spent on myself in my entire life for doctors and Tater still wasn't showing any improvement after days of being in constant care. As a last hope, our vet referred us to a specialist at a 24-hour care facility. We took Tater there and all we could do at that point was to pray for a miracle.
Amazingly, the miracle came! Within 2 days, Tater's health had turned for the better against all odds. There wasn't any magic drug or treatment. What had brought him to almost certain death only a few days before just suddenly went away and no one could explain what had happened. Within moments after finally bringing Tater back home after he spent days tied to machines just to keep his vital signs stable, he starting jumping around and batting at shoelaces and strings as if he were completely normal. To this day, my wife and I light up everytime he comes into the room with his boundless energy.
The thoughts of those personally agonizing days have come up again in the wake of Barbaro's grim outlook. Schwartz compared the plight of Barbaro to the story of the 1975 Triple Crown contender Ruffian, where she suffered a similar injury that resulted in an emergency surgery that ultimately failed. According to Schwartz, "No one who was involved with Ruffian's treatment expected her to survive. Not in any rational sense. They operated on her in the hope that they might buy time for a miracle to take place."
Tater Tot is living proof that such a miracle can indeed take place. Let's hope that Barbaro has his own miracle.