This trip across the clover to catch the two old horses was bringing tears to my eyes. These geldings had spent their lives serving Leonard and his wife and they had both worn out at the same time. It was time for them to be put to sleep.
Leonard had stayed back at the barn. He had his arms draped over the top rail of a pipe fence and his hat pulled down over his eyes so we couldn't see the tears streaming down his cheeks.
Dr. Emily Berryhill had come with me to the ranch. She was the intern at our clinic and hadn't been around long enough to know the history of Leonard, so I filled her in as we ambled across the field to catch the horses. I looked over and saw tears in her eyes. Emily hadn't seen this side of the gruff cowboys who come to our clinic—the side that cries when his favorite horse is at the end of its life. She was now experiencing it firsthand.
Leonard had arranged for a neighbor to dig a hole under the only tree visible for miles. The plot was the perfect place for these two old geldings to be buried—it was their favorite spot to spend the day. They could see their barn and get back to it in a hurry if need be. They could watch the cars pass on the county road in the distance. They could see the cliffs on the canyon to the west and watch the hawks ride the updrafts. These two critters loved to be in the shade that tree offered, and that's where Leonard wanted them buried.
It's an awful job, killing a man's best friend. All of the memories of rounding up cattle and the stories of how those horses had gotten Leonard out of a tough spot filled my mind as we laid the last one to rest in that hole. My trip back across the clover field to say goodbye to Leonard was a long one. I dreaded seeing his wrinkled eyes filled with the memories of how much he loved his horses.
We came through the last gate and hung the halters on their hook in the barn. I patted Leonard on the back and told him it broke my heart for him to have to do say goodbye to them but assured him it had been the right thing to do.
He looked up from under his hat and the emotion of 28 years of friendship ending on that day poured down his weathered cheeks.
"I'll be to town in a couple of days and I'll get you paid, Doc," he told me. "Thanks for coming out here and doing that."
"You owe me nothing, Leonard. I couldn't live with myself if I charged a man to kill his best friend."
"But you drove 75 miles to get here, Doc," he said. "I gotta pay you somethin'."
I paused and thought a bit. Experiences like this are why I dreamed of being a veterinarian when I was a kid. I get to work with the salt of the earth, people who understand the bond between people and animals. It's the essence of what veterinarians do and it has nothing to do with state-of-the-art equipment or making money. I kept those horses happy and going for most of their lives and I was a part of laying them to rest when their days were done.
Leonard appreciated that. He knew that taking care of critters from start to finish was simply what the local veterinarian did.
"You've been paying me for 20 years, my friend," I said. "This one is on me."
Dr. Bo Brock owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.