In December 2017, we knew it would soon be time to make a decision to euthanize our 8-year-old lhasa mutt. The best vet and all the medications in the world could no longer forestall a growing belly, heavy with the water his failing heart couldn’t purge from his system. We thought we’d get to choose when. Author Pam Houston thought the same thing about her 39-year-old horse, Roany.

As Houston recounts in this poignant essay at Outside, she and Roany had been together for 25 years. After a lengthy period of lameness, despite exceptional care, she knew it would soon be time for her friend, a horse known for his gentle disposition and a keen emotional intelligence. On the night before his scheduled departure, Roany made his own decision, but not without Pam by his side.

Roany was stoicism defined. As his condition worsened, he learned to pivot on his good front leg—and would, for an apple or a carrot or to sneak into the barn to get at the winter’s stash of alfalfa. He blew bubbles in his water bucket because it made me laugh, and he would sometimes even give himself a bird bath by splashing his still mighty head. I also knew that just because he could handle the discomfort didn’t mean he should. He had been so strong so recently, such a force of nature thundering back and forth across the pasture. There was no chance I was going to ask him to make another winter, but as long as he was hobbling to his golf course and chortling to me each morning, it seemed too early to end his life.

He was still standing when I got there. But the minute he saw me he went to the ground with relief. He curled up like a fawn, and I could hear that his breathing wasn’t right. Mike and I sat beside him and petted his handsome neck. Above us, stragglers from the Perseid meteor shower, which had peaked over the weekend, streaked the blackness.

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