Malnourished horse from Oconee County

On Thursday, February 28, 2008 PEARL received a call from Oconee County Animal Control requesting assistance with a horse starvation case. The shelter is not designed to house large animals and has no budget for horse feed or medical care. Nicole Walukewicz responded that afternoon with hay, feed, halters and blankets.

On Friday, PEARL offered to accept the mare into our rehabilitation program. The horse had been seized by Animal Control for running at large, and in court the owner signed the horse over to them.

The horse, a 25 year old sorrel mare, arrived Monday morning. Dr. Keith Stafford performed the standard intake examination Monday afternoon. She was assessed with a body condition score of a 2.0 on the Henneke body scoring system. His initial exam found arthritis in her front legs and a heart murmur. He took a blood sample for the Coggins test. Vaccinations and dental work will wait until she has received good feed and had a chance to settle in for a couple weeks. PEARL will contact a farrier to trim her hooves.

After being at the rehabilitation farm for 6 weeks, Dr. Stafford and Board of Directors agreed that the mare would be better served by humanely euthanizing her. She had severe arthritis in her front legs and was very lame from an undetermined cause in her back end. She was in desperate need of having dental work but she had been so badly mistreated that Dr. Stafford could not safely examine her teeth without sedation and to float her teeth would have required anesthesia. With a grade four heart murmur, it was likely she could not survive the anesthesia. We all agreed that to stress the mare attempting to do so was not in her best interest. Field anesthesia would also likely result in an injury or further injury to her hip bones.

She was able to eat 12 pounds of water-soaked Seminole senior feed a day for six weeks and free-feed on chopped Timothy hay. She showed some weight gain, but as she gained weight, the pain from her arthritis became more pronounced. We were able to trim her front feet, but she was dangerously aggressive when her rear was approached. The farrier was also concerned that she would not be able to bear her entire weight on a single back leg while he worked on the other.

The decision to euthanize an animal is never easy. For us, horses somehow seem even more difficult. The AAEP gives the following euthanasia guidelines in their booklet Care Guidelines for Equine Rescue and Retirement Facilities:

  • Is the horse’s condition chronic, incurable and resulting in unnecessary pain and suffering?
  • Does the horse’s condition present a hopeless prognosis for life?
  • Is the horse a hazard to itself, other horses or humans?
  • Will the horse require continuous medication for the relief of pain and suffering for the remainder of its life?
  • If the horse is suffering but treatable, is proper and recommended care of the horse within the means of the rescue/retirement facility, such that the health and safety of the other horses are not compromised?
  • Is the horse constantly and in the foreseeable future unable to move unassisted, interact with other horses, or is exhibiting behaviors which may be considered essential for a decent quality of life?

She met all of the criteria, so on Friday, April 18th she was sent on to Rainbow Bridge where she will no doubt be glad to spend her days with the others so many of us have had to make this choice for. We are comforted knowing that she knew care, safety, food and carrots in her last few weeks. She leaves this world having experienced human kindness from all that tried to help her.