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Thank you for the honor Chancellor, and my apologies for not stepping up and telling his story sooner. If you'll allow it, I'm going to quote (and give link and credit!) to the wonderful three part series that Stephanie Church did on his story, she's the editor in chief of thehorse.com, which is the consumer magazine of the AAEP. She's an excellent writer, and this is a much more concise way to tell the hows and whys of Freeway's coming to be part of my (and so many others) life.
http://www.thehorse.com/articles/22588/ ... rse-part-1
http://www.thehorse.com/articles/22587/ ... rse-part-2
http://www.thehorse.com/articles/22731/ ... mprovement
http://www.thehorse.com/articles/22588/ ... rse-part-1
She could've just kept driving. But instead of dismissing the idea of intervention as someone else's sad responsibility, Sue Thompson last year saw a chance for helping a nearly skeletal, weak, neglected brown horse that was standing in a muddy pasture visible from the freeway.
Thompson lives in Clayton, Calif., where she keeps two Shires and a Thoroughbred, and her career could be perceived as somewhat prophetic in the context of Dec. 27, 2007, the day she spotted the starving animal from Interstate 205: Thompson provides emergency transport for horses.
"There are some beautiful places around this area, and there are some places that are pretty bad," Thompson says of the horse operations that she passes on her daily trips to and from veterinary hospitals. "Then there are places where I think, 'It's okay that the fencing is bad--the horses look okay. That horse could use a hundred pounds, but he's not in jeopardy.' "
She had called animal control or notified a veterinarian several times in the past about horses who appeared as if they were neglected, but Thompson had never actually taken in a rescue horse.
But this particular morning on her way to the farrier with her Shires, she saw an animal she knew didn't have time for the choreographed intervention of animal control, which generally requires an official to inspect the horse, give advice, and time to see if the owner complies (she noted little can be done if feed or water are on the premises). "Had I not been on the freeway, I would've stopped dead," Thompson said. "I couldn't believe that the horse was standing. I was driving past what we call horsey Tijuana, where there were horses in pens, more horses in pens, and then, 'Oh my God, that is a walking skeleton.' I was 150 yards away going 60 mph and saw him 50 feet down below the freeway."
With her full trailer it was impossible to help the horse that particular day, but she knew the next day she would be hauling her friend Beverly Minor's horse up to Pioneer Equine Hospital in Oakdale for surgery. As the two women drove past the pasture to the hospital drop on Dec. 28, Thompson was relieved to see the brown horse was still on his feet.
After delivering Minor's gelding on schedule, she asked her friend if she'd be up for taking the entire day off from work to help this horse; her friend quickly agreed. "He didn't have a week or two" for animal control authorities to get involved, Thompson emphasized. Getting involved that day was the only way they were going to be able to help the horse.
The women drove around on the tangle of local roads below the freeway until they eventually found the property where the horse stood. As Thompson parked her rig and a woman emerged from the residence on the property and approached, her friend Bev turned to her and asked what she was going to say. "Crap, I hadn't really thought that out," she thought. "Guess I'm going to wing it," she told her friend.
She said her conversation with the owner about the horse in question went something like this: " 'He's really thin, he might not live much longer.' She said (in broken English) 'Do you want to see him?' She opened the gate and let us in. You never know how people are going to react. We walked out there and we looked at him."
She observed there was very limited hay and water available to this horse and his two pasturemates, and it was offered in one location, creating a competitive situation. A pregnant mare that was also thin--but in better shape than this brown horse--was jealously guarding the available feed and water.
"She had had him about three months, and the story was he had belonged to a friend of theirs who had fallen on hard times," Thompson explained. "I'm guessing he was (a victim of) one of the bad mortgage upside down foreclosure problems. All his horses had looked that bad, and the former owner had taken the other one back. I was trying to be diplomatic. 'Maybe if he was at my house he would gain weight.' You don't want to ask the question because you don't want to hear the 'no.'
" 'The red one,' I said. 'If I had him, he might make it,' Thompson added. 'That might be the best thing for both of us.' "
After the woman at the property consulted with her husband via phone, she sold the mud-coated, food-and-everything-else deprived horse to Thompson without much fanfare for $150, just $15 less than what the two women had on hand during the drive that day. The horse first tried to avoid being caught, but had little energy or stamina for games. "He was just too weak, and the mud was too deep," Thompson described, noting they were able to catch the horse and push him onto the trailer.
"When I started driving home--a 40-minute trip--Bev asked if I thought he'd make it," she continued. "Usually they do, adrenaline will keep (horses in distress) on their feet. But, I thought, if he doesn't, at least he goes down and dies in clean shavings instead of drowning in the mud."
Coming Home--What is He/She/It?
Upon arriving home, Thompson thought it a good idea to find out the sex of the horse in order to address stabling arrangements. Normally, she said, she wouldn't be so bold to take a close look at an unfamiliar animal's undercarriage, but the horse was so weak that she didn't anticipate any drama. When she looked in the groin area, she was surprised. "I carefully stuck my head under to look, and there's nothing--no sheath!" She then took a cursory glance under the tail to make sure he wasn't a mare--nope, definitely a male horse. "He was so emaciated and dehydrated he didn't even have a sheath, just a slit where the sheath would be."
She led the straggly horse into an isolation stall at the far end of her property to avoid exposing her resident horses to any diseases or untoward conditions the new addition might have, and she offered him fresh water and hay sparingly. The horse was so dehydrated he could barely swallow. "The first thing I did was call my local vet, Dr. Renee Golenz (DVM)," Thompson said, noting that she made an appointment for Golenz to come out the next day and gathered a few bits of advice for caring for the horse in the meantime.
From her conversation with Golenz, Thompson understood that the horse's most difficult days could still be ahead of him, when his liver and kidneys would attempt to "come back online" after regular ingestion of food. But first things first: Thompson tucked "Freeway"--named for the unlikely circumstances by which she first spotted his bony frame--into a stall for the night, on deep, fresh bedding, with access to water, a tiny bit of soaked Equine Senior, and all kinds of hopes that he'd be able to pull through.
http://www.thehorse.com/articles/22587/ ... rse-part-2
"That weekend a big storm hit the Bay Area," said Thompson, referring to the weekend after she brought Freeway home, Dec. 29-30, 2007. "We all kind of surmised that (had we not taken him in) Freeway would've gone down in that storm and not gotten up. He was really that close."
When veterinarian Renee Golenz, DVM, arrived that day (Dec. 29) and Thompson opened the door for her, she noted the veterinarian's facial expression of utter unbelief. " 'I told you it was a starving horse,' I said, before she went to get her camera."
Golenz offered her first impression: "I saw a very, very neglected horse. He was a rack of bones, with a body condition score of 1. He was coughing, had a snotty nose, respiratory problems, pneumonia, he was depressed, and it was obvious his immune system was weak."
On top of starvation's effects, Freeway had a number of other issues to be addressed. "When I was listening to his heart I saw something crawl across my stethoscope," Golenz noted. Then she saw something else move. "Turns out he had lice embedded in his long hair, and he stunk, kind of that rotten smell that you get when your body is being eaten by lice."
Performing blood work was top priority not only to investigate his respiratory issues, but because of the myriad reasons a horse might be walking around 400 pounds underweight. "It could be 'groceries,' could be chronic disease, or it could be he has some other problems with his organs," said Golenz. "I told Sue from the get-go we're going to have to put him on antibiotics, but we want to make sure he's going to be treatable and get over this."
Freeway's tests only showed low-grade anemia, which Golenz attributed to his lack of nutrition, chronic disease, and blood-sucking lice. She knew his biggest challenge by far was going to be his pneumonia. "It's not too difficult to treat the lice or put weight on a horse that's relatively healthy," she said. "But being that he was so depleted and behind the eight ball, that made me highly concerned because when you have a body condition score of 1 and pneumonia, you're not sure if he's going to make it."
Golenz prescribed antibiotics and took a look at Freeway's teeth--she aged him between 17 and 20--but she did not float his teeth at this time. "I wanted to see how he was going to handle nutrition in his life again--a dental procedure would’ve added more stress to an already weakened, immune-compromised individual," she explained, noting that she recommended Thompson get Freeway's teeth done after the horse had settled into his new diet and routine. "The same goes with deworming a horse after starvation and neglect; you should wait for the horse to adjust before bringing on dewormer. After one to two weeks without colicking, then it's safe to maybe consider a gentle, slow deworming program." Along with the former minor adjustments, the farrier, Joe Zimmerman, came on New Year's morning to trim Freeway's overgrown hooves enough that he could walk comfortably.
"Initially, I gave (Sue) diet recommendations, said Golenz. "A lot of times when someone takes on a very emaciated horse, the first thing they want to do is feed it. They give it way too much food, way too high-quality nutrition, and those horses end up with really nasty colitis, diarrhea, colic, and then the horse is suffering more. It's like they're killing them with kindness. It's like taking a starved person and … feeding them a steak dinner--you can't do that."
In addition to following Golenz's advice, Thompson researched material on refeeding available from the University of California, Davis (vetmed.ucdavis.edu). She also enlisted the help of a well-known equine nutritionist, Amy Gill, PhD, of Central Kentucky, in helping design a diet for Freeway's somewhat traumatized digestive tract.
At first Thompson fed Freeway tiny meals of hay four to five times a day, but once his teeth were deemed ready (Alan Blanke, DVM, floated Freeway's teeth), she began offering him free-choice hay. In addition to the small amounts of grain she eventually began offering, she added an omega supplement (polyunsaturated fats, needed for various metabolic processes) recommended by Gill. She attributes some of the improvement in Freeway's health to the Omega Balance product Gill recommended, noting that his "gooey eyes" resolved as soon as he went on the supplement, and when she tried going off of it at one point, the "goo" returned.
In the following weeks, Freeway began putting on weight, and with shampoos and treatments Thompson was able to rid the horse's skin of the irritating lice. Golenz described, "She was lightly feeding him, not too much too soon. From the very get-go we were kind of like, 'Day by day, Sue, if he's alive tomorrow, it will be great.' Then all of the sudden the days were getting better and I started thinking, 'Okay, this boy's going to make it.'
"He started to look brighter … and I thought if we can get some weight on this guy and get some nutrition into him, hopefully his pneumonia would respond. It didn't, so she took him to the referral hospital for a tracheal wash and radiographs."
The nasal discharge was flowing freely by mid-January and not responding to initial treatment, so Golenz referred Freeway to Pioneer Equine Hospital in Oakdale. "He did his first major 'snot exorcist' routine when I took him up to Pioneer," Thompson said, describing the event where Freeway showered just about everyone in a 4-foot radius with sputum (expectorated matter from the air passages). When veterinarians cultured Freeway's tracheal wash sample, they found out he had Streptococcus zooepidimicus, a distant relative of Streptococcus equi, the bacterium responsible for strangles. Thankfully, S. zooepidemicus doesn't pose the same contagious threat that strangles does, and veterinarians simply rolled this diagnosis into the array of antibiotic treatment.
By the spring Freeway had become healthier and stronger. He grazed a pasture of his own, made friends with the Shires and Thoroughbred on the farm, and a distinct personality began to emerge from inside the former bag of bones. The first time Thompson put a blanket on Freeway he was unfazed—even pleased--and the first time she snapped a carrot, he swung his head around like it was the most fantastic and familiar sound he'd ever heard. "He didn't always live this life," she reflected. "At some point in the past he had a good home.
"He's told me a fair bit just from handling him," she continued. "I don't think he was ever abused or beaten. He's not head shy, but he's very reactive. He gets stuff quickly, a smart horse … I see him being a nice trail horse. He's not going to be for a beginner because if you cluck to him, you'd better mean it. If you put your leg on him he moves."
All along the way, Thompson had been reporting Freeway's progress in an online forum on UltimateDressage.com. Users of the boards following the horse's story sent notes of thanks and encouragement to the veterinarians treating Freeway, and some even sent anonymous gifts to help pay for extensive veterinary bills, even though Thompson never asked for help. "I'm so fortunate to have my own place and the room to do this, and the time to do this, but a lot of people can't do this and they want to feel like they're involved," she explained.
But despite his encouraging recovery and his blossoming personality around the barn, Freeway still hadn't kicked his cough. Enter veterinarians from the University of California, Davis.
The Nastiest Snot You Ever Saw
Gary Magdesian, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVECC, assistant professor in medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, Davis, veterinary school, took his first look at Freeway in July. "He was presented to us for chronic infection manifested as cough, exercise intolerance, and marked sputum," he said. "The special circumstance that stands out to me is the marked volume of sputum that Freeway had--he would cough out what looked like several hundred milliliters of sputum each time." (To give you an idea of the volume, a half pint is roughly 237mL.)
In addition to the unpleasant outward signs, radiographs of Freeway's lungs also told the story of why his clinical signs weren't abating. "We found marked consolidation of the lungs and abscesses on chest radiography (visible as spots on the X ray). We diagnosed chronic pneumonia with anaerobic pulmonary abscesses," explained Magdesian, who noted that this diagnosis is not uncommon in starvation and neglect cases, but it's certainly not seen in every--or even the majority of--cases. The pneumonia had become well-established and walled off inside these abscesses, making it very difficult to treat.
But despite the dismal state of his lungs, Freeway looked pretty healthy. He had a "remarkable outward appearance despite having had chronic pneumonia," Magdesian described. "He was in good body condition and had a nice hair coat, a testament to Sue's care and the horse's drive, I believe."
Magdesian started Freeway on a course of treatment consisting of long-term antimicrobials, bronchodilators, rest, air quality control, and nutritional support.
While at UC Davis, Freeway was not only an interesting pneumonia case, but he also became a star patient and teaching subject for the veterinary students. "He's okay with eight students being on him with stethoscopes at once. Everyone gets a really good listen to his lungs," Thompson said. An initial plan had been to ultrasound his heart to check for damage. But Freeway, with his calm demeanor and intriguing background--and no need for sedatives whatsoever--ended up having his heart, lungs, gut, liver, and kidneys examined on ultrasound as well.
Aside from the lung abscesses, Thompson said all of Freeway's internal organs looked as they should, and all tests have indicated his liver and kidneys are functioning normally.
Since his summer visits to UC Davis, Freeway has settled into his schedule of receiving the antimicrobial metronidazole three times daily, and he doesn't seem to really mind it that much. He's an expert companion horse and sometimes accompanies other horses to their farrier and other appointments, just so they won't be sitting in the trailer alone. He gets a light ride every so often, and despite a big splint and a few bumps here and there, Freeway is as sound and smooth has his name might suggest. Thompson describes him as a bold, interested horse, always wanting to see what's around the corner. A family friend once said he'd have given his right arm to have owned Freeway as a 6-year-old.
One of the hurdles the bay gelding faces in his recovery is a compromised immune system from the long-term, well-established illness and previous starvation. Magdesian comments, "We are combating this by taking a broad approach to his treatment--antimicrobials based on culture and susceptibility testing, good nutritional support (vitamins, probiotics, flax, good-quality hay, and senior feed), and limited exercise with decrease in dust exposure. I should emphasize that because of his long duration of illness, Freeway will require long-term (several months) of treatment because the pneumonia is so well-established and walled off in abscesses."
All of this care translates to a lot of time and money. Does Thompson have any regrets about taking on the behemoth task of saving Freeway? Not for a second.
"It's been a really neat journey," she described. "Its' been a lot of work, it's been a lot of money, but it's definitely been worth it. Obviously the goal is for him to have a complete and total return to health, and we're almost there," she said. "The odds are good for that, and since at no point during this whole journey--and his occasional energetic antics--has he ever appeared to be winded, Dr. M. is optimistic that his long illness will not result in permanent damage. He won't be a horse with 'broken wind' as the old timers would say. He is already a wonderful companion for a fractious horse who needs to be quiet, so he can earn his keep that way … not that he owes me anything."
She wonders if Freeway's future career could lie in being an ambassador. "There are plenty of horses who go out in the public eye as breed ambassadors: Freeway could do it not for a breed, but for a cause. He is pleasant, attractive, and incredibly polite. People talk about finding diamonds in the rough; he was my diamond in the mud."
Golenz reflected on Freeway's progress: "This is what it's about. You take a horse, you try to help it, and you see it progress to health and happiness. I've been doing this (veterinary medicine) for almost 20 years and still to this day, when I see a situation like Freeway's, it brings so much joy to my heart and regenerates me and makes me enthusiastic about what I do as a veterinarian.
"Every time I go out to the ranch, he just is better and better and better, to the point he's going to be too healthy." She noted the last time she saw Freeway he had a BCS of 7. "I'm going to have to tell Sue to put him on a diet!"
Waves of Good
As any success story would, Freeway's journey has inspired more than a few horse owners to open their barn doors to a horse in need. Thompson notes at least three people on the Ultimate Dressage board have adopted horses, generally after she has assured them that if she can take on a project like Freeway and they have time and inclination, they can do it, too. "I would've told you (my barn) was full back then," she said, "but in reality I had room for one more. I was lucky that I got a relatively functional, sound horse. I think a lot people have room for just one more.
"A lot of the horses that are out there for free are nice horses," she continued. "The message is every horse is one owner away from a situation like that. It takes just one change of ownership in the wrong direction and someone gets in financial trouble, maybe the horse gets sick, and bills don't get paid. I don't think any horse is really safe from that type of situation. I think they're all at risk."
Taking In a Neglected Horse
"Here at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital we treat starved and neglected horses (and other animals) that are under the care of the county animal control," said Gary Magdesian, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVECC, assistant professor in medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, Davis, veterinary school. "When deemed a neglect case that requires veterinary treatment, horses are brought to our hospital, where they receive nutritional support as well as medical care."
Magdesian recommends early veterinary assessment, complete blood work (complete blood count and chemistry panel) to look for signs of infection or organ ailment, and assessment of dental status.
Freeway's local veterinarian, Renee Golenz, DVM, seconds Magdesian's instruction to consult with a veterinarian. "Make sure you have a good relationship with a vet and that you guys can be a team and work together on helping this neglected horse." She delineated the first steps to take:
Have a veterinarian out to perform a complete evaluation of the horse This includes blood work, "to make sure he doesn't have any horrific underlying problems that could make it potentially impossible to save the horse's life," said Golenz.
Consult with the veterinarian about the horse's weight and achieving his ideal body condition score "Not all neglected horses are emaciated or underweight, like Freeway, but I've seen neglected horses with the opposite problem … obese, feet neglected, might founder," she noted. "Freeway's feet were horribly neglected, too, but remember that not all neglected horses are emaciated."
Assess wounds, injuries, and quality-of-life issues objectively Horses might have obvious discomfort that might not be treatable. "I've seen neglected horses with really bad injuries or wounds that were horribly crippled in a joint, for example," she said. "Those individuals don't do very well, and sometimes the best thing for them is euthanasia."
Do your finance homework "People need to make sure they have the funds and means to have this extra expense," said Golenz. "Some of these neglected horses just need bare-bones care, which is diet, farrier care, deworming, vaccination. But some horses might need a lot of extra farrier work or veterinary care. Make sure the decision is not based on pure emotion." In tough economic times, an emotional decision to save a horse might end up hurting the horse more than it helps him.
Golenz has a keen awareness of the reality that horse owners' hearts can be bigger than their budgets, especially in tough economic times. "In past years, it would be extremely rare that I would be involved with a neglect case, but this past year (2008) was the most involvement I've had," she described, emphasizing that the "pocket of horses" where she practices is made up of horse owners who take very good care of their animals. "But I handled three cases in the month of February alone. Two out of the three were because of financial problems: they just could not afford to feed the horses. One of the three, I think, was pure ignorance.
"People are still trying to feed their horses, even though the price of hay is really expensive here, and they're cutting back on their farrier, proper hoof care, and veterinary care," she added. "They're just vaccinating bare-bones vaccines and if the horse gets injured, they try to deal with it themselves until it goes south."--Stephanie L. Church
http://www.thehorse.com/articles/22731/ ... mprovement
Freeway, the starving horse that Sue Thompson of Clayton, Calif., rescued in late 2007 and has rehabilitated over the past year, could be a step closer to recovery. The Quarter Horse-type gelding underwent a checkup yesterday (Jan. 22) at the University of California, Davis, where veterinarians cut back his antibiotics and gave an encouraging prognosis. Freeway isn't entirely in the clear yet, but shows improvement.
After a diagnosis of chronic pneumonia with anaerobic pulmonary abscesses last July, Thompson has been administering prescribed antibiotics (metronidazole) three times a day, along with probiotics (to assist in keeping his stomach populated with the good kind of bacteria that the antibiotics can negatively affect) and iodide (an expectorant). Freeway coughs only occasionally now, and Thompson reports she hears a tracheal rattle every so often.
UC Davis veterinarians reduced his antibiotics to twice a day and said to discontinue the iodide.
Veterinarians ran a CBC (complete blood count) on Freeway's blood and a liver panel, which indicated mild elevation in two values, GGT (gamma-glutamyl transferase) and total bilirubin--both indicators of liver function. "My local vet will recheck in a week just to be safe," reported Thompson. "If after two weeks off antibiotics, no recurrence, he can start a very slow reconditioning program."
Thoracic X rays showed improvement in overall clearance of Freeway's lungs, and the suspected abscesses were no longer visible.
Thompson has been instructed to monitor Freeway's appetite and "fecal character," discontinuing medications and calling the veterinarian if he goes off his feed or develops a loose stool.
"That glow you're seeing?" Thompson wrote to people who have been following Freeway's progress on UltimateDressage.com, "It's the light at the end of the tunnel. This is not the end of the story, still a couple of trees before we're clear of the woods, but we're getting close to the epilogue."
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