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Anatomy of a Successful Horse Rescue

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This is the story of a horse that slipped through the cracks of a body of government designed to protect horses from starvation and cruelty. Horse rescues across the country face this scenario over and over again.

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Stamp Out Starvation of Horses (S.O.S.) has received several calls complaining about a starving horse in North Georgia. The first time a call came in, Georgia Department of Agriculture was contacted. They stated that they have had an open case on this horse for two years, and S.O.S. was asked to not get involved.

When calls continued, even months later, S.O.S. decided it was time to take action. Doris Buckley of S.O.S. visited the horse and knocked at the horse owner's door. She was met by a very angry woman who said she was tired of receiving complaints about her horse. According to her, he isn't starved, just old.

Doris was very patient with the woman, assuring her that she was only there to offer help. You see, Stamp Out Starvation of Horses provides a very unique service within the horse rescue world. They help assist people who are unable to feed their horses.

In this case, Colt's owner is a woman living on disability who can barely afford to feed herself. She believes that the horse's advanced age of 28 was the reason for his being so thin. Surprisingly, many people believe the myth that all aging horses get skinny. Using a horse's age as a reason for starvation reflects ignorance of proper horse care and nutrition. Educating horse owners is a very important part of S.O.S.'s mission.

The following morning after Doris's visit, Colt's owner called Doris in a panic, saying that Colt was down and couldn't get up. The vet was called, and I met him at the farm. Colt was lying prone when I arrived, but he would periodically flop back over on his side and thrash with his legs in an unsuccessful attempt to rise.

His veterinary exam revealed that he was dehydrated, had a low body temperature and a heart murmur, but good gut sounds. He had obviously been attempting to rise all night, as there was a 300 square foot area of ground that had been disturbed by his thrashing movements. By the following morning, he was exhausted from his efforts.

Colt should have received an IV to help offset the dehydration he was suffering, but the vet was not equipped to do an IV in the field, so we agreed to feed him some soaked alfalfa cubes, electrolytes and plenty of water and wait for him to gain some strength. We would re-assess his condition later that day.

When he was still unable to rise by mid-afternoon Cheryl Flanagan, from Save the Horses, brought her sling, designed to assist in these situations. The horse owner called her cousin to bring his wrecker, and we all met in the evening to help pull this horse back up to his feet.

After one successful lift, the straps were removed and we attempted to lead him, very slowly, closer to the house where he could be observed more easily overnight. Unfortunately, Colt tripped and fell, so the process started all over again. This time, Colt was left in the sling for an hour, gradually releasing the straps until he was standing entirely on his own.

While in the sling, Colt was fed a warm and soupy mash of senior feed, electrolytes and alfalfa hay, all of which he consumed with vigor. As time progressed, it was clear that Colt's muscles were beginning to regain their strength. He stayed in the sling until he was stable enough to walk without any assistance. Colt was then blanketed, since he has absolutely no meat on his bones to keep him warm. He was led slowly and made it all the way to a spot where we would leave his hay and water.

The first few days of feeding a starved horse are crucial, so we got very little sleep that night wondering how Colt would be feeling in the morning.

This morning, when Doris visited, Colt was still up, alert and nickering for his breakfast. He is on his way to returning to a good weight and health, with cautious optimism, since starvation often results in organ failure.

Colt will remain with his current owner, under S.O.S.'s supervision. Stamp Out Starvation of Horses will continue to provide all Colt's feed and hay for the rest of his life. Because there are more starving horses than there is room in rescues, it is our belief that keeping them in their existing homes at our expense saves not one, but two horses, by leaving open a spot at a rescue that would normally have been filled.

To learn more about Stamp Out Starvation of Horses, or to help with Colt's care, and others like him, please go to www.sosofhorses.com.

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