A few weeks ago good friend of mine sent me an email with photos, these photos were sickening and heart breaking, they were from a Moncton girls Facebook. The foal was very thin and had horribly dropped fetlocks. I quicky recognized the filly as the half sister to my filly Tru. I remembered seeing photos of her months ago when she was first born and she looked perfectly healthy as a newborn. Now she was just skin and bones and in obvious discomfort with her legs being the way they were. My heart ached for her and I knew I had to do something, right then and there.
I contacted the owner, and asked if she would be interested in selling the filly, as I had a half sister and I really liked the types of foals that their sire threw. She said she didn’t think she would sell her because it was her baby. A few days I contacted again saying I was interested still and if she ever changed her mind to please contact me. She wrote back and told me she would take $1500.00. I told her that I could not do that at this time. A few days later she wrote back, and said she would take $1200.00. I said that was still out of my price range, knowing very well that it would take a lot of money and effort to get poor Zora to a healthy condition, possible physiotherapy and special wraps for her legs and certainly lots of groceries. I waited and eventually the young girl wrote back and said she would sell her to me for $600.00. I told her I would see what I could come up with. I wrote her back and said I could pick her up on Saturday, December 17th and had $500.00, she agreed to the sale.
Once the sale was agreed to I began to ask in-depth questions about Zora. I wanted to know her medical history, as well as de-worming history, what she was on for feed and hay, what her personality was like etc. Just so I could have all the facts, most of which I was told I didn’t believe as it seemed impossible that this filly could have been getting free choice hay 24/7 along with 2 quarts of Purina Juvenile Grain twice a day. Not with the condition she as in.
A friend and I drove up to this girls place and meet my Fiancé there who was on his way back from PEI with the truck and trailer from picking up a horse for training. When we got to the place right away we could see that the property was a mess, there was garbage and debris all over the yard (old toys, clothing, rotten hay, bailer twine and lots of just plain old garbage). There was a very rusty trailer in the driveway as well as multiple vehicles in various stages of disrepair. The barn itself wasn’t in very good shape, the roof was starting to cave in, and was missing shingles.
When we got inside it wasn’t much better, the barn reminded me of an old cattle barn, the ceiling was full of cobwebs and was a bit stuffy. There was a row of straight stalls, none of which had bedding in them but you could tell they were recently stripped clean as the owners knew we were coming. The horses that were in the barn also had fresh hay in front of them and were rapidly inhaling it. There weren’t water buckets in all the stalls that I could see and not all the horses were in the barn. The first horse though that was in the first stall as soon as you went in was a little paint filly, Winnie according to the photos on her Facebook that had been on the property since March or so, she was quite ribby and didn’t look like a healthy yearling should. The rest of the horses were thoughtfully placed so that I couldn’t see their bodies, just heir heads and their necks while they ate their hay.
And then there was poor Zora, in a standing stall, no bedding under her tiny feet. At first I thought she must be down a bit of a step because she was so small when we first approached but quickly realized that she was just that tiny. Later on we measured her and she was approximately 11 hands high (44 inches at the withers), and was roughly 300 lbs. A normal seven month old foal of her breeding should have been between 13 and 14 hands high and 600-700 lbs. Even where she stood with a thick winter blanket on (later we realized it was only a size 42 – typical size for a new born foal) you could see that she was very lean, her hip bones poked up in the blanket and her little neck that stuck out was very lean. Her hair was like baby fuzz, like she never fully shed out her foal coat properly. Her eyes were sunken and her face looked sad. She chewed the hay slowly, likely because she had no energy, it was sad to see.
We didn’t stay long as once I saw her I wanted to get her out of there as soon as possible and give her the best possible chance at survival. When we walked her out of the barn she moved very slowly, painfully slow. We guided her to the trailer and when we got to the ramp she tripped on the slope and just crumbled in a pile to the ground. She didn’t even try to catch herself or pick herself back up. She didn’t have the energy, three of us picked her up and guided her onto the trailer. She was so short that we couldn’t use the normal trailer tie on her halter (the same one we had used on 4 month old foals a few months prior with no issues), we had to use the lead line and attach it under the chest bar for fear of her strangling herself if she decided to lay down.
Just before we were ready to pull out of the driveway I get a text from my Fiancé (who does a lot for me and my horses but really isn’t a horse person himself) that said “I hope she makes it home.” And if he knew something was very obviously wrong with this filly the people who had been around her for the short seven months of her life should have known as well.
We got on the road, my friend and I following the truck and trailer in her car. We stopped a few minutes into the drive to check on the new addition, Zora stood in her stall of the trailer bracing herself against the ramp for support. We stopped again before going on the highway, still standing. Then we stopped for gas – the last Exit before the Toll Section and she was down on her side. She was very pale and very cold, she was obviously too weak to stand for that long. We had a pair of insulated coveralls in the back of the truck and laid them on her legs for warmth. I called the On Call vet right away so ask him his opinion. I described the condition of the foal and that she was down in the trailer after such a short ride, she had shallow breathing and her mucus membranes were very pale, almost white.
I work at a vet clinic, and we see animals that come into the clinic all the time in a similar condition, and they are likely either anemic, in shock or very ill. And when they are in the kind of condition that Zora was in it usually isn’t a good outcome. A normal healthy foal should have been able to stand easily and comfortably for the 1.5 hour drive home. This poor filly couldn’t stand for longer then 30 minutes. The vet recommended we get home and get her into a stall as quickly as legally possible, and said that I should call him if she were still alive when I got home. We got back on the road and the entire time I was absolutely sick to my stomach, unsure if when we pulled in the driveway back home if we would have an alive or dead filly in the back of the trailer. Tears were streaming down my face, I didn’t have a good feeling at all.
We had called ahead and a good friend had put some horse blankets in the drier so they would be nice and warm for Zora’s arrival. Once we arrived we backed the trailer right up into the arena. I threw open the back doors of the trailer – my hands shaking. She was laying there sternly, I shouted out “She’s Alive!” She was weak and making no effort to stand, but there was a bit of hope, she was at least alive. There were four of us there, and we worked quickly as a team on getting the other horse out of the trailer and settled in a stall, the center partition of the trailer removed and warm blankets wrapped around her frail body in an attempt to warm her up. We offered her some warm water from the house but she was even too weak to drink.
After a few minutes with the warm blankets on she perked up a little bit and shifted her weight like she wanted to stand. We removed the blankets, but had to help her too her feet, she wasn’t strong enough to get up on her own. Once she was to her feet we tested to see if she would walk on her own, she couldn’t she started to crumble into a pile. So me and two of my girlfriends helped to support her and carry her off the trailer and part way across the arena to her stall. Half way there she got a bit of energy and attempt to walk on her own, we stood at her side ready to catch her if she were to fall again. We got her into her stall that had a heaping pile of fresh shavings, lots of clean, fresh water and all the hay she could eat.
Once we had her in the stall and she was eating some hay I called the On Call Vet back to let him know that she was alive, but in poor shape. He gave me suggestions on a feeding plan to help get her weight up gradually as horses that have been starved and neglected like this one can go into a shock if given lots of high quality grain right away. So he recommended just hay with some corn oil and lots of water for the first few days, then I could gradually introduce some grain to her. At this point he didn’t feel like there would be any benefit to him coming out as it was food that the filly needed at that point in time.
Zora only stood on her own for about half an hour before she laid down, she continued to eat where she lay but took very small mouthfuls, and her jaw made a very odd clicking noise as she chewed. She ate a few good handfuls of hay where she laid until she stretched out and napped. I went and did the rest of my night time chores for the other horses on property while she napped and snacked with my friends watching over her.
I managed to get her to drink a bit of water before bed, but not much. She was very content to eat the hay that I piled up where she lay (knowing that she was weak and didn’t want her to have to get up and walk to where the hay was piled in the corner if she didn’t have to). Before going to bed for the night I hugged her frail neck and gave her a kiss on her perfect little white nose and told her that I was going to take care of her, and that she was truly loved.
I tossed and turned all night and had dreams of Zora running with her big sister Tru out in the field in the spring with all the fresh grass she could possibly eat. When morning came I quickly got out of bed and go dressed, went right outside before eating my breakfast. I opened the arena door and started towards the stall at the end, I could see that she was laying down . . . Flat on her side . . . My heart began to race and I jogged the rest of the way. I knew instantly in the pit of my stomach that she was gone. The tears streamed down my face and blurred my vision as I let myself into the stall. She had gotten up sometime during the night, eaten a bit more hay then laid down in her final resting place. My body shock with both sadness and anger, anger because Zora’s death could have been easily preventable with the proper care, but this poor filly was deprived of a proper life. I sat with her sometime, the tears steaming down my face onto her lifeless body.
I try to take comfort in the fact that I gave her a comfortable place to have her final night, a warm bed to sleep in, food in her belly and love, but it certainly doesn’t make anything easier. I only knew Zora personally for a few short hours, and feel like I have been robbed of many more hours with her because of a persons neglect to a helpless animal.
The next part was very hard, my Fiancé, his father and myself loaded Zora into the back of our truck and drove into Truro where we delivered her body and her story to the women at the Pathology Lab. I wanted a full autopsy done that would prove the level of neglect that this poor filly suffered. I knew it wouldn’t help Zora any, but it would hopefully be enough to help the horses left at her barn.
When I called the previous owner to tell her what happened she didn’t sound shocked on the phone, not even a little bit. And kept saying “Well I don’t know what she would have died she was happy and healthy here.” I am sorry if your idea of “happy and healthy” involve a body condition score of 1 (the lowest score you can get meaning completely emaciated) and so lethargic that she couldn’t stand for more then thirty minutes I would hate to see what “unhealthy” would be. The seller refused to give me my money back until there was "proof" that the foal had something before leaving the property that caused her death. Hence the reason for the Autopsy.
So far the diagnosis of the Autopsy are:
Thin body condition with serous atrophy of fat (bone marrow and epicardium; consistent with emaciation). And her lungs had suppurative bronchopneumonia, locally extensive, acute to subacute, mild. The comments went on to say such things as: “Gross examination of the submitted filly reveals a very thin body condition with no visible fat stores and small amounts of skeletal muscle.” And “The combination of fat utilization and lack of normal amounts of skeletal muscle in this growing animal suggest in increased inefficient metabolism (due to illness/underlying disease or intestinal parasitism) of available engery, or inadequate caloric intake/poor nutrition (starvation).” And finished with; “Overall, death may have resulted from a combination of emaciation and pulmonary bacterial infection.”
Both possible causes of death are easily managed and preventable. The full would have been showing signs of pneumonia, but either the previous owner wasn’t observant enough or turned a blind eye to the issue, just like she had with Zora’s rapidly declining condition and fat loss.
I want to tell this story to as many people possible because I do not want Zora’s death to be in vain, I want justice to be served, charges to be laid, and want to see the other horses saved before they too suffer the same horrible fate as poor Zora.