If Wishes Had Wings
Yesterday was a long day.
“He has fallen down in the trailer.” The concerned voice on the phone was that of a local animal control officer who was on her way to White Bird with a surrendered horse. We raced to prepare for his arrival, but we were ill prepared for the horse that arrived. He was in far worse condition than we had anticipated and we sucked in our collective breath.
The gentle, senior gelding was lying in the corner of the trailer. What was once a magnificent Belgian draft horse had been reduced through starvation to a golden hide stretched over an angular frame. We knew immediately that he was a Body Condition 1 and that he was in serious trouble. He tried to right himself in the trailer, but simply could not get his legs underneath him. In his eyes, we saw concern and kindness. And he was clearly exhausted. Only after several attempts were we able to get him out of the trailer and onto the grass outside.
He could not stand up on his own, despite trying hard to do so. Still, we could see that he was a fighter. We thought that if we could get him to his feet, he might be able to stay there. So, for the first time in our history I called upon the Little Fork Volunteer Technical Large Animal Rescue Team, a specialized team of emergency responders in Rixeyville who have the unusual specialty of handling large animals that need to be lifted or removed from dangerous situations. They responded quickly and assured me that they were on the way. But they were hours away.
So, we waited. We fed the big guy handfuls of forage, then added to that, senior mash. He was thrilled with the latter. He would eat enthusiastically, then drop off for a power nap in between snacks. Sometimes, he would try to rise, then would settle back down. We rubbed his face and talked to him. It got dark. Our cat made herself comfortable in the hollow next to his legs. We bought pizza. We fed him more forage, and we worried.
When the flashing lights in the driveway announced the arrival of Little Fork, we waved them down to the barn complex. These folks were soon followed by a group of responders from the Burkeville Volunteer Fire Department, who had also come out in the dark on a Friday night to lend extra hands.
Little Fork was astounding to watch. They are consummate professionals, following incident command structure to the letter, setting up their staging area, and providing protective helmets to volunteers. They repositioned the horse, and then gently outfitted him in a sling that could lift him to his feet, assisted by Tom and his tractor.
We encouraged, we shouted, and we bribed him with food. But after two sustained efforts and two hours, we realized that his back legs were simply failing and that our best efforts would not give him what we so desperately wished for: a miracle.
If good faith, prayers and wishes could have given this horse wings, he’d have flown high above our heads and out across the fields. If we had found him two weeks earlier, he may have had the strength to keep himself upright in the trailer. If his owner had fed him, he would never have needed help. If, if, if.
But there we were, a group of volunteers in a round pen at midnight, standing over a gentle, weary hors who was so appreciative of our efforts, and exhausted beyond all description. We made the call as we have so many times before. We cried, and then we thanked the people who had selflessly give up their evenings to come out to help.
As rescuers, we like to write about our successes. We share pictures of the horses who blossom under our care and talk about the numbers of horses saved. That is how we stay sane. The horses who do not survive their former neglect and abuse remain in our hearts, but not in our publications. They slip quietly away, in veterinary-assisted anonymity. Just for today, I wanted that not to be the case.
We will not forget this big, gentle horse who caused us to try so hard, if only to match his own fighting spirit. Nor will we forget the extraordinary outpouring of support from our volunteers, our community, the Animal Control officer who tried to save him and the compassionate experts at Little Fork. We are deeply grateful for your kindness.