It’s been nearly three weeks since Splash underwent surgery to have both of her eyes removed. The first few days she was home were difficult for several reasons:
1. Splash was clearly uncomfortable and adjusting to having been in the Equine Hospital for three days.
2. Splash had serious separation anxiety and we couldn’t leave her alone in the barn without her equine pals, so all three horses were on stall rest for five days. We would turn them out for an hour to clean stalls and bring them back inside. It was a great deal of extra work for the humans.
3. Splash was on a severely limited post surgery diet to re-introduce food into her system slowly to prevent colic. She was hungry and restless.
4. Splash needed her face massaged to reduce swelling at least four times a day and we had to check on her frequently to make sure her mask was secure.
It was a stressful time from the moment we found out she needed surgery, but the end result has been wonderful. Two weeks post surgery we started to notice that Splash was having more fun and her head tilt was less prominent. We noticed she was playfully throwing her head and trotting around the field.
Splash was eager to interact with people and her horse friends. She sought us out with happy nickers and we gave her apples, carrots and peppermints.
We heard from other local horse people who did not agree with our decision to go ahead with the surgery and they believed we should have followed the only other option of euthanasia. Brent and I had a many discussion and couldn’t believe that it was in Splash’s best interest to destroy her because of a pair of bad eyes. She had been blind for a long time prior to coming to live with us and her adjustment was to living her life pain free.
A few weeks after surgery one of the biggest skeptic came to visit us at the farm and watched Splash happily wander the paddock. He suggested that perhaps he was wrong and we did the right thing by saving Splash’s life.
Brent and I had no idea we had created such a controversy. We had gone with our hearts and with the firm belief that Splash still had many contributions that would enrich her life as well as others.
Post-surgery she had to wear a mask all the time. http://www.guardianmask.com/ donated a mask to Splash! Great people and a wonderful product if you are looking to protect eyes from just about anything. The mask is fantastic. She’s still wearing it for another few weeks. It was great to protect against bumping and flies The last thing we needed was flies laying eggs in her incision.
We had the vet out to remove stitches. We were able to remove the left side, but the right side got hung up on some scabs and the vet needed to sedate her and pick it out. Another nerve racking moment. The incision is nearly all healed up and looks healthy. The swelling has gone down and her eye sockets are sunken. We did not do anything cosmetic due to the increased risk of infection and we love her just the way she is!
No more drops or gels or goo! Hurrah! No eye balls, so nothing to get full of pressure, infection or inflammation. The way she gets around you’d think she was a sighted horse. She seems to sense the fence lines and usually knows exactly where she’s going. Splash had a very noticeable head tilt prior to surgery and now you can hardly tell. She still doesn’t turn to the right very well but that’s probably from the previous head injury. The vet believes she has lesions on her brain from trauma. We won’t even speculate.
After a few weeks we decided to get Splash used to leaving the farm and started walking her along side Turtle down the side road. I rode Turtle and lead Splash while Brent rode Autumn in the lead. We did this several times and Splash seemed to enjoy the gentle walk surrounded by her friends.
After a week and three strolls Splash came down with a hoof abscess. I wonder if it anything to do with our walks down the side road? She came up “three legged lame” one morning. It was heartbreak for us and very painful for Splash.
After surviving a severe head injury, going blind and bilateral enucleation she was still in pain because of a small and simple stone. I immediately called my good friend and blacksmith Dave for advice and to formulate a treatment plan.
A major part of the problem is Splash has a fear of having her legs touched. We’ve had her for months and have only just begun to pick up her hooves. Most horses have their hooves cleaned out daily, but Splash needed some time to build some trust.
Push came to shove and since we needed to examine her hoof. She was clearly in pain and easily let me look at her hoof which was quite a surprise. When Dave showed up to examine the affected hoof we were surprised that she let him pick up the foot with barely a kick.
Dave determined she has an abscess in her hoof and treatment came down to soaking in epsom salts and then poulticing with animalintex 24 hours a day until the abscess breaks. For five days we soaked and wrapped and hoped it would break. On the morning of day six I unwrapped the poultice and found stinky pus breaking from her heel and celebrated. Never had I been so happy to see pus.
The abscess is still draining, so her hoof is a stinky gooey mess, but she is walking much better and is back to stealing apples off the apple tree in the paddock.
We bought her a pair of cavallo boots and she’s very comfortable in those, so we can turn her out with the other horses while still protecting her healing hoof. She has the guardian mask on her face and boots on her hooves. She looks ready for the catwalk. LOL!
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.
After spending the last ten days going back and forth between vets trying to find the best solution to Splash’s eye problem our decision was made for us when we were unable to find a vet willing to come to the farm and do the surgery.
We called Milton Equine Hospital and booked a surgery date for August 6, 2013. The Hospital is about an hour and a half drive from the farm and she needs to be there August 5, 2013 for pre-op blood work and a physical exam.
0500 August 5th, 2013:
We got up early on Monday, Aug 5, 2013 to make the trip. Horses, puppies, pigs, goats, cats, ducks and dogs were fed very early as we rushed around trying to find our mugs of coffee that kept disappearing as we wandered back and forth between the barn and house.
I wasn’t sure I’d be able to put on the shipping leg wraps as Splash has a fear of having her legs touched, but after two attempts she stood still and let me wrap her legs to prevent damage during the ride. It was a little chilly before the sun had risen, so I put a purple blanket on my pony that had little images of ponies all over it. I call it her purple pajamas. With a last picture of those painful eyes we headed for help.
All fed and wrapped up Splash walked onto the trailer without a backward glance (no pun intended) while Turtle and Autumn stood at the gate watching the show. When I returned four hours later they were still standing at the gate waiting for their sibling to return.
I pack up my three little dogs for moral support and started on my trek to Milton. I had so many questions and worries floating through my head that I didn’t register the time. I drove straight through some pretty countryside, but all I could think of was: Is this the right thing?
It’s seems so barbaric and horrific to remove eyes. Like something out of a torture movie: Saw 12.
0730 August 5th, 2013: Arrive at Milton Equine Hospital
I’m a shift worker and most of the time holiday weekends mean nothing to me, so I was surprised to find the doors to the old farm house they call “Main Office” at the Milton Equine Hospital locked. I glanced around and saw a woman on a cell phone walking towards me. Casually, without taking the phone away from her face, she pointed to the back of a building and said “you dropping off for surgery? Go around back and find someone”. I nodded filled with nerves.
I drove the truck and trailer around the back and found a few folks working on horses in the very clean surgery barn. The young girls were friendly and helpful as I unloaded Splash. The pony was nervous, but interested in her surroundings. She moved with choppy motions as her ears spun back and forth with curiosity.
I brought her into stall # 1 and watched while they did a physical exam. Splash was a sweetheart and only flinched when they took her rectal temperature. The deemed her chubby. They gave Splash a flake of hay and continued to reassure me that she would be in good hands. Today they would do blood work, an assessment and start an IV to give fluids. I should get a phone call in the morning from the vet to touch base before the surgery.
I nodded. Gave Splash a few cuddles and as I walked towards the truck I could hear her whinnying for someone familiar. I started to cry as I climbed into the truck and drove away leaving my little girl at the hospital.
1000 Aug 5th, 2013
I’m back home and rushing to get everything done before I go to work, but my brain is still on Splash and it seems to take too long to do things. I’ve got a day and night of waiting or so I think.
0800 August 6th, 2013
The vet called my cell phone and left me a message that the surgery would be postponed until this afternoon. Why?
0800-1030 August 6th, 2013
I called Milton Equine Hospital about ten times until they finally answered the phone and promised to pass the message onto Dr. Cote. She was in surgery and would call me when she was done. Apparently my phone calls really annoyed the staff, because Dr. Cote asked if I was all right, I admitted I was little anxious. Understatement.
1030 August 6th, 2013
I finally got to talk to Dr. Cote who asked how she came to have the signs of deep trauma to her head and eyes? It initially sounded like she was suggesting we hurt Splash, so I calmly explained that we are involved in animal rescue and Splash had come to us with this trauma. We had no information on how she became so damaged. We could only speculate from her injuries that she came from a bad place of abuse and neglect.
Dr. Cote explained that Splash’s aggressively turned down right eye is indicative of deep head trauma. Generally the kind of head injury that is difficult to survive. My heart pounded harshly in my chest as I realized the full extent of Splash’s past. The horrific abuse and neglect that this pony survived had left its mark.
The vet went on to explain that Splash has spacial relation problems from the head trauma which makes it very difficult for the pony to understand where her head is most of the time. Dr. Cote is concerned that Splash will not recover well from the surgery due to the history of massive trauma, her inability to be aware of herself combined with being blind.
I sigh. I try to breathe. I listen.
She continues to tell me that both of the eyes are in horrible shape and are very painful. She believes its best to take both the eyes out in one surgery to reduce the risk of a second ansethetic. Dr. Cote is very concerned about the recovery, but believes the risks of surgery are worth allowing Splash to have a life without constant pain.
I’m told the surgery will begin at three p.m. and will take three hours. I should not expect a call before six p.m. and she will not call me until Splash is awake and standing. The recovery is expected to take about two weeks.
Dr. Cote and I dance around her concerns and she never comes right out and says the worst, but she hints at the sad possibilities. Splash is a fighter. To have survived her past is remarkable and I hope she has the courage to survive this surgery.
1318 August 6th, 2013
Waiting. Wish I could go and see Splash so she can hear the sound of my voice and know that she has not been abandoned. I wish I could tell her about all the people pulling for her at home. I wish I could make it tomorrow. Wish I could make two weeks fly by.
1500 August 6th, 2013 (3 p.m.) Surgery Time
She’s going under and I can almost smell the gas mixed with plastic as her already dark world fades away. That funny feeling of floating before everything becomes meaningless and you wake up confused. My girl.
I was watching parts of the movie “Signs” with Mel Gibson where Mel’s character defines life as a series of events suggesting all things happen for a reason. There is a particular good part where Mel describes the two groups of the people in the world: those that believe in miracles and those that belive in luck.
Under stress we look for something to make us feel better. A belief that will bring comfort.
1850 August 6th, 2013
The vet called! Update!
Dr. Cote sounded tired, but said that Splash was doing well. The surgery was successful and both eyes were removed without any difficulty. The left eye was very large and must have been horribly painful, so she thinks we should see relief in a few short days.
Splash was spending some time in the padded stall to recover, but she was already standing and holding her own. I can finally let out that breath I’ve been holding. I will feel much better when I can talk to her and let her know she hasn’t been abandoned. Its been a stressful day for everyone and I am grateful to feel relief. She made it. What a fighter!
In retrospect, given Splash’s history of trauma the best place for her to have this surgery was in a hospital and I’m glad that she was in the capable hands of Dr. Cote.
This has been an interesting educational experience. Splash is my first horse to have undergone surgery and stayed in an equine hospital. If everything goes well tonight she could come home tomorrow. Cross your hooves!
Thank you so much for all the support and donations towards her surgery. Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing my worry.
0800 August 7, 2013
The vet called and said Splash had a good night. No distress and she seemed quite comfortable. Their only concern was that Splash hasn’t passed much manure. She needs to poop. Dr. Cote said as long as Splashes passes more manure she could go home this afternoon. I celebrated too soon.
1345 August 7, 2013
I called Milton Equine Hospital and spoke with the front desk lady Lisa who said Dr. Cote was on another phone call, but would call me back as soon as possible. I’m waiting.
1500 August 7, 2013
Lisa called to tell me Dr. Cote would like to keep Splash for another night. She’s not producing as much manure as they’d like to see post surgery. I should explain that horses have very sensitive digestive systems that need fairly constant stimulation. Horses are grazers due to their anatomy. Horses can’t vomit and get stomach upset very easily much like bloat in a big dog like a great dane.
Post anesthetic colic (PAC) is a well-recognized complication of surgery in horses (Blikslager et al. 1994,. Proudman et al. 2002). Anything that upsets a horse will upset their guts which is often an dangerous situation for a horse.
I don’t want to jump to conclusions and worry because they didn’t says Splash was colicking, they said she wasn’t producing as much manure as they liked to see, so her system is still running, its just running a little slow from all the medication. The best place for her is at the hospital so they can treat her with IV fluids and medications.
2100 August 7,2013
Dr. Cote called tonight and said Splash is doing great. She passed lots of manure and is ready to go home in the morning. We were told to pick up a racing mask with plastic eye blinkers to help protect the incision. I went online and found an even better solution with a Guardian Mask http://www.guardianmask.com/ I called the company based in Texas and left a message asking if the mask would be suitable for a horse who had undergone a bilateral enucleation. An hour later the owner from the company called and we talked about rescuing animals and she offered to donate a mask for Splash. I was so moved I shed a few tears as the owner told me about their blind dog and how they also do rescue work. I feel so much support toward rescue. It’s heartwarming.
1100 August 8, 20
Brent and I got ready to go to Milton to pick up Splash. We loaded the puppies into the big truck and headed for the highway. It was an uneventful trip with one stop to pick up a racing mask with plastic eye protectors for Splash since we wouldn’t have our guardian mask until the weekend. We stopped in the small town of Campbellville, Ontario and bought a temporary plastic eye protector.
We arrived at the Hospital and went into the office to pay the bill. We were surprised to learn that the surgeon had donated two hundred dollars towards the surgery. Dr. Cote was incredibly moved by Splash and her courage. She told me that Splash was the perfect patient and unbelieveably trusting in people, which came as a shock given her traumatic history as told by her injuries.
Dr. Cote said she was grateful Splash had found a family that loved her enough to provide this surgery, so she can live a painfree life. She was happy to have had the opportunity to meet a wonderful little pony and to be able to help. Most of the staff at the hospital were happy that Splash had finally received the help that she needed.
Brent and I were anxious to see Splash without eyes. What would she look like? Would she still be the same? Would we notice the difference? We turned a corner and saw our pony standing quietly in her stall. She nickered softly at the sound of my voice and took a step in my direction. The tears burned the back of my eyes as I examined the neat stitches in place of the large blue eye. It looked good. Tidy and clean. There was some swelling on the right side which Dr. Cote said was probably because she tilts her head to the right, so the fluid had drained to that side.
Brent and I listened carefully to the post-surgery instructions. Splash was neither sedated nor on painkillers and seemed quite comfortable. She was going home with a king sized bottle of antibiotics and a eye protectors.
We were both relieved to see our pony again and curious to see her progression.
One of the vets helped us fit the new mask and even sewed in gauze pads to protect her eyes from all sides. You can see a little bit of the barn where the surgical cases live at the hospital. They were shop vaccuuming a stall!
Once Splash was fitted with a mask I put on her shipping boots and we made our way to the trailer for our drive home. She was a little anxious about the sound of the vacuum, but managed to walk down the aisle and right into the horse trailer.
We took it easy through the windy roads of Guelph Line Road to the highway. We had to stop and take away Splash’s hay because her diet is limited post-surgery. We’re trying to get her system back to normal and that means re-introducing food slowly.
Brent and the puppies were my co-pilots on this journey and were so relaxed they fell asleep mid-discussion.
Once home we walked Splash around a little bit and then put her in her stall for a rest. She spent the first hour picking every last piece of hay out of the shavings. I wanted to feed her, but I have to stick to her restrictive diet for a few days. She’s lost a bit of weight and she looks goods (remember they said she was too chubby).
In retrospect I am incredibly grateful we took Splash to Milton for the surgery. I learned that her head trauma is far more severe than I believed. She received care in Milton that I would not have been able to provide at home. A special thanks to all the folks from Milton Equine Hospital.
I’m happy to have my girl home. Thank you again to all the people who made this possible by recognizing a lost pony who needed help.
We’re very tired, but so happy to be home. I don’t think she realized she was home right away. It wasn’t until Turtle was brought in did she get excited. They greeted each other with lots of nickering and horse talk. He nuzzled her neck and she snorted happily.
Brent got used to walking Splash around on a lead for half an hour four times a day. Stall rest isn’t for everyone!
It seems bad things happen all at once. I even read an article in Oprah about it once aptly called “Surviving Rumble Strips”. The article suggests that bad things all happen together to push us over an edge or out of a comfort zone to help us grow and learn. They offer steps to help survive these series of catastrophes and learn to cope better in the future. In summary the steps are:
Step 1: Apply the Breaks. Slow down. Do only the basics.
Step 2: Was everything really bad or was there something good to learn? What was the good thing?
Step 3: Sleep on it. Some days are not great for making decisions.
Step 4: Recognize the enjoy life’s surprises (like finding an article on coping with stress while under stress).
I’m sharing this because I’ve been going through my own speed bumps between health, family, Splash and the rescue. I’ve hit the rumble strips frequently in the past week and I kept trying to apply the steps to learn and grown. In a moment of weakness I thought: why am I working so hard? I could be at the beach drinking wine with my toes in the sand rather than sweating in the mud and heat covered in dirt.
And then something small and wonderful happened:
Taz verses Mush
I was tired and fighting a throat infection at 1 am while dragging my green rubber boots out to the barn to clean stalls and care for the horses after I got off working my twelve hour shift at midnight. I usually take Taz (my eight pound shih poo) with me when I work on stalls because she likes to stare at the cats, she has too much energy and she makes me laugh.
I crouched down to pet one of the barn cats when Taz charged up from behind me and came face to face with a cantankerous old neutered male we call Mush. The big grey cat was laying on his side in the driveway letting me rub his belly at the time of the insult. Several moments after having a Taz’s face push into Mush’s face, Mush leisurely stretched and stood up to give Taz a big cuddle.
He rubbed his head into Taz’s face and then rubbed his whole body along Taz’s whole body ending with his tail going around her neck ending with the tip tickling her nose. The funniest part was Taz froze in shock. She didn’t move. She didn’t whine or bark. She stood stock still under the feline hug and I laughed. I laughed hard because Taz is the mighty cat hunter who spends all her time staring out the window barking at the cats, because Taz firmly believes cats are on this earth to be chased and not cuddled.
Taz will run up and down the fence line as Mush rolls around a foot from the fence. She’ll race through the house from one window to the next tracking kitten treks, like the cats should file a flight plan for walking. Taz is obsessed with cats, until the night the cat came and gave her a cuddle. My mighty hunter quivered once and froze. She held her stance tall and straight while feline whiskers ticked her nose. After Mush walked away Taz looked in me in exasperated delight and if she could talk I’m sure she’d tell me: I finally caught one!
The next morning I was feeling tired as I let the horses out into the paddocks for the day. Turtle and Splash were already outside when I brought a lollygagging Autumn to the fence. I let her go and she ambled peacefully into the “Rock Paddock” just west of the main gate. Splash was starting to follow her when Turtle shot out of the shelter at the far end of the field and raced over to join Autumn nearly clipping Splash along the way. Well, she must be feel better because once Splash was carefully through the gate she tossed her head, kicked up her heels and trotted vigorously around the Rock Paddock. I’ve never seen Splash kick up her heels before and I laughed as she dropped her head to graze. So many wonderful thoughts filled my head: the medication is working, she’s happy in her home, she’s familiar with her environment and she loves her equine family.
We’ve been talking to our vet Matt a great deal over the past week and I’m sure he’s getting tired of seeing our number pop up on his cell phone, but when we told him about Splash kicking up her heels he said she’ll be 50% happier after her painful eyes are gone. She’ll be a new horse. A new horse without any eyes, but the point is she’ll feel fantastic and she already has a leg up (ha ha horse jargon) because she’s used to being blind.
These are the little moments I treasure working with animals. When you ask why I expend all my energy and money towards them I will tell you they are my morning smiles.
I sit here on Aug 2, 2013 thinking back two year to the night I lost my Gizmo. He did something he never does. He ran and took with him a piece of my heart leaving my soul wanting.
Not since I lost my horse Sam to the same road in nearly the same spot in 1997 have I felt such grief rip me apart. Two years later I watch the video and the grief rips through me anew. There is no comfort. There is no time that will fill this emptiness. I work hard and try and save as many souls as I can, but it will never correct my mistake and it will never bring my Gizmo back.
I sit here at 2 am and the same song played on the radio as it did the night Gizmo died. I cry. I weep. There is no anger behind these tears nearly two years later. There is only sadness and missing. I miss him. I miss his caring nature and his kindness. I miss his love in work boots.
Gimzo opened my eyes to the plight of puppy mill dogs and rescue dogs which in turn opened the door to animal rescue. Poco, Jackson and Gus can all thank Gizmo for their lives here on the farm, and so can the twenty something other dogs that we’ve foster over the past six years.
Which brings us to Splash. Another lost, abused, neglected and abandoned animal that needed our help. This was one case we couldn’t afford to do alone, so we reached out into the community and asked for support. We asked for donations and kindness. We asked that people show they cared for animals and we made them think about those neglected through this one horse. Our community rose to the challenge and gave not only donations, but support to our family. Acceptance that its okay to love animals.
Thank you community and thank you Gizmo for being the inspiration behind Beaver Creek Farm Sanctuary.