Friday, August 21, 2009

Cici is a happy girl!

I visited Cici today- the 21 year old Arabian mare taken into the program 3 weeks ago. I was so pleased to see that the foster care center has taken such great care of her! She has gained at least 100 pounds and she is almost up to an ideal body weight! She has a sheen to her coat and she is so proud to come out of her stall and have people pay attention to her. She LOVES attention! This horse has the most gentle soul- she just sits and waits for someone to give her attention, but she never oversteps her bounds. A true lady!

~Grant Miller, DVM
CHANGE Program volunteer and co-founder

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Survivor

I have to admit the phone call kind of put a damper on my vacation.

"I need to talk to you about Buddy," began Dr. Grant Miller, at once apologizing for rousing me lakeside, where I reluctantly fished my cell phone out of my beach bag and sighed when I saw RESTRICTED come up on my phone. My heart sank. The vet. This could not be good news.

Like other members of the governing board of the Sonoma CHANGE Program, I was being called upon for direction with Buddy the pony (aka "Mr. Pony"), who seemed on all fronts to be fading away. Dr. Miller sounded resigned and practical, his normal spark of hope a dim glow.
We discussed euthanasia, whether Buddy was suffering, hope for recovery and continued treatment. We discussed cost, as treating internal pigeon fever is an expensive proposition, and CHANGE has a policy against providing extreme and expensive life-saving care for horses with little hope for recovery. The vet reminded me that, even in the best circumstances, a pony with internal pigeon fever has at best a 50% chance of survival. Perhaps Buddy, who came to us emaciated and loaded with parasites, the victim of long-term neglect, did not even have that.

But we'd come so far with this little guy. He deserved another go.

The board voted to continue treating Buddy with the powerful antibiotics Naxcel and Rifampin, neither of which are fun for either horse or human to administer. Buddy's plucky foster mom was game to keep trying.

Seventeen days later, thanks to dedicated care, an anonymous $400 donation to cover the continued medication, and some powerful antibiotics, Buddy is still with us, except he's now running and bucking and showing signs of recovery. His foster mom and vet remain cautiously optimistic. Buddy is not out of the woods by any stretch, but we can see a break in the trees.

CHANGE volunteer and governing board member

Friday, August 14, 2009

From Pony Club to Animal Control

Mr Pony Before:


Mr Pony 25 Days Later:


The CHANGE Program is a non-profit organization that supports Sonoma County Animal Care & Control in handling equine neglect and cruelty cases. CHANGE provides foster care and adoption services to these horses, promising them a second chance. Horses enter the CHANGE Program via Animal Control as the result of a seizure or relinquishment. Ride along with one Sonoma CHANGE Program director as she responds to a call for help and discovers criminal neglect that catapults the case into the domain of Animal Control.

I RECEIVED A CALL from someone about a pony in trouble. He asked me "Are you the lady who does horse rescue?" I hate it when the conversation starts out like that because I then know what's coming next. He told me he knows a pony who is very thin, and asked if I could come. I told him I would come over and evaluate the pony. We made a plan to meet the next day.

Next morning came and I went to the run-down property. We walked into the back yard area and there stood a horrifying sight. This pony stood in front of me, skin and bones. You could count each individual rib; his hip bones stuck up like an old dairy cow's, and his spine was completely visible and stuck up. His neck was so thin it made his head look too big for his body. His head hung low and he didn't even seem to know I was there. He was one of the saddest ponies I've ever seen. His eyes were dead and he didn't want to eat. Looking down in his feed bowl, I discovered why. He was being given alfalfa cubes only, hard as a rock. Being his teeth were deplorable and his state of health so poor, he could not eat this for nutrition even if he wanted to.


I immediately showed the concerned man how easy it was to take the time to break up the cubes and soak them to make it so the pony could eat them. The little pony came over to me once this was done and I showed him the now soft, prepared food. Still very weak and not understanding, he did attempt to eat some in the rubber bowl.

The man had been right to call. This was neglect, and Animal Control needed to be called. I knelt down next to the pony and whispered in his ear that I was leaving, but I would be back the next day with not only help, but to take him out of this hell.

I left the property and immediately contacted Sonoma County Animal Care & Control. They agreed to investigate the pony the following day. I soon find out this won't be their first time there. Less then a year ago, the owner of the pony had been charged and convicted of misdemeanor Animal Cruelty involving not only this pony, but the other horses.

Next morning, I wait at the property for the arrival of Animal Control. A big, white boxy truck comes down the street and into the driveway. To me it reminds me of a white stallion with the prince aboard, coming to save the day. But, this time it was not a prince, but a tall, slender blond woman. Soft-spoken and kind, Officer Shirley is a great diplomat with defensive pet owners and a top horsewoman, too.

She explained to the owner that a complaint would be filed for the neglect and that he could immediately relinquish the pony, whose condition was critical. I couldn't wait to load up "Mr. Pony," as he was called, and transport him to a waiting critical-care foster home. He was led to the trailer, walking very slowly from weakness. I whispered in his ear: I told you I would come back and take you away and here I am, so let's go! For the first time, he had a burst of energy, enough for him to jump into the trailer as to say " Let's get the hell out of here!"

Mr Pony Day 2, arrival in foster care

And so we did.

I transported the pony to a CHANGE Program foster barn. In foster care, Mr. Pony immediately thrived on a medically-supervised re-feeding program designed for emaciated horses. His foster home fed him many small meals throughout the day and night, making certain never to overload his starved body with too much feed. He rarely took his head out of his bucket, where a special "old man gruel" made it easy for the dentally-challenged pony to gum his feed. His astonished foster caretaker reported that he literally gained weight by the hour.

At the foster barn, Mr. Pony was surrounded by children, who bathed and brushed and braided him. Thin and weak, he closed his eyes, reminded of happier times when he had been used in Pony Club. After a few days, he felt good enough to trot a few steps. After a week, he was turned out with the resident motherly, one-eyed Shetland pony. Mr. Pony, alone for so long, snuggled happily against her side.

I had been unable to foster Mr. Pony when he was first turned over to Animal Control because I was leaving on a long-awaited vacation. During my vacation, I couldn't seem to get this little pony off my mind. Would he be alive when I came home? I would call his foster home, like checking on your kids when you leave them with a babysitter. I just couldn't help myself. Even though I knew he was in the best of hands, I couldn't stop worrying about him.

Two weeks later, I was back from my trip. Mr. Pony, or "Buddy" as we came to call him because of his companionable nature, had gained a lot of weight and was now becoming bright-eyed again. His critical-care foster home had done a good job with him; now he moved to my barn for long-term rehabilitative foster care. Ultimately, he would be placed for adoption in a loving, permanent home.

Buddy had been chronically neglected, and malnutrition had done its devilish work. Despite his outward improving health, a few days aftermoving to my barn, Buddy developed a fever of 103.8. He was lethargic and wouldn't eat.

Later that day, CHANGE Program volunteer veterinarian Grant Miller delivered the sobering news: "He is one very sick pony" said Dr. Miller, as I listened, my eyes swelling with tears. It all seemed so unfair. The next day, lab results from the pony's bloodwork confirmed our worst fears: Buddy had internal pigeon fever. This is a bacterial infection also called "Dryland Distemper." In its common form, it's relatively benign, but rarely, the bacteria sets up internally, near an organ. Even with the most aggressive antibiotic treatment, the survival rate with the "internal" form is only about 50%.

Thanks to all the people who have supported the Sonoma CHANGE Program, our medical fund is able to shoulder much of the cost of the drugs (which even at cost are expensive). Dr. Miller and I are determined to give Buddy the powerful antibiotics (Naxcel and Rifampin to start) he needs for the best chance of survival. This means that twice a day, I must give Buddy intramuscular injections or shoot red goo down his throat. He is miserable, and soon tries to avoid me.

Poor Buddy, he stands along the fenceline of his paddock, eyeing my pasture horses in a lonely way. He just leaks sadness. He wants to be part of the group so badly.

As sick as he is, I just can't let him out with them. But this presents a problem, as he refuses to budge from the fenceline, in spite of 100 degree heat. I thought what to do. Once I noticed his sun burn pink nose, that was it.

I went and purchased a portable gazebo for him, which in turn fell down in the wind within the hour. Next was the RV tent, which also succumbed to the wind. I thought for awhile and decided to make something just small enough for him. Using green shade cloth, the "Getto Shetto" was born. Buddy loves it. He lives in that thing all day, still able to be along the fence line and next to the other horses. I pack it with shaving in order for him to lay down on. I feed the other horses right next to him as if he was in the group. He is a very happy camper now.



Still, Buddy's condition has its ups and downs. One day no fever, two days later a high fever. He has been on several different antibiotics, but then gets loose stool and we have to deal with that. So the next day another medication is tried and so on and so on. We continue our battle against the internal abscess that Dr. Miller says has set up in Buddy's liver. And we hope for the best.

Sonoma CHANGE Program co-founder, board member, and volunteer

Buddy continues his fight against internal pigeon fever. Please look for updates on Buddy as the weeks progress. To help with Buddy's care, please visit our donation page to see how you can be part of CHANGE!

Once he is (hopefully) recovered, Buddy will need a permanent home where he can lead a gentle life of semi-retirement (with lots of children to braid his mane). He is a gentle 23-year-old Welsh cross, 13.2 hands, sound with clean xrays, and has been used extensively in Pony Club by children and teens. Please contact us at for information about adopting Buddy.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Poor Leah lost her tail!

What a difference 6 days makes! Leah has GAINED about 50 pounds already... but unfortunately, she LOST her tail! The wind knot in her tail was a 2 foot long knarled mess, no doubt years in the making. Not even the most dedicated foster parents, with a whole bottle of mane detangler, could save that tail. Que sera sera- it will grow back! And quickly too, now that she is getting such good nutrition!

Cici is a sweet mare!

I floated Cicis teeth today. “Floating” is a weird term, since I am actually filing the teeth. Horses' teeth grow throughout their lives and as the horse chews, the edges of the teeth become sharp and need to be filed down.

I was amazed at how sharp the points were on her teeth --- she had deep sores on her cheeks because of them. I cannot imagine the constant pain that she was in, with each chew, she had to compare the pain of her hunger pangs to the pain that she felt in her mouth… and then make the decision as to which pain she wanted to feel that day.

But now, she does not have to feel pain anymore. In about 30 minutes total, we changed her life. She was such a good, trusting girl while I worked. She did not know me, and she definitely did not know anything about the powerfloat, since she had never had her teeth worked on in all of her years. But she was a trooper, and we got the job done!

Cici is a loving and gentle mare, and she flitters her eyelids when you pet her and speak softly to her. She loves bran mashes and whinnies when a person comes to visit her. She welcomes everyone, and is one of the most gentle beings I have met. I feel lucky to be able to have crossed paths with her.

by Dr. Miller
CHANGE Program volunteer veterinarian

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Portrait of a Seizure

The Sonoma County CHANGE Program assists Sonoma County Animal Care & Control when AC takes physical custody of horses due to chronic neglect or abuse. CHANGE arranges for safe transport, veterinary care, and skilled rehabilitative care in a foster barn. Eventually, most seized horses are available for adoption through the CHANGE Program.

July 27th, 2009


I pull my car up the drive leading onto an east Sonoma County property. I’m here to help load three aged Arabian mares into trailers, taking part in an Animal Care & Control horse seizure operation, and representing the Sonoma County CHANGE Program.


The horse owner is nowhere in sight, so no confrontation is anticipated. The property owner is on hand, and appears grateful that the horses will be removed.

I walk over to the paddock where the horses are kept. The terrain is rocky, with an immediate down hill slope. It appears to be a poor choice of a place to keep livestock, with more of a warehouse feeling to it than an actual habitat. My eyes lock onto a block of hay that the horses all but ignore. It appears to be grass hay, but its color is dull and texture dusty. It’s old, and appears to have been kept uncovered for a year or two. I can see that it’s full of mold and dry as sand.


The horses are clearly under weight, and show every detail of each rib. They lack muscle tone, and have an overall demeanor that reflects lethargy and morass. I think of my own horses, and shiver at the thought that anyone would allow their equines to degrade to this condition.


The horses turn out to be gentle, and very receptive to the human touch.

Crystal, a twenty-one year old gray mare stands close by Cecilia, her fifteen year old daughter. They have been together for a decade and a half.


Mama horse Crystal stands waiting, her eye swollen shut, while Animal Control and CHANGE Program representatives prepare her for transport.

Laya, a twelve year old bay with a soft eye stands by the gate patiently.

Each horse readily accepts the halter, and they are led out towards the trailers. They walk with no hesitation, as if they know a better place awaits them.


"Cecilia" seems grateful for the kind touch of a CHANGE Program volunteer, who prepares her for her trip to a CHANGE foster barn, where Cecilia will receive veterinary care and a lot of TLC.

I take Laya off to the side, and wait while the mother and daughter get loaded. Laya nuzzles into the fold between my left arm and chest, leaving a slight trace of dirt off her very dry nose. I rub my hand from her poll to muzzle and over each eye, which causes her to push up gently against my hand.

One by one, we get Cecilia, Crystal and Laya into separate trailers. They don’t pull back, and appear to prefer the confines of the trailer over their paddock. One at a time, the trailers pull away, destined for un-disclosed foster barns, where the rehabilitation process will be begin.

by Tim
Sonoma CHANGE Program volunteer

Stay tuned for updates about Cecilia, Crystal and Laya in our new once-weekly blog!