19-year-old horse with ‘heart’ cheats death twice

Langley vet clinic provides life-saving surgery to rescued horse.

Thanks to help from an Aldergrove veterinary surgeon, a Langley auctioneer, and a Maple Ridge horse lover, an aged brood mare with a face only a mother could love was saved from certain death — twice.

Adele, a 19-year old Standardbred mare, arrived at Fraser Valley Auctions this month emaciated, weak, a proverbial bag of bones. Although she was down on her luck and headed for the slaughterhouse, something about Adele caught the eye of FVA owner Ken Pearson.

He called Julie MacMillan, founder of J & M Acres Horse Rescue in Maple Ridge, who has been waging a one-woman war against kill pens since 1975. Last year, the group of J & M volunteers saved more than 80 horses from the slaughterhouse with financial help from Maple Ridge businesses and individual donors.

Julie swooped in and bought Adele and two Tennessee Walkers who arrived at auction with her, and took Adele to a foster home where she could be restored to a normal weight.

“I guess we’re kind of an odd couple, Ken and I — the rescue girl and the auction guy.  Ken and I have been working together for years. He’s a really ethical, kind guy. He’s helped us save literally hundreds of horses. He contacts us first if a horse arrives at auction that he thinks could be saved,” said Julie.

Julie saw the same thing in Adele that Ken had spotted: heart.

“She’s a big, homely, nice old gal. She is so calm, respectful, and classy. Adele may not be a supermodel, but she deserves a chance,” said Julie.

Not long after Adele arrived at her foster farm, however, she began to colic.  Julie and her volunteers tried everything to keep the mare alive and comfortable during the night. By morning the colic was worse, but the mare was not yet in extreme distress. Julie started phoning vets.

She settled on Paton Martin Veterinary Services, where surgeon Antonio Cruz began a battery of tests.  The clinic vets warned Julie that the surgery would be expensive, and that the undernourished mare only had a 60 per cent chance of survival.

What happened next has earned Julie both praise and condemnation from J & M’s small army of Facebook fans, some of whom feel she should have had the horse put down.

“Some people have said ‘why did you waste that kind of money on an old Standardbred?’ We’re really getting slagged on Facebook. My mom told me something once that became my go-to concept. She said never cry over something money can fix. This mare fought for 24 hours to live, and we weren’t going to kill her.  She was a victory, for us, for her and for everyone who has lost a horse to colic,” she said.

Julie is still haunted by the death of a neighbour’s horse, who colicked when her owner was in Hawaii.  The owner’s husband came to Julie in a panic, and the two of them stayed with the horse until it was put down.

“I’ll never forget it. The husband was holding the phone to the horse’s ear so his wife in Hawaii could say goodbye.”

So Julie told Dr. Cruz to operate. He found an impaction colic, a less complicated problem than he had first suspected.  The surgery went well, and Adele is expected to make a full recovery.

“I really liked Dr. Cruz and the staff in the surgery. He had taken the time to research us, he answered all our questions, and offered to let us watch the surgery.  I told him I’d rather die, thanks, and that it was in his hands.”

Veterinarian David Paton said he was well aware the Adele was a rescue and discounted costs as best he could.  Equine surgery, despite the huge investment in specialized equipment required for half-ton patients, is relatively less costly than surgical costs for dogs and cats. But it is undeniably out of reach for some horse owners.

“I never, ever judge people who decide to euthanize a horse.”

Adele is back in her foster home, happy, shiny and according to Julie, glad to be alive. When she’s stable and at a normal weight, she will be looking for a permanent home.

As for Julie, she’s back to fundraising to pay for the surgery so she can help more horses. She has been hurt by criticism about her decision to save Adele, but the hard-working bartender sees the whole thing as another bump in an already rough rescue road.

“I used to be so politically correct, but now I’m at an age where I don’t give a ****.  If people don’t support what we did, fine.  I work full time, and do 90 per cent of the work on our farm. I take a lot of Ibuprophen, and sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.  But there’s also a lot of joy. Adele was a victory,” said Julie.

If you want to help Julie and Adele, go to Julie’s web site: www.jmacresrescue.com

Anne Patterson is a Langley writer and horse owner. Contact her at accidentalrider@yahoo.com.



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