Horse dies after weeks in County’s custody

WINNSBORO – The death of a 7-year-old mare and a second round of surgery on her 4-month-old colt just days after they had been shipped to a rescue farm in Greenwood after spending nearly a month in the custody of the Fairfield County Animal Shelter has raised some serious questions about how the County cared for the animals.

The mare was emaciated and weak when she and her colt left the shelter for Big Oaks Rescue Farm in Greenwood, where the mare went down the day she arrived and died two days later. The founder of Big Oaks, Joe Mann, said the mare was suffering from starvation and the worst case of worms he’d ever seen. The colt, he said, was suffering from a surgery performed by a small-animal vet at the Fairfield Animal Shelter that left the colt in pain and unable to walk properly.

While David Brown, the County’s Animal Control Officer in charge of the shelter, told The Voice that the mare was in much worse condition when she was brought to the shelter four weeks earlier, he has not presented any documentation or photos of her condition upon arrival, has not identified or brought charges against the owner, has not explained to The Voice why the horses were kept in inadequate conditions at the shelter for such a long period of time and why an equine veterinarian was never called to check on them.

The mare and her colt were both taken from a pasture in Blair on May 19, according to Brown, who said Animal Control received a call that day from the daughter of the owner of the horses saying the colt had sustained serious injuries after becoming entangled in barbed wire. The owner, Brown said, was out of town at the time of the incident.

Instead of contacting an equine veterinarian, Brown said he contacted the shelter’s regular veterinarian, Dr. Robert Chappell, a small animal vet whose offices are in Richburg and Fort Mill. Brown said Dr. Chappell was met by a Fairfield County junior Animal Control Officer at the Blair farm. Chappell described the colt as not more than a week old when it was injured. But Minge Wiseman, a respected local horsewoman and vice president of the Hoof and Paw Benevolent Society, a group of volunteers who work with the County Shelter and Adoption Center to protect neglected animals, put the colt’s age at 4 months when she first saw him a month after the injury occurred.

After the colt had been freed from the barbed wire, Chappell transported him to the Fairfield shelter. Chappell said that because the colt was still nursing, he also brought the mare in. Both animals were housed in a small pen behind the Shelter where they were subsequently held for a month. Brown said the colt needed immediate surgery for his wounds, which Chappell performed, and the mare was badly undernourished. In spite of the condition of the mare and colt, Brown said no criminal charges are pending against the Blair owner.

“When they release (the animals) to us, we won’t normally prosecute anything,” Brown said.

But it is not clear why he did not bring charges since the owner did not actually release the mare and colt until they were discovered at the shelter by members of Hoof and Paw on June 13, almost four weeks after the horses were removed from the Blair farm.

Brown told The Voice that he had notified Hoof and Paw members about the mare and colt after the horses had been at the shelter for about a week. But members of Hoof and Paw said Brown only relayed to them at a June 1 luncheon that he was holding a mare and foal until their owner paid Dr. Chappell $1,800 for the surgery Dr. Chappell had performed on the foal. They said Brown did not inform them about the mare’s emaciated condition. Wiseman said it was not until several Hoof and Paw members were helping with a fundraiser at the Adoption Center on June 13 that they learned the mare and foal were still at the shelter and walked over to see them.

The mare was “pretty emaciated,” Wiseman said, and both animals were “in a very small holding pen . . . not designed to keep horses for any length of time.”

Wiseman said she asked Brown if he needed help with the horses, urged him to move the mare and colt to foster care immediately and offered to find a place for them. Wiseman posted a plea for foster care on Hoof and Paws’ Facebook page, and Mann responded. After two more days, Brown told Wiseman that he had gotten an official release from the owner and gave Wiseman and Hoof and Paw president Deborah Richelle permission to use the County’s horse trailer to transport the mare and colt to Big Oaks the next day, June 16.

Wiseman said when she arrived at the shelter, she noticed that the colt was “gimpy” in the hind end at the trot. She also reported that when loading, the mare buckled to her knees and went down trying to step into the trailer, which was about a foot off the ground. Wiseman said the mare didn’t seem strong enough to lift herself into the trailer and that the two women managed to get the mare back on her feet and into the trailer with her colt.

Shortly after arriving at Greenwood that afternoon, the mare went down again, according to Mann, and equine veterinarian Dr. Alexandra Tracy was called. While Dr. Tracy has not returned calls from The Voice, Meg Francoeur, a hoof trimmer from Aiken who volunteers at Big Oaks, wrote in an email to The Voice that she was with Dr. Tracy at Big Oaks until 6 p.m. on June 17 while Dr. Tracy continued to give fluids, steroids and pain meds to the mare. But the life-saving effort failed, and Mann said the mare succumbed and died early the next morning, June 18.

Francoeur also wrote that Dr. Tracy checked the mare’s colt and “found a large lump where he had been injured. She sedated the (colt) to check to see what it was, and ended up having to cut away adhesions on the colt so that he would be able to open his legs and walk normally.”

“Our vet had to re-do everything (Dr. Chappell) did,” Mann, who witnessed the second surgery, said. “He had (the wound) sewed to one of his hind legs. Every time (the colt) moved his leg, he was in agony. I’ve never seen anything done like that before. It was unbelievable.”

From his perspective, Dr. Chappell told The Voice that the colt had severely lacerated the inner portion of a hind leg near its stomach while struggling to free itself from the barbed wire. The cut was very deep, Chappell said, exposing the bone, and the wound was bleeding profusely.

Once the animals were moved to the shelter, Chappell said he sedated the foal and was ready to begin surgery outside on the ground. Rain then began to fall, he said, and the foal was moved back inside the horse trailer for the procedure.

Chappell, who is not an equine vet, said that prior to the surgery he had telephoned his uncle, Dr. John H. Chappell III, an equine vet in Rock Hill, to ask him to take the foal. His uncle did not have stall space available, Chappell said, but did advise him on how to proceed with the surgery.

“Most doctors probably would have put that foal down,” Chappell said. “He was bleeding so bad.”

Chappell said he had to trim some of the muscles, then mend the arteries.

“I moved some scrotal tissue to cover the wound,” Chappell said. “Horse skin doesn’t heal very well. There were blood vessels exposed and I couldn’t leave them open, so I covered them with some excess tissue from the scrotum.”

Within 45 minutes of coming to, the foal was up and nursing, Chappell said.

But Big Oak’s version of the surgery does not match the happy ending Dr. Chappell described.

Francoeur, who said she has more than 30 years’ experience working with horses as a trainer, a hoof trimmer and generally caring for them, said that, “In most cases, an injury (like the colt’s) would have had repair to the muscle but the external tissue would have been left open to heal from the inside out. (Horse) wounds generally heal cleaner if left to heal slower.”

Francoeur also noted that Dr. Chappell had used non-dissolving sutures to close the wound and that they were still in the wound when it was opened on June 17, nearly a month later.

After reading an account in another local newspaper in which Brown praised Dr. Chappell for his surgical efforts, Francoeur wrote, “Brown may have been impressed with the surgery, but the folks at Big Oaks were not. The amount of work that had to be done to undo all the damage was extensive, but I don’t really blame the other vet. He’s not experienced with horses, which was obvious in that he thought the (colt) was only days old.”

The second surgery was successful, Mann said, and the colt is now on its way to a full recovery. It has since been placed in foster care. The mare, however, was another story.

While Mann said the mare died of starvation and worms, Chappell said he de-wormed the mare a month before, and Brown said he and his staff had implemented a feeding schedule.

“The doctor (Chappell) said not to overfeed her,” Brown said, “because that could be fatal.”

Brown initially told The Voice that the mare was being fed “small amounts in three applications” a day, but he later revised that, and said hay was left in the pen, while the mare was given approximately 3 quarts of sweet feed four times a day. While Brown said the mare was eating well and putting on weight, a photograph of the mare taken the day it arrived at Big Oaks indicates a severely undernourished horse.

Dr. Chappell placed responsibility for the mare’s death at the feet of Big Oaks Rescue Farm.

“They overfed her the first night and she died, which was stupid” Chappell said. “We had her putting on weight. We de-wormed her. She was gaining weight. I don’t know if it was the stress of being moved or what. I think they overfed her.”

Mann, however, said it was actually Fairfield County’s Animal Control staff, and not Big Oaks, that was overfeeding – and not even with the correct feed.

“I’m not criticizing the people at the shelter,” Mann said. “Obviously, their vet didn’t have a clue about what he was doing, so he couldn’t advise them well. A horse in that state of starvation needs a small amount of fluid and a small amount of food over a period of time and you gradually increase it.”

Mann said he would have recommended 1 quart, five to six times a day, of “good mare-and-foal feed.” But, according to Brown, the mare was being fed twice as many quarts a day of sweet feed at the Fairfield County Animal Shelter.

“Sweet feed and hay won’t do them any good,” Mann said. “We would not have given her sweet feed. It has a lot of artificial fillers. You need good quality feed, a proper feeding schedule, a good living environment, water and some hay.”

But, Mann said, the mare was still riddled with parasites, which were consuming any nutrients that might have been supplied to her.

“For a starving horse, you have to stabilize the horse, then you have to kill the tapeworms, and a vet needs to be involved,” Mann said. “The mare was full of some of the largest tapeworms we had ever seen. I don’t know what he de-wormed her with.”

What is also unclear is why the County, with the resources and expertise of an organization like Hoof and Paw at its fingertips, never brought them into the picture and why Brown kept the horses at the shelter for a month without ever contacting an equine vet to check on them.

“We thought we did what we could do for her while she was here,” Brown said, “but I guess it wasn’t enough. I learned from that. I would do it differently next time. I would let Hoof and Paw know immediately.”

The Voice submitted a Freedom of Information Act request on June 26, seeking, among other things, records related to the animals. Although the County still had more than a week to respond to the request, Brown told The Voice on June 29 that he would be providing the newspaper with his notes from the case the next day. As The Voice went to press July 8, Brown had not done so.

Mann, meanwhile, said that had the horses been transferred into the care of Big Oaks sooner, both animals might still be alive.

“We got her just a little too late,” Mann said. “The (colt) is going to be fine, but it was almost like the mother hung in there until she realized her baby was going to be taken care of and then she gave up.”