The miracle survival of Pearl and Sugar

August 11, 2010

by Neil Clarkson

Pearl and Sugar are living proof that miracles can happen, but they take a lot of work.

Quarter horse mare Pearl had a horrific facial injury and was also in foal when she was seized by the SPCA.
The two mares are alive today thanks to the dedication of volunteers from Canada's Rescue 100 Foundation, who at times worked around the clock to secure the miracle survival of the horses.

The Alberta horses are each at the centre of two very different but equally dramatic tales, but both had beginnings in neglectful care that nearly cost them their lives.

Both were seized by the Edmonton SPCA in separate operations and were handed over to the care of the foundation, based east of the city.

Pearl had a gruesome tennis-ball-sized hole in her nose, a terrible injury which had even smashed through bone to expose her nasal airways.

The wound was causing her terrible pain. It was infected and oozing puss.

Sugar, a big Belgian draft, arrived emaciated and under terrible stress from a huge parasite burden. She collapsed and her fate hung in the balance for a week as volunteers gave round-the-clock care.

A foundation director, Susan Fyfe, recounts how Pearl, an eight-year-old quarter horse, arrived into the foundation's care on December 23 last year, having been seized from a property at Carrot Creek, 160km east of Edmonton.

She said the infected wound was not only oozing puss, it had green hay sticking out of it and had even formed icicles, which had built up in the depths of the northern hemisphere winter.

"We brought her inside, where it was warmer. We cleaned it out. Kept it clean."

Fyfe said Pearl was pregnant and the foundation had to wait until the foal was born before anything could be done to repair the damage.

Pearl and Canada's Rescue 100 Foundation director Susan Fyfe.

Pearl after her operation.
Keeping the gaping hole clean and infection-free proved a battle. Pearl was breathing through the hole, not her nostrils.

The foal was born in May, clearing the way for the surgery, which was performed by Dr Ryan Shoemaker, of Delaney Veterinary Services in Sherwood Park.

Shoemaker offered his services for free for the operation - a procedure which normally would have cost up to $C7000.

But the charity still needed to find $C2500 to meet all the other expenses associated with the operation.

Fyfe said the foundation faced a dilemma. It felt it could not dip into its funds to that degree for one horse, when $C2500 could have helped so many others.

"We decided if the public wanted us to do it, it was meant to be."

Helpers as young as 10 chipped into fundraising efforts and gathered the money through the likes of a penny roll at a school, collecting door-to-door and through drives to collect bottles, which attract a refund in Canada.

On July 30, Pearl underwent her life-changing two-and-a-half-hour operation.

Fyfe, a nurse, was present for the surgery, saying it effectively involved a skin graft, pulling down good skin from above the hole and placing strategic cuts in the other skin surrounding the wound to allow the edges to be pulled together.

Two days later, she was back with the foundation, based at the Sherwood Park property where Fyfe runs her business, Keno Hills Stable & Tack.

Fyfe says Pearl underwent a veterinary check yesterday and, apart from some sloughing of a small amount of graft skin, was progressing well.

Fyfe says while the bone will not heal back, the closing of the wound means that Pearl can live a normal life.

She says she does not know how Pearl suffered the injury, saying her focus has been on her care.

The surgery, she says, has already changed Pearl's life.

Previously withdrawn, Pearl now offers a friendly whinny as a greeting and is much more outgoing.

The day will come when Pearl is well enough to be offered to a suitable and loving home.

Fyfe says she is uncertain at this stage whether Pearl is broken in, but she is certainly well-handled and well-mannered.

Once recovered, there would be nothing stopping her becoming a riding horse.

Her foal, she says, is a gorgeous palomino filly who is outgoing and friendly. She looks to be a quarter horse also.

Pearl's previous owner faces prosecution over her care.

Belgian draft mare Sugar on arrival at the foundation. She collapsed soon after.

Sugar was struggling under a worm burden and could not stand for nearly 10 days after collapsing.

A similarly heart-warming story surrounds Sugar, the Belgian draft who came into the foundation's care in March.

She was in very poor condition and battling under a huge worm burden.

Sugar, 16, collapsed after her arrival and was too weak to even lift her head. She did not have the strength to get up.

She was given round-the-clock care and, each day, 12 volunteers would gather to help her to her feet. Sugar was given massages and every help possible, but she was unable to stay up.

Volunteers had to hold up her head to enable her to take food and water.

Sugar was down, but not out. But as the days rolled by without her showing signs of being able to stand unaided, the future looked less certain.

On the eighth day, Fyfe's vet asked about Sugar's future. It was clear the prospect of having to euthanise her was looming.

Fyfe had stayed up seven nights with Sugar. Exhausted, two other volunteers pulled the next night shift.

Then it happened.

In the early hours, Sugar lifted her head to rest it on one of the volunteers. At 3am she rose to her feet.

Her survival left her vet in tears, admitting afterwards that, from a veterinary standpoint, there were simply no more options to help her.

Love and hope had carried the day.

Sugar is now more like the strapping horse one would expect of a Belgian draft. She is away enjoying a pasture thick with grass and will return to the foundation's base in September. What a homecoming that will be.

Volunteers worked for days to get Sugar on her feet.

Volunteers work with Sugar.

Sugar has made a full recovery.

Pearl and Sugar owe their lives to a foundation which grew out of the rescue of around 100 Arabian horses.

The herd had been seized by the SPCA from a ranch in north central Alberta on February 26, 2008.

Susan Fyfe had just returned from overseas and the horse community was abuzz with talk of the seizure.

In all, nearly 60 horses had died, but 100 were still alive, many in bad shape. Forty had a body score of just one, she recalls.

Fyfe, who runs Keno Hills Stable & Tack in Sherwood Park, felt motivated to act. She telephoned her riding clients that evening to see how much support she could muster to care for the animals.

Satisfied she had the help required, an offer was made to take all 100 horses at Keno Hills.

The offer was gratefully accepted and the horses arrived at the stables, where they received ongoing veterinary care and other support to help them recover.

By July, all 100 horses had been placed in new homes.

Fyfe said there was money left over and those who had offered their help saw an ongoing need to help horses in trouble.

The Rescue 100 Foundation was born.

Publicity saw 500 volunteers come forward to help in its ongoing work.

Today, the foundation continues to help equines in need. It takes only horses that have come through the Edmonton SPCA.