Do adopted horses have a second sense, a built-in radar that draws them into emotional situations where other animals or people can benefit from their largesse? We read about them every day: rescued horses go on to new lives as therapy horses, police horses, trusted pets and companions and we often find out that they have amazingly compassionate or sensitive personalities. While some are permanently scared by abuse or neglect in their former lives, others seem to bloom once they realize that they are safe in their new lives. And they give back, some in unusual ways.
I come across these stories sometimes; rescued horses seem to fall into serendipitous situations where they can and do help others. That's what happened recently at busy Pool House Equine Clinic in England. Practice vet Richard Stephenson treats the homeless horses at The Blue Cross equine center nearby and had led the clinic to provide a foster home for a 15-year-old rescued gelding named Harold from the venerable British animal charity that has been helping horses for over 100 years. Harold was just hanging out at the hospital and had no real sense of destiny as life went on at the busy clinic.
Then, soon after Harold's arrival, a newborn foal was rushed to the hospital for intensive care. The weak four-day-old foal urgently required a blood transfusion. It was very dull, sleepy, depressed and had stopped feeding; the diagnose was a fatal foal disease known as neonatal isoerythrolysis. Similar to Rhesus syndrome in human babies, it is caused by antibodies absorbed from the mare attacking the foal's red blood cells during pregnancy and destroying them. In other words, the foal was born with a different blood group to its mother.
Since there is no equine equivalent of the human Red Cross Blood Bank, a donor horse had to be found quickly. Luckily, there stood Blue Cross Harold (left).
Harold stood patiently for over an hour while three liters of his bright red blood were collected into special plastic bags containing anticoagulant. As each half-liter bag was filled, it was immediately transfused into the sickly foal; Harold's donation literally breathed life back into the little colt's veins.
"The effect was like a miracle," said Richard Stephenson. "The foal went from collapsed and lethargic to lively and energetic in less than an hour. By the end of the transfusion we had to sedate him to keep him still!"
Blood tests after the procedure confirmed that the foal's red blood cell count had doubled to a safe level. He was closely monitored over the next 10 days and went on to make a full recovery.
"Without Blue Cross Harold we would certainly have lost the foal," the veterinarian continued. "It was almost as if he knew how important his job was. Fortunately he has the perfect, laid-back temperament to cope with being a blood donor. He stood perfectly for over an hour while we took the life-saving blood and afterwards behaved as though nothing unusual had happened."
Kath Urwin, local manager of The Blue Cross center where Harold had been living concurred: "All the staff at The Blue Cross are so proud of Harold. When we placed him on loan to the vet practice we never imagined he could end up saving another horse's life. And as a rescue horse himself, it's lovely to think that he was able to rescue a little foal - he's a real hero."
Note: The Blue Cross is a charity with amazing historical roots in equine welfare, both on the streets of Britain's cities and on the battlefields of wars where horses and dogs were involved. They are very inspiring. As you may know, horses were not able to return to Britain at the end of World War I, but the Blue Cross worked hard so that British soldiers could bring dogs back from Europe. They built huge quarantine kennels on the docks and assisted in the transfer of the dogs into Britain. In this way, they saved the lives of countless dogs that probably would have suffered or starved in post-war Europe.