Survivor Horse Recovering at Tufts Cummings Vet School

by Fran Jurga | 17 January 2010 | The Jurga Report at

Dr. Carl Kirker-Head, associate professor of surgery for Tufts University’s Hospital for Large Animals, examines the extent of gunshot wounds to the head of Picaro. Photos courtesy of Andy Cunningham, Tufts University.

Have you ever looked up at your desk one afternoon and wondered if, in the blink of an eye, someone had switched the script of your life with that of a character on a television drama show? I think that is how Tufts Vet School’s Dr. Carl Kirker-Head must have felt on Thursday when the veterinarian was told to prepare for surgery because a case was coming in. Not a colic or a broken leg as you might find in university emergency case lists this time of year. Not a hypothermia from falling through the ice or another life-and-death neglected senior horse rescue, either.

The usually affable British associate professor of surgery for the equine hospital was going to be asked to try to save the life of a horse that had been shot. In the head. Several times. Intentionally. By its owner. And it would be walking into the hospital under its own power.

O-kay…nod your head…cue the theme music for “ER”. And, by the way, the reporters will be out in the lobby when you’re done.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts horse community was hearing television and radio news about a terrible family tragedy and at the end, the announcer would just trail off and mention something about not just humans, but a horse being found shot in a barn. As the day went on, and more details came out, we learned that the horse would be the only survivor.

Picaro in his stall at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine’s Hospital for Large Animals before surgery that removed his right eye. The horse sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the face.

The horse, named Picaro, is a 22-year-old gray Paso Fino stallion. He was brought to the Tufts Hospital for Large Animals by Carol Gaucher of the animal control department in the town where the shooting took place.

According to Tufts public relations sources, Dr. Kirker-Head said he surgically removed the horse’s eye and multiple bone fragments caused by several gunshot wounds. The procedure took more than three hours and was conducted the day following the shooting and the horse’s arrival at the hospital, which is not far from the horse’s home.

“We don’t always go to surgery the same day that the horse is injured. as was the case with Picaro,” Dr. Kirker-Head explained to The Jurga Report on Monday, “because the patient first needs to be stabilized and adjust his/her body to the shocking event that has just happened. If we don’t wait, the added stress of anesthesia and surgery on top of the injury and the circumstances can be overwhelming. Obviously, if there is a critical injury, for example, a laceration to a major blood vessels or ruptured intestine, we don’t have this luxury.”

Last week’s surgery was not Dr. Kirker-Head’s first gunshot-wounded horse at the Tufts hospital; when asked how common gunshot wounds are to horses, he replied, “I can recall two other cases over the years, one when I was a resident and one about six years ago.

“The first horse had been hit in the upper hind limb – I don’t recall how but the damage was limited and the horse went on to do well,” Dr. Kirker-Head commented. “The second horse was hit in the hock by a hunter who apparently mistook the draft-cross for a moose — even though he was standing quietly at the time by his barn with a blanket on! If I recall correctly, that horse also did well.”

Members of the Cummings School community and area residents have come forward to offer donations, support and adoptive homes for the horse. At this time, the Hospital for Large Animals is not allowing visitors, given the critical nature of his wounds.

Anyone interested in making donations to the Cumming School’s Hospital for Large Animals in honor of Picaro can send checks made out to “Trustees of Tufts College” and mail them to the Office of Development and Alumni Relations 200 Westboro Road, North Grafton, MA 01536.

For online donations, please click here for more information about the large animal hospital and donation opportunities.

Piccaro lives. Thank you, Dr. Kirker-Head and Tufts Vet School.

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