SOMERSET — Thursday morning, Jazz is waiting impatiently for his breakfast. The 17-year-old Arabian gelding is limping a bit and he has a shiner, but he’s in much better shape than he was on Wednesday, thanks to the combined efforts of the UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team, El Dorado County Animal Control, Pioneer Fire Protection District, Foothill Mobile Veterinary Service vets Dr. Cheryl Ellis and Dr. David Turoff and the Sacramento Metro Fire Department.
Wednesday morning, as rain pelted the Somerset area, Jazz, a veteran of the Highway 50 Wagon Train, slid backwards down an embankment and into a creek bed filled with blackberry bushes. His owner, who does not want to be identified, tried to get the horse turned to get him up on his feet, but was unable to do so in the cramped area.
Engine 38 from the Pioneer Fire Protection District responded to her call and after assessing the situation called out El Dorado County Animal Control. Dr. Ellis, a VERT trainer and the El Dorado County disaster coordinator for the California Veterinary Medical Association, asked for VERT’s help and Sacramento Metro Fire Department Engines 21 and Special Operations Unit responded to Pioneer’s call as part of a mutual aid agreement between the counties.
Ellis and Turoff sedated Jazz while firefighters set up an elaborate pulley system using the trees on site and the Animal Control truck as anchors.
“One of our biggest challenges was getting the equipment on the horse underwater,” Ellis said.
In order to move the 1,400-pound horse safely along the creekbed and then up the embankment, he had to be secured to a large animal skid and he needed to have his legs and head immobilized and secured for his own safety and that of the team working with him. VERT team member and UC Davis veterinary student Megan Schutte secured Jazz’s head and covered his eyes with a towel.
Strident calls from Buffy, the mare who shares Jazz’s pen were answered feebly as Jazz fought the sedative.
“We gave him twice the usual dose,” said Ellis, “but he never went out.”
Firefighters and Animal Control responder David Hogg moved the horse down the creekbed and squared him to the embankment before pulling him up, rump first, out of the creek as the vets and Megan kept him protected from the blackberry thorns and bumps. Dr. Ellis directed how fast the horse could be moved. Sacramento Metro Fire Cap. Tom Neville directed the use of the pulley system.
UC Davis VERT, consisting of School of Veterinary Medicine faculty, resident veterinarians and vet students, is a volunteer organization and part of the Medical Reserve Corps which provides medical assistance in national disasters.
“VERT goes out on mutual aid calls and our goal is to improve the integrated response between the first responders, the veterinarians and the owners to rescue animals safely and effectively in dangerous circumstances, ” said Ellis, who serves as president of VERT.
Sacramento Metro had participated in Large Animal Rescue training from Dr. Ellis at UC Davis. Pioneer had also received training in large animal rescue.
Groans came from Jazz as the skid slid up the steep embankment with firefighters fighting to keep their balance on the muddy slope. With Pioneer firefighter and paramedic MarkRogers backing the Animal Control truck to keep tension on one guideline, other members of the team slapped down new skids in front of the horse and still others used the pulleys to manuever the horse out onto a flat area and into a safe spot for his release.
Once Jazz was moved into a safe recovery space, the job — and the danger —wasn’t over. The horse was fighting to free himself and the removal of the straps and hobbles immobilizing him exposed the team to flying hooves and powerful legs. Ellis directed the tense process of releasing the horse and, as the final rope was slipping off Jazz’s legs, she warned,” When this horse stands up, it could get ugly. Be ready to run because we don’t know where he will go.”
Firefighters sprang back after the release. Megan Schutte secured the lead rope at the horse’s head, Dr. Turoff the rope on his tail to provide stabilization. The owner wondered if her horse would be all right. Everyone held their breath.
The horse’s head moved, his tongue licked out to garner a healthy wallop of the tender grass and miner’s lettuce cushioning him. As team members began to breathe again, Jazz remained on his side lazily nibbling grass. Seven hours of tumultous activity had left him hungry.
Although Pioneer Fire Protection District and Sacramento Metro drill to practice their training, this was the first time Sacramento Metro had gotten a chance to use their training in the field. At the team debriefing, the firefighters teased Ellis about not yet having received their certificates for completing their training. One of them asked, ” Is this our final?”
If it was, they all passed.