Casper The Unloved Horse

by Dianna Dandridge-Rystrom

Working with the humane society, one never knows what may happen with the ringing of the telephone. Granted some of our calls could get pretty wild -- the society claimed a full grown male African lion which had been tied to a tree with a hemp rope and we had rescued some home owners from a tiger they had living in their back bedroom -- but most of our calls were fairly tame. Kittens which had been thrown in a dumpster or puppies which had been orphaned were all routine.

One warm spring day Susan Matthews and I were manning the desk, talking about how quiet it had been all week, when the phone lit up.

This call didn’t seem to be typical at all. The caller, Andrew Marzotti, explained we needed to come look at a horse he found on his property. As it turned out Mr. Marzotti had purchased a piece of property from a tax auction and had only recently gotten a good look at his holdings. The house, he said had blown down years ago, but there were still a few small tin barns standing on the 100 acres. Inside one of the barns he had found a small pony which needed attention.

Susan was scared of horses, so this call was mine. I told her to call Doc Kramer and let him know where I was headed and why.

Directions to Marzotti’s place were confusing at best, but after about an hour I managed to find the right back road and saw the old tin barns out in the field and a new blue GMC pickup waiting in the drive.

Mr. Marzotti was waiting for me and I could tell he was a little upset.

He said he had never seen anything like this pony, but knew it was in trouble.

It had been raining pretty steady for about three days and that East Texas clay was like thick cement. It nearly pulled my mud boots off with every step. If we weren’t stepping in a puddle we were kicking open fire ant mounds. We finally traipsed through the mud and muck and reached the far back barn.

Marzotti started to open the door, but hesitated, “It’s not pretty,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Even with his words of warning I was far from prepared for what I saw. What should have been about a 700 pound gray percheron pony was a walking skeleton of about 250 pounds. His hair was nearly gone, a sure sign of malnutrition, but what was worse was the stench. Looking further at the pony I saw his legs were just one massive sore, oozing from hundreds of fire ant bites. He had virtually no skin left below the knees. And his feet! OH my gosh, his feet were a mess. They were no longer the nearly perfect triangle so common with the little ponies. Instead all four feet resembled ram’s horns, growing out and curling over.

As I stood there, appalled at what I was seeing, this terribly sad little equine species held his head up and nickered to us like we were his long lost friends. He wore a faded green halter but there was no sign of who might have done this to him. The barn, more like a shed, had at one time been set up to house four horses. In his hunger and confusion he had eaten all the wood partitions he could reach. We could see where water had run down the inside of one corner and where the little fellow had licked up the moisture. There was nothing else in the barn.

I told Marzotti I had to call Doc Kramer and get him out here. It was definitely a job for the vet. I went to the truck to call Kramer and told him how bad it was and direction to get here. He said he was on the way, but asked me to call the sheriff, so everything would be legal. I made that call knowing the inevitable.

I didn’t have anything to feed the little guy, but I could at least get him some water and let him out to graze until Doc got there. I grabbed a 5-gallon bucket and a lead rope and found a faucet that still worked and headed back to the barn.

Casper, as I started calling him, drank nearly two gallons before he had had his fill. I reached for his halter to attach the lead rope and he nuzzled me like he had been waiting just for me. My heart broke! Here was what should have been a beautiful, spoiled, kids’ pet, that had been locked away to die slowly and sadly alone.

Gently I led him out to some green grass in hopes he would eat a little bit before Doc showed up. The poor old boy could barely hobble to the grass, but once he found it, he dropped his head wasting no time in getting his fill.

All I could do was wait for Doc and watch this little guy. The more I watched, the more certain I was that Doc would have to put him down. It wasn’t just his skin that was gone, there was a lot of muscle damage and infection. And those feet! Years later I still have never seen another horse with feet like Casper’s. They were so overgrown he was walking on his heel, rather than the whole foot. You didn’t have to be a vet to know this horse was crippled beyond help.

Doc Kramer must have known where he was headed, because it didn’t take him any time to arrive. Right on his heels was one of the local deputies that I knew. Ken Parson cared as much about the animals as I did and would work to find the people responsible for animal cruelty. The look on his face when he saw Casper said all that needed to be said. He was furious, sad and heart broken for Casper. He was completely professional, asked all the right questions and tried to keep from looking at Casper, never seeming to loose his cool. As an officer he did all the right things. As an animal lover and horse owner he was appalled and furious. I could see the red of his face darken as the full extent of Casper’s injuries came to the surface.

Doc Kramer, on the other hand, let a little bit of his sailor background disturb the peace. He laid his hand on the pony’s rump only to have the poor little guy turn sad, but hopeful eyes on him as if to say, “Are you going to rescue me?”

“Son of a ------,” Kramer said. “There are times I hate this job, and there are times I hate the people who make my job necessary…….” and his words trailed off.

I knew the routine and started taking notes as Kramer examined the victim. First came the obvious-- gray, uncut, male, pony, ten hands high, suffering from malnutrition, severe infection on both front legs due to numerous ant bites, horribly overgrown feet causing the animal to walk on the back of his heels. Then came the hard part. Doc picked up Casper’s head to look in his eyes and mouth. The eyes were clear, unclouded no sign of deformity. The teeth showed very little wear making the horse about 5 years old. Doc started swearing again.

“What the hell is going on here? Who would do this to a little guy that should be a show pony?”

Poor Casper was torn between enjoying the attention and focusing on the green grass. Finally he had to choose the grass! It had just been so long since he had eaten! That was okay. Doc completely understood.

Ken asked the question that no one wanted to voice, “Is there any hope for him?”

Doc shook his head, “No, the soles of his feet have collapsed, part of the bone is coming through the frog. His legs are a mess. There’s to much damage. I’m surprised he even managed to walk out of the shed to the grass. The best we can do is put him down and end his pain.”

Those were never easy words for me to hear, and this time they were especially hard. Doc and Ken both knew how I felt about horses. They also knew I would take this one home if I got the chance. But those fatal words brought the tears streaming from my eyes.

“You don’t have to be here for this,” Doc said. “Ken and I can handle it.”

“No,” I told him. “I want to make sure he knows he was loved even if it was for just a few minutes.” The tears were coming fast and furious now. I really didn’t think I would be much help, but I wasn’t leaving this pathetic animal to die alone.

I went to the truck and got the stuff Doc would need --an IV needle, a choke rope and a bottle of barbiturate. I figured as weak as Casper was it wouldn’t take much to put him down. Doc and Ken took the opportunity to look around for some clue to the identity of the person who did this. Nothing was found. No tire marks, no footprints, just nothing. Whoever did this would get away scott free and this wonderful pony would pay the ultimate price.

Fighting back tears I prepared for the pony’s last breath at the hands of the vet. I guess Doc figured the same thing, that the pony wouldn’t require much, but we were both wrong. Doc kept pushing the plunger. I kept waiting for Casper’s knees to buckle. It took a surprising amount of the drug to bring the little guy down and even more to end his suffering. I held his head and talked softly to him as he drew his last breathe. Finally, his lips quivered and his eyes rolled back in his head. His suffering was over. I knew we had done the right thing, but my tears soaked into the ragged hide of the dead pony. Like Doc, all I could do was swear.

Ken helped me up and to my surprise I saw Mr. Marzotti also had tears running down his face. He wiped his eyes and said something about his youngest son would have loved to have had the chance to own a pony like this one. He told Doc and Ken that a crew was coming out with a back hoe and tractor to mow down the last of the buildings. He volunteered to bury Casper as a final gesture. Doc said it would be alright as long as the grave was dug deep enough.

Afterwards, there wasn’t much else we could do. We all got in our respective vehicles to leave. Of course I was the last one on the scene. I guess Doc had been watching for me and when I didn’t show up he called me on the radio.

“You okay, kiddo?” he asked. He always called me that when a case would bring on the tears.

“Yeah,” said. “He’s out of his pain. Maybe, someday, I won’t feel the pain of seeing him. I’m on my way back to town.” I said.

I drove through the tears, closing my mind to the hopeful expression on Casper’s face. It was a horrible situation, but it gave me a bit of peace, just knowing the last hand he ever felt was one of love. To the state and the county he was just another case number. To me he was a pony who should have been well loved, but never had a chance.