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17-year-old horse euthanized after getting stuck in a fence at Orangevale rescue facility

Opal, a 17-year-old mare, is hoisted by Sacramento Metropolitan Fire crews using a mechanical lift after the horse was freed from a fence in which she had become entangled for more than eight hours.
Opal, a 17-year-old mare, is hoisted by Sacramento Metropolitan Fire crews using a mechanical lift after the horse was freed from a fence in which she had become entangled for more than eight hours. egarrison@sacbee.com

Rescue workers who tried to save a 17-year-old horse that had been tangled in a fence inside her Orangevale stall euthanized the animal after determining she would be unable to survive the ordeal.

The horse, a 1,500-pound mare named Opal, fell and got two of her hooves stuck in a red metal fence inside her stall at Ponyland, a horse and pony rescue facility. Owner Kimberly Hunter said she didn’t know how long the horse had been down by the time she called Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District officials and animal rescue specialists to the scene in the 6700 block of Main Avenue at about 6 a.m. Monday.

A specially trained battalion from the fire department was called in to attempt to save the horse. About 15 people were participating in the rescue by the time veterinarians and the Hunters made the final decision.

Opal died from lethal injection at about 12:10 p.m. after being unable to regain her feet, despite efforts by veterinarians and fire crews. Those efforts included hoisting the horse and suspending her above the ground in hopes that she could stand on her own.

Dr. Cheryl Ellis, a veterinarian specializing in animal rescue, emphasized that experts chose to destroy the horse only after the team had done all it could to save her. A horse of Opal’s size cannot survive very long on its side or suspended without its lungs starting to collapse.

“It’s hard when a horse of this size has been down for so long,” said Ellis. “We all believe it was the humane thing to do to let her go.”

Hunter’s children sat crying with the horse after it died. While most of the horses at the facility are used in the business, Opal was a small draft horse and was treated by the family as a pet, Hunter’s mother said.

The two veterinarians at the scene were unable to determine what caused Opal to go down in the first place and suspect she was ill and that the illness was preventing her from recovering her strength. Ellis said vets did a viability test on Opal and at first expected her to survive.

Crews initially tried to lift Opal manually but couldn’t move her. About 10 a.m., the owners decided to bring in the mechanical lift – a complex series of pulleys, ropes and nets – to raise her to a standing position so veterinarians could examine her.

Rescue personnel had raised and suspended Opal with the lift for more than an hour. They hoped Opal would be able to stand on her own, but despite being administered oxygen and fluids, she could not. Rescuers said that, ultimately, the time she had to be suspended was longer than a horse her size could endure. They did not transport Opal to an animal hospital because veterinarians on scene feared she would die in transit.

“The horse rallied for about an hour, and then she made a turn for the worse,” Metro Fire Battalion Chief Patrick Ellis said. “We were hoping she would start to thrive a little bit more.”

Dr. Ellis said in the past three years, she has participated in five or six of these rescue operations. They don’t occur very often, but the team doing the rescue needs to train frequently, Ellis said.

“It’s a dangerous event,” she said. “If you don’t train, people can be hurt doing this.”

“I’ve never been through anything like this,” said Hunter, who runs Ponyland, an animal rescue that offers visitors pony rides and a petting zoo.

Bee reporter Marissa Lang contributed to this report. Call The Bee’s Ellen Garrison at (916) 321-1006.

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