Two zonkeys — crosses between donkeys and zebras— and a standardbred gelding have been diagnosed with botulism at Integrity's Haven Equine Rescue Centre Society in Chester, N.S.
The centre already lost two horses to the deadly disease in June. A mare named Koko who was diagnosed around the same time is still fighting to survive. According to the centre's owner, Angela Welburn, the horses became sick after eating contaminated hay.
Botulism is a progressive paralyzing disease which is fatal for most horses, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners. For Welburn's sick animals, it means they're having a difficult time eating because they can't control their tongues.
"If I cut up apples and carrots, like into tiny baby pieces, all the affected animals are able to eat it. It's the hay they're having a hard time eating," said Welburn.
'He is still trying to eat'
The zonkeys and gelding started showing symptoms last week.
The eight year old female zonkey named Zelda, and the 20-year-old standardbred gelding named Percy, have both received the antidote. But because of his size and strength, Welburn said her veterinarian refused to give the antidote to Zonk, the 11-year-old male zonkey.
"[Zonk] is doing a lot of laying around but he is still trying to eat and he is drinking water but he's definitely the worst out of all of them, that's for sure," Welburn said.
Difficult decisions ahead
It's unclear how long it will take for the horses to recover.
Welburn said she plans to have a meeting with her veterinarian to discuss next steps. She said it will likely come down to whether their tongues start working properly again.
"If their tongues don't allow them to eat, well then in my opinion, that's just wrong," Welburn said.
"I know myself personally speaking, I would never want to be on life support being fed by tubes so I would never do that to my animals."
Hay supplier not to blame, owner says
Welburn said since going public about what's going on with her animals, a lot of people have asked about her hay supplier.
She said the hay supplier isn't to blame, that botulism can happen any time a small animal like a snake or mouse gets scooped up into the hay.
Welburn said what happened to her horses was a "terrible accident."
"I don't think as a human being that I should be point fingers at who my hay man is so that he loses business over something that he had no control over," Welburn said.
Generous support from animal lovers
Welburn said people have been very generous to help her out with her veterinarian bills which total more than $15,000. A crowdfunding page garnered $5,500 but Welburn said she will receive $4,700 from it once the website takes its cut.
She said someone has arranged an online auction and another has organized a horse show in support of the rescue Bridgewater in September, and some artists are donating proceeds from their works to her cause. People have also made e-transfers and added money to her vet tab at the South Shore Veterinary Hospital in Wilevile.
"I was stunned to see the support I was getting, I still am stunned but it makes me quite happy and joyous. It's amazing to have the horse people and the animal people supporting me and behind me," Welburn said.
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